Langa Township, Cape Town ~ Extreme poverty – Is there a way out?

Sunday January 18th ~ (part 2) Langa Township, Cape Town

Front of the building - Community center

Front of the building – Community center

Earlier in the day we had been blessed with a fun cable car ride up to the top of Table mountain, magnificent views over the city of Cape Town, the joy of seeing several rock hyrax including cute babies, a walk through the colorful Malay Quarter, a stop at a castle built in the mid 1600’s and several more interesting and historical sites. If you want to check out our pictures covering this part, you can click here.

Our day was about to take a dramatic change.

We had a local guide (Shai) take us on a four-hour visit to the poorest part of Cape Town. Here is how the Gate 1 explained the optional tour on their website: 

“Join this multi-cultural tour of Cape Town which provides the opportunity to experience authentic interactions with the City’s many different communities. You will be welcomed in the townships of Langa, the oldest formal township. These locations will illustrate the struggles still facing parts of the country and the bitter legacy of apartheid; but it will also show the great strides that have been made since Nelson Mandela was released from prison. The tour includes a visit to the Gugulethu township, meaning “our pride”, which was established as a result of the migrant labor system. Also experience a visit to a “shebeen”, an informal tavern where you will have the chance to mingle with members of the community and see local artisans at work.”

I think they tried to start us out gently, with our first stop being at a community center where some training is given on the computer and local artisans produce items such as hand-painted pottery and sand paintings. The work was excellent quality and was offered to us for sale.

Examples of sand painting. The zebra on the right has a lion reflected in the eye.

Examples of sand painting. The zebra on the right has a lion reflected in the eye.

The also have a building that is about 3/4 completed that will be a combination theater and showroom. It has been built by foreign volunteers that have used sea cargo containers, wooden pallets, and straw, grass and mud for insulation.

They offer musical training, including drums where the local children and young adults can perform to earn some money. We had actually observed several of their students a couple of days earlier near where we had seen the penguins.

Drums used for training. Made from hardwood and animal skins

Drums used for training. Made from hardwood and animal skins

In a very simplistic explanation, during apartheid, (which translates as “the state of being apart” or separate development) people were segregated and separated according to their skin color. They were divided into four classifications – Black, Coloured, Indian and White. Each of the four groups lived in their own area and they were not allowed to live anywhere else.

In 1994, the law was changed and everyone was finally free to choose where they wanted to live. However, the reality was that much of the black population could not afford to move or relocate into nicer areas.

When Nelson Mandela ran for election on the platform that promised “a better life for all” with the impression that would include housing and employment opportunities, he won the support of the black community. After he was elected, people literally lined up expecting to get a key to their “promised” new home.

Realizing that his intended message had been misinterpreted by many of the uneducated and inexperienced people, Mandela came up with a program that over time built almost three million homes that were indeed given to the poor.

As this program continued, more and more people from all over the country began to move to Cape Town. There was not enough housing for all, and within a short time, shanty towns grew even larger. Squatters took over areas, and new laws protected them from being removed.

We were taken right into the middle of some of these areas where we had the opportunity to visit with the local people, go inside a home, see how they live, take pictures and ask questions.

Large complexes had been constructed, first as housing for men, but later entire families moved in.  We visited one of these complexes that was roughly 1200 square feet. It had housed SIXTY men – working and sleeping in shifts. Today several entire families will share this same space.

Communal courtyard area

Communal courtyard area

Bedroom that several families would share, parents and their children

Bedroom that several families would share, parents and their children. This room was very neat in comparison to other areas we saw.

What I enjoyed the most, was interacting with the children!


These two girls had been doing laundry by hand when we arrived. The girl on the right had just reached 17 and her face had been cut with a knife – three slices on each cheek and three on her forehead. It was a tribal rite of passage into adulthood. Even the very poor people still had cell phones though!


This adorable cutie was happy to pose for me and got such joy out of seeing her pictures


They actually came up to me and asked for their picture to be taken. I think they were enjoying hamming it up for the camera. The younger children were more friendly.

For the most part, people were friendly and interested in talking with us. I found that the younger children were the most enthusiastic that we were there, but the teenagers were getting more of an attitude and several of them simply showed us their middle finger and turned their heads.

I’m not so sure that I would enjoy having strangers come into my neighborhood, asking unlimited questions and snapping pictures.

Each area we visited became increasingly more “rustic”.


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I will continue our day in the next post with more pictures of people and businesses, plus our visit to the “Witch Doctor”

GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful for the comforts of my little cabin high up in the San Bernardino mountains. It is small, but it has amenities many people from all over the world would look at to be extreme luxury in comparison to how they are living. We take so much for granted, like electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, a washing machine and clothes dryer, our own bed, a place to cook a meal and then a table and a chair to sit on.

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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10 Responses to Langa Township, Cape Town ~ Extreme poverty – Is there a way out?

  1. mike alesko says:

    Joanne, your gratitude moment here moment here says much that SO MANY need to hear and heed. We are so spoiled and largely ungrateful! I’m convinced that has a lot to do with the great inequity gaps that we remain oblivious to and uncaring about changing. My facebook news feed has daily entries from people who whine about the most trifling things compared to what you and i have seen in Guatemala, elsewhere too, and now you in Capetown. Power is out for a few hours, the repair man is late, they waited too long at a restaurant, the garden is too muddy today, some other driver was impolite to them, etc. Get real, people!


  2. Thank you for your comment Mike. I’m afraid that I too sometimes get lost and side tracked by the trivial inconveniences in life, but seeing more and more of the world, and others that have so much less has certainly made it easier to put it all into perspective. I know that we have been extremely gifted with this opportunity to travel, and I am hopeful that by sharing our journey and what we see, that just maybe we can make a small difference in opening others eyes to just how blessed most of us are in comparison to the “poorest of the poor”.


  3. Wonderful post – really does make you sit back, take stock and think how lucky we are.


  4. John Love says:

    When I was stationed at Cubi Point in the Philippines I rented out a three bedroom house, one bath, complete kitchen. We hired a maid, a gardner, and security. There were three of us sharing rent. All included with groceries, I spent forty dollars a month. We lived in one of the nicer areas of Olongapo. Normal housing had no running water or toilet facilities. Was one or two rooms mostly, apartment houses were a little nicer, but had community bathrooms, but no bathing facilities. Our maid, unknown to us for a while, slept in a big round chair in the living room. She would stay in the kitchen until we all went to sleep before bedding down, and up and cooking by the time we got up! We increased the food allowance to include her and gave her a raise when we discovered this. We had no place to put her, so we just left the sleeping arrangement as it was. She was around 16, I think. We all treated her with respect, she was not flirted with nor were any remarks made. I had friends with morals, so did not have to police their actions. She cried when another Sgt and I had to rotate back to Japan and home. We tried to find good people to take our place with her employment guaranteed. It was all we could do. We were never able to find out who her parents were, or even if she had any. Your pictorial brought all that flooding back.


    • John, thank you so much for sharing this story. How fortunate she was to have been employed by such a caring group of people. I hope that the next group that replaced you were as kind and respectful to her. It speaks volumes for your character that you tried to find good people to take your place.


  5. drkrisg says:

    I am glad you were able to take those pictures; more of us need to see them to help us understand. I also understand the perspectives of those teens who didn’t want their lives interrupted. Such a challenge to balance it all; I experience this all the time. When do I take a picture and when do I not?


    • Some of these pictures were not easy to see, but yes, I think it is important to show both sides to the areas we are visiting. Not all travel destinations are beautiful with white sandy beaches or stunning scenery. We asked our tour guide for guidance before arriving in the Township and he told us to snap away. I still ask permission, and in most cases they said yes. On the rare occasions that they do not want their pictures taken, I honor that and simply put my camera down.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. salpal1 says:

    These pictures are so evocative, and thought provoking. I, too, wondered at the reaction of th epeople to loads of tourists coming to see them on tour. What must that be like?

    I was struck by the effort people make (everywhere, I am sure) to make their surroundings beautiful. As poor as they are, they have painted and colored things to make them bright. There is beauty in their poverty stricken world. It feels a bit like hope to me, but I wonder if they feel it?


  7. You are so right – even in the depth of poverty people do have pride and try to do the best they can with what they have. It could not be easy to have groups of people passing through their neighborhoods and staring from bus windows. We did however find most everyone to be welcoming. Americans are appreciated here since they were very supportive of those that were not free during the Apartheid movement.


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