No thanks, I'd rather live in the township

2012-12-10 10:49

I’ve always had a secret crush on townships. So many adorable things have come out of these South African sweethearts, leaving me blushing like a 16-year-old teenage girl being courted by a boy she likes.

I find that townships’ contribution to linguistics, pop-culture, culinary arts and the South African liberation struggle make them honourable places to live in; unlike the “places of shame” critics of some fallen celebrities would have us believe townships are.

Where else do you find a wealthy lexicon with words like Gusheshe (BMW 325is model), klipa (R100 banknote), timer (father) and the many hand gestures comprising the rich public transport sign language bank? It’s also gratifying to note that a South African cellphone network operator – 8.ta (Heita) – is named after a popular form of greeting used by most township youth.

Who creates popular dance moves like S’bujwa, iNgwazi, Samusa and Twalatsa (among others) with which to stomp the dance floor every December?

Where else do you find yummy dishes like Mancina (cow or chicken feet), Mogodu (tripe), skopo (sheep head) and shisa-nyama if not on buzzing street corners or township eateries like Mzoli’s in Gugulethu, eNdumbeni in Kanyamazane (Lekazi), Busy Corner in Tembisa, Joe’s Butcher in Alexandra, 707 Panyaza in Soweto (White City), Kwa-Max Lifestyle in Umlazi and Man’s Bring & Braai in Mdantsane, among many others?

Which communities rose up to defend their dignity against one of the world’s most notorious regimes if not the brave-hearted in Langa Township in Cape Town, Orlando West in Soweto and Sobantu Township in Pietermaritzburg, among many other townships?

It’s no wonder why I love these places. Yet, some still insist on selling us a very entrenched narrative – that townships are crime-ridden hellholes plagued by diseases, poverty and “uncivilized hood-rats”. Hence you find these “sophisticated” souls in their newly-acquired middle-class circles spewing loaded sentences like “(s)he is so ghetto, eeuw!”

Some will argue that townships are “white man-created reservoirs of cheap labour”.  Well, that might have been the case historically, but to many of us, whose entire childhood (and early adulthood) experiences were accrued there, townships are the only home we know and love; where a convenient spaza shop is always street corner away, where the probabilities of exchanging greetings with a neighbour everyday are higher than the likelihood of meeting a fellow white citizen in the Johannesburg CBD.

Unlike what columnist David Moseley would like to see happen in order to solve “the township problem”, unfortunately we are not at anytime planning to move out of the only homes we know.

Again, some of the ills they accuse townships of – like higher crime rates – may be structurally true. But yet, perhaps by blind optimism, I’ve always seen positive stories coming out these locations (pun unintended).

That’s why I (and I’m sure many others share my sentiments) find it sad to note that townships are losing many of its finest minds.  People who “make it” are fast moving out of townships in search for “better places” (read: suburbs) that match their newly acquired middle-class status.

Before you throw rotten tomatoes at my face in the comments section, please get me right. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with you enjoying your money in the ‘burbs. In fact, the freedom of movement clause in our constitution anoints you to do so. For that matter, it even allows you the right to move out of the country if you will.

All I’m saying and asking is:

Who will township children – some of who have taken a fancy of the flambouyant izikhothane trend – look up to when township-born gems are leaving their original homes? Will they look up to Kenny Kunene? Khanyi Mbau? Mmh?

Who will nip their possible criminal mentality in the bud should they show early signs of delinquency? William “Mashobane” Mbatha? Amabherete (SAPS Tactical Response Team)?

Who will mentor them, help them do their school home-works, tell them about things like the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFSAS)? Thulani Madondo? Him alone? Mmh?

Who will inspire them when depression and suicidal thoughts lead them to drug bingeing each time they feel like the world is a hopeless den? Their parents? Has the African proverb: “it takes a village to raise a child” gone out of relevance?

Don’t get me wrong again; no one is legally bound to do the above-mentioned. After all, Ubuntu is not law but merely a humanist African philosophy.

Hence I believe that these must’ve been the conundrums former president Nelson Mandela faced when he said: “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: are you going to so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

With that said, I just hope that when townships become incubation chambers for violent criminals, when young kids burn banknotes and spill Ultramel on ground, when they develop a penchant for brands they hardly afford in order to define their self-worth, when they drop out of school to peddle drugs or to nurse a swelling, baby-containing tummy, DO NOT be the first one, in the comfort of your middle-class zone, to blame the ANC-led government for failing townships.

“What did you do about it” is the question you might have to answer.

This is why when an acquaintance recently suggested to me a “cheap place” in the ‘burbs that is a “walking distance to work”, I pondered about it and gave her my polite feedback: No thanks; I’d rather live in the township.

DISCLOSURE: The writer was raised in a township and still lives in the township.

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