As part of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Communication and Marketing Department’s (CMD) transformation, social responsiveness and team building commitment, we held a team immersion day into KwaLanga on 30 May – it was wonderful, deeply moving and inspiring.
We were guided by the talented Thami Sijila. I was shocked to learn that in 1976 in KwaLanga more people died than in the Soweto uprising and yet we don’t hear about this often and we don’t honour those lives enough. “Why not?” I wondered.
The team made their way to the 16 on Lerotholi Gallery, where co-owner, Thulani Fesi – a brilliant entrepreneur, speaker and youth – spoke passionately about his desire to invest in, stay in and develop the community property and tourism sector. Sadly, Thulani also articulated his frustration with the City of Cape Town. Their words and deeds are not aligning, and not only recently but for years. “We don’t need them to help us, we need them to stop blocking us with bureaucracy,” he said.
We then moved over to the Guga S’thebe Art Museum, where beautiful artwork and jewellery can be bought. We proceeded to a drumming session, thereafter. Nearly 30 CMD colleagues drummed to the same rhythm and beat, making beautiful music, and even attempting to sing along. This is us, the very best of us. We are UCT and we are proudly South African. This is the vision; the hope for a united, diverse, beautiful rainbow nation. We can do it, be it, live it.
Onto Harlem Street
It was a chilly day and so on the bus we hopped to Harlem Street. A famous street for producing South African sporting greats such as Temba Bavuma, and Thami Tsolikile. Lelapa Restaurant in Harlem Street, owned by Mama Shiela, was the final stop for the day.
Mama Shiela founded her restaurant in 1996. She had us captivated as she relayed stories of her life experiences. “Experiences shape us, drive us, mould us,” she said. She then implored us to think about how we can take our experiences of the day to contribute to a better country and a better KwaLanga community.
She told us about how she needed to work three jobs at one point; how she needed to attend evening classes but was then so exhausted and due to a teacher’s monotonous voice would often fall asleep in class – whether she was at the back or in front (we all giggled, as we could relate a bit to this), finally how she had a vision for Lelapa (the name meaning “Home” because it’s established in her childhood home) to serve authentic wholesome meals to tourists especially. The lunch was delicious and perfect for the cold weather we were experiencing in Cape Town. I dished too much, so couldn’t have dessert but I’m more of a savoury person in any case. I will be going back for the vetkoek/steamed bread.
UCT’s Vision 2030 asks us to think, work at and towards sustainability, excellence and transformation. In KwaLanga I experienced all these things. A community fighting and working to ensure their sustainability, especially economically, from which we know so many other freedoms flow. They are and always were a transformed community, Thami emphasising at the start of the day that he sees no black, or white or coloured, and that men from all clans lived in KwaLanga during apartheid. They are a community doing everything with excellence, so that the next generation can live in better conditions, experience better services, and be proud of where they come from.
Thank you KwaLanga for all you did and represent for this country I love. Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for your resilience, patience, passion, professionalism. Thank you for preserving and telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Thank you for raising giants. We honour you in this your centenary year.
I challenge other UCT faculties and departments to visit and collaborate with KwaLanga to ensure its sustainability and to add meaning to our social responsiveness work. We are because they are. We are because they were.
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The Western Cape’s oldest township, KwaLanga, is marking its centenary in April 2023, presenting an opportunity to reflect on the township’s rich history and heritage. The University of Cape Town (UCT) has a history of engaging with KwaLanga residents, conducting research work, and collaborating on community initiatives.
“The local people need to know that this is a place that houses their history,
and they should use opportunities to come and reflect on where we’ve come from.”
– Thami Sijila, Langa Heritage Museum curator and tour guide