Saturday, 30 June 2012

Township Tours!!!

The township tours have been one of my top experiences in Cape Town thus far.  We visited townships in Soweto, Langa, and Heideveld.  It’s fascinating to see how different one township is from the next and to learn of its culture.  The township tour in Soweto was by far my favorite; I think because we were actually living in Soweto while we did the tour so it felt like we were one of them.  And the workers at Lebo’s Backpackers are phenomenal!  They crack jokes with you and hang out with you next to the fire at night; they know almost everyone in their community and are well respected.  What’s also interesting about these townships is how close they are to their nice urban area counterparts.  It crazy because one minute you’re on campus at the University of Cape Town and just a 10 minute drive you’re at the township of Langa.  This shows how great the inequalities are here.

The township tour in Soweto was awesome.  All we had to do was go across the main road with our awesome bikes and we were in the poorest township in all of Soweto.  The best thing about the township and all the other townships was the sense of community you witnessed.  Despite the hard living and financial conditions, people still had smiles on their faces and little babies were running around laughing and the elders were drinking beers and conversing.  The township we visited used to be a hostel during the Apartheid years.  Men were forced to live there away from their wives and family.  They would get to see them maybe twice per year.  This separation helped increase the rate of HIV transmission because men would have sex with men and with sex workers in Johannesburg.  The coolest part about the visit to the township was tasting the traditional beer and learning the history behind it.  One of the older men of the community explained the technique of making the traditional beer.  They use bread, corn, and some kind of material to squeeze out the beer.  He explained that any event that occurs, whether it be a party, gathering, meeting, etc., must have traditional beer.  It’s more for the older folk because that’s what they’re used to drinking.  He also but on this headgear thing on some of the guys and jewelry on Lisa and Chantel.  It was really beautiful.

                                                       Ndu and his awesome headgear

                                                   The materials for the traditional bear and
                                                         the beads Chantel and Lisa wore

Another township tour we did was in a black township in Langa.  This was another form of separating the different races during Apartheid.  I found it somewhat intriguing that even today the townships are separated; although I’m sure it’s because of tradition and not because of government laws.  The township in Langa was like any other.  There are parts where the homes are basically trailers and you have areas where the homes are made of more durable material.  The first place we went to was a lady’s home that she turned into a restaurant.  It was beautiful.  There was African art everywhere, cool statutes, inscents and a balcony.  Her and her son were explaining the culture of the township.  Basically your family isn’t just your mom, dad, and siblings.  Your family is considered as anyone who is in the same tribe as you.  They started speaking their language called Xhosa which has clicks in it and is hard for many people to master.  It was funny because we asked the mother and his son to carry a conversation and the son kept laughing because he said “it’s funny because it sounds like music to you.”  It was interesting because the way the mother did her clicks were much harder than her sons.  I didn’t know how much variability there was.  The mother also explained how much of a community thetownship is.  No one locks their doors at night because they all trust each other.  The tight knit community feel is one of the main reasons many people enjoy living in the townships.  Currently there’s a slow process of moving some people out of the township to better homes funded by the government.  But the people who move find it very lonesome because their neighbors aren’t family, they’re just people next door. 

 The tour of the colored township was very interesting because we visited a “daycare”.  The reason for the quotes is because it’s technically not a daycare that’s recognized by the government.  There are some regulations that haven’t been met such as the number of windows so cross ventilation is made possible.  The reason this regulation can’t be met is because each wall of the house is bounded by another wall of someone else’s home.  So technically there’s no possible way to have two windows even if she does make one in the roof.  I really admire the lady in charge of the daycare.  She explained that it first started off as a few parents dropping off their kids at her home while they went to work or something of the sort.  They all trusted her and soon it gradually grew to 30 kids that she has today.  There’s a very small room where the kids lay and play.  She has 30 mats that she places in some unique configuration while the kids nap; very innovative.  Some of the kids that go there are from dysfunctional homes whether it be drugs and alcohol, abuse, neglect, etc.  And it’s unfortunate because she can’t accept all the kids because of the limited amount of resources and money she has.  But how can she turn away a child in need?  The only money she receives is the fee from the parents and her own money.  She doesn’t get any money from the government.

                                                                 The cute daycare!


  1. Nice to read a post from daily life from where students interact with local folks and get a sense of daily life. I'm thinking here of the daycare center and peolples/places in the different townships. It makes you reflect on the nature of 'family' and 'community' and thoughyou didn't use the term I wondered to what degree you felt like an outsider or an 'other'? It is excellent that you have had encounters like these.

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