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.

Laundry line n Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa.jpgLife in Langa Township is so far removed from the greeneries, upscale cafes and upmarket boutiques of the city center.

Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa.jpg

Langa Township, Cape Town, South AfricaDuring 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.

Langa Township, Cape Town, South AfricaWe saw some signs of prosperity in part of the Township where proud brick homes with satellite dishes stood. We called it the Beverly Hills of Langa.

Basketball Court, Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa.jpg

Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa

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.

Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa.jpgHowever, 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.

Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa.jpg

Barber Shop, Langa Township, Cape Town, South AfricaWe saw some displays of entrepreneurial spirit around the Township. Hair cut, anyone?

11-Shebeen, Langa Township, Cape Town, South AfricaWe 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.)

Smiley Face, Langa Township, Cape Town, South AfricaWe 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.

Medicine Man of Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa

We met Ndaba, the traditional medicine man. Residents of the Township seek out his services for any kind of ailments.

Langa Township, Cape Town, South AfricaPeople waiting in front of Ndaba’s “clinic.”  Aside from herbs, Mdaba also prescribes animal hair, skin and bones to cure his patients’ ailments.

Children of Langa Township, Cape Town, South AfricaWe 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.

Children of Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa

Children of Langa Township, Cape Town, South Africa

12-Children of LangaIt was delightful to see happy children at play.

Langa Township, Cape Town, South AfricaA woman with a big smile in front of her home. No matter what their economic status in life is, we found that locals were always big on smile and laughter.

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.


Travel Note:

  • 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.


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34 responses to “Langa Township: The Different Side of Cape Town

  1. Katie

    Thanks so much for sharing the other side of Capetown, it’s so important that people see all sides. It’s always astonishing to me when people who live in such poverty seem happier than many people I know who are (financially) rich in comparison. How did you find the host that took you on the tour?
    Katie recently posted..Thailand RoundupMy Profile

    • Hi Katie, it’s so true that you cannot equate poverty with unhappiness. The happiest people we met in our travels are those who have less. We host/guide was provided to by the company we signed for this tour- Springbok Atlas.

    • Hi Alex, thank you. The sight of the “smileys” were initially quite a shock for us, too, but got used to it the more we saw of them.

  2. Amazing to see the other side of such a well-known city. I love the photo of the “clinic”. So interesting to see how so many people still live,
    Molly S recently posted..A Photo Tour of CragsideMy Profile

    • Hi Molly, the difference of both side was really amazing to see. That “clinic” was really interesting,

  3. Just like you when I travel I’d like to see “all” of the places I go visit. I like to see both the good and the bad side, as long as it’s not dangerous. Thank you for sharing this experience.
    Photo Cache recently posted..Finally – the boat, the boat!!!!My Profile

    • Hi Maria, our pleasure. It’s truly good to have a well-balanced point of view.; glad you feel the same.

  4. Leigh

    When I see how such a huge part of the population really lives. I am always struck by the sheer luck of my birthplace. There are no easy answers to fix the problem. I have been reading The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai. I love what she has to say but so much of the problem seems to come down to leadership and good governance and until there’s a change in thinking and the way funds are used at the top, I suspect it will be a long time before there are lasting benefits. I do love the entrepreneurial spirit where it exists.
    Awesome photos.
    Leigh recently posted..Gear Review: The KEEN Gallatin CNX SandalMy Profile

    • Hi Leigh, thanks. I’d like to read that book myself. Sounds like Maathai give good perspective of African situation. Thanks for mentioning it

  5. A fantastic post and such an interesting look at the other side of town. You have captured it well with both your words and photos. Goats heads were popular on one of the islands we visited in Greece. . .not my first choice in yummies, but I guess it takes all kinds of tastes. I’ll remember this post for a long time, my friends!
    Jackie Smith recently posted..Greece’s Tinos Island: Oh Come all the Faithful. . .My Profile

    • Hi Jackie, thank you. We thought it was worth while for us to see both sides. I see, the goat heads are not unique here after all.

  6. Agness

    That’s definitely my favourite photo essay as I enjoy exploring poor neighborhoods. They really reflect how people live and it’s not always a posh way. Look at these people – they look happy and so humble. It’s great to see kids smile! :)
    Agness recently posted..5 Things I Loved About Being Disabled In ChinaMy Profile

    • Hi Agness, in a country where there are two different kinds of realities it is good to see both sides. We say that we were heartened by the smile and laughter of the people in the Township. So much joy even with so little.

  7. Marcia

    It’s very refreshing to read that you declined your guide’s suggestion to see the living conditions. Maybe because I’m from a relatively poor country but I felt really turned off when we were made the same offer. I’m very aware that no matter how welcoming people are, I’m still feel like we are intruding, like we’re objectifying people.
    Marcia recently posted..At the New York World’s Fair FestivalMy Profile

    • Hi Marcia, thank you. We just didn’t think it was necessary to enter’s some people’s house to see their living condition. We were just interested in overall condition of the Township and to see how they changed since the end of Apartheid.

  8. When I’ve been reading your previous posts about your scenic South Africa trip, I wondered if you also visited the not-so-beautiful side. I’m really glad that you did and shared it with everyone. For the longest time, I never considered Cape Town to be a vacation destination because all I had read about was the townships. If I ever visit Cape Town, I would also like so see both the beauty and the poverty. I almost expected you to report that Keith ignored your guide’s advice and tried the Shebeen brew anyways. You photos really seem to capture the neighborhood’s rundown buildings but that the people themselves were not run down.. Excellent reporting.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Fujiya Hotel: East meets West in the midst of Hakone National ParkMy Profile

    • Hi Michelle, thank you. Cape Town does still make a good destination though despite the Townships. If people only want to see the pretty side, the Townships are far removed from the city center and you can’t have a glimpse of them unless you go out of your way. But the trip was more rewarding for us that we had seen both sides. and we recommend it. Keith was actually very obedient and gladly heed the guide’s advice. We were halfway through the trip and he didn’t want to mess up his stomach.

  9. jan

    I just finished reading a book about a white Australian who married a black South African and lived in the Townships, so I was interested to see your photos. With the new immigrants coming to the townships it does not sound like the poor living conditions will go away. The existing townships will improve and new ones will form on the outer areas. Loved the photos.
    jan recently posted..Trout for Lunch at CamlihemsinMy Profile

  10. Marisol,

    We also visited a township while we were in South Africa, for a lot of the same reasons. It was a huge contrast to the other parts of Johannesburg and Capetown, let alone the vinelands region we visited. Your photos, as, always, are stunning!
    Corinne recently posted..Cultural Exchanges and Making Lifelong Friends!My Profile

    • Thank you, Corinne. Glad to hear you have experienced the Townships as well.

  11. Interesting post. I’m actually not shocked since such scenes are common in my country and as Leigh says there no easy answers.

    I understand slum tours are common in South Africa and their has been a debate in my country whether to encourage the same. Some believe it will bring awareness and much needed income to such areas, while others find it objectifying (like observing animals in a zoo).

    So is ‘slum tourism’ good or bad or both?
    Rachel M recently posted..Kapsimotwa GardensMy Profile

    • Hi Rachel, interesting question. I guess if the tour goes beyond ogling and encourages interaction and understanding between visitors and residents, then it’s good. Also if the tour benefits the community, then its good. We’re not really into the slum tour per se. We just felt that during most part our trip in South Africa, only the affluent part was apparent. The other side of reality is hidden somewhere and we had to go out of our way to witness it, via tour. It was important for us to have a balance view of both realities, which is extreme in the case of South Africa.

      • Shellee

        Many thanks for your pictorial piece here.
        As an ex tour guide and journalist born and bred in Cape Town, I’ve watched with great sadness over the years to see the continuation of the FEAR campaign so popular before Mandela.
        My fellow citizens from other suburbs in CT, though they may be half my age, buy into the same FEAR agenda their parents did. ‘Never go alone into a township’, ‘be careful the crime there’ and ‘it’s too dangerous to visit’ are some of the memes. That poison has spread as a ‘warning’ to all the many foreigners that come here. So powerful is this socially-engineered agenda, that township dwellers themselves ask me every time I’m there (which is quite often) why I’m alone because it’s too ‘dangerous’. The irony is township dwellers and their lifestyle are the majority and OURS is the minority. This is a beautiful city that largely ignores the culture of its majority and most non-township dwellers here have never set foot in one. Sad, but true.

    • Hi Nancie, I know and most of us just take this luxury for granted.

  12. What an amazing tour of the township. Although I”m not surprised by the living conditions, it’s hard to imagine day-to-day life in such conditions. I don’t recall seeing photos like this of Capetown before. Thanks for an up close look at the place and the people.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..5 Favorite Highlights of Ferrara ItalyMy Profile

    • Hi Cathy, our pleasure. It was an amazing experience seeing the township and meeting its people. It was good to see the some people are moving upward and we’re hoping that the same thing will happen to those who just migrated to the are.

  13. noel

    Wow, what a tour, you guys really connected with the local people in these townships and caught some wonderful portraits and smiles. i love it – thanks for sharing this with us.
    noel recently posted..Cruising Monterey Bay, Travel Photo Mondays #46My Profile

  14. What a great insight to another part of Cape Town. I’m so glad you had the opportunity to explore the township and meet the locals. Some of these pictures are heartbreaking but I’m glad they’re slowly improving things. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Marisol. Often times, we get swept up with the scenery and touristy parts of the city but it also pays to be in touch with the culture and locals, I always love your pictures of the children. Excellent post!
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..Cruising the San Diego Big BayMy Profile

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