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The second oldest township in South Africa, Langa, was established in 1923 and celebrates 100 years since its establishment. However, the culturally rich township has not developed sufficiently socially and economically.

The Old Flats in Langa, used to be single sex apartments, with two migrant workers in each apartment, as early as 1944. The flats are so small that some of them can only accommodate a double bed and a stove. As time went by and the population in the city increased, people started to form families and as a result, the flats became single family homes with low rent.

Ntombozuko Mashwa, a resident from H-block, was born in 1981 at the Old Flats and now lives in the flat her parents used to live in. “There’s a huge difference from the time we first moved in to now. Yes, we are not required to pay rent anymore, but as you can see the windows are broken, and the toilets do not work properly,” said Mashwa.

The City of Cape Town (CoCT), which is responsible for the flats, “does not come often enough to do maintenance” according to residents. They also question the quality of maintenance services that the city provides to the flats.

“We reported a while ago that there is a leakage problem that runs from the third floor all the way to the ground floor, and the issue of blocked toilets and urinals,” said Khangelani Nyathela, a resident from D-block.

It is said by residents that there is an average of two working toilets per floor, and they have often raised funds among themselves to fix things such as passage lights.

“The city’s proactive efforts to prevent sewer overflows include R246,5-million on replacing 100km of sewer pipes for 2023/24 (starting 1 July): Areas include Langa, Brackenfell Industrial […] Residents are reminded they can help reduce the risk of sewer overflows and prevent toilets from blocking by only flushing human waste and toilet paper,” said the city’s mayoral committee member for water and sanitation, Councillor Zahid Badroodien.

When Elitsha visited the Old Flats, only two lights were working on the second floor of H-block.

Centenary as a political tool

Ward 52 councillor, Thembelani Nyamakazi, said they won’t celebrate the centenary while the community is faced with various issues: “A 100 years of Langa is not a true reflection of the life we live; it is a political tool. We have more than a hundred problems [as residents].” He believes that for a township that is celebrating 100 years, residents should not still be faced with issues of sewerage spillages, informal settlements and housing that does not accommodate the current living arrangements of families.

“I will not celebrate 100 years when we still have issues like these, because some of the elders living here arrived as young men and they are pensioners now still living in the same conditions,” said Nyamakazi.

The City of Cape Town says it intends to spend R246,5-million to prevent sewer overflows in places like Langa.

In a statement published on 21 March, the CoCT, said they want to create more job opportunities in Langa. “As the City, we want to ensure that Langa is primed to make the most of its business and tourism opportunities to enable more jobs and opportunities for more people. Langa is close to the city centre, airport and major traffic routes, with a well-established food and hospitality industry. Local historical and cultural attractions can play a big role in bringing tourist revenue to Langa,” reads the statement.

Councillor Nyamakazi blames the CoCT for not having a clear plan to handle and resolve service delivery issues. “If there was a clear maintenance plan, things would be better. These delays, I believe, are caused by the difficulty to find companies to offer repair tenders to,” said Nyamakazi. “Issues logged by people between 2018-2021 are only starting to be attended to now.”

By the end of his five-year term, Nyamakazi hopes the lives of Langa residents will be improved and that they may be equipped with skills to make them employable.