Fieldwork in Khayelitsha

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Today I’ve been to Khayelitsha with a very interesting woman that runs a charitable tour operator and is part of my research project. Her practice is quite unique in terms of not seeing herself as a tourism business, but rather as a channel for fund raising in order to contribute to some small scale developmental   for a community in which she has been ‘adopted’. Her tour product is also different from the others’ I work with whom mostly operate in Langa, and are bigger in terms of employees and guide usage.

Khayelitsha that covers 43.5 km2  is the biggest township in Cape Town. It can’t compare to Langa with regard to history, size and tourism. The scope of the latter is far form the realities in Langa, but people in Khayelitsha also seems to warmly welcome tourism, and the ones we met on our way seemed used to visitors. Nevertheless, today’s tour was different from the others I’ve done in Cape Town.

Although we moved around in small alleys between small shack houses and met people (mostly kids), the lady I was with today isn’t telling stories about Apartheid and the community’s history the way it is common from Langa. The tour was divided in three parts, starting with a visit to the community the tour operator has engaged with for long. We went to a friend of her and saw some brick houses before we moved into the huge area of informal settlements (unfortunately I have no picture of the houses alone).

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It was obvious it wasn’t the first time the kids have seen visitors coming in, and from the first minute they were all over us (the three white tourists) and fought over holding our hands and dancing with us. The two girls with whom I was on the tour went crazy over this and it was interesting to see the concept of interaction between the kids, parents, tourists and tour operators. Now, they obviously see me as anybody too and of course I couldn’t resist playing with the kids for a while.

However, it’s a sad truth that they are out in the streets ‘waiting for visitors’ rather than being at a school. The tour operator lady could tell us about a school project she has started, but that has failed due to some intern issues in its management, and hopefully they’ll be able to open a new and bigger one asap. It’s much needed.

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From the playing kids we moved on to another block to visit a character. His name is Golden and he makes a living from cutting up tin boxes and turning them into flours. He told us his life story and presented us to his daughters that “fortunately for them are studying at the university, but unfortunately for him won’t take over the flower shop”. Golden sells his flowers to a couple of interior shops downtown in addition to sell each weekend in different craft markets.

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On the way back we stopped by Vicky’s BnB. Unfortunately Vicky, who was the first person in a Cape Town township to open a BnB wasn’t home herself today, but we met one of her daughters that showed and explained us everything about the place. They had tons of self-promoting newspaper articles about the place on the walls, and when I came back to ‘the office’ I spent some time checking Tripadvisor for its reviews.

I got overwhelmed by how popular she is. Apparently many travelers feel that a stay here in the middle of a township was a highlight during their holidays, and according to several sources Vicky stands as an example of good tourism management for poverty alleviation.

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As soon as I have some extra time I’ll post more about my thoughts regarding Khayelitsha. Meanwhile look at this picture, taken from a street that separates the many huge parts of this township. It’s common that tour operators stop at this place called the view spot for tourists to get a ‘good view’ and some pictures of unbelievably enormous Khayelitsha.

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Yes. It’s nothing but heartbreaking.

Can you believe nearly two million people are living here? Or actually, they don’t even know the correct number as the last censuses have been so poor. Besides, new people flock here weekly searching for a cheap place to live closer to an expanding city like Cape Town.

What a place. What a day. And what a research I’ve started. The thoughts are running through my head like wild bees.

Later!

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