Langa Township

Langa Township Day 5

We just returned from a full day at Langa Township.  Langa is the oldest township in South Africa, established in 1927.  The government built this to house migrant workers who were not allowed to live in the port city of Cape Town.  Housing was built for men only while the women stayed back in their tribal homelands. Some people still live in this housing today, with three beds in a room about 8' by 10'.  They might live in a room where they did not know the people in the other beds.  People still stay in these homes, paying about $2.50 a month per bed. They  wait for government houses to be built.  Walking into these rooms was quite a rude awakening for all of us.

What surprised us most about the township was the variety of incomes within the township. From the highway, you see shacks made of corrugated metal, but once inside there is a variety of housing.  That is, there are solidly middle class people living there and there are many groups building community among those who live there.

Our tour guides have a business within the township that opens up this world to tourists.  We started at a creche attached to a Methodist Church with 150 1 to 5 year olds in 3 rooms.  There are 8 teachers for the 150.  Our students brought books, playdoh and crayons and before you knew it they were playing on the floor.  The creche children loved the cameras and seeing their pictures and our kids had big smiles on their faces.  It was hard to leave.

Our next stop was the Catholic mission in Langa. As well as being a religious center, they run classes for students who did not graduate from high school, they have daycare, and a community center. It is a place where religion and tradition are melded as the coming of age ceremony for boys seems to be supported by this mission.

We visited the community arts center where adults learn how to make pottery, jewelry and paintings.  We had a chance to see women at work and then had a chance to do some drumming.  Many of us bought gifts here and at the same time put money back into the local economy.

We had a stop where women were cooking sheeps head, a custom in the township.  There were lots of sheeps heads! Some of us had some meat. . .some did not choose this delicacy. ..

Then onto the famous Harlem Avenue where the township's heritage group has put plaques on the houses of icons who grew up in Langa.  These included soccer, rugby and cricket stars as well as musical and political figures.  We saw the fields where kids played sports and drove by several schools.

We went to a small museum about the passbok system.  It was in the old customs building and told the story of the protests against carrying the passbooks.  The history in Langa mirrored that of Sharpeville and then Soweto as residents protested passes and then teaching only in Afrikaans.  The guide who told the story showed his pride in his heritage and emphasized the importance of keeping these resistance stories alive.

We ended at a restaurant where the family catered a delicious meal with roasted vegetables, a bean and millet dish, lamb curry, chicken, creamed spinach, eggplant wrapped around sweet corn.  Lots went for seconds!

And then the dancing. A marimba band with saxophonist and drums entertained us during lunch.  After lunch we learned to dance to the Pata Pata.  Smiles all the way around.

The story of the restaurant mirrored the story of the end of apartheid.  During apartheid, no blacks could own land.  After 1994, families were allowed to own their own property and they built onto their home and developed the restaurant which caters to tourist groups that come through with the Ubiza tour company.  They are doing well.

All the students learned and felt a lot during the day.

Today on to Robben Island and a report back this afternoon.  The kids have been great!

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