There was a distinct buzz about the truck as we approached South Africa. In fact, it was difficult to tell who was the most excited, the guides or the passengers! Our first couple of nights in the ‘Rainbow Nation’ were spent amidst undulating hills, beautiful mountains and the lush winelands
for which the Western Cape is renowned. We enjoyed a couple of good nights in the campsite bars, including an impromptu hen party for one of the girls. I can’t say I had a tear in my eye as I took down my tent for the last time – I was very glad to see the back of those nasty, cold metal poles that seemed to inflict daily injuries on me!
Steaming along towards Cape Town on the last official day of the tour, it suddenly felt as if the last couple of weeks had flown by. It was a spine-tingling moment when Table Mountain came into view on the skyline; I hadn’t known quite what to expect, but I definitely hadn’t realised how dominating and integral the mountain would be to the city. As we got closer, we could see the famed fingers of cloud that usually shroud the ‘table top’, but the rest of the sky was clear and bright. We were itching to get up the mountain while the good weather lasted.
First, though, we had one final activity left: visiting a township. I had been looking forward to comparing this with my experience of the slums of Nairobi (Kibera), and as we headed
Table Mountain watching over the new housing in the township of Langa
into Langa it became immediately apparent that the two are worlds apart. Langa, after all, was a planned community designated for black Africans during the Apartheid era, purpose-built by the authorities with transparency and control in mind - a direct contrast to the origins of Kenya’s slums, which struggled to register at all on the authorities’ radar. We had seen little evidence of official aid in Kibera, and tourism was definitely in its infancy, exposing us unapologetically to the raw reality of filth, extreme poverty and rampant disease. In Langa, minibuses full of tourists were pouring into the vibrant chaos. We heard rumour of a B&B in the neighbourhood, and we even ate (somewhat tentatively) alongside locals in a crazily raucous, jam-packed café. Unthinkable in Kibera.
Langa consisted of an incongruous mishmash of different types of housing. Kibera-style corrugated iron shacks and down-at-heel brick tenements rubbed shoulders uneasily with neat, middle-class bungalows and new-builds not unlike a Milton Keynes estate. It looked like a community undergoing a face lift, presumably as part of the government 'upgrading’ initiatives of recent years and (looking cynically at the
proximity of Langa to the airport) a clean-up operation for the World Cup. The guided tour was very organised and it was impossible to judge whether we were being presented with just one superficial face of Langa. Certainly the tour gave the impression of a vibrant, open and evolving community; however I couldn’t help but wonder how different classes of housing could possibly be introduced into an established slum without disrupting social cohesion and order.
Leaving Langa, we boarded Kwando for the last time and headed for our final destination – a backpackers hostel a few minutes from the centre of town.