Salt River is a Cape Town suburb situated between Observatory and Woodstock, north of Devil’s Peak and University Estate. The area has historically been regarded as an industrial suburb with clothing and textile factories, the Lion Match factory and the Snowflake flour mill towers characterising the landscape. The industrial development of the suburb was initially spurred on by the development of the steel and locomotive industry. The proximity to the city business district and harbour made Salt River an ideal area to establish an industrial rail network and hub. For these reasons, Salt River served as the heart of Cape Town’s industrial sector from the early 20th century through to the 1980s. The area’s deindustrialisation has spurred new residential, commercial and industrial developments. However, old buildings such as the Junction Hotel, the Locomotive Hotel and the Bridge Mansions, all regarded as Salt River institutions, still exhibit the historical roots of the suburb. A notable informal economy coexists with formal ecpnomic activities in the area. Along Main and Victoria Roads and Lower and Albert Roads, various informal shops such as drinks and snack stands and traditional medicine and herb sellers can be found. Informal ‘tuck shops’ and small home based taverns are run out of houses throughout the suburb. Other informal activities such as metal scrap and paper and cardboard collecting are evident with collectors making use of shopping trolleys to push collected items to scrap dealers based along Lower Main Road.
Salt River’s interesting socio-economic composition cuts across race, class and religion. Previously a lower-middle class suburb settled mainly by working-class Coloured families, the area is now also settled by young professionals, workers and students of all race groups. A large mobile transient population is also present in Salt River. This mobile population is as varied as the settled population; consisting of business owners, commercial and industrial workers and school-attending children. These groups do not live in the area but move through the suburb during daytime hours and contribute to the economy of Salt River in various ways. Other mobile groups include people moving through the suburb for night-time recreation and drinkatainment. Vagrants and the urban poor form a large transient population; including local South Africans and immigrants who move through the suburb to find casual labour, shelter and support from various organisations. Support from institutions such as Beth Uriel and Wesleigh College for this group include night shelters, soup kitchens and potential employment opportunities.