Culture on the street: The art gallery, 16 on Lerotholi in Langa, was founded by Thulani Fesi, Khanyo Ngcukana Shaun Williams and Mpilo Ngcukana. The gallery is collaborating with architect, Inam Kula on a collective memory exhibition of the township, which will be showcased later this year at the gallery. Photo: Dillon Marsh
Langa township outside Cape Town was established 100 years ago and celebrations are planned for its centenary.
The celebrations will focus on the many people who have contributed to the South Africa that we have.
Another reason for these celebrations is to highlight the importance of remembering; it is a way of acknowledging that our past always permeates our present and our future.
But there is ambivalence regarding this centenary. The first issue is to question what it means to celebrate a place that was created to sustain the subjugation of black people.
It is common knowledge that townships in South Africa were created under apartheid as a tool for political and economic endeavours. This resulted in environments that were designed largely on the exchange value that migrant labour was expected to bring to the economic cores, and had little to no consideration for the conditions of life of the black people.
They were forced to stay in these dehumanising places so that their labour could be used in industries. These townships were built in such a way that they became almost uninhabitable. How then do we celebrate a place that was conceived in such a manner? With such intentions?
Langa was named after a Hlubi King, Langalibalele, who was imprisoned on Robben Island for rebelling against the colonial government. This is perhaps why the township is characterised by a spirit of will and courage.
The story of Langa is one that began with the dispossession and displacement of black people in Cape Town under the Native (Urban Areas) Act of 1923, which enforced segregation in South African cities according to race.
When the location was built it was under intense surveillance, with limited access and physical barriers such as the N2 Freeway and the train line.
People had to stay in “matchbox” houses and hostels, which were built close to each other and meant that there was little privacy. This poor spatial planning and architecture are what has created conditions such as crime, violence and substance abuse to thrive in the townships.
There is a need to think of ways in which this can be reversed. Ways in which Langa is more habitable.
Despite the unbearable conditions of the township, we have been able to create beauty in the face of ugliness. Townships became our home; we created ways of being and existing in them. The sheer amount of resilience and ability to create life in a place where nothing is meant for survival requires a celebration or, at the very least, a reflection.
A township as old as Langa has a rich history. In 1960, during the anti-pass campaign when the Sharpeville massacre took place, many people died in Langa.
When the government was most repressive, the people of Langa joined the struggle and many people lost their lives. In this centenary celebration, we ought to remember that there were those who sacrificed their lives for a better South Africa and the best way to preserve their memory is to emulate their fighting spirit and stand up in the face of injustice.
The best way to remember them is to demand better from the government, to demand that they deliver on what they promised.
Langa produced people whose names will forever be written in the annals of South African history. People such as Brenda Fassie, Ringo Madlingozi, Thabo Mngomeni, Temba Bavuma, and Thoko Ntshinga were born in Langa.
Although there is poverty, the people of Langa have taken the initiative to create facilities that will offer employment and make their township a better place. The people of Langa have capitalised on Cape Town’s tourism sector and have arts and cultural spaces such as the music academy, Bridges for Music, an art gallery, 16 on Lerotholi, restaurants such as Jordan Ways of Cooking, and a bicycle hub and pump track. These are interventions to fight unemployment and all consequences of unemployment such as crime and drug use. But this is not enough.
These centenary celebrations are not only important for the people of Langa, but for people in townships across South Africa. With these centenary celebrations, we ought to create spaces in Langa that will act as carriers of people’s memories, traumas and imaginations. Spaces not just where we navigate our reality but spaces where we can hear new perspectives and realise our collective desires.
This is a moment where we can collectively reflect and dream of new realities and the potential of redefining our being not just in the present but also in our future. This is only possible if we successfully fight against forgetting.
What this means is that without the act of remembering it will become difficult to imagine alternative futures that are not characterised by inequality, racism, patriarchy and general oppression.
The people of KwaLanga must be given a platform, resources and the necessary space to think about themselves and the problems they face; to think about how they can address those problems and define for themselves who they want to be in the future.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.