Development of Langa location
In the course of the inter World War years the regulations of the 1902 Location Act were expanded to create a more formal structure for African Urban administration. In 1923 the Urban Areas Act was passed to enforce the compulsory residence of Africans in locations. Following the removal of Black people from Ndabeni location, near Maitland, in the late 1920s, the authorities established Langa location outside Cape Town. Although the name Langa means Sun, the name is actually derived from the name of the Xhosa chief Langalibalele, who was imprisoned on Robben Island in 1873 for rebelling against the Natal government.
Langa was built in phases. The former structures were shabby, with unpaved roads and no electricity supply. The township was completed and officially opened in 1927. Langa is located on the Cape Flats, 11 km south-east of the centre of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province. The name Langa is Xhosa and literally means ‘sun’. The name is also partly derived from the name of Langalibalele – a Hlubi rebel who was detained in Cape Town in 1875 after rising against the Natal government.
Living conditions Langa
Cape Town’s municipality appeared keen to invoke those clauses of the 1923 Urban Areas Act which controlled African immigration into the city. Strict control was enforced in Langa and the barracks of migrant labourers were separated from one another by a high, un-climbable fence with only one point of access. There was little privacy in the barracks.
No visitors or gatherings were allowed in Langa without the Superintendent’s permission. The brewing of sorghum beer (utshwala) which was integral to local African culture was prohibited. This was resented by residents, who also rejected the idea of municipal beer halls. They refused to be controlled by being forbidden to drink beer in line with traditional custom. Despite the prohibition of beer brewing there was a sharp rise in illicit brewing and after many police raids total prohibition was lifted in 1930. Municipal beer halls were built in 1945.
In Langa tribal affiliations became intense prior to the Second World War. Some tribal affiliations were radically reshaped by their urban experience. The Mfengu community held celebrations to mark their ‘liberation’ from the Xhosa, which stirred resentment in the township. On the other hand the Mfengu celebrations, observed on 14 May to commemorate their loyalty to the British Crown, and their position as early Christians and recipients of Western education and culture advocated Mfengu separateness from the Xhosa. In Langa the Mfengu Memorial Association celebrated their ‘liberation’ from the Xhosa.
Churches appeared to be prestigious institutions in Langa, especially for women. The Women’s Christian Association (Umanyano wabafazi) of the Bantu Presbyterian Church was formed. The uManyano wabafazi consisted of 90 members and they ministered to the sick and needy - a crucial element of self-help in the Langa community.
Education was highly valued in Langa. At that time only primary schools were set up in the area, until 1937 when the authorities overturned their decision and gave permission for secondary classes to be provided. This came as a result of a group of clergy and parents relentlessly approaching the authorities on this matter. Parents encouraged pupils to aspire to become nurses, teacher and ministers.
Inside a dingy relic, at Langa's old pass office. This is where black people had to present their identity cards. With an attached Courthouse, where they were tried for breaking the pass laws. There's a great collection of photographs and documentary evidence, showing what life was like in Cape Town's oldest Township during that era.
Smith V.B., van Heyningen E., Worden N. (1999), Cape Town in the twentieth century, (David Philip), pp 87-90|
Raper E.P (2004), New Dictionary of South African Place Names, (Jonathan Ball), p.201