My name is Angélique and during my gap year, I decided to do a 4-month internship in Cape Town, South Africa. The first time I caught sight of the Townships was on the way from the airport to the City Bowl of Cape Town. Living and working in Green Point, I’ve not really been confronted with the Townships after, whereas most of the people I see everyday (cashier, security guard, waiter,…) live in this area.
So, to really discover the Townships, I booked a half day tour with African Travel Desk. I’ve been able to live a very surprising and enriching experience between History, meetings and beer-tasting.
It is quite hard to realize the reality of the day to day Townships lifestyle as long as we didn’t see it, just like I didn’t imagine meeting such hospitality and sympathy from the inhabitants.
The tour began gently with a historical introduction about the Townships around the city, especially thanks to the visit of the District Six Museum, but also thanks to the daily life story of the guide himself, living in the Townships.
Then, arriving to Langa, the oldest Township around Cape Town, a 1-hour walking tour started in company with a second local guide and along with a local beer-tasting. Finally, the half day ended with a drive into the biggest Township of Cape Town, Khayelitsha.
Totally immersed in this environment, I quickly understood the basic living conditions of most of the inhabitants. In the course of makeshift huts built with sheets of corrugated iron or others more comfortable in concrete, I met many unemployed people chatting in the paths. Women were hand-washing clothes while some children were playing in the street, because they don’t have the opportunity to go to school.
Even if many associations work to build infrastructures like schools in the Townships, there is still a lot to do.
Tours are organized with respects towards inhabitants and in company with local people, and yet, an awkward feeling never left me during the all morning. I couldn’t help feeling a voyeuristic side, coming in the house of strangers, interfere in their daily life without an invitation and, above all, with a helplessness feeling.
It is imagining myself in their place that I was the most uncomfortable. To know that I had my iPhone in my pocket when some people have trouble to have electricity or simply feed themselves. Realize the gap between our two ways of life gave me a feeling of guilt even of shame. I wish I had been able to help them, to help these people I met rather than simply be passing through and look at their daily life.
Even if it is a global helplessness feeling that dominated, it is however possible to contribute to the local economy, everyone at his own level.
During the walking tour, I had the opportunity to discover a nursery where about thirty children, around 3-4 years old, singing songs about the respect for the others, of their body and self-esteem.
After this moment of sharing, tourists were encouraged to give a financial participation. It will take part into the development of the school and allow more children to benefit of this infrastructure. Even if the gesture seems piddling, those Rands will, one day, be a part of a large-scale project.
The donation to the school wasn’t the only way to help the inhabitants from the Townships. During the walking tour, it was often possible to go to meet craftspeople selling paintings, jewels and many other handmade souvenirs.
Finally, be a part to this tour is already a form of contribution, because it allows at least guides who escort tourists like me during a half day tour, to have a job and earn money for their family.
Although mitigated, the discovery of the Townships remains an opportunity to understand the living conditions of its inhabitants and issues in Cape Town. This experience also allow to realize the social privileges we can have in other countries, and put our problems into perspective.