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Culture, Reality
South African Township Life

Kasi Musings

by Morrel Shilenge / 06.12.2010

Townships attract a lot of clichés. It’s a world unto itself. With its own culture of how things are done. In any township, you’ll recognise that you have entered another planet. From the stench, dirt all over the place and the Richard Attenborough picturesque smoke from ibawula – you know that you are in the ghetto. In winter time, there is smoke everywhere, people trying to stay warm. There is no fresh air. It’s a place where pets are fed left over Sunday lunch. Dogs on beetroot. Cats on rice!

To stay in a township is an experience you can’t forget. There’s no place like ekasi. You really can take a boy out of the hood but you can’t take the ‘kasi out of the boy.

Lets take a look at township life. Nobody is “originally” from the ghetto. Everyone from Soweto, Khayelistha or Mamelodi comes from a rural village somewhere else. Bright lights syndrome.
The first thing you see in a township are liquor billboards advertising beer. Folks love to drink. Drinking culture runs deep. There are skeems (booze collectives) and stokvels for drinking every Sunday. On every street there’s a shabeen, a bottle store or spaza. Drinking is what you do to kill time. Or yourself, slowly.

South African Township Life

Besides the drinking, you’ll notice new malls sprouting up, something I totally disagree with! It increases consumption and creates false needs. Malls worsen the situation. Sure these malls are owned by black business owners, but who truly owns the shops, the supermarkets, the products on the shelves? Who are the franchisers? White capital. There’s so much scarcity in the townships already. Fuelling the desire to consume increases crime and kills small businesses that have been servicing these communities for years.

Black people are committed consumers. We live to buy. But why add fuel to the fire? Township communities are the poorest of the poor. If it wasn’t for darkies KFC and McDonalds wouldn’t survive. If only we used our buying power wisely. Less fast food and more real estate. More start ups. More asset building.

South African Township Life

There are good things too. Townships have amazing street culture, from kids playing soccer on the street then tennis in the late afternoon. Adolescents on every corner jolling. A sea of Shoprite checkers bags in the hands of workers coming back from work.

“Abolova” chilling. These are the guys who talk about wanting to make something of their lives, but hardly ever do. They smoke, drink and daydream about becoming the next big star in the music industry.

Weekends start on Puza Thursdays. Friday Nights see heaving boozy streets – it’s Vrydag Mos. Saturday you watch the Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates games near a bottle store, or even inside one. Sunday is church, Johnny Coltrane played by ama-taima, and more drinking stokvels.

Unique Kasi lingo on every corner. But the culture stays the same.

South African Township Life

People in townships are a community and they try to care about each other. If one neighbour doesn’t have sugar – they can borrow next door. In one house, you will find multiple generations: grandparents, parents, children and cousins from villages stay for good.

Stealing is an occupation. A job you work at. Some people wake up in the morning and go robbing. It’s what they do. Tax free. Nobody questions it outright. Everyone gossips about it. “Do you know that one who steals cars for a living?”

Steve Biko once said ghetto life is so tough it’s a miracle anyone grows up to be a functioning adult. I did. But then again, my existence was tempered by another Steve Biko quote. “Black man, you are on your own.”

South African Township Life

Read the second part of this series Work and Fire.

*All images © Morrel Shilenge.

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