The minute the clock hits 3:45 p.m., I shove everything into my backpack and make a beeline out of class and down the six-and-a-half-billion stairs that lead from the University of Cape Town to the main road. Although the idea of erecting a university on a mountainside turned out to be a gorgeous idea, it really does take a toll on the butt of a sucker that needs to head down to civilization. But I don’t mind because every Monday and Wednesday after class, I get to go to my favorite place, a growing center of my universe, the Langa Quarter.
Langa is considered a “township,” the word used to describe the living spaces designated for black and Coloured people during the apartheid. Many townships are lacking in development in some way: Some only have outdoor bathrooms; some have dismal electricity; some can only be described as shacks. I decided to volunteer with iKhaya le Langa (House of the Sun), an entrepreneurial space in the heart of Langa Quarter.
Upon arrival, Tony, the man in charge of directing volunteers, immediately made some things clear. “We aren’t here to alleviate poverty. We’re here to develop business. Langa doesn’t need sympathy,” Tony said.
Outside the walls of street art and happy running kids that give Langa its color stands a wall that literally and physically divides Langa from Pinelands, a white neighborhood. Instead of protesting (a popular way of enacting change in South Africa), Tony has plans to make Langa so exciting and “#trending” that people will start seeing it as the center of Cape Town, and the wall will come down on its own.
The projects at work are something out of a hundred dreams. Chandeliers are stashed in an empty community room, waiting to be hung up in the community bathroom. Hotels and homestays are being fashioned out of the homes of the families that live there and are available to tourists or visitors that want a unique living experience. Not to mention, there are plans being formulated around building a community go-kart track around Langa Quarter so that kids could ride around the neighborhood. The answer to all of the questions about this bubbling incubator for ideas is, “Why not?” And to be honest, I can’t think of a reason.
One of the projects in the works that I’m absolutely jazzed about is the building of the Langa Restaurant. Operated by Langa residents, it’s meant to get tourists to visit a township for an experience consisting of more than just hopping out of a bus, taking a million photos and setting captions like “ThisIsAfrica” or whatever. It is meant to get people to sit down, generate some wealth for the township and really learn about the community and how it operates. “The opposite of love is fear. And the only thing that conquers fear is desire,” as Tony says.
That’s not even the best part. In a separate element of the cafe, we are working to create a menu of free food to offer to volunteers and workers in the township. South Africa (as well as L.A., for that matter) has a huge food waste problem. Farms throw away fruits that are perfectly edible but are in an otherwise funky shape. Often, they throw out produce simply because they overproduce. Supermarkets must throw away food by the “sell by” date, even if the “use by” date is days or weeks away. What amasses, then, are huge amounts of perfectly good and healthy foods, rotting in landfills and taxing the environment when it could just as well feed thousands of people. The team I’m on plans to collect this food, come up with a fantastic menu of healthy food options and open it up as a social enterprise within the restaurant.
The beautiful thing about this is that it isn’t charity. Social enterprise is a beautiful, creative way of fitting pieces and people together to make a model that works. There is no place here for a California girl from the other side of the world to run over and paint a library or kiss a child. The developments being made are unapologetic, environmentally sustainable and, in my humble opinion, just gosh darn brilliant.