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Posted on: Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Exploring Masiphumele Township by bicycle

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Whilst I had been into one or two townships in and around Cape Town in search of braai meat at Mzoli’s and to hand out blankets when a fire raged through Masiphumele Township, I had never cycled through one especially on one of the cold and rainiest days the Western Cape had ever seen in September.

Our tour guide Zwai worked with Awol Tours and was a resident in Masi.  Once he had given us the heads up on asking adults permission before taking photos and not getting alarmed if children jumped on the back of our bicycles, we were off.

The bikes we used took some getting used to as they had no breaks near the handle bars.  Instead you had to back pedal in order to break.  Whilst my mind tried overcome  the urge to break using my hands, I quite literally bashed into a few things such as the International blogger, Abigail King, who had joined this tour organized by Cape Town Tourism.


Masiphumele Township
Photograph: Cycling through Masiphumele Township © Vaughan McShane


As Zwai road slowly ahead, I veered away from nearby dogs, playing in the street and cars parked in the road. Our first stop was at a childcare centre filled with 65 children enjoying their lunch.  This centre received money from every Awol tour in the area.

There were about four women working there along with three volunteers from England.  The parents would drop the kids off at 7am and often only pick them up at 5pm after work. I asked some of the 5 year olds sitting quietly on their colourful chairs, what their names were in Xhosa, “Ungubani igama lakho?” They all seemed to reply at once.

The toddlers were an absolute joy to spend time with and as they were too young to ask their names, they just smiled, longed for hugs and some sat in their cribs.  We were sad to leave these boisterous, beautiful kids but had to move on to our next stop, Baby Shweshwe designs.

This label began when Ndileka followed in her mom’s footsteps to become a dressmaker. She first rented her own sewing machine at 19 years old and today she continues to make lovely children’s clothing made from denim and traditional Shweshwe fabrics printed in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

We visited a sangoma’s home (a traditional healer) and he demonstrated the dance he did at graduation.  A woman beat a big drum, other onlookers waiting for their consultation, clapped their hands and sang the familiar as he danced around the smoking African sage otherwise known as impepho. Zwai explained that a sangomas often takes years to train and heals patients by hearing what their problems are from their ancestors.

Our last stop before the rain came down was Ngoloza’s were ample inyama (meat) was braaied over the coals and enjoyed by us with pap and beans.

It’s not everyday that we get to experience a day in the life of millions of South Africans living in townships.  But when I did it was incredible to witness all the joy, hope and innovation experienced amidst extreme poverty.

Contact AWOL Tours:

Office +27 (0)21 418-3803
Mobile +27 (0)83 234-6428


Lauren Manuel McShane


Six continents later, Lauren Manuel McShane still has itchy feet and wanderlust for adventure in all corners of the earth. She recently married the love of her life and together they are traveling the world pausing only to find work, take photos and write. She is currently in Asia and sharing everything about her expat life on The Travel Manuel.

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