Two Days — Two Tours

Sunday we had a historically interesting and stunningly beautiful tour of Stellenbosch. Monday we had a historically interesting and stunningly beautiful tour of Langa. Across these two days we experienced two very different tours.

Sunday in Stellenbosch: It was a perfect day weather-wise…sunny, clear, and around 21 degrees. Our friends William and Ibrahim were our guides, and we set out around noon. We drove east out of the city to the Cape Winelands. The Mediterranean-like climate is perfect for growing grapes, and the hillsides are abundant with vineyards. Being that it is the end of autumn/early winter here, the leaves were golden, particularly with the sun shining brilliantly down.

William slowly strolled us through the old center of town where we admired the gleaming white buildings and Dutch architecture. We saw the posh boutiques, vibrant galleries, sidewalk cafes, many churches, an old trading post, and another slave lodge. The streets were lined with oak trees, first planted by the town’s founder in the late 1600s. We rejoined Ibrahim and drove through the lovely University of Stellenbosch campus where around 30,000 students attend. Quite idyllic indeed.

Next we set out toward Paarl, still awaiting our alleged wine tasting. The region is famous for its wines, particularly pinotage. We drove for quite some time, listening to stories of the area, the mountains, and the rich history. Finally we arrived at The Spice Route, where we could choose to sample wine, but also craft beer, chocolate, pizza, and biltong (similar to jerky). We now understood why William brought us all this way – some 27km past Stellenbosch – there was something for everyone!

We sat and watched the sun go down, remarking on how it must be one of the most beautiful views in the world. With Table Mountain about 65km in the distance, we marveled at the beauty around us. We drove back to Cape Town quite content, thanking William and Ibrahim for a truly lovely afternoon.

Monday in Langa: It was a less-than-perfect day weather-wise…windy, rainy, and about 15 degrees. Our new friend and guide, Zuzeka, lead us through the streets of Langa Township, her home. She shared how she was born and raised in Langa, and she still lives there today. She is working toward become a third-grade teacher, and once she finishes her education, she will teach at a primary school in Langa.

Langa was originally created as a settlement for working men. Then during apartheid, it became a Black township (primarily Xhosa) with harsh living conditions. She said it is a “small” township (by township standards) with around 70,000 residents today. Local guides like Zuzeka proudly take tourists through Langa, and you can read more about our specific tour company, Siviwe.

As in 2012 when I did a similar tour with students, we began our experience at the Visitor Center and saw the lovely pottery and other handcrafts made at Langa. A large new theater was built in 2013, and Zuzeka said many performers share their talents with local audiences in it. She added that architecture students built it out of reclaimed materials. Now the rain began, so we put up our hoods and set out through the streets of Langa.

We visited the various types of living structures in Langa, as Zuzeka called them the “low class” hostels and shacks, the “middle class” government apartments and small homes, and the “high class” private homes. (She said she lives in a middle class home, and, although she called the high class homes “Beverly Hills,” they were still modest by our standards.) She explained how payment works, meaning if you pay rent, or only for utilities, et cetera. We went inside a hostel and shack to see how people were living. They were dark and cold, though a lot of human ingenuity was on display. People creatively and resourcefully live in Langa.

There are shops (groceries, barbers, clothing, driving schools) in Langa, mostly housed in shipping containers. There are services (doctors, libraries, schools, police) in Langa. We stepped into a dark shack where traditional African beer is made from sorghum, maize meal, and water. We sat around the fire and heard stories about celebratory rituals (manhood, marriage) when the beer is made by the women. We got to taste the milky beer, somewhat reminiscent of kombucha.

We stepped into a brighter “5-star shack,” the home of Shooter, called that for his “shorter” height (his actual name is Shadrack, and he has been told he resembles Morgan Freeman). He described how he moved up from a cramped hostel-type setting into his shack made ingeniously out of recycled materials. He described how fires can swiftly tear through the shack communities, how wires are strung from shack to shack to share electricity, and Zuzeka told us he moved his daughter out of the community to protect her. He was a man we all quickly admired.

We walked on and saw the sheep heads on tables where they had been prepared. This site was not one I wanted to see again, but it is an important part of the Xhosa culture that I respect.

We found a cheerful preschool full of rambunctious children, stepped in out of the rain, and played with them for awhile. The teachers must be weary after tending to them from 0700 to 1800 Monday through Friday.

We went inside a lovely home where a woman has a catering business. It was warm and smelled of wonderful things. We were fortunate to be able to purchase small bread rounds for 3 rands (or filled with egg and mayo or chicken and mayo for 4,50 rands). We happily ate these warm delights.

We returned to Cape Town with new images in our minds. We heard rich stories from Zuzeka of hardships and struggles, deep connections and traditions, and the triumph of the human spirit. She told us to never give up, despite our circumstances, and that sure means a lot coming from her: a truly lovely young Xhosa woman, working hard to better her life, yet staying tightly and proudly connected to her community.

Two days, two tours.

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