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Langa, Cape Town: Township Tour

Langa and other sites
Cape Town
Western Cape

Trip or Tour? – A Visit to Langa

“It’s a trip really, not a tour, inside the other side of Cape Town. And I’m not a guide; I’m a tour facilitator.”

With these words, Inkululeko Tours, which calls itself “the freedom route” in bold, black letters on its shiny, white Mercedes bus, begins the trip into the townships of Cape Town.

The facilitator is chipper, enthusiastic, and quite concentientious. He presents the history of South Africa during apartheid—the victory of the National Party in 1948, the classification system which legalized racial discrimination, the story of District 6—with a cool and calm that demonstrates control and confidence in his subject matter.

Our journey to the Cape Flats is likened to a historical trajectory, from District 6 (where families individuals were forcibly ousted) to the townships of Langa, and, later, Guguletu (which were specifically created to contain the black population).

Langa, 476 hectares of poverty, is the first place the group visits. Of the township’s 250,000 residents, our guide tells us, about 65% are unemployed; lack of access to proper housing, clean water, and sanitation services are just some of the many problems the residents are confronted with.

In Langa the tour actually breaks away from the comfort of the vehicle to walk through the township, going from a cooperative recycling unit, to a home-stay, and later, to an herbalist. There is even a break for local beer tasting, known as umqombothi.

While insightful, it’s hard to tell if this is really a trip for learning or just a tour. A trip implies something adventurous, and often foreign. One takes part in and experiences something during a trip. A tour, on the other hand, puts distance between the observer and the observed. Inasmuch as the tour facilitator tried to present the pulse of Cape Town, his was both reality and a show.

When, as we walked through the homestay, for instance, the guide exchanged money with the person who lived ther. It created the feeling that one was perhaps experiencing something that catered to a Western conception ofwhat township reality is. And despite the continual encouragement by the guide to snap pictures (of individuals, landscapes, scenery), one was torn by the function of these images and their effect on the individual and location being captured.

It was as if there were two realities, which collided into a forceful present. The reality which was experienced comfortably in the tour bus, and another, the product of walking awkwardly around the townships, encountering peoples and pasts, both real and contrived.

Still, part trip, part tour, part passing through, part being submersed in, Inkululeko Tours caters to the conscience of the image-hungry tourist well, if awkwardly so.