In the months that I’ve been in Cape Town, I’ve been able to check so many “touristy” items off my list: hiking Table Mountain, surfing at Muizenberg, exploring Central Business District, and checking out all the amazing sights that Cape Town has to offer. Two months into my study abroad experience, I was feeling pretty confident and comfortable in my knowledge of this amazing city. However, my home stay in the Langa Quarter township last weekend changed my view and perspective of this city.
Langa is Cape Town’s oldest township, established in 1923. Although Langa literally means “sun’ in Xhosa, it was named after Langalibalele – a famous chief who was imprisoned on Robben Island for rebelling against the government. As with the other townships in Cape Town, Langa was one of the many areas that was established by the government and designated for Black South Africans. With this difficult and heavy legacy of racial segregation and inequality in mind, I didn’t know what to expect for my weekend homestay.
When we arrived, we were introduced to Langa and our homestay families at the Langa Quarter Community Center. The community center served as the entry to Langa’s development projects and initiatives. We learned about the community’s plans for expanding opportunity and for opening up Langa to tourists from around the world. It was incredible to see how the diverse and dynamic plans that Langa had for its future.The past legacy of division and economic inequality was not holding this community back.
Another study abroad student and I were paired with our “Mama”, who had two grandkids who would be showing us around Langa. They, along with several others of the “homestay kids” from different houses, took us around the township throughout the weekend. We hung out with their friends in all the best locations and got a small glimpse into life in this vibrant township. I ate chicken feet (it actually wasn’t too bad!) and even had a small bite of a “Smiley” – the nickname of a cooked sheep’s head, a favorite delicacy in the township. We met locals who were running successful restaurants out of their homes, entrepreneurs who started tour companies, and young adults who were excelling in school and hoping to make difference for their community with their education. Everyone we met had a unique and powerful story, but all had a shared vision for where they wanted Langa to be in the future.
For me, the most jarring part of this homestay experience was the disconnect between Langa and other areas of Cape Town. It was the view of Table Mountain that made me realize how big this divide really is. Table Mountain stands in the distance, a familiar view from every part of Cape Town. No matter where you are in the city, the view of the mountain is a constant presence. It was hard to believe that this township, which struggles with poverty and economic inequality, exists under the same mountain as the stunning Camps Bay, a beach town which boasts houses worth millions of Rand. The disparity of wealth and opportunity in Cape Town, all under the unifying shadow of Table Mountain, was truly evident to me during this homestay. The ubiquitous view of Table Mountain was the reminder of the divisions that still exist in Cape Town. However, despite this challenging realization, I was so inspired by Langa’s inhabitants. So many of the people I met had a strong commitment and hope for the future of Langa, despite the many obstacles facing the community. My homestay was an incredible turning point in my experience. I am forever grateful to the family that welcomed me into their home and the community that opened my eyes to an entirely new side of Cape Town. It was truly an experience I will never forget.