In visiting Cape Town, as well as Cape Peninsula and Cape Winelands, we were not only in awe of their natural beauty but also of their remarkable affluence. Aware of the country’s history, we knew that somewhere out there lies a different picture, a deep contradiction to what we have seen so far. We know that South Africa have gone along way in healing the scars inflicted by Apartheid but also understand that struggles still remain in parts of the country. To have a better understanding of the other picture, we signed up for a tour of Langa, the largest and oldest of Cape Town’s Townships.
Townships are bitter legacy of Apartheid era. They are urban areas on the periphery of cities designated for black and other non-white people. Black people were evicted from their properties in designated “white only” neighborhoods and were forced to move in the Townships. Dormitories were also set up in Townships to provide labor for white people.
During apartheid, the government built “male only” hostels for black laborers in Langa. Today, they are residential buildings where as much as three families occupy a room. During our tour, our guide told us that we could enter the rooms to see the living conditions of the residents. We declined. We found it invasive and not necessary.
We learned that since Mandela’s rule, the government has been making efforts to rejuvenate the Township by constructing new residential buildings to improve the housing conditions as well as schools, clinics, sport facilities, community centers. Residents have also been provided access to electricity and running water.
However, while the government has been constructing new residential buildings in Langa, shanties are being built in the outskirts of the township by new migrants arriving in the area. Aside from many black South Africans who migrate to the city to find jobs, there is also a large influx of migrants from other African nations who seek better lives for themselves.
We visited a SHEBEEN, an alternative bar/pub that serve homemade beer. Shebeens are normally established in private homes to provide additional income to the families. Left: The Shebeen host was serving a bucket full of brew made from maize and sorghum. Right: Our guide was enjoying a sip. (She didn’t recommend that we try it. She said it maybe too strong for our sensitive Western stomachs.)
We found that a lot of residents still live a very rural life. As we were driving around Langa, we saw a lot of people selling boiled sheep’s heads. What a strange sight! A sheep’s head is called a “smiley” because when it is boiled, it smiles. It is a popular delicacy among migrants, who make sure that no part of the animals goes to waste. We also found many restaurants throughout the Township that served traditional dishes.
We met Ndaba, the traditional medicine man. Residents of the Township seek out his services for any kind of ailments.
We felt very welcome as we walked around the Township. The people were friendly and seemed to be happy that people were visiting their neighborhood. But these adorable children gave us the most delightful welcome.
Although it was sad to see the abject poverty that still exists in the Townships, we were heartened that strides are being made to improve the living conditions of its residents. We felt that visiting the Township gave us a well-rounded experience of South Africa.
- It is not recommended for visitors to explore the Townships alone at any time. Although the residents are friendly and welcoming, there are areas that may not be safe. We suggest that you hire a guide who knows the area and is known in the area.
- We signed up for the tour with Springbok Atlas. It has close ties to the community and provided a registered guide who was a resident of the Township.