Category: Township tourism

First update about my township tourism research

Its been five hectic weeks since I came to Cape Town to carry out my research about township tourism for my masters. The first two weeks I spent reading some of the last bits of literature on the phenomenon slum tourism globally, arranging meetings with the tour operators involved in my research as well as going on various townships tours to both Langa (the most visited township in Cape Town and Khayelitsha (the biggest).


Click on image to make bigger

Everything research-wise till now has gone super smoothly, everyone I meet are so nice and welcoming and I get lots of input and new understanding of the sector every day in the field.

This week Ive spent some days in Langa carrying out interviews with people living in the most visited areas to be able to identify tourism impacts and issues. I’ve been super lucky and found the best translation assistant I could dream of. I understood early I needed one to do the research I wanted in Xhosa (the tribe language commonly spoken in Langa), as most people I want to speak to are not too savvy in English.

Two random pics from a interviewing situation.



In the left bottom corner you see my assistant. He’s such a sweet heart and so tuned in and seems to understand the purpose of the project very well. We’ve become friends really quickly and he teaches me many interesting inside township logics as he grew up in one himself. Hopefully Ill get richer information that way about people’s opinions on tourism, despite of the risk of loosing data through his translations to me.

Here he is another pic from today after a talk to some women in Langa.


The stories people tell us about their lives with tourism are rather fascinating, as well as disturbing at times. Like many seem to think, tourism to poor areas like this, is indeed controversial, as poverty per se turns into an attraction. This is not something I claim, but something many previous researchers have found out is at the very core of people’s motivation list to visit in the first place. However, there is no doubt that many people want to visit first and foremost to understand more about the townships as well as learning about their culture as one often puts it. According to testimonials (on webpages and Tripadvisor) that is indeed also what it seems people feel they get by visiting.

Part from that, visitors tend to get surprised over the friendliness and hospitality among the township residents, and to that point I have to add that tourism obviously wouldn’t live very long if the opposite was the case. That point is also the one tour operators most often mentioned when I interviewed them. In a sense they try to justify that they earn money on showing how poor people live, by stating that the people like getting visitors and that tourism obviously enhances employment opportunities in a poor and often forgotten area. From my interviews with local people till now Ive also got the impression that this is the seen case, and nobody has claimed to not like tourists.


me and the guys in a shabeen (local pub) that most township tours take visitors to


Nevertheless, it does unfortunately not seem to be a common impression among the residents that tourism brings them a better economy, which to me proves there are tons of unexploited opportunities in the sector. Again, I don’t claim that out of personal opinions, – previous researchers have found the same. By going on tours Ive also tried to see how companies and guides practice what they preach, and well.. I think there is a lot of  unused potential to make extra efforts for much more positive impacts than what the current situation holds.

After finishing the report in January, Ill try to post more about my findings, as it’s not correct to do it at this stage.

Until then, enjoy some pictures from my weeks in the field. And please note that whenever people are photographed, they have given consent and been told what the pictures are for.


Entering the first informal settlement area in Langa. Two families can share one container.





I’m not a huge fan of photographing kids, especially as there has developed a lot of weird “logics” for kids with tourism by posing and yelling at tourists with cameras. However, these two girls are friends of one of the participants in my study and the situation developed naturally.

Gotta continue transcribing interviews here.. Ugh..

Stay tuned!


Fieldwork in Khayelitsha


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Check this photographer out

Warming up for Cape Town, Id like to share something with you. This photographer Ive followed for a while, Mads Nørgaard takes amazing pictures of everyday life there. I actually found him half a year ago when looking for township pictures online and got carried away for an hour looking at his work (predominantly black and white shots). He lives in Cape Town and seems to photograph some selected townships to show the world their atmosphere. He recently upgraded his website where you can see documentaries and portraits. Astonishing!

Take a look at it

To get a wider impression of his work Id say the one picture stories is everything.

Mzoli’s place, Gugulethu Cape Town

We discovered this little pearl in Gugulethu, a township in Cape Town, that every Sunday holds a Brai (South African for BBQ) for everybody.

You’ll get lots of locals, lots of tourists and great music and amazing food.

I found a little video about it, that doesn’t show much what’s going on inside of the tent during a brai on a Sunday (which more or less is about partying and getting together eating and drinking), but that shows the founder’s passion for his people and making small businesses in the township. For his people. Love it!

However, if you’re interested too get the vibe, you’ll find a lot of short videos showing fun dancing etc, so check it out on Youtube. 🙂

They actually have a Facebook page too, so make sure to find that and follow it, and spend a Sunday in Mzoli’s if you’re in or going to Cape Town.

My first township tour (part II)


Here you see me together with Neville, our guide for the township tour we did on Christmas day. Neville picked us up at 9am and while driving out to Langa – the smallest and oldest township in Cape Town – while telling us about his own childhood in the area and how his mother apparently was one of the first residents in Langa to start taking international tourists in to Langa. And as the interest among travelers is big, the company is going pretty well.

This means they’re operative every day and take both small and larger groups into the townships, depending on the season. I counted 11 seats in the van and tried to calculate what they’d earn on taking up to two groups of tourists per day. I wanted to ask Neville how the company assures that their operation benefits people (the way I mentioned being concerned about in the previous post), but waited till we got a bit friendlier.

Upon arrival to Langa twenty minutes later, Neville briefed us from behind the steering wheel on the history of the government-led racist system of Apartheid. With sad eyes he told us how the long-lasting Apartheid robbed people for their dignity and self-esteem, and ruined family structures and relationships. The creation of townships is especially to blame for the latter he said, because men were separated from their wives and kids all over the country when they had to move to urban areas for labor.

Apartheid has thus set two whole generations back due to the ban of education for blacks and colored people, Neville claimed, and reminded us that the cruel history of oppression is to blame for the current bad situation many blacks South African finds themselves in. Despite the gruesome history however, our guide underlined the important fact that all South Africans currently are free, and supposed to be equal, therefore he means that the country is moving in the right direction:

It will take another generation to see proper equality between the races, but I’m sure we are getting there, he said confidently. South African is still a place filled with social issues – especially among colored and blacks –, but reconciliation, education and time will make us grow stronger together and never allow such a thing to happen again.

As we started the walking tour, we were told how people in the townships find pride in welcoming people from the outside in to their home streets. That township residents are friendly and that guests often get surprised by this (which made me think that if people express that after a tour they’re crazy, but that’s another story…), and that in Langa everybody are like his “brothers and sisters.” I say this because the world still needs to see that townships are not their reputation.

However, contradictory to this we were reminded to please stay with the local guide we soon were about to meet, in case we would meet some “gangsters”. Although he stated to hardly know of any incident of crime towards tourists, Neville’s point was that as it was Christmas Day and most people were off work, he expected more drinking and partying and potentially more aggressive attitudes. Fair enough, we said.


Off we went through some streets of Langa while Neville told us that most people living in Langa are of the Xhosa tribe and have the same customs. He told us about the rituals of circumcising in the Xhosa culture, a tradition of the rite of passage from puberty to adulthood that apparently is done in the same way today as centuries ago. When a family has a son that has gone through the circumcising they put a special tree in front of their house so that all the neighbours know and can congratulate them.

The circumcised boy on the other hand won’t be at home to great them, as he’s out in the woods, apparently often in a tent like construction, where he’s going through the pain without no pain killers or medical help at all, as this is key for Xhosa men in order to enter manhood (!). Truth is though, some men die due to this rather old fashioned practice and today apparently government officials try to ban this procedure.


Another perhaps more fun fact related to the circumcising is that when men have healed and come back to the society they have to dress in a special way (light clothes, shirt, vest and a six pence) for one year, as a show off to the community. Again for people to congratulate them. When I asked what are the customs amongst women with regards to leaving childhood, the guide got silent.

Wherever we went people greeted both Neville and us and after 15 minutes we were given over to an older man called Archie. We were told he would guarantee a more local tour as he knows more people and stories in Langa of today. Another point of hiring him for a short trip is that it contributes to his income, but this wasn’t specified the way Id like it to be, but more on that later.

Archie was a funny character, and we loved him instantly. He was dressed in a worn out wool sweater, was tall and skinny with big eyes whose white parts had turned yellow. He really loves talking and stopped at every house corner to tell us a story from the hood.


During the 1,5 hours with Archie we saw his house and met his kids, walked from the so-called lower-class to worker-class, middle class and though the shantytown. In the latter we sat down in an informal bar called Shabeen (see below) to taste home-brewed traditional beer.


This is a Shabeen. Meaning a local pub

Together with some up and coming drunk men, we shared a bucket of a rather warm and thick beer, while Archie talked about the drinking customs – but also many drinking issues – in Langa. And just like he had been going on since the tour started he kept saying “I’m not being political, but …. ” whenever he wanted to say something negative about the poor living conditions of people in Langa, hinting at the government’s poor ability to improve the situation.


I actually had more than one sip of that


Back on the road we passed by groups of young people hanging out, many of whom were cleaning cars accompanied by loud house music. When we passed them they seemed careless to our presence, as if it’s completely normal white people are touring in their neighbourhoods.

From around any corner, kids came running towards us saying “Molo” (hello), holding out their tiny hands. They wanted candy, we were told. Unfortunately I had to reject them, and felt stupid I hadn’t thought of bringing anything. Like a bag of pencils, books, clothes… Archie told us not to worry and that the kids were especially interested in us today as many white people had been coming the last days with Christmas presents for them.

A couple of very touching things happened from here on, and to read about that click on the NEXT button.

My first township tour (part III)

This is the last leg of the story about my eyeopening trip to Langa, a township in Cape Town. If you haven’t read the first parts yet, you can find the introduction here, which also leads you to the second part.

Out of two events that touched me the most during the tour, one was a special encounter with a group of kids about 3- 5 years old. As most other kids we had met until then, they too came running towards us when they spots walking on the street. Hoping for candy, as apparently many whites bring them that when visiting.


As I didn’t have anything for them I felt a bit stupid, and sat down to chat with them, get their names and ask how they were enjoying Christmas. I quickly understood their English was very limited, but body languages like holding up their fingers to indicate their age and greeting in their language worked well.

When they understood I had no candies to give out, they did something that melted my heart.

Simultaneously they offered me chips from the small bags they were holding between their chubby hands, insisting (again with body languages) that I took a little from each and every one. I thanked politely and told them that was a beautiful gesture, and that I’d never forget their faces. Then the smallest indicated he wanted a hug and suddenly all of them were over me.


A minutes later I got on my feet and waved them goodbye as they ran off into the horizon of shack houses. Walking on Archie told us about Ubuntu, which is an African word for humanity and hospitality that he meant all kids are thought to live by, though they’ve got very little. Sure thing. Ill never forget that moment or knowledge.

We walked off to see a hostel, which also was going to be a very touching moment. In the hostels four families share a 12 m2 big room that initially was created for four labour workers during Apartheid. This means that it’s common that over 30 people live together in one compound that includes one kitchen and one toilet. Thus, the concept of ‘privacy’ hardly exists in Langa, we were told.


In the hostel we visited, an old lady sat inside her room with her three year old grand daughter. Archie introduced us and told us the older lady couldn’t speak much English but that we could ask any questions we’d like. The little one on her side just stared at us and I couldn’t help wondering how this situation must feel like for them. We were told to sit down on a bed if we wanted to, while Archie told us how people live in the hostels.

Supposedly families in the hostels are living like this as a temporary solution put out by the government while building better housing situations for everyone. But what began as something temporary in the 90s, is today taken as an offense. The hostel residents are of the poorest in Langa, and a whole generation of kids has grown up living like this on top of each other.


Note: Before leaving the room I was told to please take pictures of anything I liked as that can result in more people seeing the poor living conditions of these people. At first I felt a bit uncomfortable, but then I see their point. Here is also a picture of the little one in the doorway. (Ive got her name and will send them the picture, upon Archie’s recommendation and supposedly a little girl’s big excitement).


Before we left the house I was very unsure whether to pay the family something or not, and didn’t know how to ask about it. Archie said later that it is all up to us if we want to contribute. Stupidly I hadn’t brought any smaller cash and somehow I decided not to donate anything as I felt it all got a bit weird. Later I’ve regretted this, as I couldn’t stop thinking about how this family (and others) must get many visitors, and ‘something more’ should be in it for them for opening their houses like this to us.

Before finishing the tour we stopped by a traditional healer, popularly called Sangoma (witch doctor) that definitely seemed used to having tourists entering his ‘clinic’.

IMG_3437The Sangoma gave us a small tour with explanations of all the things he uses to get rid of people’s illnesses or curses. It was an interesting affair, but man it smelled rotten meat in there. Something three tired elder men seemed to be trying to combat by smoking heavily.


The doctor promoted himself as known for having healed blind people in Langa and tried to sell us some animal skins and oils against future headaches, increased sex appetite or fertility.

We couldn’t come up with something we needed so we paid, photographed and left.

Outside of the clinic however we came over two Rasta men that had made some fantastic photo frames out of metal tins. They were singing and drinking beers in a Merry Christmas mood, and we bought some small frames from them.

Then the tour was going to an end and Archie took us back to where Neville was waiting in his car. At this point I found it very difficult to know what to give and how much, and instantly wanted to ask Neville about these things when back in the van. I was now so full of impressions and questions and felt warm enough to ask Neville how his company distributes the income from the tour rate (35 euro per person).

Although I find the whole concept a bit confusing and poorly organised in terms of communicating well to visitors what things cost and what we should give of donations etc., I believe Neville when he says that his mother goes to everyone she knows are involved in their businesses each month with a salary.

However, I can’t say I know much more or trust that everybody involved in tourism in Langa get their fair share. Besides, I don’t know what they really think of having a bunch foreigners coming in to their private sphere like that.. Id agree that the hospitality in Langa was as overwhelming as people write online, and overall Id say that the guides’ conduct indeed felt respectful and meaningful not only for us, but also the people we met. Therefore all in all we really enjoyed the experience and have talked about it the whole night. With the result of V’s parents going on another tour themselves today.

I also think Id like to go back one day to try to understand more of this rather weird but also fascinating concept.

Thanks for having us Langa and Cape Town!

My first township tour in Cape Town

The other day I mentioned that we had decided to go on a township tour in the end. Before telling you about the actual tour day in a coupe of following posts, Ill tell you a bit about my interest in even going to a township as some people find it odd that I even want to visit.

First of all my interest in townships stems from the fact that they are similar to slums per definition. They are places that don’t exist in my own country, and although I’ve traveled to developing countries and seen many from a distance, I’ve never seen one from within with my own eyes.

However, I’ve read a lot about slums and living conditions within them globally, in addition to studying society differences, poor people´s struggles and so on through my Human Geography studies. On top of that, how the media portrays slums (often on a negative note) grabs my attention.

Also, a couple of friends of mine that spent some weeks in South Africa years ago, told me about the interesting township youth culture and funky music scene within, and although I don’t know much about the music from here I was a huge fan of the kwaito- tune township funk by a local artist called Mujava.

The music video is pretty cool too:

Mujava was in fact supposed to play on Sonar 2009, but cancelled to friends’ and my huge disappointment.

Anyways. Back to the townships.

Since we arrived to Cape Town we’ve passed many of them by car and talked about how little we know about their history, questioned what is in their reputation (which seemingly is bad) and finally we decided to go to see one from the inside. Therefore, while being here, I´ve read more – and talked to people – about why townships were created in the first place, and how they´ve got overpopulated with black people during Apartheid.


Photo of Langa township, the closest one to the city center of Cape Town. Credit: Google images

Like other slum areas, and regardless of Apartheid, people seem to agree that areas like a township in which many deprived people live, are dangerous for outsiders. On the Cape Town tourism government pages it is not recommended to enter one alone, but with a guide.

This has made me start thinking back and forth, first of all because I’m not a fan of media or others pushing the “fear buttons” in people, nor am I found of stereotyping or categorising things/ people/ places. I simply prefer to think that anywhere in the world people are people, and most people are good and peaceful. And when they´re not, there are often quite good reasons behind it!

Also, on a much more important note: It’s pretty obvious that crime rates increase with tourism due to the often extreme socioeconomic unbalance between hosts and guests. The awareness about – and desire to affect – that unbalance, is at the core of why I´ve become so passionate about the tourism industry myself. True story.

This means that I´ve come to understand as a traveler myself – and as a student going a bit deeper into the academic field of this specific topic – that the world would be a much better place if travelers took more responsibility to engage respectfully in the places they visit. If travelers would be more aware of the various impacts their traveling can have on communities and workers around the world, tourism could probably have a lot more positive impacts.

So, why am I writing all this under the title My first township tour?

Well, as I said Ive for long been interested in how a township looks myself, not to mention how tourism is conducted in them. The latter is in fact an enhanced interest of mine after reading a Norwegian travel article about Cape Town, in which the author gave the impression that township tourism in particular is about teaching tourists about the legacy of Apartheid. In addition to showing how residents cope with poverty on a daily basis, emphasising that their lives perhaps aren´t all that gloomy as the (mass) media wants us to believe.

The author thus stressed that touring a township had good impacts both on the traveler (who often is from a privileged background) and the local residents. First because it both educates the traveler on township lifestyles and helps to combat stereotypes, which secondly would benefit locals socially in terms of cutting down the barriers between rich and poor people. Economically it´s said that if visitors spend money inside the poor neighbourhoods they are visiting, this will obviously benefit at least some residents.

Still after going, it’s difficult to know whether all this in fact is taking place, however the experience was really eyeopening and made me think a lot, and want to question thousands of things. I feel like I understand a bit more about township life since going, yet it feels like I have no clue about “what’s in it for them with tourists coming to visit”. Therefore, thinking more and more about how I can study topics related to tourism as a development tool in the future, Ive now become extra curious about what this sector in South Africa entails.

The mentioned Norwegian article talked warmly about a small family run company and its owner Neville, which we chose to trust and booked a tour with. It was an interesting Christmas day indeed. 🙂 Meet Neville and get the rest of the story about our day in the township of Langa here.