Langa was officially established in 1927. It’s the first established South African township. Originally it was created in accordance with the 1923 Urban Areas Act terms. The word means “sun” in Xhosa, but the township’s name was chosen in honour of Chief Langalibalele. He was a renowned chief and rainmaker who rebelled against the Natal government and became a prison of Robben Island in 1873. Eventually he was forced into confinement on a farm called “Uitvlugt”, which was situated on an area that is now called Pinelands. Langa connects the two sites and so the township which was formed in the area of the farm in 1898 was called “Kwa-Langa” or “Langalibalele’s Location”.
Langa was designated as a suburb for Black Africans long before Apartheid. During the struggle years, the residents protested against the harsh Apartheid pass rules. On 21 March 1960, known as the Sharpeville massacre, the anti-pass campaign also took the lives of several people in Langa. 50 years later, on 21 March 2010, a monument was unveiled in Langa, honouring the people who lost their lives during the struggle against Apartheid.
A Growing Village on the Edge of the City
Langa is situated about 20 minutes’ drive from the city centre, next to the N2. The township originated as part of the 1920’s government’s way of keeping control over residents, with maximum visibility of their activities, such as brewing sorghum beer (utywala). Prohibitions against it was only abolished in the 1930’s and municipal beer halls were constructed by 1945.
In the beginning phases of the community strong tribal and sub-tribal ethnic identities were very noticeable. For instance, the Mfengu community would celebrate their “liberation” from the Xhosa, causing tension between residents. But with the close living conditions forcing the Langa residents to make peace with each other, a great neighbourliness grew between the sub-groups.
During the Apartheid years the residents united forces against the government. On 30 March 1960 a march started from Langa to the Caledon Square police station in the city. Between 30 000 to 50 000 protesters were led by the Pan Africanist Congress and Philip Kgosana to protest the pass laws.
Photo by siviwetours.com
In 1990 the largest informal settlement of Langa was established, called Joe Slovo. It is also one of the largest ones in the country. The N2 Gateway Housing Project which started in 2006 has brought the informal settlement under threat.
Many famous South Africans called Langa home. These include musicians such as Brenda Fassie, and the Amampondo marimba group, both internationally acclaimed. Sports stars include Thabo Mngomeni (former Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates captain), Nika Khumalo (boxer), and Thami Tsolekile (South African wicket-keeper).
Other notable residents include Thabo Mngomeni (South African soccer player), Temba Bavuma (South African cricketer), and Fatima Dike (South African playwright and theatre director).
Photo by siviwetours.com
Things to Do In the Langa Township
No township experience is complete without a sip of Umqombothi at a local shebeen. This home-brewed beer can be described as something between milk stout and sweet porridge, but with alcohol oomph. Usually it’s served to you in a 5 litre paint can, that’s covered between sips to keep the flies at bay. Share this unique local drink with a few Langa residents.
Before or after your beer outing, why don’t you order a smiley next to the road? Tongue in cheek it’s called a township KFC. Once you look at it, you’ll figure out where the name comes from. The sheep head is prepared over an open fire. It’s a sought-after delicacy, that won’t cost as much as caviar or foire gras.
An Art and Culture Experience
A visit to the Guga S’thebe Arts & Culture Centre is a must. The brightly coloured building houses a variety of community empowerment initiatives. It was established in 2015 to uplift the Langa community. It’s a place where the Langa residents can improve their socio-economic situation by creating artworks for both local and foreign tourists to purchase.
Unemployment is a huge challenge of the community. 60% of the adults are unemployed. Gugu S’thebe also offers other services to the community, such as accounting and secretarial services for small entrepreneurs. Other entrepreneurial endeavours in the community include opening Spaza or street vending shops. The centre features exhibition areas, art studios, metal work and pottery workshops, storeroom facilities, a resource centre, community theatre, and more. The centre endeavours to promote sustainable tourism.
Photo by siviwetours.com
The Langa Heritage Museum
Situated in the Old Pass Court building and post office, the museum has a sombre presence in the community. Inside you can view a collection of photographs and other documents depicting the lifestyle of Langa residents in the bygone Apartheid era. The pass system dominated their lives, experience a glimpse of it here.
The Best Township Tours in Cape Town
A township tour in Cape Town can offer you a glimpse of a different lifestyle to your own. Challenging our cultural mindset is always an enriching experience.
Siviwe Tours offers walking tours of Langa. Immerse yourself in the daily lives of the people who call it home.
Take 2 Tours lets you explore Gugulethu, Khayalitsha, Langa, and the old District Six on foot or with a bicycle. Experience more of the township life.
Mile by Mile Tours takes you on an exploration journey of a few Cape Town townships, including District Six, Langa, Guguletu, and Bonteheuwel.
18 GM offers a variety of township experience tours including a museum visit, a taxi trip, an entertainment tour, and the Khayelitsha Big 7 tour. You can also opt to spend a whole weekend in the township.