Can you feel the beating heart of our Rainbow Nation?

Jan 2015 – For Juice Magazine: It was a bright Saturday morning in Cape Town as a group of very excited journalists hopped into a very noisy, 15-seater LaGuGu Tour minibus taxi and headed out of the city centre to the fringes of the Mother City. Our fascinating adventure took us on a hop-on, hop-off tour into the heart of Langa – the oldest township in South Africa – and to Gugulethu.

Colourful street art in Langa

Colourful street art in Langa

A fantastic local tour guide, with his natural story telling ability, informs us that a young remarkable entrepreneur by the name of Kgomotso Pooe, is the driving force behind this urban township tour. Kgomotso also runs the So We Too and Soweto Outdoor Adventures through his Soweto Tours enterprise.
This is not your everyday tour. Each outing gives tourists guided walks through the streets of these communities, with regular stops at various points of interest. As we walked down Washington Avenue in Langa it was the very suavely dressed people that grabbed our attention, as well as the happy giggling children, playing in the streets. A little way on we met Mamma Sylvia Sizani, the recycling queen of Langa. Here she was sitting mindfully engaged in recycling old bottles, but never too busy to flash a smile or greet passers-by.

Sylvia Sizani runs her recycling business from her yard in Langa

Sylvia Sizani runs her recycling business from her yard in Langa

The next stop was the old “Dompas” office, built in 1923 – now a Township Heritage Museum. This was a stark step back into our dark past when all black people, whenever outside the confines of their government designated areas, were legally required to carry passbooks. The museum sent shivers down my spine and the atmosphere that hangs heavy is a mixture of abuse, sadness, defiance and eventual triumph.

We then strolled past Brenda Fassie’s home; one of South Africa’s greatest music icons, where she lived until the age of 16. Who can forget the “Weekend Lover”? We were fortunate enough to go into Brenda’s home, meet members of her existing family and marvel at the gold records so proudly displayed as a living tribute to a township girl who became an idol for all Africans worldwide.

Brenda Fassie grew up in this humble home until the age of 16

Brenda Fassie grew up in this humble home until the age of 16

Standing at Sobukwe Square – the very spot where the Langa Pass March started in 1960 – brings home the grim realities of a past that has taken the lives of so many in a country’s struggle for its own freedom. But what could never be silenced was the boldly beating pulse of these ever-vibrant communities. Today on the streets next to the square there are small noisy street cafés, boasting some of the best braaied meat, chicken pieces and my all-time favourite pap and sous, all done on open fires. This is food heaven.

Beautiful shopping line in Langa

Beautiful shopping line in Langa

Other shops along the streets are creatively set in brightly decorated shipping containers. Here you can sit down for a haircut or a braid, thereafter you can buy some colourful ladies leggings or be enticed by the clothing so beautifully displayed, hanging and waving to you in the light breeze.
Everywhere you turn, there is colour, and there is life; from the car washes to the spazas and side-street vendors; what a busy and lively place to be. This is the heartbeat of our nation.I also had my first encounter with a sangoma who we were told was just one of many in the township. Here you can go inside and let him help you with all your troubles and strife.

A sangoma

A sangoma

Ever fancy a bit of sheep’s head black-roasted on the coals? This traditional favourite of the locals (and I must add mine as well) comes at a bargain of only twenty bucks a portion.

Not for the squeamish - sheep heads on the fire

Not for the squeamish – sheep heads on the fire

It’s difficult to take in all the sights and sounds at too brisk a pace. So how about sharing a calabash of umkomboti in one of the many beer halls in Joe Slovo Township along the way? This was another first for me and an unforgettable experience. Being part of the beer drinking ritual, kneeling down and sipping this sour traditional drink is something quite special.
It is from here that you can also see the N2 Gateway Housing development from its real perspective and see for oneself the efforts being made by the City to mend the disparities of the past and etch a new and brighter future for all.
It’s a short drive to neighbouring Gugs with the first stop at the Gugulethu Seven Monument. On the morning of March 3, 1966 the South African Police shot seven young activists dead in these streets. The seven solid, granite monoliths stand as a firm reminder of the past. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Just a little way on, on the edge of the sidewalk stands the Amy Bhiel Monument. There is no doubt that the recollection and narrative behind the Amy Bhiel tragedy will chill you to your core, but it is also a remarkable account of the humility and resolve of all our people, both black and white to turn such tragic tales into stories of forgiveness and hope.

Of course one cannot trawl through Gugs without making a stop at the ever-vibrant Mzoli’s for an ice cold one, some injama, pap or chakalaka. The local paparazzi are also there and for a couple of bob you will have your very own keepsake photograph to say: “I was there”. But be warned if you are not there early enough you are going to struggle to find a place to sit between all the weekend revellers.

Gugulethu Seven Memorial remembering the death of seven young men

Gugulethu Seven Memorial remembering the death of seven young men

What makes this kind of destination touring unique is that LaGuGu Tours offers sightseers a personal, in-depth and unforgettable tour of Cape Town’s townships. There is none of this canned touristy stuff. No, this is about being on the ground, and engaging with people young and old and learning about the history that has shaped these neighbourhoods and our country. Experiencing township life both in the present and the past gives you a sense of perspective and insight into the many cultures and colours that make up our rainbow nation.

Here you will find the real colour and soul of our country painted on the walls and trodded into the streets of our township communities. Each step taken is a pilgrimage into a turbulent and truthfully bitter past but more than this, it is the friendly faces and the cheerful greetings of so many people that we met, that reflect the real hope that lies in tomorrow.

The LaGuGu Tour also has a major added benefit. Bringing tourists in the heart of these townships gives support to local businesses and in turn realises many socio-economic benefits.

Info block
For those who decide to make use of the exciting hop-on, hop-off facility, the LaGuGu Tour taxi’s run every 20-30 minutes along the route. For the sightseers who prefer to stay on board for the entire tour it is a 90 minute round trip that will return you to the Long Street Tour Office. The last taxi of the day departs from Long Street at 3pm and returns at 5pm. The LaGuGu Tour costs R290 per adult.
Other interesting City Sightseeing offerings in Cape Town

In addition to the new LaGuGu Tour, City Sightseeing Cape Town runs two exciting routes, the Red City Tour, with its accompanying free Yellow Downtown Tour and the Blue Mini Peninsula Tour, with its accompanying free Purple Wine Tour.

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