Often when we drive from the airport to Stellenbosch, the “shantytowns” along the freeway stun first time guests. It is actually a very South African sight. The kilometres of township shacks that flank the highway, composing the outskirts of one the informal settlements that still house a huge proportion of the country’s population.
A small group of Swedes and British guests who wanted to do more than simply drive past joined Madiba and I on one of his Township Tours. Madiba is a registered tour guide and has lived here since 1971. We walked through Khayamandi and confronted the reality of day-to-day life in the township. It proved to be a very memorable and valuable experience.
Known as “shanty towns” in other parts of the world, and once called “squatter camps” here at home, the Townships are a part of South Africa that some have never seen, and others are proud to call home. They are the residence of the poorer communities, those shoved aside during the apartheid era, and those who continue to pour into the cities on their hunt for work, a home and a better future.
In spite of the many challenges faced by the residents, the abundance of hope, courage, innovativeness, and creative energy to be found in the townships can hardly fail to leave anyone inspired and humbled. This side of the South African experience is all about real people with real stories, right on our doorstep… and yet worlds away.
Just by visiting, we contribute. Locals benefit directly from the township tours, and many tourism-dependent businesses now exist because of initiatives like this. I strongly recommend a visit to a township with a registered guide for anyone with a desire to get to know South Africa intimately, with all its flaws and merits.