Friday, March 7, 2014

Langa township is easily accessible. It’s a convenient 12,3 kilometres from central Cape Town. In the Xhosa language Langa means “sun” but the township is actually named after Chief Langalibalele who was imprisoned on Robben Island in 1873. “Township” is a label of sorts that was given to many areas in South Africa demarcated specifically for black or coloured (mixed race) South Africans. Today Langa is a vibrant, largely Xhosa speaking community known for its warmth and hospitality.

Go local

If your tour guide happens to be a local resident you might start with an early morning walk through the “irhanga” or alleyways in the Harlem precinct. This is one of the more upmarket parts of Langa, certainly if compared with the dilapidated Joe Slovo informal settlement a couple of blocks away. Just like a visit to any other town or city in the world, Langa is a place of contrasts.

Leave your preconceived ideas behind

Expect to be pleasantly surprised by the ingenuity of the place. This is reflected in daily life as people go about their business. Where else but in a township would you expect to find a metal shipping container cleverly renovated to reveal a thriving hair salon. This is where you’ll get to see a salon client energetically tapping her foot in time to a lively song booming from the radio. At the same time her hairdresser bops along with her, all the while dexterously manouvering and sewing in her lady’s weave.

The significance of the “dompas” or “dumb pass”

Many people don’t know that Langa was the first planned township in Cape Town. It’s also the oldest. You’ll want to take a trip to the Langa Heritage Museum for a very personal look at the tragedy and triumph of an irrepressible people.

During the apartheid era all black people were required to carry passbooks or dumb passes when outside of their designated township areas. Failure to present a passbook often resulted in a hefty fine, arrest and sometimes deportment. Engage with Alfred, the museum curator. He’s a friendly database of historical information and anecdotal stories.

Hunger games

By this time you’ll need some lunch. Prebook Mzansi, a family home restaurant that serves a simple, hearty Afro-Western buffet. Guests dine downstairs and the family quite literally live upstairs. If you want to snack upstairs you walk through the house and onto a deck with a view of Table Mountain. If you happen to bypass a family member, they’ll smile, direct you through, and go about their business.

Ask for the fat cake. It’s deep-fried like a doughnut and light and fluffy on the inside but without all the sugar. And, if you’re a serious foodie bungee-jumper then try the “inqina” or chicken feet, the walkie part of walkie-talkies, as locals popularly reference them. Whatever your food preferences, while you’re happily munching away you’ll be treated to a live performance by a local jazz Marimba band.

Where to lay your hat

With lunch over you’ll need to decide how to spend the rest of your afternoon. Play some soccer with the local children; visit the Art and Culture Centre, perhaps followed by a sundowner at a local shebeen or tavern. Try Fanie’s. If you’re planning on staying over at one of the B&Bs it’s best to make a reservation in advance. In the morning you might consider a visit to a traditional healer before heading back to the Mother city.

Langa Township virtual tour
Langa Heritage Musuem virtual tour

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