Here you see me together with Neville, our guide for the township tour we did on Christmas day. Neville picked us up at 9am and while driving out to Langa – the smallest and oldest township in Cape Town – while telling us about his own childhood in the area and how his mother apparently was one of the first residents in Langa to start taking international tourists in to Langa. And as the interest among travelers is big, the company is going pretty well.
This means they’re operative every day and take both small and larger groups into the townships, depending on the season. I counted 11 seats in the van and tried to calculate what they’d earn on taking up to two groups of tourists per day. I wanted to ask Neville how the company assures that their operation benefits people (the way I mentioned being concerned about in the previous post), but waited till we got a bit friendlier.
Upon arrival to Langa twenty minutes later, Neville briefed us from behind the steering wheel on the history of the government-led racist system of Apartheid. With sad eyes he told us how the long-lasting Apartheid robbed people for their dignity and self-esteem, and ruined family structures and relationships. The creation of townships is especially to blame for the latter he said, because men were separated from their wives and kids all over the country when they had to move to urban areas for labor.
Apartheid has thus set two whole generations back due to the ban of education for blacks and colored people, Neville claimed, and reminded us that the cruel history of oppression is to blame for the current bad situation many blacks South African finds themselves in. Despite the gruesome history however, our guide underlined the important fact that all South Africans currently are free, and supposed to be equal, therefore he means that the country is moving in the right direction:
It will take another generation to see proper equality between the races, but I’m sure we are getting there, he said confidently. South African is still a place filled with social issues – especially among colored and blacks –, but reconciliation, education and time will make us grow stronger together and never allow such a thing to happen again.
As we started the walking tour, we were told how people in the townships find pride in welcoming people from the outside in to their home streets. That township residents are friendly and that guests often get surprised by this (which made me think that if people express that after a tour they’re crazy, but that’s another story…), and that in Langa everybody are like his “brothers and sisters.” I say this because the world still needs to see that townships are not their reputation.
However, contradictory to this we were reminded to please stay with the local guide we soon were about to meet, in case we would meet some “gangsters”. Although he stated to hardly know of any incident of crime towards tourists, Neville’s point was that as it was Christmas Day and most people were off work, he expected more drinking and partying and potentially more aggressive attitudes. Fair enough, we said.
Off we went through some streets of Langa while Neville told us that most people living in Langa are of the Xhosa tribe and have the same customs. He told us about the rituals of circumcising in the Xhosa culture, a tradition of the rite of passage from puberty to adulthood that apparently is done in the same way today as centuries ago. When a family has a son that has gone through the circumcising they put a special tree in front of their house so that all the neighbours know and can congratulate them.
The circumcised boy on the other hand won’t be at home to great them, as he’s out in the woods, apparently often in a tent like construction, where he’s going through the pain without no pain killers or medical help at all, as this is key for Xhosa men in order to enter manhood (!). Truth is though, some men die due to this rather old fashioned practice and today apparently government officials try to ban this procedure.
Another perhaps more fun fact related to the circumcising is that when men have healed and come back to the society they have to dress in a special way (light clothes, shirt, vest and a six pence) for one year, as a show off to the community. Again for people to congratulate them. When I asked what are the customs amongst women with regards to leaving childhood, the guide got silent.
Wherever we went people greeted both Neville and us and after 15 minutes we were given over to an older man called Archie. We were told he would guarantee a more local tour as he knows more people and stories in Langa of today. Another point of hiring him for a short trip is that it contributes to his income, but this wasn’t specified the way Id like it to be, but more on that later.
Archie was a funny character, and we loved him instantly. He was dressed in a worn out wool sweater, was tall and skinny with big eyes whose white parts had turned yellow. He really loves talking and stopped at every house corner to tell us a story from the hood.
During the 1,5 hours with Archie we saw his house and met his kids, walked from the so-called lower-class to worker-class, middle class and though the shantytown. In the latter we sat down in an informal bar called Shabeen (see below) to taste home-brewed traditional beer.
Together with some up and coming drunk men, we shared a bucket of a rather warm and thick beer, while Archie talked about the drinking customs – but also many drinking issues – in Langa. And just like he had been going on since the tour started he kept saying “I’m not being political, but …. ” whenever he wanted to say something negative about the poor living conditions of people in Langa, hinting at the government’s poor ability to improve the situation.
Back on the road we passed by groups of young people hanging out, many of whom were cleaning cars accompanied by loud house music. When we passed them they seemed careless to our presence, as if it’s completely normal white people are touring in their neighbourhoods.
From around any corner, kids came running towards us saying “Molo” (hello), holding out their tiny hands. They wanted candy, we were told. Unfortunately I had to reject them, and felt stupid I hadn’t thought of bringing anything. Like a bag of pencils, books, clothes… Archie told us not to worry and that the kids were especially interested in us today as many white people had been coming the last days with Christmas presents for them.
A couple of very touching things happened from here on, and to read about that click on the NEXT button.