After spending 3 days visiting the more popular tourist spots in and around Cape Town we realized that we had missed one of the most prominent areas found near every major city in South Africa - the townships (also referred to as Shanty Towns or informal settlements). These townships are seldom visited by tourists, many of whom are afraid to enter the communities which are said to have high incidents of crime, violence and drug abuse fueled by staggering unemployment. While this may be true, there is an overwhelming sense of resilience and drive for survival for those struggling to eke out an existence and hopefully, provide a better future for their families. In the context of grasping a better understanding of the political and cultural dynamic of South Africa, and following some discussion and online research, we opted to take a 1/2 day walking tour of Langa Township, one of the 6 townships in Cape Town.
We took an Uber from our apartment to a meet up location in the heart of Langa Township - a modern Cultural Centre which serves the local community - where we met our guide Zuzeka of the Xhosa tribe. Before beginning our walk through Langa, she gave us some background and history on the townships. These settlements were initially set up as communities of hostels for Black and Coloured men coming to work in the city. Each hostel was a large room with 16 cots to house 16 men. Women were not allowed in the settlements. During apartheid, families began living in the hostels. Eventually, families would build shacks from wood, zinc and plastic and move their families into the shacks. More and more shacks were built. After Apartheid, the government began building subsidized housing and moving people from the shacks into the government houses. As people moved out of the shacks, other families would move in.
There is currently a 10 year waiting period for anyone who wants to move into a government dwelling. There are approximately 70,000 people living on about 750 acres in Langa township. The community is totally self-contained with local markets and cottage industry businesses catering to the needs of the residents. Tribal traditions still exist in the communities – rites of passage including circumcision for teenage boys; sacrificing of lambs including the eating of the tongue, cheeks and eyeballs of the sheep’s head. We walked down one street where there were dozens of sheep heads laid out and waiting to be prepared for tribal ceremonies.
Despite the outward appearances that may be shocking to visiting tourists, there is a strong sense of community and hope in Langa. Zuzeka grew up in the township and is now attending University to become a teacher. When she was a girl in the township, a visiting American philanthropist sponsored her and several dozen other girls to attend private school and later University. She and her husband, also studying to teach, are committed to providing much needed education to the Langa community. Many former Langa inhabitants who have since left the township continue to live nearby in homes that they have acquired and provide hope and inspiration to the community of Langa.
Others strive to break the poverty and unemployment cycle while still living in the township. We visited a woman who has started a catering business out of her house. Her business is managed from her tiny kitchen. We entered her front door and walked through her dining room to her kitchen where she and two other women were preparing dozens of pastries and baked goods including rostile bread. The fresh bread is stuffed with chicken or beef and they were delicious. Her children were occupying themselves in the dining room. She has a window at the back of her kitchen where people come and order food.
We also visited a long time resident named Shoota (derived from Shorter - because he is short) . He lives in a self-made shack that was built over a weekend from tin, plastic and wood. He used to live nearby in the old beer house, but when he got married, he moved out and built the shack for he and his wife and children. He is now 68 years old, his wife has since passed away and he is now on the list for a government house. Shoota’s 17 year old daughter has moved in with his son where it is much safer for a young woman to be than living in a shack beside a home brewery where drunken men are hanging around. Every Sunday she comes to visit Shoota for dinner where he prepares a special meal in his makeshift kitchen.
The beer house where Shoota was living has been converted into a hostel for families. The long building has been divided into 2 rows by a central hallway running the length of the building. Each row is further divided into 11 rooms. At one time there were 3 families living in each room. As we walked through the beer house, a group of 5 or 6 very young children were playing near the doorway. They were very excited to see us and a boy of about 3 hugged my leg. There were no adults or older children with this group.
We visited another hostel where there is a communal bathroom outside for everyone to share. Water is free in the settlement but electricity must be prepaid. As a result, everyone 'borrows' electricity by connecting to the main lines that run through the settlement. In some places, freight containers have been brought in, initially to provide temporary housing, which has now become permanent. Each container houses 2 families. Doors and windows have been cut into one side to provide an entrance and lighting.
The Langa community has evolved into 4 classes - lower class, middle class, upper middle class and upper class. The lower class live in the shacks while the middle class are those who have moved into government housing with subsided rent. Upper middle class are those who have been granted land and have built their own house (the woman who had the catering business was considered upper middle class). They are not allowed to sell the house unless everyone in the family is in agreement - the house is usually passed down from generation to generation. Upper class are those who originated in the community, that have received an education and are working but have elected to stay and give back to the community. These people have bought homes and are an example for those in the shacks of what they can aspire to.
At the end of our tour, we spent some time in the cultural centre and saw some of the crafts made by the community - wire works, beadwork, carvings, paintings. While we had initially debated the prospect of visiting Langa, the experience was humbling and introspective, giving us a much better understanding of what life is like for millions of South Africans and how incredibly fortunate we are to live where we do.
We took an Uber back to the apartment and spent the afternoon organizing, packing and relaxing on our last day in Cape Town. After much discussion about our day in Langa, we headed for dinner at about 7:00pm to look for a Italian restaurant called Pigalle that had been recommended by our tour guide. We enjoyed line fish and lamb while the live band played soothing jazz music. A lovely end to our time in Cape Town.
Our 3rd day in Cape Town began when we were picked up by our guide just before 9:00am. Much like the previous day, this early spring morning began with a light mist occasionally turning to rain. Today’s schedule had us visiting a couple of wineries in the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions of the Western Cape. Before heading eastward from the coast to the wineries, our guide suggested that we do a quick tour of the downtown area. This seemed like a good idea to us, since we had limited our evening sightseeing to the V&A Waterfront.
As we drove from our apartment towards the financial district, we learned that the area between the existing waterfront and Strand Street was land that had been reclaimed in the early 1900's. The original shoreline came right up to Strand Street, which meant that our apartment, situated on Main Road between Strand and the waterfront would have been underwater before the reclamation. There was considerable infrastructure improvement done in the waterfront area and downtown in preparation for the 2010 World Cup, including the building of a modern Football Statium at the waterfront.
After a short drive through the downtown, we made our way to Bo-Kaap, which means “above the Cape” in Afrikanns. This is an historical part of Cape Town that sits on the slopes of Signal Hill and is the area that was originally where the muslim community was assigned. It is a multicultural community, sprinkled with colourful pastel buildings and dwellings, which is recognized as an area that needs to be preserved. While Cape Town has severe economic issues as the result of the falling Rand, and a 27% unemployment rate with mortgage rates currently (September 2018) sitting at 10.5%, there is little religious or racial strife, and this is best exemplified in Bo-Kaap.
Following our brief visit to Bo-Kapp we continued our exploration of the downtown area. Adderlay Street is considered the main street in the downtown while Gentleman's Walk is considered the banking district. We stopped at Leerdman which is the oldest castle and fortification in Cape Town and dates back to the 1600's. Across the street is where Nelson Mandela gave his inaugural speech after being driven here upon his release from prison in 1994. A short distance away is the legislative parliament of South Africa - the administrative government is in Pretoria. Not far from the legislative parliament is the Slave Lodge which was closed in 1834 when Britain banned slavery. Down the street from the Slave Lodge is St. George's Cathedral - a traditional African monument has been erected at this site where Desmond Tutu used to preach. The entire downtown is contained in a grid roughly 2 kilometres square.
As we left Cape Town proper and started driving down N2 towards the airport on our way to Stellenbosch, our guide explained that South Africa's prime exports are gold, diamonds, platinum, wine and more recently, tourism which comprises 9% of GDP. Tourism is relatively new because up until the end of Apartheid in 1994, many countries were boycotting South Africa. As we approached the airport we saw the formal and informal settlements or townships (formerly referred to as Shantytowns). There are several of these in the area and while there is no exact number it is estimated that approximatley 2 million people live in these settlements. Gradually people are being moved into formal public housing that is replacing the shacks making up the informal settlements.
We crossed the Cape Flats between the 2 mountain regions on our way to the Stellenbosch wine district. The soil in this area is very sandy. Arriving at Stellenbosch, the 2nd oldest town in South Africa, we were entering one of the country’s top wine regions. The town of Stellenbosch is Dutch in origin and as a result the houses are all conservative minimalist Dutch style and mainly painted white. Stellenbosch is now primarily a University town with a student population of about 29,000. The primary grapes in the region are Chenin Blanc (which is used to make brandy), Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage - a wine unique to South Africa that is a blend of Pinot Noir and Hermitage. White grapes are harvested in the January to March timeframe and red grapes are harvested in the March to April timeframe.
After a quick drive through Stellenbosch we arrived at the Warwick Winery, a high end winery that has a rich and interesting history dating back to 1771. The winery buildings are white Dutch colonial style surrounded by a grove of mature trees. Just off the parking area is a giant wire sculpture of Nelson Mandela with colourful beads meticulously crafted to bring out all of the features of his face, hair, hands, feet and clothes.
The signature wine of Warwick is a red blend called Trilogy (Cabernet Sauvignon 40%, Cabernet Franc 41% and Merlot 19%) which is a Bordeau style wine that sells for R400 (approximately$40 CDN). It is the most expensive wine on their list. I decided to try the Exclusive tasting which consists of a sampling of 5 of Warwick’s premium wines. The selection included a Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage (which I quite liked), Cabernet Franc ($36) which was also one of their award winning wines and a Cabernet Sauvignon. I purchased the Pinotage for ($16) and a Chenin Blanc ($16) for Kim.
Following our wine tasting at Warwick we continued east to the Franschhoek wine region. We stopped in a quaint village in the French Corner and had lunch on the patio of a restaurant called Bovine. Kim ordered the Black Elephant Sauvignon Blanc and I had the Black Elephant Shiraz, both local wines from the the Franschhoek region. We each ordered Chicken and Bacon salad for lunch. It was a beautiful afternoon with lots of brilliant sunshine and so we lingered over lunch and left around 2:30pm.
We headed to another winery - La Motte, which is owned by the the Ruperts, one of wealthiest family in South Africa. They have a total of three wines estates and are in partnership with the De Rothschild family in France producing wines under the Rupert and Rothschild labels. La Motte is a beautifully landscaped estate winery with a creek that runs through the property lined with lush vegetation. Calla Lillies dotted the shoreline of the creek. Inside the winery we settled at a small tasting table where I enjoyed a 6 flight sampling of South African wines while Kim enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. We purchased a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a Shiraz.
We had a long, but pleasant and uneventful drive back to Cape Town from the wine region through some of the most spectacular scenery.
Approaching the city, we ran into a bit of traffic on the way into the downtown as we passed the airport. We arrived at our apartment at about 5:30pm feeling quite exhausted. After debating where to go for dinner, we opted to go back to the Waterfront and ended up at Karibu, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by a couple of different people for its game meats. We each ordered a glass of wine and Kim decided to go with the Bobotie , a traditional Cape Malay dish made from mince meat with an egg topping. I had wanted to get a game platter which included a selection of game meats, but was advised by the waiter that it was only available for 2 people. Instead he recommended a game trio which consisted of Kudu, Springbok and Impalla skewers. I also ordered the Ostrich carpaccio which both Kim and I shared. The carpaccio was very thin slices of dark red meat that was quire fragile. It was difficult to pick it up with a fork without it falling apart. The taste was slightly stronger than a beef carpaccio, but still quite flavourful. It was difficult for me to distinguish the difference in taste between the trio of game and they were very similar in texture. This wasn't surprising given that they were all varieties of venison. The meat was very lean but a bit tougher than beef cooked to the same degree of medium rare. The wine, appetizer and meals came to a total of just under $90 for the two of us including tax and tip.
After dinner we took an Uber back to the apartment arriving just around 10:00 pm and were quite happy to get to our bed after a busy day tasting delicious wines!
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
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