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The other Cape Town

by Ilona Kauremszky

My heart was won over in Langa Township. A tug on my skirt was all it took. “Could you hold my hand?” said a small voice. I turned around to see a young girl, barely six, torn shirt and shoeless, but flashing the biggest smile from here to Timbuktu.

On the outskirts of Cape Town lies Langa Township, South Africa’s oldest township, and a world unto its own. Miles upon miles of shanty town, homes made from corrugated tin huts that barely stand alone, are visible from the main road that connects day trippers between this amazing city and the fabled wine routes, a short 50 kilometres away.

For years, people feared treading into this “other town, ” where only those who lived there dared to return. But that’s changed. Today, tour operators are taking van loads of tourists interested in exploring the other side of Cape Town.

Away from the flash and five star hotels, these streets are mostly dirt roads with warrens of tin roofed shacks; the wealthier families live in brick houses with colourful curtains in the windows.

I spotted steel barrels holding precious rain water; and a strange local brew, frothing away in a tub. There’s the odd sight of bicycles loaded up with bucket wielding, basket bearing passengers — who sit confidently on the handlebars, if they are small or young enough.

A tour, from Antique Tours and Travel, took us inside some of the homes, then we were off to hear some lyrical rhythms the children put together in a fabulous acapella. When it was time for lunch, we went to Mzansi Restaurant, a buffet-style eatery with local homemade fixings and a family-style setting. Performers and singers entertained us as we ate. Afterwards, we checked out a local shopkeeper who had a bare pantry, but plenty of time to regale us about “the way things could be.”

Old timers are hard to find across South Africa, a country where 31 per cent of the population is under the age of 15. Watching the impish, innocent faces — most of them happy and laughing — got me. I welled up in tears when these little girls wanted to hold my hand all at once.

The giggles and the laughter of the children was infectious. While it was a small fleeting moment between us, that’s what resonates with me when I think back on my afternoon I spent with the kids of Langa. This is a definite must do if you go to South Africa, and will surely be one of the highlights on your trip.

Follow T+E’s week-long series on Cape Town HERE!