Although South Africa is famous for dazzling scenery, unique wildlife and safari adventures there is a history and a cultural depth lesser known by the average tourist but increasingly being uncovered by those that bit more inquisitive. Lacking in the basic facilities that we take for granted, townships are urban areas on the edge of cities. Townships in South Africa rose during the Apartheid regime (1948 – 1994). They have come to supersede the traditional African culture with one utterly unique to township life, including many aspects of dress, music, dance, and speech. However, whether you would wish to steer your holiday off the beaten track and into one of South Africa’s townships is a debatable action.
While engaging in one of these tours may deliver a bold insight into how the majority of South Africans actually live, opponents to these tours claim there is a far darker side to joining one. You are essentially taking a tour of someone else’s neighbourhood, peering into the degradation of lives deprived and starved of what we consider the norm in our Western world. Is it pure voyeurism?
Those who support these tours argue that they can be a force for good and help Westerners gain greater awareness of the plight of South Africa’s people; allowing tourists to interact with the locals and bring wealth into the community by buying goods from their shops. Many emerge saying that for all the hardship they encountered, a profound sense of hope appears to prevail. We must also not assume that all individuals we may encounter are victims and require our pity, they often don’t feel sorry for themselves and are proud to show off their homes and their dynamic and vibrant way of life. In addition to tours being moving they can also be highly entertaining which is what you want as a tourist, is it not?
If you decide to partake in a township tour there is no guarantee that the experience will be devoid of uncomfortable moments but you may justify your decision based on whether these feelings are outweighed by what you may learn.
Should you wish to partake in a township tour there are many available in all major cities of South Africa. If you wish to take things a step further you may also wish to take a tour that includes an overnight stay, thereby giving yourself the opportunity to sample the vibrant social scene and thrumming nightlife.
This article was brought to you by Sarah Fox of Mahlatini African Travel.