South Africa is a complex and dynamic society, with overwhelming and increasing problems with disaster risk in the vulnerable urban communities in and around its rapidly growing metropolitan centres. The purpose of this study is to improve the understanding of the challenges for disaster risk reduction in such communities. It focuses on the case of Imizamo Yethu, in the Western Cape, in order to build theory that is grounded in the empirical realities of stakeholders involved in disaster risk reduction there. The result points towards five interrelated key challenges, which must be concurrently addressed through large-scale development efforts. Without such investments, it is unlikely that disaster risks can be reduced to tolerable levels.