History of Philippi

The Philippi area of Cape Town encompasses a unique and distinctive landscape, and is one of the last remaining agricultural areas in the Cape Town metropolitan area.

Over the decades – and with increasing intensity after the passing of the Group Areas Act – it was gradually reduced as portions of it were excised to accommodate Cape Town’s black population in terms of the segregationist policies of consecutive governments. At the outset this included the creation of Nyanga, Langa and Gugulethu, but in later years agricultural land was used for the creation of areas such as Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha.

The growth of a number of formal and informal settlements has further reduced the area’s agricultural footprint and several squatter areas have become permanent settlements. It is estimated that around 10% of the original farmland remains, with some 3000 hectares zoned rural. A third of the area is under crop, with consistently high yields thanks to the climate, the unique soil type and the water quality of the aquifer that lies beneath it. Recently two more portions of land have been excised for development.

Within the residential area of Philippi, the Apartheid legacy of a lack of social and physical infrastructure has placed great strain on the community. Efforts to build the economy of Philippi through development of businesses and light industry in Philippi East (adjacent to the PHA and occupying an area which once served as farm grazing lands) have faced obstacles such as lack of adequate access to and from the area, extreme poverty and resulting social breakdown, and a workforce with a low skills base.

Philippi has faced serious challenges in recent years – including uncertainty over whether it would be developed for housing – and some farmers in the area have turned over their land to illegal operations such as mechanic shops and scrap yards.

It is PEDI’s mission to transform this state of affairs and to find ways to make Philippi a thriving economic community where people choose to work, live, play and pray. Already there are clear signs that this is beginning to be turned around and, particularly since the appointment of the new PEDI leadership in 2011, there is much reason for optimism. PEDI has undertaken a great deal of research to understand the dynamics of the area and is actively promoting interventions and projects that will facilitate change. Ours is a story that is exciting and transformational. We know that there are real challenges. We believe we can make a real difference.


Philippi is the location of the Cape Flats Aquifer which is a vast underground water reserve that feeds the Philippi Horticultural Area and enables farmers here to produce multiple crop cycles each year.  The aquifer is critical to the area’s role as the breadbasket of Cape Town – produce from this area accounts for almost half of all vegetables consumed in the city each year. Historically, this area was where indigenous hunter-gatherers wandered, where Khoi herders grazed their animals and where the first contact was made between the herders and Europeans in the 17th century.

Since the mid-19th century, the Philippi Horticultural Area has been farmed. It remains the breadbasket of Cape Town with its annual yield of more than 100,000 tons of fresh produce. Settled originally by German immigrants, the farming area of Philippi stretched from the current M5 in the west to near the False Bay coastline in the south, from parts of Athlone in the north to the whole of Mitchell’s Plain, up to Swartklip Road in the East.