What Did We Do?

Dennis and Jenny Hacker's Sojourns in Africa

Township Tour

March 19, 2018 | Artwork in Langa

Since we’ve been in Cape Town, Jenny has wanted to go to a township. I must say, I’ve been a little reticent to go. Although I’m ashamed to admit it, I guess it’s due to the racism I learned as a child. Going into areas of mostly/entirely black people in St. Louis was considered suicide. Over the years I’ve worked hard to overcome my innate racism. Moving to Africa for a year made me look into the face of racism and deal with it as a man, not as a child.

We’ve talked to the gate guards about where they live and most live in either settlements or townships. So, what are these areas?

Settlements and Townships

A settlement is just that: where newly arrived immigrants from other countries in Africa or other areas of South Africa set up their initial homes. These people are “settlers”. They set up shacks of either wood or corrugated metal walls and roofs. They are basically a single room house. Maybe a few have two rooms.

Initially, these homes have neither running water nor bathrooms. Portable toilets are set up in long rows along the fences that enclose these places. Eventually, the City of Cape Town brings water and electricity to the settlements. It is interesting that “homes” in the settlements have no running water, but most have satellite dishes on the roofs. After the water is brought in, there are usually public showers where everyone does their bathing and spigots where laundry is done in tubs.

The settlers eventually get tired of living like this and riot. They burn tires on the highways and roads leading either to, from or past the settlements and have large demonstrations. This causes the City to come in and bulldoze the shacks. The settlers leave during the bulldozing and then return to re-build their “homes” from the detritus that is leftover

After repeated episodes of riots and bulldozing, the City begins to build permanent houses and this leads to Townships. A township or a “little” Town where the settlement was. Usually settlements will spring up adjacent to the township. The homes in the township are usually constructed of concrete blocks with running water and toilet facilities in each home. Langa is a township.


Langa was developed when apartheid was the law of the land. All blacks and colored were put into districts. As Cape Town grew, they government kept moving the blacks and colored time and again. Finally, they developed Langa which is quite a distance outside town. Actually, it is quite close to the airport. In my ignorance, I was quite apprehensive for Jen to go to a township alone. Knowing nothing about Langa, I had no interest in going. We signed up for an art tour on Thursday, March 16th through Air BnB.

We had Timoth, our driver, take us to Langa and we met Bongani, our guide. What an articulate and knowledgeable man. There are many artists in Langa and many of them have their galleries in people’s homes. I guess they don’t have to pay gallery commissions and don’t have to deal with prejudices as well.

The first home was that of Mama Beautiful. She has the artist working out of an addition to her house. I’d call it a garage, but that would be really incorrect. The artwork was colorful and very much alive with spirit and everyday life in the township.

As we walked to the second home we saw three tour buses parked at the school in town. It looked like “bunker mentality.” It keeps whites from interacting with the “dangerous blacks”. As soon as they finished looking at the school, the folks climbed back on the buses and left the area. Wow! They really got a look at the local lives.

The second home was that of a really interesting man. Has musical talent as well as artistic talent. After seeing his artwork which was for sale, he had us sit at his kitchen table and make ink block prints. Jenny was excited as she hadn’t done this since she was in school, either grade or high school.

We went to the third house and there we were given lunch. Hake, mushrooms, vegetables and home-made ginger beer. All excellent.

After lunch we walked the neighborhood and looked at the painted walls on outhouses, garages and houses. Bongani reported that graffiti has decreased since the paintings have gone up.

All-in-all, the Langa tour was exceptional. I’d recommend it to anyone.

FILED IN: This and That

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