June 20, 2013

Touring Langa Township, Cape Town South Africa

Prior to our expedition in Botswana, we spent a week in Cape Town, South Africa. While there we toured several of the city’s townships. Below is an excerpt from my journal dated August 23, 2008.

Cape Town, South Africa
Langa Township
Cold (52°F), fog and rain

IMG_2163 - Version 2_web Under gray skies and a steady rain, we toured Cape Town with Saliegh Petersen, a friendly, intelligent man in his 30s. Early in the tour, we were asked if we’d like to see Langa, one of the city’s “townships.” I asked if it was safe, to which he replied, “Yes, with me.” I interpreted that to mean that it was not safe at all, and was admittedly nervous as we exited the highway into a vast sea of makeshift housing.

Townships were set up under apartheid to create a division between people of different skin color. Some within the townships are lucky enough to live in government built apartment complexes, though the buildings we saw looked to be in severe disrepair. Most, however, live in ill-constructed shacks built of plywood, metal siding, plastic tarps and other scraps. Saliegh referred to these dwellings as, shanties.

It was raining heavily as we toured Langa, making the experience all the more eerie. People walked about the street aimlessly, staring in the windows of our van as we passed. I saw “Snoop Doggy Dog” spray-painted on the side of a brick wall. We passed a row of rusted steel drums, overturned to display a dozen or more goat heads for sale. Makeshift stands on the side of the road offered chickens and various types of food for sale. We stopped to watch a woman carry steaming, headless chickens to a muddy piece of plywood where she plopped them down and began stripping the feathers. Occasionally, Saliegh would stop so that I could take photographs and video. Most people were accepting and even smiled when they saw the camera. One or two women waved me off.


Saliegh explained to us that he often brings supplies to AIDS mothers who cannot adequately support their children. We turned down a narrow, flooded street and stopped outside small shack. “This woman has several young children,” Saliegh said, pointing inside the shanty. I turned to see three small children and several adults huddled under the tin roof. The children were adorable, and none older than five. The woman stepped into the rain as Saliegh rolled down his window. “I have some clothes to bring to you,” he said. “I will bring them later this week.” She smiled and said, “Oh, thank you. Thank you.” Wrapped up in the moment, we asked if we could do something for them, even leave them some money for food. Saliegh advised against it, and said if we wanted to donate anything to them he would bring it back later. As we drove on, Saliegh told of a time when a man and woman got out of his van and started handing out money. Before they knew what was happening there were 200 people surrounding the van. “That was not a smart thing to do,” he said. “You have to be careful how you distribute gifts. It’s best to bring them things they need instead of money. Clothes, food, medicine. Even when you do it this way, things are often stolen by others. The safest gift is clothing for their children. Most people respect people’s children.”

As the rain came down heavier, we navigated narrow, flooded streets, slowly making our way out of the township. Back on the highway, we were all silent for a time, each of us processing what we had just experienced.

We truly admire Saliegh for the work he is doing and are grateful he introduced us to Langa. He grew up in a township not much different than Langa and has spent a good part of his adult life bringing awareness to the living conditions that millions in his country endure. The more people that are aware, the more likely it is that the people in South Africa’s townships will receive the critical support they need. Saliegh’s efforts and the hard work of many others are making a difference. Schools are being built and the living conditions are improving for some. But they have a lot more work to do. To learn more about Langa and ways you can help, click on the links below. Even a small contribution can do a tremendous amount of good.



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