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Published: February 23rd 2015
Our township taxi in the leafy suburb
Heading out on a fine sunny morning With Daniel and Nhoza
The truth is that I've been struggling inside to know How to begin telling the story of my visit to the Townships.
How much to say. How much to leave out. This is not your usual tourist experince but nevertheless it is an unforgettable Journey that anyone willing to be open to what they will encounter must not miss. The Townships are in stark contrast to the "leafy suburbs" of Cape Town, two worlds apart, on two different planets.
Nhoza our guide opened doors for us to go through. She is articulate and soft spoken, a well informed Township resident and a very talented singer with Daniel's band Black South Easter. Singing is her passion, touring is her income. Daniel is the son of Alison, our gracious hostess and old English friend of Judy. Nhoza is more than a guide, more like our friend. Without Alison there would have been no Nhoza, and without Nhoza our township tour have been the poorer.
We headed out of town along the highway in the small bus reserved for that afternoon's drive. Nhoza had pre arranged for us to have a typical lunch meal including home made ginger beer. We would
visit the three townships of Langa, Nyanga and Gugulethu, driving at times and moving on foot at other times. This was no air conditioned cruiser but a small, well-used township mini bus with worn threadbare seats and open windows.
A strong unpleasant smell invades the vehicle... It's burning rubbish from the garbage dump. It sends an unmistakable signal to me that we must be near the township. And so it is, within minutes the street signs read LANGA. Well paved streets with sidewalks are the first surprise! Dozens of young people are walking en masse along the side walks. They are all students just out on lunch break from College nearby. That is the second surprise! We stop at a well appointed community building complex to see how local artists and musicians have created, with vision and development, a space for Langa's creative residents to learn and grow their art into businesses. A third very impressive surprise!
The centre is vibrant, well used, seems well managed and productive. The building's mosaic walls depict the dreams of its founders. It is modern, well lit and well set up to receive visitors. Projects are on going. We visit the pottery
area and see highly impressive quality and design work, a small open air theatre, drumming room and an internationally funded collaboration to build an indoor performance theatre, using indigenous and replaceable materials with artists from the township. There is a positive buzz everywhere. I meet some young sand artists and am very impressed with the level of composition and execution of their pieces. No doubt about it, their art is of high standard.
There is much that our TT community centers could learn and benefit from by seeing the Langa centre and exchanging ideas with its leaders. What a pity we don't sometimes think to look in this direction when we reach for our goals, visions or ideas, instead of NAmerica and Europe.
Back to the van, we drive deeper into the township centre. Things are quite different here. More like what I expect with no surprises. People are spilling around everywhere, the opposite of orderly leafy-suburb quiet. It's our lunch stop, a simple unpainted local food place, a butchers shop that also grills meats. Nomzamo's butchery. It smells good. The bus driver leaves us on the sidewalk. We are uncertain and ask if to leave bags on
the bus or not. Meaning will they be Safe? That is the perennial question every time we leave a vehicle in Cape Town (CT). I sense the discomfort and wariness among my group, an unfamiliarity with it all.
But food calls and Nhoza guides us confidently inside to two big clean tables covered with bright red Coca Cola plastic covers. She places our food orders and offers us glasses of cold very delicious ginger beer made by her neighbour. I'm talking about really excellent ginger beer! Our tables are sidewalk except there's a tall grill fence separating us from the street public. Still we see them and can be seen by them. Some interact with us. Some of it is smiling and quite pleasant. Like the big woman with an enormous plate piled high with sausages ... She laughs at our astonished faces! One is awkward. An old man is trying to sell us a tattered old grip over the fence, and the cafe security man moves him away. Nhoza knows him and tells us what he is doing. Only once is there a racial overtone, a young boy in school uniform looks at us and calls out something.
In the drumming room
work men's boots and the dance which marks the end if the work day, with drumming and dancing to relax
I learn it means 'white people'. I feel disappointed. He's just a child.
Lunch plates with cutlery and napkins are brought out. Simple food but ample servings of braai or barbecued lamb and sausages, with what looks like very sticky white rice but is actually an African staple food of corn. Mieliele meal. It's very filling and we eat the whole thing and drink more ginger beer. Nhoza introduces us to Gloria, part owner and chef of this restaurant. She has a huge smile with a gleaming gold tooth and invites us into the butchers section, behind the scenes. Very smoky and hot for they do a busy braai trade! We chat and ask questions ... Judy wants to find pigtails but Gloria has none. With big smiles and hugs we leave and set off on foot down the road around the corner into town.
Stepping over the grime and derelict items and people, the down and outs who inhabit towns like this all over the world. Nhoza brings the setting to life....there's more to it than meets our eye. There are dingy concrete cubicles to replace the old makeshift stalls. Vendors were always being robbed so now
their wares are more secure and some have morphed into permanent shop fronts. Street characters roam and a good handful of them seem drunk.
We pass through the mini bus taxi terminal.... Another case of organizing that we could adapt for TT .... there's a drive through arrangement for multiple rows of vehicles instead of the single file taxi stand as we have. This means no one can jump queue or break from the line up. And these mini buses are the public transport which get hundreds of thousands of township people to work, every day, all over the region.
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