There are many places in the world where tourists can do “slum tours.” In Brazil, these are called favela tours and in South Africa township tours. I didn’t do a favela tour when I was in Brazil, neither did I a township tour the last time I was in Cape Town. I’m very skeptical when it comes to tours like this. If the only purpose of the tour is to take tourists to slums where they can gawk at people living there, making the local people feel like they are in a zoo, don’t do the tour. That’s why I did a lot of research the second time I was visiting Cape Town and decided to do the tour with Uthando.
I’ve traveled a lot in Africa, and I’ve seen poverty and slums, and also met wonderful people living in these areas. Like in Comoros where a local girl kindly let me stay in her house (and yes, some people might call this a slum) for the first night.
Many people who visit Cape Town, only see the posh side of it: The waterfront, luxury hotels, etc., when the majority of the population lives in townships. Many of these tourists have never seen real poverty, and many don’t know much about South African history.
So what are townships? They are undeveloped living areas where non-white were sent to live during apartheid. Apartheid was a racial segregation and discrimination system in South Africa between 1948 and 1991. Separate townships were established for black people, coloreds, and Indians. And still nowadays the suburbs are very much divided for white and black people, and you’ll never see a white person in townships (unless when visiting).
I would say that township tours can be educational, and they can definitely open eyes of the people coming from Western countries. But please, do your research when choosing a tour company. I can highly recommend Uthando! To better explain what Uthando is all about, here is a citation from their website:
Uthando (Love) South Africa offers authentic, uplifting, fun, inspirational, interactive and meaningful tours for FIT (individual) travellers as well as groups of any size visiting the community projects with which Uthando is working and supporting.
The Uthando Tour covers an extensive discussion on South African history, the legacy of Apartheid as well as in-depth information on the political, social, economic, cultural and local issues confronting South Africa today. The core focus of the tour, however, is visiting interesting, innovative and inspiring community development projects and the incredible people driving these projects. We shine a light on the good work being done by so many good people, and at the same time help these wonderful individuals to continue with their efforts.
Uthando has been certified by Fair Trade in Tourism and is a responsible way to experience townships. So they don’t take you to people’s private houses or anything, but instead, they show you community development projects. These projects have been started by the local community, but Uthando has then helped them to raise money.
We visited five projects during my tour in three different townships: two kindergartens, Macassar pottery, Ekhaya Ekasi and Sinovuyo Old Age Group.
Isiseko Educare Centre
The first kindergarten we visited was Isiseko Educare Centre in Mfuleni township. Uthando had helped to raise money for this almost brand new building. The principal showed me around and explained everything they do there.
The second place we visited was Macassar pottery in a colored people’s township. The pottery is much more than just a pottery: it’s a place for local people to open up and heal their memories. I talked with John Ross who explained me the history of Macassar and the background of the pottery. He told me that there are three options on how to survive in townships: 1. Join a gang. 2. Go to jail or get killed. 3. Become self-sustaining. And the pottery is helping people living in townships to change their way of thinking, get rid of the anger, and encourage them to become self-sustaining. Macassar pottery was definitely the most eye-opening and fascinating place during the tour!
We then drove to Khayelitsha township which is the biggest township in Cape Town. The first place we visited there was Ekhaya Ekasi which is a multi-purpose community center mostly focused on art and education and run by local women. There’s a little shop from where you can buy handmade crafts and support their programs. I bought a small magnet, and I also got a bracelet as a gift from Uthando.
Thokozani Youth Centre
Then we visited another kindergarten to see the difference between the new and old building. This place is still looking for funding and Uthando is trying to raise money to get a new building for the kids. They are also hoping to get internet access as they have a small computer room but so far they haven’t found an affordable option as getting internet access to some townships can be difficult.
Sinovuyo Old Age Group
The last place was Sinovuyo Old Age Group which provides seniors a safe place to gather during the day and do some activities together. I had seen some small gardens in other places we visited, but this one was the biggest one so far! It went almost all the way around the building!
If you visit Cape Town, a tour with Uthando is a must. You’ll learn so much about the history and current situation in South Africa, and by doing the tour, you’ll also support the community projects in townships.