Cape Town Township tours: remind and challenge
Historically, an orchestrated window was provided for most South Africans and tourists through which to view life in the townships of Cape Town. This window still exists to a lesser degree with its dust, opinion, splatter, hearsay, tint, and distortion. I must confess that it is through this window that I viewed the townships of Cape Town until that day in October 2017. Coming back to my home city after many years abroad, I decided to step in through a newly provided door… but not alone. I needed a tour.
Contrasts in Cape Town
I told my good friend of my intention/desire to get a personalized tour of the townships. This friend has ‘I want to help you’ engraved on the palms of his hands. True to character, he offered to be my tour guide. He is not from the townships and certainly does not have the looks to blend in. He first took me for breakfast at a chic restaurant called Starlings on ‘this side of the highway’. A friendly parking attendant (from the other side) guided us into yuppie world. Our table under a hedge canopy added to the restaurant’s chic-ness. ‘Great place’, I thought, ‘must come again’. Sidney paid for the meal…cool tour guide… right?
His wet, gunmetal-blue pick-up shimmered in the Cape Town morning sun. Our car guard’s worn, blue & white Adidas shoes were soaked with rain but his eagerness was as bright as the day promised. He smiled gratefully at the good tip to start his optimistic October Saturday. There is contrast!
Surprised by the Townships of Cape Town
As we entered Langa (which means ‘the sun’ in Xhosa), I had no idea how this initial experience would challenge my previously held concepts and perceptions of the townships. I had a voice recorder ready to catch the facts and stories from my benevolent guide who pointed and gestured as we slowed down to a crawl. Sidney’s comfort and ease, coupled with a wide open window relaxed me as we cruised down back-streets and alleys. His name is known in the townships and I heard several young lads calling him ‘daddy’… I looked for resemblance…none…I smiled.
No hostility, Yes for cooperation in the townships
I noticed that no one stared with questionable expressions. Cool, well-dressed youth waved respectfully and older people greeted politely. Some rubbish were strewn on the sidewalks but much less than previously thought. Evidence of cooperation is seen in community-based projects such as a theatre, playgrounds for kids, reading rooms and skills development centers.
Township informal business
The informal business sector is well and alive in the townships of Cape Town. Prominent to me was the curbside mattress factory. Inner springs of mattresses are collected from rubbish dumps and refurbished with a sponge and fancy looking covers in full view of the public. All this for a fraction of the price down at Macro Stores and custom made to suit your body type and needs.
Meat and Beer: a Township duet
Another curbside feature is the hundreds of barbecue stands and butchers. Buy your meat from the butcher and it will be prepared right there for instant gratification. Beer, wine, and music accompanied mouth-watering, cuts of flesh on glowing coals. It smelled good. Tasted better!
There is a sad side of life in the townships of Cape Town, Many live in shacks or houses far too small, unemployment is high, social evils are many and dreams have been shattered. We drove past the Amy Biehl memorial that was erected in 1993 as a memory of shame, regret, and an apology for her brutal murder. As in the rest of the world’s cities, there is the dark-side but one should not forget the goodness and progress in the townships of Cape Town, the rich cultural norms amid the diversity of language and origin and the welcome to foreigners, tourists and development agencies. The Black Madonna (Brenda Fassie, 1964-2004)) was from the townships as many others who rose from disadvantage to prominence while firmly clinging to their roots.
We were back over the highway in time to silently watch the All Blacks rugby team crush the Springboks. Our Snoek (species of snake mackerel found down here in the Southern Seas) and French fries would have tasted much better with a win, but then again, those boys from down-under are formidable – I hate to admit.
Your door into the townships
Contact us for a tour of the Townships of Cape Town. These tours are custom made to suit your needs and availability. We promise a pleasant memory, a challenge to your concepts and hands-on- if so desired.