Images of Southern Africa - Langa Township

Langa Township, Cape Town

In South Africa the word ‘township’ refers to a residential area for black Africans and Coloureds that segregates them from other racial groups within a city.

The first such township was constructed at Ndabeni at the turn of the twentieth century although there were ‘locations’ around King William’s Town as early as the 1840s. The oldest township, Langa was developed following the passing of the 1923 Urban Areas Act. Viewed as a ‘model’, Langa Township was planned with wide streets, floodlights and a police station at the single entry point (thereby allowing easy control of the inhabitants).

During the 1980s, Khayelitsha Township was developed with a planned population of 120,000. By 1990 its population had reached 450,000. Most Khayelitsha Township’s population are squatters rather than formal residents, and 80% are unemployed.

Along with Sharpeville, Langa Township achieved prominence on 21 March 1960. On this day the police opened fire on protesters who were marching in opposition to the Pass Laws, which had for many years controlled and limited the movements of all non-Europeans. At Sharpeville 69 people died, and a further 7 at Langa. (Apartheid sign.)

This image shows the interior of a typical hostel for migrant workers. Four men share this room; and they also share access to a kitchen and shower with 15 other people. This highlights a number of issues for the new South Africa, not least those relating to migration to be near areas of work. Langa is 20km from the centre of Cape Town, but is closer to industrial areas and close to a railway line with access to the city. The image also raises questions of personal privacy and access to a decent standard of living. Hostels such as this one are now being renovated to provide housing for families.

Today Langa Township has one of the highest levels of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Currently, 40 burials take place each weekend - Saturday is the traditional day for burials. This represents a death rate of around 2000 persons per year, up from an estimated 306 in 1999-2000 and 117 in 1996. It was hoped that Western Cape would escape the worst of the pandemic (here HIV prevalence rates in 2001 were 7% compared with KwaZulu-Natal’s 32.5%); however, recent figures for burials would suggest otherwise. (See also Falling life expectancy.)

Ideas for further exploration:

  • Imagine it is possible for you to ask this resident of Langa Township some questions about himself. What would you like to ask him and what do you think his answers might be?
  • What items of daily life that you might find in a typical UK household are visible in this photograph?
  • If a limited amount of money became available to redevelop Langa Township, what improvements would you introduce? How would you prioritise them given that funding is limited?

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Amanda Guest

Is true that anga township has highest rate of HIV?

John Lyon

John Lyon GA Staff

Hi Amanda
I've checked information on Langa and I cant find anything to say it is definitely THE highest but we can be confident in saying it certainly has one of the highest levels of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.


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