If you want to have an authentic and meaningful experience that goes beyond visiting Cape Town as a normal tourist, going on a township tour will be a long-remembered highlight of your visit to the Mother City.
I took the Sunday Gospel tour with iMzu tours and I loved it. I spent a nice day visiting the townships of Langa and Khayelitsha with other tourists from Germany, The Netherlands, the United States, and even other regions of South Africa.
The day was full of different experiences but to give you a summary we learned about Cape Town’s history with the vast commentary of our tour guide Zwe, attended the morning gospel service at a local church that echoed with praise and spirit, tasted traditional “Umqombothi” beer, played with kids and had delicious lunch at the house of the very own Mzukisi Lembeni, a Khayelitsha local who started the tour company.
This is an amazing opportunity to give back to the community through sustainable and responsible tourism. iMzu Tours is dedicated to empowering the township communities by hiring locals as tour guides and showcasing the work of local artists during every tour.
When the tour finished we had a deeper understanding of the history and issues of the Townships and also an appreciation of the spirit, pride, and strength of its people.
The Sunday Gospel Tour Basics
The Tour Guide
Our tour guide was the awesome Lee Zwe, he was a very friendly and fun! He knew a lot about the history of South Africa and his stories were very compelling. He knew the answer to all our questions!
We were moving on a very comfortable air-conditioned minibus. It was also very convenient because we were able to leave our bags secure while we went out to see each place.
What’s included on the tour?
- Qualified guide
- All transport
The tour lasted 5.5 hours. Zwe picked me and my friends up from the Two Oceans Aquarium at 8:30 am and brought us back at 2:00 pm.
- The promised houses
- Guga Sthebe Culture & Art Center
- Lover’s avenue
- Stroll around the houses
- Shooter’s house
- Traditional “Umqombothi” Beer Taste
- Sheep head
- Local arts and crafts
We didn’t make a stop but we passed through Nyanga and Cape Town International Airport en route to Khayelitsha.
- Local Church
- Lunch at Mzu house
- Play with kids
What is a township?
Usually refer to the often underdeveloped segregated urban areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of apartheid, were reserved for non-whites, namely Indians, Africans, and Coloureds.
Langa was our first stop, its name means “the sun” in Xhosa and it’s a township with 85,000 people. Its challenges stem from the fact that 75% of its population is not working. The people who are employed usually have jobs as domestic cleaners, car washers or at a hair salon. Going to the Cape Town costs around 20 ZAR (1.3 USD) by taxi and 17 ZAR (1.1 USD) by bus. There are a police station and clinics (they can use the hospital in town but they have to pay extra).
a. The promised houses
We first saw on the way one of the houses that the new government (after apartheid) promised to give to the inhabitants of the townships. Unfortunately, there are now too many people on waiting lists hoping to get someday their promised houses.
b. Guga Sthebe Culture & Art Center
I loved the purpose of this center, it is dedicated to the empowerment of the people of Langa focusing on arts and culture. The residents can learn pottery and mosaic craftsmanship through the programs offered in the center and they can use the facilities as well as services, provided that they subsequently train other people.
This is a fantastic idea to empower other people and create a sense of entrepreneurship enabling people to start a business and provide for themselves.
The “Naledi” project started in 2002 and now it makes enough money to run itself. Students learn how to create beautiful pottery with African shapes and designs. Later on, they can create their own crafts and sell them at the Green Market Square.
The “Ceramic” project started in 2006 and students use their imagination to create designs. After a 5-month training program, students get qualified and also learn about marketing and administration. The teacher told us that some of his students have opened their own small businesses.
*They also do shipping all over the world so don’t worry if you want to buy a piece of art that is too big for your suitcase!
You can learn more about the Guga Sthebe Culture & Art center here.
c. Lover’s avenue
Right outside the Guga Sthebe Culture & Art Center is the Lover’s Avenue. Back in 1928 married ladies were not allowed to meet their men because the government didn’t want them to procreate.
The couples were just allowed to meet on Sunday at 2 pm and under the supervision of guards with guns… the stories tell that this didn’t stop them from bringing blankets and making love in this beautiful park!
d. Stroll around the houses
We continued our tour by visiting the houses of the community and interacting with them.
Its crazy that families of 5 to 7 people can live in this container houses also called “squats”. The problem is that due to their materials, in winter they can get very cold and in summer too hot.
Some other issues around are rats, pollution, loud music, an insecure electricity system, and dirty water.
e. Shooter’s house
We visited the lovely house of Shooter, also known as “Morgan Freeman” and “Nelson Mandela”… and I agree with those nicknames because he looks so similar!
He told us several stories about his life in Langa and the appreciation and respect he has for Nelson Mandela who brought freedom to his country.
f. Traditional “Umqombothi” Beer Taste
We proceeded to taste “Umqombothi”, from the Xhosa and Zulu language, which is a beer made from maize, maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast, and water.
Every 4 days a nice lady prepares this beer which has rather low alcohol content (2.5%) and costs 30 ZAR (2 USD) per bucket. The tradition is to drink it directly from the bucket and share with the group.
g. Sheep head
We pass through a garbage dump and Zwe showed us the head of a sheep, he explained that it costs 60 rands (4 USD), and people usually eat all of it.
The legend says that eating the tongue you will be able to speak better English and eating the eyes you will have a better vision but you shouldn’t eat the brain because you don’t want to think like a sheep :p
h. Local arts and crafts
Finally, we arrived at a beautiful stall full of arts and crafts made by locals in Langa.
Make sure you bring cash if you want to buy but if you forget it you can just collect all your souvenirs and pay at the end, the tour guide will make sure the money arrives to the seller.
We didn’t make a stop but we passed through Nyanga en route to Khayelitsha. Nyanga means “moon” in Xhosa and it is one of the oldest townships in Cape Town. Many people who live there work at the airport because it’s very close.
Khayelitsha is Xhosa for “Our New Home”. It is reputed to be the largest township in Cape Town (the biggest township in South Africa is Soweto in Johannesburg).
In contrast to Langa, this is a “high class” township, the houses are made of concrete and the people work as taxi drivers, tour guides, doctors and other occupations. There is a shopping mall, police station, and hospital.
a. Local church
We visited a local church and experienced soul-stirring music and an euphoric priest speech. Everyone was so nice and full of energy and we were able to sing and dance with the people!
b. Lunch at Mzu house
In the end, we ate a delicious meal cooked by Edna, Mzu’s welcoming and loving mother. The lunch was vegetarian-friendly, it consisted in salad, rice, beans, pap (cornmeal porridge), bread and chicken stew.
c. Play with kids
The kids at Khayelitsha were so cute! We were able to play with them after lunch. We brought them some rulers and balls and it was so nice to see their happiness playing around.
In the beginning, I didn’t know what to expect about the tour, I thought we were only going to walk around the townships but this tour exceeded my expectations. It was an enriching and fulfilling day. I never felt insecure, the people are happy to see tourist because they can share their experiences, sell arts and crafts, and receive donations to help them succeed.
I am so grateful for this day and for the knowledgeable and passionate team that Mzu has put together!
5. iMzu Tours
Since 2011, iMzu Tours has operated more than 10,000 tours and connected thousands of tourists with Cape Town’s township communities. iMzu Tours is dedicated to empowering the township communities by creating local jobs.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored blog post, but all opinions are my own.
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