Cape Town, a city with the beautiful V&A Waterfront overlooking the ocean, with modern shops and restaurants, a place where tourist can enjoy themselves with good food, drinks and shopping… But behind the façade, under the shadow of Cape Town lies Langa Township; thousands of people living in sheds made of sheet metal, no floor, people with limited access to clean water and electricity, nothing we’re use to at all.
We wanted to see those places, we wanted to learn about the people living there and we wanted to get to know the reality of life for so many people.
Table Mountain in the background
We booked a half-day township tour with Vamos including pick up, lunch and a visit of two townships for 550ZAR.
Early in the morning we got picked up at the Sweetest Guesthouses, and it turned out that there were only the two of us plus the guide on this trip. Nothing is better than a private tour!
Our guide Gladstone took us to Langa Township, Cape Town’s oldest township and the township that he lives in.
Most of the residents in Langa belongs to the Xhosa tribe, so culturally, Langa is relatively homogeneous. The name Langa means “sun” in the Xhosa Language, but the name actually derived from the name Langalibalele – a famous chief who was imprisoned on Robben Island for rebelling against the government.
Gladstone drove us around and showed us the area, where the kids go to school, where the inhabitants have access to different facilities, and he also taught us the Xhosa language (or at least tried to). The Xhosa language, where one of the most distinctive features of the language is the prominence of click consonants. He told us how to greet people we met in their language and then he dropped us off at the community center where we learned about the different projects whilst he parked the car.
It was possible to buy some artwork, and we really loved some nice pieces there, but it would have been problematic to carry it with us on the upcoming overland tour.
When we were finished at the community center we went over to the Langa Heritage Museum where we heard about the sadness and triumph of a resilient people, about the ‘Dompas’. Dompas, literally meaning the “dumb pass” was a pass book the black people were forced to carry with them all the time, these passes became one of the most despised symbols of apartheid.
The document was similar to an internal passport, containing details on the bearer such as their fingerprints, photograph, the name of his/her employer, his/her address, how long the bearer had been employed, as well as other identification information. The pass also documented permission requested and denied or granted to be in a certain region and the reason for seeking such permission.
With the dompas system people were arrested if they didn’t have the pass with them, and during its 34-year existence, more than 8 million black men and women were jailed. Understandably the dompas led to protests and public demonstrations.
We took some pictures at the museum, and then we walked through the different areas in the township.
Gladstone showed us the building where he lives and we got to see one of the bedrooms in that building; a small room with three or four beds, and all they own have to fit over or under their own bed.
In the living area there was soil on the floor, people gathering and sitting on the benches, meat was lying in the sink and you could really smell it. It’s something we’re not going to forget…
Sheep heads, the local delicacy
In recent years, the township has started to be rejuvenated as the government has invested in improved infrastructure.
There are areas in the township made up of shacks and decaying infrastructure, and across the road there could be a beautiful home with a garden, sometimes even a pool. Must also mention that there’s a strip in this township known as the Beverly Hills Street, and this part of the neighborhood is made up of solid housing.
The yellow buildings are some of the new houses the community is building
At the end of the walk two girls came running up to us and grabbed my hands and started to pose for the camera. They looked so happy, they were smiling, having fun and their heartwarming laughter melted our hearts.
Despite the people of Langa have materialistically close to nothing we felt like the people are satisfied and that they are happy with what they have. They have the passion, the culture… in a way they have everything.
We ended the tour eating a braai lunch at Mzolis in Gugulethu, another township in Cape Town. We got to pick the meat we wanted and then they grilled the meat and prepared the meal for us.
The restaurant is actually a hot place and a popular gathering spot for Cape Town residents, and it can be pretty crowded in the weekends. They have Dj’s playing music, delicious meat on the grill and you can even bring your own drinks. It was a unique experience, the food tasted good and had some interesting flavors, and we are glad we got this opportunity.
An experience like this, visiting a township, is something we would recommend; it’s eye-opening and maybe you’ll appreciate more of the small stuff in life. Most people don’t know how lucky they are with a roof over their head, a nice comfy bed to sleep in and their own private place.
We also think it’s important to see what’s behind the façade.