Langa Township, South Africa 1994

The People of Langa Township

At the entrance we were greeted by drying sheep’s heads and the routine of shearing wool. Cows roamed freely with the hens in trash piles near the main roads through Langa.

Throughout the day there were uneasy warnings from the streets, a sour look while passing a shop, a scream of pain from somewhere off, signs posted saying, “One settler, one bullet.” And though I was not, and my people were not, of the Dutch decent that conquered South Africa 350 years ago, I felt a danger for having the features of them.

Thick metal shipping containers in the hot South African sun sound more like ovens than shelter. These corrugated, window-less shoe boxes serve as schools for the children of Langa, though walking in them with bare feet could leave you with blisters.

This is Langa Township and just a few of the friendly faces and warm hearts that greeted us with curiosity and laughed at these odd visitors from America. More than a town, this place was more about kinship. The children played freely amongst the housing as they did in the thick dry grass lots. And even though Langa had hundreds of houses and many different families, there was a feeling of community child rearing and a strong sense of communal support.

Escorted by ANC (African National Congress) members, I wandered in and out of streets, was welcomed to share the shade of the tin shack homes and was handed children to bounce in my arms.

But our visit was merely a distraction on a momentus day. Filled with a sudden energy and anticpation, the town prepared for a special visitor.

This afternoon they would welcome Nelson Mandela and hear his views on the past and the future. They would hear him speak about ending apartheid and an election that will never be forgotten.

“The Suit” must have shown me his Sunday best four times before I realized what he was trying to communicate. His pride lights up his face and his laugh could be heard like a confident chuckle down the street. He wanted his picture taken and I was honored to do that.