East Side, West Side

When you enter Langa Township, the first thing you see is a brand new public housing complex that is quite nice. The government has stepped in and replaced settler communities with new public housing. 50% of the housing for Cape Town residents and 50% for migrants from the East. At first I didn’t understand the dynamics of this, but it became clear as I made my way through Langa.

At first glance the township appeared really nice, however, as we walked through I came to understand that there are different parts to the township. There is a section of ‘hostels’ that were used to house workers coming into the city from the East of South Africa for better/any work opportunities. Multiple workers (mostly male at that time) would live in a room (like a hostel) and share a community bathroom. This has not changed, but the people have changed. There are now multiple families living in one room and sharing a bathroom and common area.

I visited one of these hostels that was absolutely in sub-par living conditions. In one room (one very small and filthy room) there were two beds and ten people living together. People slept wherever they could find space and bags were packed to the ceiling. I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with a women who had lived in this space for 30 years. She raised her five children in the hostel and her oldest is my age. The government has been promising repairs for years she said, too bad there aren’t elections every year- amen sister (well, not it you live in America- that would be an expensive nightmare).

You might think these families are poor, said my companion, but they are not. They have jobs, they are saving their money to buy land and build houses where they came from in the East. They live like this in Cape Town, but they might have a house in the East, and yes, they do pay rent to live (with many other people) in a room. For one family to live in a hostel room it is 50 Rand a month or $3.75 US dollars. Appearances are not always what they seem. Never assume anything about a person based on appearances.

Segregation exists in Cape Town and even further in the townships. People from Cape Town seemingly have better living conditions than those who migrated from Eastern Cape. To be fair, the government and community are making huge contributions to the community that make it a pleasant place to live- think community center, art exhibits, and coffee shops- just, not for all. There are some that still live in cramped living conditions, in buildings that are falling apart.

To wrap up my mini series on townships I want to emphasize that the purpose in writing about this is not to exploit. Pity is not helpful, but compassion and understanding are. There are disparities in every community around the world, not just Cape Town. By exploring aspects of humanity, struggle, and segregation, I believe we can find a little more empathy and realize that we are not so different. Communities in America, Europe, and Latin America also experience segregation and less than desirable living conditions. By talking about it, writing about it, acknowledging it, and seeking to understand it, maybe we can change it.

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