Culture, Offbeat, South Africa
Comments 23

Bittersweet Feelings in South Africa’s Mamelodi Township.

south africa culture, mamelodi south africa

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, the whiff of gently spiced curries floats through the streets of Mamelodi. Men from the township chat jovially under a wooden shelter, drinking beer, taking turns to stir the large metal pots on the open fire. Cow heads, they tell me as I look curiously, reminded of open-air communal cooking in India, though you seldom find men taking charge here.

From a narrow street ahead, reggae music pours out, calling me towards it, towards women chilling in the outdoors over beer and gossip, dancing, playing pool! This is no party, just their only day off work. And so what if most of them are domestic workers with meagre wages, they sure know how to have a good time. I awkwardly smile at first, wondering if I am intruding. But the awkwardness melts away quickly in their jokes, and turns to hugs when they hear I’m from India. Take a picture of us, they urge me, so you can show your people how we live here; I oblige, for we can sure learn a thing or two from them. What I can’t learn though, are the dance moves they teach me; we laugh as I fumble around with my two left feet, until they give up and offer me beer instead.

Mamelodi south africa, township south africa

Along the streets of Mamelodi.

Townships in South Africa are settlements where non-white people were forcibly segregated to during the Apartheid era, and while they come with some pretty scary labels, many of them became hubs of music, art and standup poetry. Unassuming and predominantly black Mamelodi, for instance, was once the Jazz capital of the country, it’s little houses creating heart-stopping music. The music still lives on today in the form of reggae and hip hop, and those who can’t afford a music system at home, figure out a workaround by using the one in their car or turning up the neighbor’s volume (Read: My First Impressions of South Africa).

South africa people, south africa culture, mamelodi south africa

With my new friends in Mamelodi.

The aromas of food tempt me and my new friend MaPhuti, to stop at the local resto-cum-pub, for a delicious meal of seasonal curries and rice, washed down with a South African Cider. MaPhuti takes me back in time to her childhood spent in a township near Johannesburg; her poignant tales are bittersweet, of the apartheid struggle, and the camaraderie within the community that kept them going during those dark days. There was a time when black, colored and Indian-origin people could only live, study and work in designated areas, but now that the country is open and opportunities are aplenty, young people like her are moving to the cities and choosing their own path in life. She moved to Johannesburg to become a CA, but recently quit her job to start a travel company that showcases a different and more real side to South Africa. (Read: What Seychelles’ Most Famous Musician Taught Me About Dreams).

south africa food, south africa cuisine, south africa vegetarian food

A simple, yummy meal in Mamelodi.

She drives me to a secret spot up the hill, from where the lights of Mamelodi shimmer under the setting sun and music echoes through the valley as though holding it together. Silently, we introspect about the past, my thoughts drifting to my ancestors in India, who were taken far away from their homes to work on the sugarcane fields in South Africa – realizing just how lucky both MaPhuti and I are, to belong to a generation that has the freedom to travel, work and live life on our own terms.

Perhaps an Indian origin cabbie in Durban put it best:

“Our ancestors used to clean the grass and cut the cane.
We smoke the grass and drink the cane.”

Mamelodi south africa, south africa culture

The sun sets over the township of Mamelodi.

Note: I travelled to Tshwane, South Africa on invitation from the South African Tourism Board and the City of Tshwane, as part of the #MeetSouthAfrica campaign. 

Practical Info:
Mamelodi is located near the city of Pretoria, an hour’s drive from Johannesburg. Based on what I’ve heard, it’s best to visit a township in South Africa accompanied by a local, atleast your first time. Please don’t opt for a township tour that takes you through one like a safari, not giving you the chance to meet and get to know the people. If you’d like to visit casually like I did, or stay a few days and experience life in a township, contact MaPhuti of Ubuhle Be Narha.

Recommended reading:
Uncornered Market: Masiphumelele Township By Bicycle: Getting Up Close
Wandering iPhone: Finding Ubuntu in Cape Town, South Africa

Join me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more travel adventures around the world.

23 Comments

  1. coralcrue says

    They seem like such warm, beautiful people who really love to live life. More strength to them. 🙂

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    • I agree, it sure felt that way. It was one of those evenings when I promised myself, again, that I’ll be back to explore this beautiful country in more depth 🙂

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  2. vidya says

    Now, I sit back relaxed on my vintage easy chair, sipping my hot steaming ginger tea.It seems as though you have been taking me through your journey,whispering into my ears, the beauty of these places.My thoughts immersed in your beautiful iteration.Thank you for sharing such wonderful experiences.Keep posting more such adventurous and beautiful stories.

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    • Thank you for sharing such a beautiful comment. When I’m writing my posts, I always wonder where and how people will read them. Thank you Vidya for coming with me virtually on my adventures, it’s what keeps me going!

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  3. Always pleasure to read your stories. This one is no exception. By the way, liked the meal. That looked pretty similar – rice and some delectable subzis.

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    • Thanks Satya! That was a yummy meal. I know it looks / sounds similar, but the spices and flavors are so different, you just have to try for yourself.

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    • I think so, Manjulika! I hate it when places are given broad “unsafe” labels; so far in my experience, if we carry the right attitude as travellers, it is possible to find a warm welcome anywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great narrative Shivya, loved how you managed to do all the awesome work without shedding sweat. Keep coming with fresh content. Your ardent follower. Thank you.

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  5. Pingback: Ways to Discover the Hipster Soul of South Africa. | The Shooting Star

  6. You have your own special way of discovering the soul of a country as you travel, Shivya. 🙂 Thank you for this vivid peek into Mamelodi township – I can almost hear the strains of reggae pouring out of their homes and hearts.

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  7. Snehaa says

    wow !! awesome . wonderful people and yummy food . The world is more interesting that i previously thought lol 😛 . You have inspired me to travel. Thanks!!

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