For those of us whities who live in Cape Town, the townships of Khayelitsha, Gugs (Gugelethu) and Langa are places one seldom visits. Most of us give them a rather wide berth, if truth be told, their association with crime, gangsterism, poverty, Aids and anti-white sentiment enough to maintain the segregation of our past.
And yet, on the odd occasion an attempt to find a short-cut to the airport, or a flat tyre just outside Langa (during which I was given tea, a chair on which to sit and a far cheaper offer on a pair of new tyres than I would have got elsewhere), has brought me into contact with a totally different view of the townships.
Anxiety is met only with open-hearted hospitality and kindness. And for any of my friends who visit from Europe, a township tour is an automatic itinerary item, making my avoidance of something they hunger to visit, ever so slightly embarrassing. I begin to suspect that my take on townships is skewed.
Staying in the Townships of Cape Town
But even a tour of the townships can end up having a slightly voyeuristic aspect to it. Sitting safely for the majority of the trip behind the glass of the windows of a mini bus does not a first-hand experience make.
It’s the guesthouses and B&Bs that allow one to really meet the people of Langa or Khayelitsha first-hand, and to walk the streets, play soccer with local children and even, as Radebe’s B&B (and coffee shack) offers, a Sunday church service.
It’s a far cry from the luxury villas that litter the Atlantic Seaboard right up against the mountain, but the informal settlements, with their tin shacks that tumble up and down the dunes, and one another, lining the fences along the N2 en route to the airport, are rapidly becoming a viable alternative of accommodation for visitors.
But you still want to reserve a fair amount of caution when on a visit. The townships aren’t to be strolled alone. You’ll need a guide as they’re usually from the township through which they take you and they know where to stop and what is safe for you to do. In a way it’s a false sense of security. The people here have learnt that when you arrive with a guide, you’re a tourist, and as such are there to boost the local economy.
Not everyone likes the township tours for this reason. Rachel, from San Francisco found the disparity even within the townships between rich and poor overwhelming. “I found I was embarassed when it came to handing my money for the tour to the tour operator in front of neighbourhood kids, who so obviously see that amount of money only when tourists come to visit.”
But most visitors leave the townships the richer for it. “I enjoyed the vibrancy of the streets,” says Liam from Scotland on his whirlwind tour of Cape Town, “I loved the spaza shops and the hawkers who man their stalls selling cabbage and apples until well after dark, trying to catch the homeward bound traffic. I should have had a haircut at the barber I passed, his shop, and the music he played…I dig that sort of thing when travelling.”
Where to stay in Khayelitsha
Vicky’s shack-style B&B, built from corrugated iron and wood, is bigger than it looks, its quirky hand-painted sign visible near the wrought-iron front gate. Vicky and her husband built their house themselves, and as the business has grown, so it has extended. There is a shared living area with access to TV and the kitchen is available for tea making. Vicky, or her children, will take you on a walking tour of the vicinity, if you ask them, and her husband will help get you from A to B. And there’s a shebeen across the road, though closed at night
Address: C-685A Kiyane Street, Site C, Khayelitsha
Telephone: +27 (0)21 387-7104
Accommodating up to six guests overnight, Thope Lekau not only runs the guest house but is also a registered tour guide and community economic development worker. She’s something of a local legend and serves as a role model to other women on how to run your own business. Her B&B has been open since 1999 and her kitchen is usually full, as when people don’t stay, they come for lunch. Enjoy breakfast and a traditional dinner, which you can arrange in advance.
Address: C329 Velani Crescent, Khayelitsha
Telephone: +27 (0)21 361-2084
Lydia Masoleng, former domestic worker turned guest house owner, has cooking skills that are something of a legend, particularly her Umfino – spinach, maize meal and chakalaka, which you are welcome to wash down with her version of home brewed ginger beer. She opened her guest house in 1998 after she hosted a couple of Americans out to visit her church. She offers three bedrooms with a large breakfast. Eat dinner with her or at her cousin’s restaurant just up the road.
Address: 18 Mississippi Way, Khayelitsha
Telephone: +27 (0)21 361-2391
Maria is your host at Majoro’s that can accommodate four people in twin or double rooms. It claims to have been the first B&B in the township and includes a traditional, English or continental breakfast. Lunch and dinner can also be provided if you would like it. If you are interested there is a list of other things Maria will get you involved in, like an afternoon walk around the township, a visit to a local Sangoma, an evening of shebeen hopping, a chat with locals and more.
Address: 69 Helena Crescent, Graceland, Khayelitsha
Where to stay in Gugs
At Mbalentle you have a choice between B&B or full board and one of four rooms in what Florence calls her ‘ethnic guesthouse’. In the vicinity are the Amy Biehl Memorial and the Gugulethu Seven Memorial and you can book a township tour through Florence too.
Address: 23 Pallotti Road, Montana
Telephone: +27 (0)21 934-0040
Close to the famous Mzoli’s restaurant, Lizewe’s is slightly different because large groups can rent the cottage for self-catering purposes, along with the restaurant which you can reserve for a feast of authentic African food. Lizewe’s also has access to walking tours, Mozolis and a sangoma.
Address: NY111-No121, Gugulethu
Telephone: +27 (0)21 633-7406
Where to stay in Langa
Ma Neo’s B&B
Ma Neo’s vibrant Coca Cola-sponsored sign distinguishes her house from others in Zone 7. The atmosphere is also colourful and Ma Neo makes a concerted effort to share her township life with her guests.
Address: Zone 7 No 30, Langa
Telephone: +27 (0)21 694-2504
Three themed bedrooms welcome guests to Minah Radebe’s home where you can look forward to an African breakfast (or continental, if you must) as well as lunch and dinner (but you’ll need to ask for these). Minah too will walk you through her streets.
Address: 23 PW Mama Way, Settlers Place, Langa
Telephone: +27 (0)21 695-0508