I woke up on my second day in South Africa, still very much jetlagged. But, my excitement and the cappuccino I drank during breakfast energized me to explore the Langa Township not as a tourist, but as a traveler. We left the hotel at 9AM with Nathi, our local guide throughout the trip. We rode past Table Mountain on our way to Langa and my excitement to climb the mountain later in the week heightened.
Once we arrived in Langa, we met our second local guide, Siviwe, the owner of Siviwe Tours, which specializes in Cape Town township and Langa township tours. Siviwe is Xhosa and taught us a few words in the Xhosa language, which is a clicking language, as well as the history of Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township, which was established in 1923.
Langa is a Black Township that was established prior to the apartheid era. Learning about the effects of apartheid from a member of the Langa community resonated with me due to the similarities of racism in America. We learned about the rich history of Langa and its significance to South Africa, including the activists that fought against apartheid and as a result were imprisoned on Robben Island.
One of the most interesting facts I learned about the apartheid, is that discrimination was determined not by skin color, but by hair texture, through the pencil test. A pencil was placed in the hair and if it fell easily through the hair, the person was identified as colored (mixed race), otherwise they were identified as Black. I imagined people standing in line for this test as they received their race identification books. Learning the history of the Langa Township had a significant impact on me as a Black woman and I was grateful to learn this important history, especially because the history of Langa is passed down verbally.
We continued the tour of Langa by embarking on a walking tour through the township. We witnessed the community values first-hand. We spoke to a medicine man and a few girls tried chicken feet – I unfortunately did not have time to exchange my money before we left, so I missed out. The fourteen of us walked past shops, small restaurants, barber shops, and salons.
I noticed that the community did not have very many divisions, no one had security fences which was different than other townships in Cape Town. Everyone lived amongst each other. Shacks were in close proximity to other style homes. Siviwe explained to us that there isn’t much crime in the Langa Township due to the Spirit of Ubuntu, which is the philosophy of the Langa community. The Spirit of Ubuntu means, “You are who you are because of me, and I am who I am because of you.” Jealously cannot exist under this philosophy. Also if someone does commit a crime and others witness it, they take the law into their own hands and deal with the person who committed the crime. That resonated deeply within me. Imagine not having a need for police within a community because the community takes care of itself.
As we continued to walk, I began to feel more liberated to be a Black woman wearing my big natural kinky curly hair. I know that I am not a South African, but something within my spirit resonated with Langa and I felt like a rebel with big thick curly hair.
We made our way to a brewing spot, where a woman was making fresh beer in what I would describe as an intimate bar. Together we practiced the tradition of drinking from the same pale of beer. The beer was good, a little bitter and not too sweet. It was nothing like I had ever tasted before. Xhosa men generally come to this bar after work and share a pale of beer.
After the walking tour we drove to a pastor’s house in Langa for lunch. I ate the second best fried chicken in my life. My mother holds the number one spot, of course. I cannot deny that the pastor’s wife really put her foot in that meal, we were all in food heaven. The potatoes and macaroni and cheese were light and delicious. I noticed that the potatoes were not as soft as we generally prepare them in the United States. The vegetables were seasoned and prepared to perfection. I ate so much food, but I did not feel full. Talk about bliss.
Next, we went to the Happy Feet Project, which is an NGO that works with the children of Langa to keep them off the streets, through traditional dancing and children-led choreography. After watching the children sing and dance, it was our turn for a dance battle. I could see their leadership and discipline skills.
The children were very inspiring, but sadly my group lost horribly to the other group. It was a great laugh and a lot of fun! The kids were very sweet, and watching their performances and dancing with them was as a great way to end the day in Langa.
I walked away from Langa feeling blessed that Siviwe and Nathi shared their culture with us. I hope you get a chance to visit to South Africa, and if you do make sure you explore Langa, it really is the heart of Cape Town.
Live well and travel often friends!
P.S. if you love these photos, you should check out Kibuuka at http://www.kibuukaphotography.com , he is dope.