Fun things to do this summer in Cape Town: #Township Tours

Going on a township tour is generally not something most Capetonians would consider doing.  I could put it down to just plain ignorance, but it’s probably more a case of the negativity associated with the history of the townships. But what most don’t seem to realise is the culture and the sense of community that resides within a township, is something you will (generally speaking) not find in most of Cape Town’s more affluent suburbs. And a township tour is by far one of the best ways to immerse yourself and reconnect you with our past in a positive way.

Now on face value it might seem strange to jump on a minibus to take a peek into the lives of people who live on the outskirts of the city like most other suburbanites. Wandering through their dwellings, shops, culture and traditions, but in truth a township is like no other suburb in Cape Town. It’s a place where almost anything goes and although the infrastructure is lacking in parts the streets beat to a truly vibrant heart.

Cape Town has quite a few townships scattered all over the greater metropolitan area with our tour focusing on one of the oldest namely Langa. Home to predominantly isiXhosa speaking people from the Eastern Cape, Nelson Mandela’s kin, it’s not a far drive down the N2 on the Cape Flats.  And once we had taken the turn off to Langa I did notice how everything changed. People and animals dancing in the streets, their braais going off on every street corner was a far cry from  the more affluent, leafy and very quiet suburbs of Cape Town. And growing up at the tail end of the apartheid regime in middle class white suburbia could never prepare me for what life is like in the townships. It literally is worlds apart.

Gawking over, Mama Nosa our guide directed us to a stop so that we could begin our walking tour. The locals always happy to stop you for a quick chat, kids asking for sweets or just people saying hello made the walk to Mama’s friend’s house feel like we were celebrities, (which helped to ease my inherent apprehension to just walk out in the open). The home invasion (if you will), presented us with a chance to see what the inside of an actual shack dwelling looks and feels like and to see how the residents interact with each other. Let me say the outside does not do the inside justice. Warm, cozy and frankly downright smart the interior boasts all the modern amenities you would find in a regular suburban house. Such as electricity an internet connection and running water. The downside being some did not have a working toilet and rely on a communal lavatory.

Following the home tour a spot of lunch (included in the tour) was duly served as we gathered round the back of the shack our seats a few empty plastic buckets. Another thing about the townships is that when it comes to food, no parts of an animal are wasted with some questionable bits even being considered a delicacy. Our delicacy being that of a sheep head called a smiley. It felt like a scene straight out Indiana Jones Temple of Doom, but with courage ended up being quite tasty. The cheeks in particular proved to be the choicest bits.

But what to do next when your belly is full? Well a drink, of course, to wash it down would be a great start. So making our way to another resident’s home, known for making some of the best beer in town, soon saw us sampling what can only be described as strong and hearty. Traditional African people have always made their own beer. Using a combination of honey, sorghum and maize their home brew is stronger than any commercial beer. It will surely see you on your face before you can say I’ll have another.  I did however try to finish mine but to no avail.  The tour was still ongoing and I needed to stay coherent even though the locals in the shack were persuading me to stay. But the intoxicating effect of the beer prompted us to to go seek out the advice of a local doctor. If just to remedy the effects.

And not just any doctor, but a Sangoma. Sangoma’s have been traditional healers to the people of Africa for as long as there have been people in Africa. And form an important and integral part of the community. Not just for physical ailments but for spiritual ones as well. You feel a little ill, it might not be something you ate, but instead it could be a little demon causing your stomach to be upset. But seriously the ritual we were privy to was an education in African folklore to say the least. Using a combination of animal bones strewn on the floor and a muti of herbs and chicken blood I slowly began to appreciate the fine art of African druidism. Or at least leaving things I do not fully understand to the powers that be.

Thinking the tour over a quick hop over the highway saw us in the more happening township of Gugulethu. It’s a lot younger than Langa and is locally known as the “happening place”.  And for good measure with Mzoli’s butchery turned local hangout fast becoming one of the hottest spots to have a drink and to be seen in Cape Town. The best bit is that the butchery cooks your braai meat while you enjoy a well deserved beer at the bar next door in the company of something unique.

A few cold beers down my perception of township life now radically changed I could see why it has blossomed into what it is today. A happening, vibrant multicultural way of life all attributed to the people and their willingness to hone in on the best of their qualities. I can only hope it moves from strength to strength and does not remain the domain of tourists, but that of most locals to Cape Town as well.

trapped in a shopping spree

 What to expect on a Township Tour

  • A drive through the township.
  • A guided walk through the community, including a visit to someones home.
  • A meal of cooked sheep/ goat head.
  • A locally brewed beer made at a traditional brewery.
  • A visit to a local sangoma known as a traditional healer, but previously known as a witch doctor.
  • A spot of retail therapy at one of the local street markets
  • And to finish drinks/ lunch in Gugulethu at Mzoli’s butchery.

Highlights/ Facts:

  • Langa translated from isiXhosa to English means “Sun” but historians believe it is thought to have been named after a Xhosa chief named Langalibalele, who some time before had been imprisoned on Robben Island for defying the white colonists.
  • A township is a legacy of South Africa’s apartheid regime (informal settlements were established for migrant workers (dormitories) who needed to live close to their job but were not allowed to rent a place in the city, or could not afford it) and shaped the communities and cultures in a way that’s unique to Africa and is now home to millions of locals.
  • Langa being the oldest was the site of many protests during the apartheid era. It was here that a few protesters were killed on the same day as the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960 as they protested to the ant pass legislation of the time.
  • Gugulethu literally means “our pride” and was established in the 1960’s to accommodate the overcrowding in Langa.

Tips for Virgin Township Tourists:

  • Always before you snap away on your camera don’t forget to ask the person/s in questions if you can. Most don’t mind, but such as yourself some might not appreciate been snapped at like some sort of monument.
  • Never tip or give out money freely to the kids and /or beggars. It only solidifies the act of begging as being a means of income. Do tip though, where tips are due, for good service as you normally would.
  • Always respect the fact that you are in somebody else’s space, home or business just as you would anywhere else.
  • Try not to go off wandering by yourself rather stay with your group. Although relatively safe your guide knows the people and the area and can better inform you if you would prefer to go off the beaten track.
  • Always shop around with township tour companies. Rather opt for one that is directly tied to the community you are visiting. One that hires locals and feeds their income back into uplifting the community. Preferably choose one that is  owned and run by community members.

Our utmost thanks go out to all the people we visited and came across in Langa and Gugulethu. Your friendliness and hospitality was most appreciated and in turn left an impression on us that can only be described as memorable.

Special thanks go to Mama Nonsa (Black South Easters) and Petra Baret (the Board box) for taking us, looking after us and generally awarding us with a great time in Langa/ Gugulethu.

Some information was sourced from the Wikipedia website and us.

We did our township tour sometime in 2012/13.

By the Slippery Lyzard © (Writer for Nomadic Existence)

Photography: Nomadic Bug © 

Nomadic Existence 2015 ©

 Explore. Conserve. Discover.


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