A day at Langa, the oldest township in Cape Town
The moment a visitor steps into Cape Town, it is almost impossible to resist the urge to indulge in leisure. From luxury hotels and ocean-view high-rises perched on seaside cliffs, the monumental Table Mountain, the pricey Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, recalling the past on Robben Island to other leisure trappings, Cape Town is truly the ‘Mother City’.
But if you are not attuned to the luxurious cosmopolitan life and rather like it cool, Cape Town also offers peaceful townships or suburbs that bring you closer to the culture and passion of the locals.
One of such townships is Langa. The township, which literally means ‘sun’ in Xhosa language, sits alongside the N2 (the highway that runs east from Cape Town). However, Langa does not live in the shadow of the sprawl of ramshackle makeshift housing along the highway, it truly has a soul and rhythm that resonates the people’s culture, passion, communal living and interesting history.
Established in 1927, Langa is the oldest township in Western Cape Province in South Africa, designed in a way to allow the apartheid authorities maximum visibility and control of residents, especially shipyard workers sent from the surrounding villages to provide the labor needed at the busy Cape Town port then.
Today, the township is flourishing and opens to visitors from across the world to wonderful cultural experiences, historic trails and passion.
Some years back, you need to stay in tour buses for the fear of uncertainty, but the Langa of today is most-welcoming to visitors. The best way to enjoy the township tour is to stroll along the streets (though with tour guides for explanation of landmarks) and also staying with a family to experience life from their perspective.
For a first-timer, the experience is awesome. The warmth by the residents is inspiring, and speaks volume of communal living in the township. People go about their business as usual but the difference is the exchange of greetings and laughs with neighbours at almost every turn.
As you stroll further in the township, you will see lots of Spaza (township shops), local shebeen (township bars), crafts stands, fashion outlets and beauty salons, among others that are all operated by locals. The high frequency of movement in and out of the outlets tells of the high volume of business courtesy of the growing population of the township, which is nearing 100,000 residents.
However, a keen visitor will take special note of the local shebeen, alternate bars or corner pubs. The corner pubs have historic significance and are where the actions seem to be happening most.
Mama Kile, a pub owner, will always narrate the story of the corner pubs in the most hilarious way to glue her costumers and visitors to the table for more drinks.
“At the height of the fight against the apartheid regime, our people gather at the shebeen to plot on how to resist the regime’s draconic laws and injustice”, Mama Kile explains.
Today, the corners pubs no longer host resistance gatherings; they are now popular joints for like-minds across all ages who gather to discuss issues ranging from politics, social, philosophy and especially football. Mama Kile always makes sure her visitors join locals in the discussions to spice them with global views and for the guests to be at home while in Langa.
Recalling the taste, freshness of homemade beer and experience at the shebeen, the maids serve guests with bucket full of the brew made from maize and sorghum and visitors enjoy several sips. It tastes nice, says one Nigerian visitor who asks for more while some American visitors say it is too strong for their stomach.
Closer to one of the corner pubs are shops where residents sell boiled sheep heads. Kimzo, a local who runs a barbing salon, says the sheep head is a rural delicacy called ‘smiley’.
Strolling further, particularly on Washington Street, you will discover Guga Sthebe Arts & Culture Centre, one of the highlights of a township tour in Lang. Decorated with polychromatic ceramic murals, Guga Sthebe is one of the most impressive buildings in Langa, which offers theatres, art studios, exhibition and concert spaces for art, music, craft and culture projects aimed at empowering the residents.
Most visitors find time to watch pottery being made in one of several studio spaces, see performances by local cultural and theatre groups often staged in the outdoor amphitheatre, visit the art studio to see an artist at work or just relax and enjoy the tranquility of the surroundings.
The centre also offers meeting spaces. Airbnb hosted the first African Travel Summit at the centre last September and visitors had time to relish on local offerings.
One thing that most visitors do not forget is to get quality artworks and souvenirs often branded with Langa logo at the centre as evidence of their visit.
At the art and culture centre, most residents pride in the fact that Langa has produced famous people in recent times including Brenda Fassie, the late musician who was also buried in the tonwship, Amampondo, the international acclaimed marimba group, among others.
Of course, to truly experience a character side of Langa and get to know the people, the culture and their way of life during your trip, you need a homely atmosphere where you will be told interesting stories and learn more about Langa and Cape Town township life in general.
While Langa may not boost of five-star hotels, life in the township is better experienced by visitors at homestays with locals, a growing accommodation option that is offerings guests experiences and homeowners extra income.
Ma Neo’s Township Bed & Breakfast in the heart of the Langa is one of the best homestay offerings in town. Ma Neo’s Township stay has space for four people and consists of two clean spacious rooms, each with television and her success came when Marthinus van Schalkwyk, minister of tourism and environmental affairs, visited Langa and decided to stay over at her B&B outfit.
That is a stamp of quality and you may consider staying over at her place any time you visit.
Visitors also enjoy local cuisines at Eziko on Jungle Walk Street, Mzansi and Theatre in the Backyard.
However, one thing that is highly recommended is the visit to a traditional healer not just for solutions to ailments but for goodluck. But visitors hardly visit.
Beyond the above attractions, Langa has more to offer if one is staying longer on a trip. Away from its past, the intriguing suburb is now full of growth, with incredible stories and experiences for visitors.
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