For our first weekend in Cape Town we were taken to Langa township, the oldest township in South Africa.
Guided by Siviwe, a South African native who had grown up in Langa and now owns and runs two tour guide companies as well a nonprofit organisation, we explored the streets of the ‘sun’ township. As we wandered the town we were greeted with children playing in the streets, smiles, and greetings — all part of the welcoming atmosphere of the township. Langa thrives on their sense of loyalty and ability to keep their community safe; they all look out for each other to keep themselves in line and to keep crime rates down.
Siviwe took us to many different areas within the township. We passed cages of live chickens, multiple hair salons, a table of thawing sheep heads, a newly converted car wash and a local shibean (brewery). The houses in the township ranged from tiny tin shacks to nicer stone and brick establishments which displayed the range of wealth within the township. However, in Langa, it is not monetary value that matters.
Despite the vast socioeconomic differences within the Langa township, everyone within the community shares the same values. Rooted in respect of varying statuses, appreciation of hard work, and optimism toward upward economic mobility, Langa’s community upholds civility effortlessly.
Fortunately for us, our tour guide, Siviwe, spent a significant chunk of time explaining the uniqueness of the Langa mentality. He explained the differences between internal versus external wealth — a concept largely foreign to those of us raised in capitalistic societies that emphasize class as a direct reflection of worth.
In Langa however, rather than revering a person based on tangible qualities such as wealth, education or experience, they emphasize the importance of the intangible: dignity and respect for others. Siviwe explained how Langa’s definition of a poor person greatly differs from the conventional definition. For them, a person cannot be poor based on factors such as possessions or standard of living. It is only through one’s character or behavior that a person can be poor. They refer to this concept as “inner wealth,” and for them, nothing should be protected more than that. As a group, it was our consensus that countries all around the world could gain a lot from adopting an ideology similar to Langa.