Talk of the Townships

I’m walking through the Langa township and looking around, so far it seems quite nice. Houses, cars, schools, a swimming pool, think suburban neighborhood. So, um, where are the guns, drugs, and gangs that I expected to see? I know, I know, that sounds bad, but really. I’ve been warned in the area I’m staying about the Capricorn township and the crime, drugs, gangs, ect. I had to ask.

“Oh, you must be working in a colored township,” says my trusted guide. Uh, what does that mean? Colored? “Yeah, they have lighter skin than me and they speak Afrikaans, right?” He was absolutely right, but that doesn’t help me understand. What differentiates black from colored other than just lighter skin? “Oh, look,” says my guide, “here comes a colored person driving up now.” What I came to understand through this long conversation, is that there’s more than just black and white in South Africa.

There are black South Africans, which are considered to be indigenous and speak Xhosa or another tribal language, then there are colored people, which are a bit lighter and perhaps mixed or from another country such as Namibia, that speak Afrikaans. There are also migrants that fit in somehow from the neighboring countries, and then there are white people or Europeans, both white South Africans and white Europeans living in South Africa.

In the times of Apartheid, which was the not so distant past, the colored people were given preferential treatment to the black South Africans. Townships are also separated into colored townships and black townships, they rarely mix. My guide then proceeded to explain that the gangster culture I was asking about existed mainly in the colored townships, where gangsterism and prison was glorified (which seems like an American cultural phenonemon). It is completely opposite in black townships where you are looked down upon if you have been to prison.

Now, it gets even more complex. As I continued my journey through Langa, I realized there was more segregation within the black township itself. Next in my mini series on townships I will go even deeper into the inner township culture and divisions.

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