Post-Apartheid Identity in Cape Town Townships

Kevin Silverman (L) '15 BA in Sociology and </br>Charlie Kern (R) '15 BBA in Finance w/Accounting

Kevin Silverman (L) ’15 BA in Sociology and
Charlie Kern (R) ’15 BBA in Finance w/Accounting

Post-Apartheid Identity in Cape Town Townships

by Charlie Kern and Kevin Silverman

During South Africa’s Apartheid regime, black and colored people faced oppression of all forms.  Under the Group Areas Act of 1950, two years after Apartheid began, and under the Urban Areas Act of 1923 many nonwhites were forced out of their communities, leading to the formation of black and colored townships.  Two of these townships include Langa and Khayelitsha in Cape Town.  Langa, formed in 1927, over twenty years before Apartheid began.  Khayelitsha was established more recently, in 1985, as a direct result of the Group Areas Act when blacks from other townships and areas in Cape Town, as well as many from the Eastern Cape, were forcibly moved to Khayelitsha.  While the townships essentially served the same purpose under the Apartheid regime, they have developed very unique reputations among South Africans.  Almost twenty years after the Apartheid era ended, both townships have seen large social and economic growth despite evidence of Apartheid policies still haunting and even influencing both their residents and those who would never call a township home.  Langa and Khayelitsha townships have developed both competing and similar insider and outsider narratives, due to a strong sense of community pride and loyalty, given their genesis before and during Apartheid and social and economic developments post-Apartheid.

Langa Township, established in 1927, is the oldest black township in the Western Cape.  It is also one of the smallest, with a population of just 50,000.  In 1927, blacks were removed from other areas of Cape Town, including the Cape Flats and Ndabeni, to live in Langa.  At this time, black residents of Cape Town did not have a single identity.  Some were Mfengu and others were Xhosa.  This originally created some tension in the township.  Langa, being the oldest township in Cape Town, has seen generations of people grow up together and according to Mzansi’s Restaurant owner in Langa, Nomonde Siyaka, “[the residents] all know each other”.  She went on to say, “When you come to Langa, it is difficult for a person to do something because we know each other.” Perhaps outsider Issaac Fassie, longtime resident of Khayelitsha, summed it up best: “Langa is like a cup of tea.  People know each other from point ‘A’ to point ‘Z’ because all the families have grown up in one place.”

Some Langa residents actually attribute their sense of community to the Apartheid period.  In regard to the oppressive regime, Sabu Siyaka said, “It has managed to bring us together.  Although, it wasn’t a good idea, it has brought us together in such a way that now we are able to pursue or to do our traditions and customs because we know one another.”  This is typical of many township residents, who are able to reconcile with Apartheid by seeing it as an event that made them stronger.

Langa Township has seen considerable social and economic developments in the recent post-Apartheid years.  There is now a community center, which offers both youth and adult programs.  The center provides a way for individuals to earn money by selling their art and craftwork.  Nomonde Siyaka said, “a lot has changed because back in the day we never had opportunities of making businesses as black people, and now everybody has the chance to do business.”  She mentioned that job opportunities in Langa Township have increased drastically.  However, when describing large business development, she said, “Everything is taken to Khayelitsha because Khayelitsha is bigger than Langa.”  Sisanda Siyaka said, “A lot has happened in the township, but at the same time I feel like we are stagnant and still in the same place.”  She mentioned that she feels while the arts and community center is there, it “does not reach everyone and does not necessarily reach everyone it is supposed to reach.”  She also discussed the Love Life Center, an HIV/AIDS prevention program targeted at the youth, but said, “a lot of the youth don’t go to the Love Life Center because they don’t feel that the people that are supposed to be mentors are giving them the education that they deserve and are people that really have their best interest at heart.”  Sisanda Siyaka concluded, “As much as there are structures that are going up and there are things that are being put together and built, I don’t feel that they are necessarily reaching their target, so development is a bit slow.”  This demonstrates how opinions on development may vary across generations within the township.

In addition, Langa has a booming tourist industry, with many Cape Town visitors touring the township everyday. This has brought great business to the township in the post-Apartheid years.  In Tourism as a local development strategy in South Africa, Tony Binns and Etienne Nel claim, “The promotion of tourism has been identified as a key strategy that can lead to economic upliftment, community development and poverty relief in the developing world.”  (Binns ans Nel 230) In their piece, they describe “Lookout Hill” in Khayelitsha as having developed as a tourist destination as well as township tours being very popular (Binns and Nel 239).  This article seems to hit on what the townships have done to bring social and economic development to their communities in the post-Apartheid era.

Khayelitsha Township, established almost sixty years after Langa, was the last black township to be formed under the Group Areas Act during Apartheid.  Khayelitsha is much larger than Langa, with a population of about 410,000.  The township is also the fastest growing township in the Western Cape today.  In 1985, upon its founding, many individuals were moved mainly from other black townships in Cape Town and the Eastern Cape.  Because not all of the residents come from the same place and many were not born in Khayelitsha, there is less of a cohesive community and even a great deal of tension that give the township a reputation for violence and crime.  Outsider Nomonde Siyaka from Langa said, “Most of the people in Khayelitsha are from rural areas in the Eastern Cape, so they don’t know each other.  So, they are capable of doing anything because they know that they won’t be known.”  In his piece Africa is Coming to the Cape, John Western says there is “a southward movement of Bantu-speaking Black Africans, previously stalled in South Africa’s Eastern Cape” to Cape Town and, in particular, Khayelitsha (Western, 617).

Khayelitsha has also seen social and economic development since Apartheid ended.  In recent years, a hospital, new schools, and shopping districts have all been built in the township.  In addition to these physical structures, Khayelitsha has received social support from programs such as University of Cape Town’s SHAWCO (Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation) in both health care and education.

While the general consensus is that Khayelitsha has greater poverty and more crime, Langa residents do not completely disregard the struggles that their township faces and the weaknesses that it has.  When asked to compare her township to Khayelitsha, Langa resident and journalist, Sisanda Siyaka, said, “I think we have the same struggles.  We have similar struggles in the sense that we all need housing, but we don’t take a lot of charge in making sure that the situation changes, as opposed to people in Khayelitsha.”  As an outsider, Sisanda Siyaka recognized that Khayelitsha’s reputation for crime and violence is more prevalent than that of Langa’s, however, she applauded Khayelitsha residents for not “taking no for an answer.”  In this regard, she saw the fact that Khayelitsha is a large township as a positive.  Sisanda Siyaka also said she would describe Langa as “vibrant, talented, and challenged,” showing that despite the positive perceptions that residents have of their home township, they do recognize the downfalls that affect the people who live there.

Regardless of their differences, both Langa and Khayelitsha residents take pride in their communities. Benedict Anderson’s work on Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, is useful in helping to explain the dynamic representations of the townships described above. In his book, Anderson describes a nation as “an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (Anderson 6).  Anderson explains that a nation is imagined because, in most cases, a member of the nation does not and will never know everyone else in the nation.  A nation is limited because even the largest ones have boundaries.  Also according to Anderson, a nation is a community because “regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep horizontal comradeship” (Anderson 6).  According to several aspects of Anderson’s piece, both Langa and Khayelitsha can be classified as imagined communities with strong evidence of nationalism. Anderson mentions, for example, how even though in nations most people do not know everyone personally, “in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson 7).  An image of communion represents a nation or community to all of its members, like the flag of the United States might serve as an image of communion because it represents the nation to all of its citizens.  In Langa Township, there are prevalent images of communion, perhaps most notably the Langa 7455 t-shirts that can be seen being worn by people of all ages in the community.  Inspired by the “I Love NY” t-shirts that can be seen all over New York City or even the United States for that matter, the zip code apparel is a strong representation of the community.!

The community center in Langa functions as another image of communion.  The center coordinates programs for youth, including drum and art lessons, and allows adults to earn money by selling their art and craftwork.  At the center of town, the colorful building has become the pride of the township.  Also, inside the center, images of Langa taken by photographer and native of the township, Anele Ngoko, are displayed.  His images capture rubbish and the rundown shantytowns of Langa.  Ngoko describes his work as portraying the poverty and struggles that many residents in Langa face.  While he has recognized and has even been a part of the positive social and economic developments that have taken place in Langa since Apartheid, he said that he shares the “negative” aspects of the township with others in hopes to garner more support to continue to bring needed improvements to the place he has always called home (June 19, 2013).

In addition to their strong sense of community pride, Langa residents are loyal to the place they call home. They are eager to welcome outsiders in and take it upon themselves  to represent their township everywhere they go.  Sisanda Siyaka said, “Langa is me.  I mean, wherever I go I represent Langa.  When people ask me where I am from I say ‘I am from Langa,’ so I need to act in a certain way.” Nomonde Siyaka, who opened her restaurant in 2008, said that she would still choose to open Mzansi’s in Langa even if she had enough money to open it in downtown Cape Town.  She noted that tourism is very popular in Langa and her restaurant supports the valuable industry, as many visitors stop by her restaurant before and after their tours.  She believes that her restaurant is doing good for her community and sees no reason to relocate her restaurant.

While Khayelitsha’s population, being more than eight times that of Langa’s and much more diverse, does not promote as much of a close-knit community, there is still a sense of community belonging and pride.  With a reputation for gangs, crime, and violence, most Khayelitsha residents do not deny the pitfalls of their hometown.  However, insiders also see the positives of their township.   Vuyo Ngcanga, a University of Cape Town dance student from Khayelitsha, noted that gangsterism, drugs, alcohol, and being killed were the biggest obstacles that he had to face while growing up in Khayelitsha.  Ngcanga went on to say, “We experience a lot of crime.  We experience a lot of poverty.  We experience a lot of unemployment.”  Despite having grown up disadvantaged and at-risk, Ngcanga appreciates what his community has done for him.  He said, “One thing I can tell you is that Khayelitsha taught me how to survive.”

When six Khayelitsha teenagers between ages fourteen and sixteen were sent home with disposable cameras and with the prompt, ‘use this camera to take photographs of what you find important and representative of Khayelitsha Township,’ the images they took and their explanations behind them demonstrated pride for their township.  Participants took pictures of Khayelitsha’s new hospital, various shopping districts, schools, police stations, and family.  When asked why he chose to take a picture of his smiling baby cousin, Nkosibonile Mahlangabeza, 15, said that family is very important to him and everyone in Khayelitsha.  Linkie Zizipho, 15, who photographed a landscape of the whole township from the top of Lookout Hill, described the view as beautiful.  Another participant, Siyabonga Khobocwana, 16, also took a picture from Lookout Hill and said, “there you get a lot of information about Khayelitsha and you can climb there and see the whole of Khayelitsha.”   Khobocwana was also proud of the town’s railways, which he photographed, and said “workers take the train everyday.”  He did not mention, however, the township’s nearly fifty percent unemployment rate and the relatively low percentage of the population who would even need the train to go to work.  Again (??), these participants were not disillusioned by the realities of Khayelitsha.  When asked what the dangers of the township were, the young girls spoke about the high frequency of rapes and the boys spoke about their fears of gang violence.

When speaking about the black and colored townships in South Africa, safety almost always came up.  In fact, safety has a lot to do with the perceptions that insiders and outsiders have of a certain township.  Across the board, both residents from Khayelitsha and Langa said that Khayelitsha was more dangerous and notorious for crime and violence.  However, the amount of crime and violence in a township is different than how an individual feels when in the township.  Sabu Siyaka, son of Nomonde and tour guide in Langa Township said, “I feel more comfortable [in Langa] compared to when I am in Khayelitsha because that is not my territory, so when I am there I am very conscious because I don’t know everyone there, but when I am [in Langa] I know everyone.” Sisanda Siyaka made note of the rivalry that can exist between townships saying, “at first I thought Khayelitsha was the enemy.”  Sisanda Siyaka said that this is because they “don’t necessarily go into each other’s townships.”  This contributes to the idea that due to rivalry, outsiders may not feel as safe or welcome in another township.  Sisanda Siyaka, who has moved around a lot due to her career, also said, “[In Langa] I have twenty million moms.  You know, when I’m in trouble I’m cool, like I’m absolutely okay.  I can do whatever, whenever and there’s always a watchful eye.” Beatrice and Isaac Fassie, a wife and husband who have lived in Khayelitsha for about twenty-five years, but were born in Nyanga and Langa respectively and still have family in those townships, discussed how they felt that being insiders kept them safe in their community.  After discussing some of the dangers of Khayelitsha, Issac said, “I would still feel safer in Khayelitsha than Langa because people in Langa do not know me.”

Outsider perceptions, whether they are from people who do not live in either Khayelitsha or Langa or from people who live in one of the two townships, tend to vary.  Many people who live outside of the townships look negatively upon them and would be afraid to enter them.  When asked what came to mind when she thought of Khayelitsha, Bernedette Muthien, director of the nonprofit Engender, said that rape and the horrible ways that women and gays are treated is what she thought of.  While Muthien happens to be involved in the townships through her work, this perception also may contribute to keeping outsiders at bay.

When asked how people react when she tells them that she is from Langa, Sisanda Siyaka reflected on her youth when she attended a multiracial high school. She said, “I remember saying ‘Come to my house! Let’s hang out!’ and the response I got was just so disappointing because everybody was just like ‘Where?’ and I was like ‘Langa!’ and they were like ‘As in the township Langa?’ and I was like ‘Yeah!’ and they were like ‘No, it’s dangerous.  I wouldn’t be able to make it out of there.’”  She said that it was the first time that the people from her high school had met someone who felt insulted when another person said that Langa was a danger.   Sabu Siyaka also mentioned the negative feedback he often receives upon telling people that he is from Langa. And having come from Khayelitsha to University of Cape Town, which is not an everyday occurrence, Ngcanga has received quite a bit of feedback from people he has met more recently.  Ngcanga said that when he tells people that he is from Khayelitsha “they are always nice, but there are those people that are like ‘Oh sorry.  I’m not interested’.”

Max Silverman’s Palimpsestic Memory speaks to these examples.  In his piece he says palimpsestic memory “would be a dynamic and open space composed of interconnecting traces of different voices, sites, and times, and it would hold out the prospect of new solidarities across the lines of race and nation” (Silverman 8).  Palimpsestic memory is an accurate way to describe what has occurred with insider and outsider perceptions of Langa and Khayelitsha.  There are many different views, particularly in regards to safety, all of them shaped by the memory of Apartheid and what became of the townships due to its oppressive regime.  As both townships continue to develop post-Apartheid, there is a rising generation of youth who were born after the regime ended.  Many of these young individuals demonstrate pride, knowledge of their townships, and hope for their futures and the futures of their hometowns.  While many teenagers in the townships do take part in the gangs, there seems to be a growing emphasis on youth empowerment in the townships.  When asked to take pictures of what she finds important and representative of Khayelitsha, Siethati Mapheelle, 15, took a picture of children and teenagers playing soccer on a local field.  She noted that this was important to her because it was good for youth to be active to keep them out of gangs and away from drugs and alcohol.  When prompted to do a freestyle performance about what he finds important to share with others about Khayelitsha, aspiring rapper and Khayelitsha resident Siyabonga Khobocwana, 16, rapped completely in Xhosa, but later translated it, saying it essentially was a song calling on “the youth in Khayelitsha to unite and fight against gangsterism.”  The participants in the study who took photos of schools in Khayelitsha stressed the importance of getting an education in order to be successful in life.  In addition, the youth in Khayelitsha seem to know the township better than adults because they were mostly born in Khayelitsha, which could reduce the problem with conflict and safety in the future.  Linkie Zizipho said, “I know Khayelitsha better than my parents do because they were not born here and I was.  They do not feel comfortable leaving our block, so I try to show them around.”

Langa Township also seems to have an emerging youth presence in the township.  Again, gang violence and poor education is prevalent among the teenagers, but there is an effort from both youth and adults to combat the problem.  Sisanda Siyaka’s magazine, Zazi: For the Youth by the Youth “is literally there to highlight young role models of the township.”  Sisanda said, “I felt, as a journalist, that everything that was written about the township was negative.”  She took it upon herself to publicize the positive, which in her mind, is the youth.  She noted that Zazi is there “to help inspire young people.”  On its website, Zazi magazine describes its reader as “any individual who dares to dream, someone who refuses to be ‘conditioned by their condition’” (Zazi Magazine).

Langa Township also places an emphasis on teaching its young residents a skill or capitalizing on their talents.  On their website, Ukonwaba Photo Club, an organization that teaches youth in Langa photography, says, “We believe in the art of photography as effective tool for youth empowerment, increasing self-esteem, building confidence and hope. Our wish is to show the uniqueness of the life in Langa Township, located in Cape Town, South Africa, through the eyes of kids and teens from Langa, in favor the world without exclusion and mutual respect for diversity”  (Ukonwaba Photo Club).

In A Social Justice Perspective on Youth and Community Development: Theorizing the Processes and Outcomes of Participation, when discussing the benefits of art programs for youth, Sharon Sutton claims, “community improvement processes encourage collective expression of a local vision and help youth develop that vision by engaging in dialogue with their audiences” (Sutton 625).  This is what Langa has in mind by promoting youth empowerment through self-expression.  In both Langa and Khayelitsha, residents seem enthusiastic about instilling success in the first generation to be born in the post-Apartheid era.

When driving and walking the streets of both Langa and Khayelitsha, the effects of the oppressive Apartheid regime are certainly present.  From the shanties, to the rubbish, to the homeless people, it is evident that both townships are still haunted by the freedom that Apartheid blatantly denied them.  Nearly two decades later, perceptions of the townships are changing.  Insiders will discuss the pride and enthusiasm that they have for their township, but, for the most part, will not discount the struggles that both face.  While outsider perceptions are also changing, there are still some that are plagued by Apartheid and its aftermath.  With the newest and first post-Apartheid generation coming to adulthood, there are bound to be positive changes in perceptions and more social and economic progress in years to come.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. “Concepts and Definitions.” Introduction. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991. 5-7. Print.

Binns, Tony, and Etienne Nel. “Tourism as a Local Development Strategy in South Africa.” The Geographical Journal 168.3 (2002): 235-47. Print.

Gloria, Michelle, Frida Vesterberg, Anele Ngoko, and Siseko Sesh Mkita. “Ukonwaba Photo Club.” Ukonwaba Photo Club., n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.

Silverman, Max. “Staging Memory as Palimpsest.” Introduction. Palimpsestic Memory: The Holocaust and Colonialism in French and Francophone Fiction and Film. New York [etc.: Berghahn, 2013. 1-10. Print.

Sutton, Sharon E. “In A Social Justice Perspective on Youth and Community Development: Theorizing the Processes and Outcomes of Participation.Child, Youth and Environments 17.2 (2007): 616-45. JSTOR. Web. 23 July 2013.

Western, John. “Africa Is Coming to the Cape.American Geographical Society 91.4 (2001): 617-40. JSTOR. Web. 23 July 2013.

“ZAZi Magazine.” ZAZi Magazine. Ed. Sisanda Siyaka., n.d. Web. 23 July 2013.