I spent the day touring through Cape Town's townships, exploring their history, culture and lives.
It was a Thursday morning at Riverlodge Backpackers and the second day in a row that I didn’t have to work. The previous day was a rather lazy one and I didn’t leave my bed and book except for doing some grocery shopping and a short trip to the Old Biscuit Mill in one of Cape Town's neighbourhoods called Woodstock.
Because the previous day wasn’t so spectacular, I thought that Thursday should be a bit more exciting and I spontaneously booked myself a seat on the Vamos Township Tour.
Pick-up for the township tour was at 9am and I was on the tour with the guide named Gladstone, Denise and Peter who were a couple from England, and Reinhild and her husband, a couple from southern Germany. We drove the short distance to the township called Langa, where we started our tour. While we were driving though some parts of the oldest township in Cape Town, Gladstone taught us how to say hello and thank you in isiXhosa and of course introduced us to the “clicks” in their language, which we more or less failed to imitate.
We got out of the car at the visitor’s centre in Langa, where he showed us around and we got to meet one of his colleagues of the “Happy Feet” project and the people taking part in the pottery workshop, whose work you can find all over Cape Town, for example at the Watershed and the Red Shed Craft Workshop at the V&A Waterfront.. The pottery is really beautiful, a great souvenir and absolutely worth the price – and you can even put them in the dish washer!
After that, Gladstone gave us a little history lesson in the former court room about Langa’s past and the passports that everyone had to carry during Apartheid and the protests against that. We finally started our walk through Langa and saw a lot of shipping containers that the people have their shops in, boys playing football on the streets and a lot of very sweet kids that came running to take us by the hand, which gave us all a big smile on our faces.
Next, we turned into the backyard of some of those former hostels that were used to accommodate one man per room in the past, but now accommodate whole families. The rooms were tiny and there was hardly any place to stand for us. The room that the family welcomed us into had three beds in it and accommodated surely more than three people.
It was the house where Gladstone grew up in and where his brother still lives, but now has one room to himself. The whole hostel was in a really bad condition and the bathrooms shocking - a big eye opener as to how many people live.
We walked further down the street in Langa, talking about this and that and eventually Gladstone drew our attention to the women on the other side of the street, who had their "business" there, which mainly consisted of buying live chicken, slaughtering and plucking them to sell them for double the amount that they bought them for. As we were standing there, one of them was just about to take one of those chickens out of the boxes and started cutting its throat, and in this perverse fascination, I couldn’t look away. That was really the first time in my life I had seen someone killing an animal – what an experience.
Further down the street, we came into the area with those very nice houses that all of us would gladly have lived in. Some of them belonged to doctors and lawyers as Gladstone told us, some were newly built and some built by the government for free housing, so that the people in Langa could move out of the shacks that they currently live in.
We were then invited into the house of one of Gladstone’s friends. She and her family, in total 10 people, are all still living in one of those tiny shacks, although they were promised they could move into one of those new houses. She is a very fascinating person: She is only 21, got pregnant at 15, now has a 5 year old child and is a single mom after the death of her boyfriend. At the same time, she is a second year student in psychology at the University of Cape Town and she is a very happy and optimistic person, determined to make something out of her life and give something back to her community and make her parents proud.
After that, we walked back to our Vamos Township Tour bus, drove through the “downtown” of Langa, as Gladstone called it, where all the shops are, passed the main station for all the mini busses/taxis, and then he quickly showed us where they organize and have their events from that “Happy Feet” project. After that we left Langa and drove off to another one of Cape Town's township called Gugulethu, where we had a Braai at Mzoli’s, which is obviously a very popular place and always crowded on weekends.
The food at Mzoli's was delicious! Apart from the meat, we also had special bread, some beans and other stuff of which I forgot the name.
All in all, it was a good end for our Vamos Township Tour and soon after we finished we headed back home, because Gladstone was running late for his next tour.
This experience really opened my eyes to how many people live. It was heart-warming to see how the people in these townships, despite their past and current situations, still manage to have dreams and keep a smile on their faces.
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