Life in a township is a jail like hell that makes one nearly sick just at the sight of such a place. The living conditions are poor at best and filth, violence and the stench of urine fill the streets. It’s hard to comprehend how life can be sustainable in the townships. Pictures do a poor job of properly depicting just how bad the conditions were as we drove through the different townships. The people of District 6 were forced out by the government to allow for whites to be placed there in new developments.
The district was located within walking distance of the city center which provided jobs, food and resources for the people of District 6. Such privilege as those of the close proximity was given only to whites and therefore the re-location began. Promises came from the government, but few if any were followed through, causing the people forced out of District 6 to find shelter elsewhere.
Traveling to Langa township opened our eyes to just how poor life was, and still is, for these people. Hostels housing sixteen families to an area had only one running faucet, one toilet and one shower with little electricity and only cold water. It was a bit shocking to be standing in the middle of a hostel in a township. Those who are educated on townships only read of the dismal conditions but we stood in middle of this place. It felt very wrong to be there and I felt a sense of guilt to be standing in clean clothes with food and an iPhone to take pictures. Although these people have tours coming through often, I still couldn’t help but think that we were being intrusive and exploiting their misfortune for our education. I’m not sure where a line should be drawn but one is certainly necessary.
As we drove to the next township our tour guide began to speak of stories from within. The stories we continued to hear throughout the trip are nightmares unthinkable to my naive and ignorant mind in the sense of worldly awareness. The concerns consuming my everyday life are nonsense and selfish in comparison to the struggles of these people.
One story was of a husband and wife and their children who were forcibly split up due to the differences of their skin colors. The man was colored and his wife and children were all categorized as black therefore forcing them to live in their respective townships. In order for the man to visit his family he had to apply for a permit through the government. I can’t imagine a world were families are split all because the pigment of their skin. Characteristics, personality traits and behaviors were all disregarded as the focus was placed solely on the dark color of the women’s skin. It makes me sick to try and comprehend such evil acts and unthinkable punishment for an uncontrollable fate. I’ve spent time worrying about what gift I want for my birthday or complaining about my lack of some trendy technology object while these people have real concerns. It’s a terrible feeling to reflect the struggles of others back on yourself to only see shame and embarrassment at the foolish ways of yourself.
The morning of driving through townships and touring the homes of the people in them felt very uncomfortable and strangely stressful. I felt like we were riding around on a Disney ride from hell where the people around were the exhibit and we were the fortunate few given the ability to leave at the end of the day. It could be compared to a distorted and sick safari ride as we took pictures of the shacks and the people as if they were the animals.
I felt uncomfortable with my actions and wanted more than anything for it to end so we could leave the people alone. I didn’t feel a sense that our presence brought them anything but annoyance and I felt bad for that. I can’t imagine if someone were to drive around my neighborhood taking pictures, but I’d guess I would have an issue with it. No one wants to be on the receiving end of the photo because as we leave with the picture saved to our cameras, they remain.
They say apartheid has ended, but it’s all around us. Where we travel to we are constantly faced with the reminders that apartheid is everywhere. It may not be spoken, but it is seen. We as white Americans encroaching on the land of the black and colored South Africans was the perfect example of the hushed presence of current day apartheid.
Not once did we see a white person within the townships, yet we go to the shops in the Cape Town and the roles are reversed. It is quite clear that this country and their government have come a long way, but they have just as far to go. Corruption and continued apartheid continue to plague the beauty of South Africa and hope with continued efforts towards a more equal community base the country and one day find racial peace.