As the world paused on Tuesday to reflect on the 10 year anniversary since the death of the late former president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the stories of other pivotal icons such as Robert Sobukwe, Philip Kgosana and the Langa township have been highlighted for their role in South Africa’s Struggle for freedom.
The Langa township was established in 1923 as one of the oldest formally planned black townships. It was named after Xhosa Chief Langalibalele, who was banished to Robben Island in 1873 for rebelling against the Natal government.
The year 2023 also marked 60 years since Mandela and Sobukwe were incarcerated on Robben Island, further intertwining the legacies of the two iconic leaders.
In their honour, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) and the Langa Centenary Team invited members of the media to partake in a walkabout through these areas of heritage in Langa.
The walkabout was led by local leaders and historians. It included visits to significant sites such as Langalibalele Road, Old Flats, and the Art Centre.
Each location carries a rich history.The local leaders narrated the stories of struggle, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of the people who shaped Langa over the past century.
What makes Langa special?
Langa was born out of a dark era of segregation under the Urban Areas Act, which was designed to isolate the Black African community from urban areas closer to Cape Town. It’s main function was to primarily as a labour reservoir. Today, as Langa reaches the milestone of 100 years, it stands as a testament to resilience and the triumph of community spirit over oppressive policies.
Founder of the Guga S'thebe Theatre in Langa, Nomthuzi Jacobs said:
“Langa was initially created for migrant labourers. Why we chose this corner (Bhunga Avenue), it is where Sobukwe would meet the labourers. It was initially a tent area for migrant labourers. He would discuss and make negotiations. There was also a lot of underground work that would happen in this area. At the entrance to Langa, people had to show their dompas to come in and be permitted to the area.“
Participants of the walkabout then went to Guga S'thebe.
Jacobs continued: “The Guga S'thebe was a place created for arts and culture and is also a heritage centre.
“Langa is the first township in the Western Cape and in the country for black people in particular, so we do have a story but where is it told?
“This is how this centre came about and the idea to tell these stories in this way started before 1994.
Jacobs said the centre was to harness and celebrate that black people were gifted in arts and culture, and have the best of the best in terms of artists.
“There are many activists, singers and artists that have gone international that came from here and performed here. Guga S'thebe was also where the jazz artists would perform for the community.
Jacobs added that Guga S'thebe is an African Xhosa idiom which says Guga S'thebe Kudala Usophulela, which speaks about an ageing platter that has served its people well.
“Around the platter, Africans would meet. There would be story telling and exchanges and that is the essence of this place, ” said Jacobs.
Members of the media were also lead to the old pass law office. Chief Eric Galada, a traditional leader from Langa explained some key historical events such as the fiery 1960 pass law march.
“The dompas’ were burnt here (at the pass office). They would march from here to the Parliament because they were against dompas. They did it at this particular spot because they wanted to do it by the pass law office,” Galada recalled.
Then it was time to go the Old Flats where key discussions took place. The Old Flats show pictures of Kgosana, Sobukwe, Langalibalele and Mama Silinga.
“Kgosana and Sobukwe met at the C-block flat, room 29, before meeting the community to discuss the pass laws and march to Parliament. This is the flat where, before the march, Sobukwe, Kgosana and Mandela met without people knowing they are there.
“At that time, if police knew that they were there, they were going to get arrested.”
What’s more is that the rooms in the flat were only 3.2 square metres where six people were sleeping in it.
As we mark this day of remembrance, the walkabout offers a unique opportunity to witness and document the living history of Langa, reflecting on the progress made and the challenges overcome.
The legacy of Mandela, Sobukwe, and the community of Langa continues to resonate, inspiring future generations to strive for justice, equality, and unity.