Sunday, October 21, 2012

Langa Township near Cape Town, South Africa

Sunday, October 21  
I returned to Langa Township again today.  This morning we visited the Langa Baptist Church, a congregation that is bursting at the seams.  I love Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Charlottesville, but this church has even more energy than they. 
Langa Baptist Church
And yet – aside from the fact that they are both Black churches – there are other similarities.  Music in Langa is the primary vehicle for worship.  During the hour and a half we attended, only a small portion was dedicated to the lesson for the day from the Bible and the minister preaching.  The rest was music – in English and Xhosa. 
In fact the sermon was the same – the minister would preach in English and then suddenly divert into Xhosa.  He was talking about Hosea (the lesson had been read in Xhosa so I don’t know content), and it was about how the Israelites had abandoned God.  One of the hymns they sang – all hymns usually in Xhosa with some English refrains – said “He {God] calls me his friend.”   A God that looks on humans as his friends – a profoundly new experience for me.  The Israelites, preached the minister, were the forgetters; we forget God but he never forgets us.
The music itself is like American Gospel – writ even more forte – music that makes your body vibrate and your feet start tapping.  You can’t sit still – at least I can’t – in an African American church.  And in the Longa Baptist Church today, I couldn’t sit; most of the time I had to stand and move my feet and my hips.
The lead male member of the choir moved across the stage and at one point he was jumping straight up and down, and then twirling.  It was spontaneous and yet it reminded me of the Masai Warrior dance I saw 20-plus years ago in Kenya.
Container Shacks and others
Our guide Siviwe Mbinda was born in this township and now works there.  He is the founder of the Happy Feet Youth Project, which we visited, and he danced with the youngsters.  Siviwe believes in his people – Xhosa, he says, are the most intelligent of the tribes.  They value education and peace.  Mandela was Xhosa as were many other leaders for ending apartheid in South Africa.
Upper Income Home in Longa
Housing in the townships varies from the poorest shacks to cargo containers made into houses to small shanties to more substantial cinderblock houses to quite nice single family homes.  Siviwe says that people want to better themselves, and move up into the middle class but they don’t want to leave the township.  It has a sense of community.
Working Class Homes
In fact, the social nature of the Xhosa community is such that a municipal park is never used by individuals because, he says, Xhosas would think an individual sitting alone in the park is crazy.  They use it for festivals but never as a place to re-create.  An interesting conundrum for an Xhosa planner, I would think.

The youth group – Happy Feet – performs gumboot dances, which originated with South African miners as an alternative to drumming.  They wore the gum boots to protect their feet from the water in the mines.  The moves and steps we observed were similar to those in the Disney movie “Happy Feet” about penguins.

Yesterday we had visited Langa for lunch and a ride around the township.  Founded in 1927, Longa was first the home for Black African men coming to work the docks of Cape Town.  One of the maritime companies still owns a building now used as an entry level apartments for families arriving in Longa.  Each apartment with two bedrooms has three families per bedroom, with communal cooking facilities.  We visited one of these apartments that is currently occupied by 16 men.  It was very neat but very small. 

Hostel for Families
Langa seems proud to be offering itself as a tourism destination.  The people appreciate tourists dining in their restaurants (now numbering some 6 or 7 I believe) and purchasing crafts from their arts center, which we also visited.   

Pottery Painting Workshop in Longa
There, women are learning the craft of pottery painting and are making pots and then painting and glazing them for sale.  They use traditional Xhosa patters of black and white lines, feathers, leaves.  Very beautiful.
I need to write about our visit to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela and hundreds of other Black and Colored prisoners were warehoused for decades.  But I am still absorbing the experience and not yet ready to publish my thoughts.  Instead, I post these photos I took of African Penguins, who look very much like nuns with white wimples and black robes and headpieces.

African Penguins on Robben Island

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Kay, I've enjoyed all of your posts, but this one seems the most moving so far. The children's faces are so bright. The sense of the tragic past must weigh heavily on these places even as the people sing of being God's friends. I remember watching Mandela on tv as he walked out of prison into freedom.

I guess you are now as far away as the ship will take you. From now on, in a sense, you will be coming home.

Love from, Mary