The other side of Africa…The ‘township’

A term used in South Africa…Its meaning? The ghettos of black, coloured and Indian people originally settled by migrant black workers and later designed to segregate any non-whites from the white communities…

Today we had the chance to visit Ulanga (in Xhosa meaning the Sun) the oldest township in Cape Town, erected in the 1920s to house Xhosa people moving in from Eastern Cape to find work in Cape Town, and Guguletu. Nowadays every major South African city has townships, largest being the plus 1 million strong Soweto in Johannesburg…

During apartheid it was the perfect means to implement the segregation policies. All over South Africa, Sothos, Xhosas, Zulus were confined into separate Bantustans and townships around the cities became enclaves in the country. People could only go to work outside the township if they had a work permit and a passport. Each day, up till the mid 1970s, black people would have to wait hours in order to get their “dumb-passports” stamped when getting to work in the morning and getting back from work in the night…After the fall of apartheid people from townships could freely move, but economically the results vary. Certain parts of Ulanga are well paved, with community centers for arts, sports, churches and Sunday schools. Even some of the houses in the older part of the township are well furnished, with nice fences and brick houses.

Then comes the second stage of houses, built in the 50s and 60s, where originally 3 working men shared a room, but nowadays three families share a room less than 3×4 meters; an average of nine people on such a small place. These homes are at least brick and provide some sort of comfort, but the worst part of the township is where the squatters live, people who just arrived from other parts of the country, who live in make-shift barracks and shacks. There is no running water or sanitation in the latter ones.

So what did we do in Ulanga and Guguletu?

–               we had an amazing tour guide who grew up there and was keen on teaching us the ways of the township and its history

–               we visited the primary school, the catholic complex and the sports and arts complex

–               we stopped at the various memorials where people were gunned down by police when protesting against the regime

–               we ate local dumplings and we tried the “SMILEY” – a sheep’s head, a local delicacy made by hard working women in shacks. They use a heated iron to burn the hair and skin of, and then boil the head…I was brave enough to try the tongue but Severin ate the EYEEEE….dammmit

–               a family let us into their room…or should I say families….3 beds in a tiny room for 3 families…that’s when the burden of the situation hit me… I could not imagine living in such a place, but people have to live there, bring up kids there, eat, sleep and make love in those circumstances

–               we stopped at a local “bar” drank cheap beer, listened to live music, ate sausage and stakes with a white porridge and of course only using our fingers 😀 no cutlery

My overall impression is that there is government initiative to help these people. And many programs failed to build proper houses because the problem arises…whose shack do u pull down and build a government house? Who gets it, who is on the waiting list and so on? I saw a lot of poverty, but I saw better parts as well. I saw welcoming people, kids playing on the streets, small businesses… It is a world strange to many white Westerners but as an Easterner I wasn’t shocked by it at all…I wish these people all the best in their struggle and I hope slowly but surely they will flourish…

P.S. And I will teach in Kayamandi, the Stellenbosch township every Wednesday 🙂

Ulanga and Guguletu townships, Western Cape, South Arica, 18th febr 2011


One response to “The other side of Africa…The ‘township’

  1. what will u teach? English to kids? and what about the quite fancy cars on the roadside (last picture)? do they belong to people living in those shacks? that would be very much similar to the situation in Romania if u think of the small appartements in the blocks and the shiny SUVs parked in front

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