January 15th, 2013
“Community” Redefined on the Langa Township Tour
Throughout our trip the word “community” had been a common theme, as it is easy to see that there is a strong sense of community here in South Africa. However, until today what this truly meant was still a bit of a mystery to me. Today we toured Langa, a township that is located right on the outskirts of Capetown. Our tour began with a quick overview and description from our guide that ended with the following statement “people who grow up in Langa don’t often leave Langa, I grew up in Langa and I love Langa.” At the time, I didn’t really think too much more into what he said but as the tour continued I found it replaying in my head. Langa. Now, at the time I thought nothing of this, but as our tour progressed it became clear that the reason for this was due to the strong sense of community.
Our tour consisted of three sections, the hostels, the informal area, and “Beverly Hills.” From the outside the hostels appeared to be apartment complex buildings. As we climbed the steps to see a closer look inside, I discovered it was much different than what I had expected. On this floor, there were eight rooms sharing one bathroom and one water faucet. It was a hard sight to see as it was explained to us that each room had a separate family housing anywhere from four to eight people each. From what we are used to, these living conditions were shocking, as I had a hard time imagining what it would be like. Exiting the hostel, a short walk brought us to the informal area of the township that is made up of shacks built from wood and tin. Each shack generally houses a separate family, however, in general, they lack individual running water.
The final section of our tour was the “Beverly Hills of Langa,” which as it was explained to us was where all of the people who became successful in Langa now reside. This area was made up of nice homes similar to that we have become so accustomed to; including multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and garages. Being our third township that we have visited here in South Africa, the living conditions that we saw were very similar to what we have seen before. However, there was one large difference that stuck out to me in terms of township structure that I had not seen before and that was the proximity of the areas. A member of our group asked the guide, “are there ever any problems that arise from having these nice homes so close to the areas with significantly lower living conditions?” The answer was “No, absolutely not.” As soon as he said this I noticed that these homes actually had a lot less barbed wire and security devices that I was so used to seeing around Capetown and its townships. How could this be? In America we can’t begin to imagine having a mansion in the middle of the projects, why does it work here? Our guide then began to explain why; he said it was because even though these people found successful careers, they do not want to leave their home for the nicer standards of the city because they love the culture and people of Langa. They stay and give back to the community, providing jobs and resources for which he said that they are appreciated for.
In America, we think of communities as areas of similar economic status based upon the similar types of homes in an area. Here however, my view of community was reshaped in that a community does not need to contain those who are similar in lifestyle or status, but a community is a group of people that just care about and appreciate what the other members have to offer.