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Discover Cape Town's 'other side' on a township tour
Gain insight into the historical complexities of beautiful Cape Town by visiting the townships
Cape Town has around 4,7 million residents. Only 40% lives in the photographic areas of Cape Town that lure millions of tourists every year. The rest of the 60% of people who live in Cape Town are based in the townships around the city. The truth is that the townships make up the larger part of Cape Town and to gain a full understanding of the city it is important to visit ‘the other side’.
In South Africa 'township' generally means ‘black suburb’ and there is a significant distinction between the black townships and the coloured communities in Cape Town. Both are shanty towns but a history of dividing race through the political regime of Apartheid has brought about a difference even in the way neighbourhoods are referred to in South Africa today.
Must do in Cape Town: a township tour
Whether you live in Cape Town, or are visiting for business or leisure, it’s impossible to miss the townships. The N1 which connects Cape Town International Airport with the Central City, offers a weary welcome to ‘the other side’ of Cape Town. On the left and right of the highway lies shack upon shack, little houses built from any scraps that can be salvaged by Cape Town’s poorest.
While many prefer to turn a blind eye, a tour into the townships offer a deeper insight into the complexities that make up this beautiful country. Tour guide Samantha from Camissa Tours drives tourists to the townships of Langa and Gugulethu twice a day. Samantha is her Western name, she was born Xoliswa. In her Xhosa culture, the language uses many click sounds that can be difficult for Westerners to pronounce, hence the Western name Samantha. From behind the steering wheel she gives a brief overview of the history of South Africa, the Apartheid past, the racial issues and the uncertain future of the townships in Cape Town.
She does this enthusiastically and with a sense of humour, without playing on the sympathy of her listeners. The fact that she grew up in the township of Langa herself immediately gives her story more credibility. There has been many positive changes in the country in the last 16 years since the end of Apartheid, she says, like the availability of water and electricity in the townships. Yet, “there is still a lot to be done”.
‘I’m proud to be a Xhosa South African’
Langa township is the residence of mostly Xhosa people. After the Zulus the Xhosa tribe is the biggest in South Africa. Xhosas are strong, proud people, in and out of the townships. Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President Nelson Mandela is a Xhosa himself. Samantha is proud to show her minibus full of tourists where she comes from. She starts the tour in District Six, where Capetonians of all races used to live together before Apartheid and the forced removal of around 60 000 non-white people to the townships. This area of prime land still lies empty. During Apartheid even white developers refused to touch the land because of the immensity of the human wrong that was committed in this place. Today the Cape Town City council is trying to relocate members of the original families back to District Six.
From Langa, Samantha driver through the coloured community of Bonteheuwel and Gugulethu township where the Amy Biel memorial can be found. Amy Biehl was an American community worker who was stoned and stabbed to death in 1993 by black activists in the township who lashed out against the Apartheid government by killing white people. Close by is the Gugulethu 7 monument where seven anti-Apartheid activists were killed by the Apartheid police in 1986. The violent racial history of South Africa still makes for a lot of resentment and complex issues today.
Samantha points out the subtle differences between the black townships and the coloured communties. Coloured people had a slightly higher status during Apartheid South Africa than black people: “They had more priviledges and bigger houses”. Again, this still creates a divide between these races today. It’s the immensity of the wrongs that were committed during Apartheid that makes it so difficult for South Africans to make peace with the past and with themselves.
Tourism can help to better the townships
Samantha feels that the township tours can help the people in the townships, as there is money in tourism and all the township people involved in the tours with Camissa gain financially from their contribution. 10% of the profit made by Camissa Tours goes to Langa Morivian Care, a pre-school childcare unit in Langa. Children between one and five years old can eat, play and learn here while their mothers and fathers are at work.
“Abelungu,” they shout. This means: “Here come white folks”. Samantha explains that these kids never get to see while people other than the buses full of tourists. It’s a good idea to take sweets or toys for the kids, just keep in mind that there are more or less 120 kids at the school and it’s not a good idea to give money unless it’s properly arranged to sponsor a child’s school fees. Child care is one of the biggest problems in the townships and it’s great to see the kids happily dancing and singing and learning in this safe environment.
It will take a while for the world and even for South Africans themselves to understand what really happened to them in South Africa. History can teach important lessons, especially for the new generation who is trying to find away forward that does not focus on skin colour. A tour into the townships may prove to be somewhat emotionally challenging but it’s important to know that the reality of beautiful Cape Town is more complicated than it seems to be.
By Inge Abraham and Lize de Kock
It’s possible to combine a township tour with a visit to Robben Island, a gospel tour or a game of soccer and a braai with the township kids. Tailor made tours can be done for between one and ten people.