Art, food and a super-colourful past play leading roles in the life of Cape Town’s oldest township
Take a tour of Langa
Cowering in a corner, Monwabisi has been found guilty of walking in a white area. He’s slapped with a hefty fine. Mercifully, actor Monwabisi Sophisti won’t ever have to pay it as this unhappy incident is simply a re-enactment of what used to happen in the bad old days. It’s taking place at the Pass Museum in Langa’s cultural precinct and it’s a part of the Past, Present and Future Tour of Langa. Devised by Tony Elvin, founder of the Langa Quarter, the tour is a day-long experience that includes a guided walk through the township founded in 1927, a visit to the demarcated Quarter comprising thirteen ‘cleaner, greener, safer’ streets and an introduction to and braai at iKhaya le Langa (House of the Sun) – the busy and creative central hub to find out about future developments.
The first part of the tour is an opportunity not just to hear about the history, but to experience it. “Some of the visitors also have their names called and get hauled in front of the ‘judge’.” Tony grins, “Mostly they pass the ‘pencil’ test!” (the apartheid way of testing a person’s race by sticking a pencil in their hair). It was also chosen as an immersive experience by Airbnb that has a number of homestay hosts in the Quarter. Seven tour guides have been trained for it and there are plans to extend it to include street theatre.
Langa will warm your heart and taste buds
iKhaya le Langa is a disused Catholic primary school. It has training rooms, a showroom and outlet for local crafts, an art gallery and a mini chilli farm tended by Andile Mbuli, who shows me his succulent garden and ripening chillies for harvesting to make a wicked hot Chilli Langa sauce.
Read more: Chilli & Lime Monkfish
Soak up Langa’s street art
While I’m here, the shop is bursting at the seams with a group of young Americans who’ve just done the tour and are buying up T-shirts, jewellery and postcards that are a part of the annual Street Art project. Behind iKhaya is a long stretch of bland vibracrete wall that isn’t doing anything for the aesthetic of the place, so Tony decided to run a sponsored competition inviting local artists to come up with ideas for mural designs to liven it up. Winning designs are chosen and painted and at the end of the year, they get photographed and turned into postcards. The wall gets repainted and the process starts again.
Read more: The Art of Barrydale in the Little Karoo
But murals and graffiti are a growing feature of Langa, generally with Red Bull and the City of Cape Town contributing to the visual spectrum. To share it, iKhaya recently developed the ULTRA tour (Uplifting Langa Through Reachable Art). At the Guga S’Thebe Arts & Culture Centre, ceramic murals and painted artworks on the walls tell even more stories. As does the giant image of the first democratic vote at the Civic Centre across the road next to the Old Post Office, now also a museum . The heightened consciousness about history in the area is seen in the renaming of Washington Avenue to King Langalibalele Drive.
Sample Langa’s restaurants
But inevitably it’s their tummies that cause visitors to visit a little-known destination. And Langa delivers. There are three popular restaurants – Lelapa, run by Monica Mahloane, Mzansi Restaurant by Nomonde and Ace Siyaka, and Eziko founded back in 1996 by Victor Mguqulwa as a catering school as well as a restaurant. All of them primarily serve African-themed food, and offer marimbas and entertainment. It’s essential to book in advance, especially for groups.
Following the success of a Christmas market, plans for a summer African Food market at iKhaya le Langa are coming together. By the end of this year the Sun Diner breakfast, brunch and lunch restaurant will be up and running complete with Wi-Fi. On the menu will be the Junction 12 breakfast (the number of the Langa turn off at the N2 motorway) targeting early flight arrivals at CPT International and working locals wanting to duck in out of the morning traffic. ‘And as a way of thanking all the people who are giving their time and energy to help improve the Langa Quarter, we’ll be offering ‘free food’ courtesy of the Food Bank.’ iKhaya le Langa and the Quarter has been chosen as beneficiary of the ‘5 For Change’ inspiring, social enterprise project – so if all continues according to plan, looks like the future of Langa will be shining brighter.
Words and photography Nancy Richards