“If I meet a girl who is no longer a teenager and not yet a mother, I tell her she must be from another planet.” It was lines like this one from our tour guide, Lele, that painted the reality of life in Langa and highlighted one of the many pressing issues the community faces. Throughout our tour, Lele, who grew up in Langa, shared his inspiring life story and helped us understand the history of the township.
Created during apartheid (1948-1991), townships are underdeveloped areas that many South Africans still reside in today. Laws under the apartheid government segregated every aspect of life according to the color of one’s skin. Whites were given preferential land choice and they had the power to designate “white only” areas. As a result, racial minorities would be evicted from their homes and forced to move to townships.
Many visitors to South Africa are a bit hesitant to visit a township. Is it right to tour poverty? Is it ethical to be a “tourist” viewing other people’s oppression? Do locals actually want people (primarily white people) coming into their community and peering into their lives? Visiting a township undoubtedly raises these controversial questions which we considered carefully before booking a tour. We didn’t want to be voyeuristic but at the same time, we wanted to learn about life in a township. After much consideration, we decided to visit Langa, Cape Town’s oldest township, with Siviwe Tours, a locally owned and operated tour company.
Visiting the township of Langa ultimately became a highlight of our travels. No trip to South Africa is complete without experiencing a township firsthand. To spend time traveling in this beautiful country without peeking beneath the surface to understand it’s still raw past, will have you leaving without understanding the implications of apartheid and the challenges the country faces moving forward. Democracy in 1994 didn’t make everything better. Nelson Mandela didn’t fix all of South Africa’s problems- things are still rough for a lot of people. Visiting a township is humbling; it’s real, it’s thought provoking, nostril-burning and absolutely worth it. The people of Langa are incredibly friendly and it seemed as though our tourism dollars benefited the whole community. We left Langa feeling sad but hopeful for the future. We encourage you to go experience this community for yourself. Your visit will be informational, a bit depressing, yet completely necessary and enlightening.