When was the last time you went into a ‘township’? Have you ever been in one?
Sadly, many South Africans don’t venture into the suburbs and communities known as the townships. These areas were initially created to house people of colour being forcibly removed from where they lived. During the apartheid struggle years they became the hot-spots of human abuse and the residents were stripped of their dignity.
Nowadays townships are different. Many residents are still poor (not everyone is a tenderpreneur or government official) but huge efforts are being made to uplift the communities, teach skills, get the kids of the streets, and make the inhabitants feel as if they belong to the city in which they reside.
Township tours are very popular with tourists but nothing is more crass than voyeurism; the township dwellers do not want to see people driving by. They are not showcasing poverty. The way to visit is to interact, give something back by spending some money, take an interest, walk the streets, visit a shebeen, and have a meal at one of the many restaurants.
My tour ends with a meal in Langa’s famous Harlem Street at Mzanzi’s where a live band plays and teaches visitors to do the pata-pata. The music is among the best I have heard anywhere. On my next visit I’m going to investigate some marvellous things I’ve heard about a bloke who is creating a unusual vegetable garden.
I’ve also had a memorable day at the famous Mzoli’s in Gugulethu but it’s becoming too popular and a bit exhausting to queue for hours to order and then a few more hours to get the food! Maybe if I was a lot younger I’d enjoy the music and the crowds more.
This collage shows the murals and art at the Guga S’Thebe Arts and Cultural Centre. Its purpose is to empower residents by teaching them to make pottery and other decorative items, there is a music centre (I ‘jammed’ there!), a photographic section (which seems to need some sponsorship as it wasn’t being used the last time I was there), a resource centre and an open air stage for productions. The pottery items and mosaic mirrors are beautiful but they should consider lowering the prices for the sake of more sales to locals – not many tourists want to buy breakable stuff, but we locals can. Just saying.