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February 22, 2013

Discovering Langa – a photo essay

Langa, South Africa’s oldest township, was established in Cape Town in 1923 as part of the then Urban Areas Act. Similar to Nyanga, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha, Langa is one of the areas in South Africa that was designated for Black Africans before the apartheid epoch. The name Langa means “sun” in Xhosa, but the name of the area is actually derived from the name Langalibalele – a famous chief who was imprisoned on Robben Island for rebelling against the government. 

Langa became a centre of much resistance to apartheid, and residents of the area today relay stories of generations of tenacity against an unjust government. This photo is from the Langa Township Heritage Museum, or Dompas Museum, that was a pass office and court in the apartheid era. All photos courtesy of Skye Grove

The community started with very little planned infrastructure but is rapidly developing in many areas, including tourism. A number of Cape Town Tourism tour operators run scheduled tours in the area. One of the most popular is bicycle tours by Sabu Siyaka, owner and founder of Ubizo Events and Tours

The Guga’sthebe Cultural Centre was opened in 2005 and is now the site of many community, art and cultural activities. Housed in a brightly coloured building, the centre, like many of the businesses in Langa, is dedicated to the empowerment of the local people. The centre has exhibition areas, where take place regularly, art studios and a resource centre. It is said to be central in the City of Cape Town’s programmes for World Design Capital 2014

During a tour of Langa, you can expect to stop at a traditional beerhouse where you can sip umqombothi – a significant drink in Xhosa rituals that is made from maize and sorghum malts

Many people believe that the "real" Langa is found in the charms of those working at and frequenting street markets, where abandoned cars and tin shacks have been transformed into shops for selling street food, receiving a haircut, making a cheap phone call or securing basic car repairs. Everything from smileys (sheep's heads) to walkie talkies (chicken feet and heads), fresh tripe and cow heads are prepared and sold


Sangomas, or traditional healers, play an important role in Nguni-speaking (Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Swazi) societies. During a visit to traditional healer in Langa, visitors learn how different herbs and animal parts can be used as treatments for different ailments, from heartbreak to heartburn

One of the most popular local restaurants in Langa is the traditional Mzansi Restaurant, run by Nomonde Siyaka (pictured here in the middle). The restaurant is on Harlem Avenue, a street with a rich history and famous past residents like Thami Tsolekile, the cricketer; the late Chris Hani, the politician; and a number of members of the band Amampondo. A visit to the restaurant includes a fantastic traditional meal, entertainment from local musicians and a talk by Nomonde about the township and the history of her family and restaurant

Langa can be reached off Exit 12 of the N2 highway out of Cape Town, and is also served by Langa railway station.

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