Here is our third blog post from our new guest travel blogger Amelia from South Africa who has produced a very unique article on township tours in Cape Town South Africa. This is a very interesting article which I feel everyone should read before travelling to Cape Town for your winter holiday.
The townships of South Africa are the informal areas, usually skirting the industrial and commercial hubs. They are also known as ‘locations’ and are, generally, characterised by their underdeveloped living conditions. However, amidst the corrugated iron and wood shacks, the goats and chickens investigating the rubbish heaps, there is a distinct and alluring vibe within the townships. Indeed, they have an irresistible culture of their own.
Back in the Apartheid regime, the townships were reserved for non-white populations. As such, they were neglected, not given the services and facilities that towns and cities enjoyed. Today, they remain relatively unchanged, despite their residents’ enjoying freedom and equality in a political sense. Huge portions of the local South African community stay in townships, whether in self-built shacks or in slightly more formal concrete RDP houses. Today, though, many choose to live in the township, as opposed to being forced there in times past.
In and around Cape Town, there are a number of well-known and very big townships, each of which has its own story. The history of these townships is sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, but always fascinating. Formal tours of these townships allow visitors (whether from other parts of South Africa or abroad) to immerse themselves in this unique way of life, learning about the roots of these settlements, how they have shaped the country, how the community continues to evolve and support itself, and the role that these play in the smorgasbord that defines this Rainbow Nation.
Township tours typically begin by explaining how these people were displaced from their lovely homes and neighbourhoods within the city centre and forced into the rural outlying areas that were hardly fit for human occupation. Therefore, areas in Cape Town, such as the Bo-Kaap and District Six (along with its famous museum) are, often, the starting point of such township tours.
From here, tour groups are taken to the various townships. The most significant of these in the Mother City are Langa, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu.
Established in 1927, this is one of the oldest suburbs in Cape Town. It is situated along the N2 motorway and is home to over 52 400 people, despite being only three square kilometres in area. Along with its great vibe, Langa is, sadly, known for the deaths of several significant folk during the anti-pass campaign of 1960. Monuments in their memory have been erected, and remain deeply touching sights for visitors.
With over a million residents and an ever-growing area of around 38.7 square kilometres formally and 47 square kilometres informally, this is acclaimed as being one of the largest and fastest-growing townships in the country. As townships go, Khayelitsha is fairly well equipped, with a number of shopping centres, schools, entertainment areas, churches and police stations.
When Langa become overcrowded in the 1960’s, Gugulethu was established to manage the overflow. Since then, it has grown and developed into a massive township in its own rights. It has a total area of just less than 6.5 square kilometres, and is home to almost 100 000 people, most of whom are Xhosa.
Typical township tours will introduce visitors to the local residents of the township and give them an opportunity to interact with one another. Many tours include a visit to a local school, where little ones are happy to put on a performance for their visitors. Schools are frequently set up in old shipping containers, and witnessing the learning and development taking place within such compromised conditions is truly something special. Then, tourists will be given a chance to sample some local beer, often at a shebeen, which is an informal township pub. Some tours include a meal at a local home or in a casual eatery.
Those embarking on a township tour are encouraged to support the local communities where possible. This may be by purchasing a piece of art, interacting with the locals or making a contribution to charitable efforts.
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Amelia is a freelance writer with a particular passion for travel. She is based in South Africa and continues to explore her homeland with delight. She enjoys sharing her adventure with her husband of almost 10 years. You can follow her on Facebook and Google+