In the days of apartheid and resistance to apartheid, the Cape townships were always in the news: names like Crossroads, Khayelitsha, Langa and Gugaletu were much better known in the UK than Stellenbosch, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

Townships post-Apartheid

Although the changes are not that visible from the air, as you fly into Cape Town airport, or even on the ground as you whiz down the N2, flanked by townships on either side, once you go inside, you will find considerable change. Shacks are being replaced by houses, hostels are being carved up into proper family units, roads have been made up, and services put in underground. On a recent visit to Khaylitsha, they were laying those red brick herringbone pavements, and planting trees everywhere – the greening of the townships!

Seriously, although some people felt the townships should have been bulldozed, rather than improved, that is another argument. As it is, life seems to be a whole lot better.

We do recommend that everyone going to Cape Town takes a township tour. It has nothing to do with politics - it’s just that you get the chance to witness a very different and vibrant way of life, and to see how life is lived by the majority population away from the tourist centres of South Africa.

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People who take these tours invariably cite it as one of the high points of their holiday, one of their most memorable experiences. We have used a few different guides, but our favourite is Faizal Gangat of Cape Capers, who has won ‘Tourist Guide of the Year’ and many other accolades in recent years. Faizal is old enough to be able to talk about the apartheid days from personal experience, yet he is still full of boundless optimism and enthusiasm. And the rest of his team are as good, if he cannot escort you himself.

His township tours will take you to see several community projects where people are engaged in everything from pottery to building houses. If you have some particular interest, let us know and we will arrange something suitable.

Faizal was a leading figure in the community association which established the Cape Care Route. This ‘Trail of Two Cities’, initiated for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, showcases some of the projects in which people are caring for the environment and for each other. It’s a menu of 21 destinations from which you select several, according to your interests, for your day tour. Ask us for details.

Spend the Night

The most fascinating thing you can do is overnight in the townships. We use two places, Ma Neo’s in Langa, and the 3-star Kopanong in Khayelitsha. If you are considering an overnight stay, you should read Jeannette Hyde’s brilliant article, ‘The Real Thing: Staying In A Township’, from The Observer in 2004. It’s just as relevant today.

Shelley Phillips

Travel Specialist

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