Township Tours in South Africa
Organized township tours in South Africa have experienced a tremendous growth in popularity. Large numbers of international tourists are booking their spots on tours around townships in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Most tours last a day and take in a host of township experiences, giving visitors a close look at the unique atmosphere and lifestyle.
What is a township? When apartheid was instituted in South Africa many decades ago, people of color were separated from whites. They were not permitted to reside in “white suburbs” and specific locations were set up for them. These are known as townships. Although apartheid has lifted, large numbers of South African’s still reside in these areas. A whole culture has developed in the townships over and above traditional African culture. This includes an influence on music, dancing, dress and speech.
South African township tour guides are typically members of the community who desire to share their experience and surroundings with others. Well run tours enable tourists to meet residents and gain an insight in this completely different environment. Although the township tourism trade began in Port Elizabeth, it is South Africa’s best-known township of Soweto that attracts the most tourist. The site of many struggles in local history, artist studios, local music and shebeens, Soweto has the authentic township ambiance.
Care should always be taken when entering townships as cases of crime do occur. It is important to leave valuables at home or at your hotel. It is strongly recommended that tourists do not visit townships unless they are part of a tour group. Township tour operators will provided the needed transport and complete the experience by sharing interesting facts and information with guests.
Join me as I go on a tour of Soweto. Aboard a tour operator vehicle we enter the township through Diepkloof Extension and head to a worker hostel. Here we meet a number of friendly people. Next, its on to Baragwanath, a section of Soweto. We stop at a large taxi rank where we can get out and explore the local sights. A number of hawkers have set up their wares on the sidewalk, amongst them are barbers, an open-air butcher and herbalists. Now we enter a Shebeen, which is a type of South African township pub, and have a drink. The vehicle drives past Baragwanath Hospital. The guide tells us that it is the biggest hospital in the whole southern hemisphere. As we drive through the areas we are told about important events and people. The nest stop is the Hector Pietersen museum. A lovely memorial, it contains images of the Soweto student uprising which occurred on 16 June 1976. A remarkable experience. Nearby is the Nelson Mandela house museum. Lunch is a delicious fare of township foods such as Umqhusho (samp and beans), moroga (spinach), meats and vegetables. A truly unforgettable adventure into the heart of South Africa’s people.