This is the last leg of the story about my eyeopening trip to Langa, a township in Cape Town. If you haven’t read the first parts yet, you can find the introduction here, which also leads you to the second part.
Out of two events that touched me the most during the tour, one was a special encounter with a group of kids about 3- 5 years old. As most other kids we had met until then, they too came running towards us when they spots walking on the street. Hoping for candy, as apparently many whites bring them that when visiting.
As I didn’t have anything for them I felt a bit stupid, and sat down to chat with them, get their names and ask how they were enjoying Christmas. I quickly understood their English was very limited, but body languages like holding up their fingers to indicate their age and greeting in their language worked well.
When they understood I had no candies to give out, they did something that melted my heart.
Simultaneously they offered me chips from the small bags they were holding between their chubby hands, insisting (again with body languages) that I took a little from each and every one. I thanked politely and told them that was a beautiful gesture, and that I’d never forget their faces. Then the smallest indicated he wanted a hug and suddenly all of them were over me.
A minutes later I got on my feet and waved them goodbye as they ran off into the horizon of shack houses. Walking on Archie told us about Ubuntu, which is an African word for humanity and hospitality that he meant all kids are thought to live by, though they’ve got very little. Sure thing. Ill never forget that moment or knowledge.
We walked off to see a hostel, which also was going to be a very touching moment. In the hostels four families share a 12 m2 big room that initially was created for four labour workers during Apartheid. This means that it’s common that over 30 people live together in one compound that includes one kitchen and one toilet. Thus, the concept of ‘privacy’ hardly exists in Langa, we were told.
In the hostel we visited, an old lady sat inside her room with her three year old grand daughter. Archie introduced us and told us the older lady couldn’t speak much English but that we could ask any questions we’d like. The little one on her side just stared at us and I couldn’t help wondering how this situation must feel like for them. We were told to sit down on a bed if we wanted to, while Archie told us how people live in the hostels.
Supposedly families in the hostels are living like this as a temporary solution put out by the government while building better housing situations for everyone. But what began as something temporary in the 90s, is today taken as an offense. The hostel residents are of the poorest in Langa, and a whole generation of kids has grown up living like this on top of each other.
Note: Before leaving the room I was told to please take pictures of anything I liked as that can result in more people seeing the poor living conditions of these people. At first I felt a bit uncomfortable, but then I see their point. Here is also a picture of the little one in the doorway. (Ive got her name and will send them the picture, upon Archie’s recommendation and supposedly a little girl’s big excitement).
Before we left the house I was very unsure whether to pay the family something or not, and didn’t know how to ask about it. Archie said later that it is all up to us if we want to contribute. Stupidly I hadn’t brought any smaller cash and somehow I decided not to donate anything as I felt it all got a bit weird. Later I’ve regretted this, as I couldn’t stop thinking about how this family (and others) must get many visitors, and ‘something more’ should be in it for them for opening their houses like this to us.
Before finishing the tour we stopped by a traditional healer, popularly called Sangoma (witch doctor) that definitely seemed used to having tourists entering his ‘clinic’.
The Sangoma gave us a small tour with explanations of all the things he uses to get rid of people’s illnesses or curses. It was an interesting affair, but man it smelled rotten meat in there. Something three tired elder men seemed to be trying to combat by smoking heavily.
The doctor promoted himself as known for having healed blind people in Langa and tried to sell us some animal skins and oils against future headaches, increased sex appetite or fertility.
We couldn’t come up with something we needed so we paid, photographed and left.
Outside of the clinic however we came over two Rasta men that had made some fantastic photo frames out of metal tins. They were singing and drinking beers in a Merry Christmas mood, and we bought some small frames from them.
Then the tour was going to an end and Archie took us back to where Neville was waiting in his car. At this point I found it very difficult to know what to give and how much, and instantly wanted to ask Neville about these things when back in the van. I was now so full of impressions and questions and felt warm enough to ask Neville how his company distributes the income from the tour rate (35 euro per person).
Although I find the whole concept a bit confusing and poorly organised in terms of communicating well to visitors what things cost and what we should give of donations etc., I believe Neville when he says that his mother goes to everyone she knows are involved in their businesses each month with a salary.
However, I can’t say I know much more or trust that everybody involved in tourism in Langa get their fair share. Besides, I don’t know what they really think of having a bunch foreigners coming in to their private sphere like that.. Id agree that the hospitality in Langa was as overwhelming as people write online, and overall Id say that the guides’ conduct indeed felt respectful and meaningful not only for us, but also the people we met. Therefore all in all we really enjoyed the experience and have talked about it the whole night. With the result of V’s parents going on another tour themselves today.
I also think Id like to go back one day to try to understand more of this rather weird but also fascinating concept.
Thanks for having us Langa and Cape Town!