Township Tours – A Voyeuristic ‘Attraction’

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I’m being shown around a township by a local, a white speck in a black neighbourhood. Being greated with friendly smiles and nods, which made me feel slightly less like voyeuristic than this trip essentially is. It’s not a comfortable notion being shown around. It doesn’t sit well with me as an afternoon activity but I wanted to go into a township and learn more about how it was formed and the horrible patch in history that created this massive divide – apartheid. The tour I chose was actually initiated and set up by a pioneering and compassionate lady in the community.

South Africa’s far too recent apartheid history is oh so apparent as you travel around the country. People openly use the terms ‘blacks’, ‘whites’ and ‘coloureds’. It’s all a bit shocking. The whites fear the blacks and the blacks are resentful of the whites, they’re still getting over the treatment they received during the country’s forced segregation and many are still understandably angry. The coloureds (unbelievable that this term is used), that’s the mixed race guys may have it even tougher as they aren’t completely accepted by either camp.

I knew about apartheid of course but I don’t think the full horror of what it entailed hit me till I was told about it first hand by people that lived through it. Black, white and mixed race people (I can’t say coloured, it just sounds wrong) were segregated in every area of life by The National Party, the political party in power. So that’s every beach, school, hospital – everything! The black community got the worse end of the deal and the most shit places, with less resource. The mixed race people slightly better and the white people took priority. I cannot comprehend how anyone ever thought this was okay, both morally and logistically it must have been a nightmare.

Thankfully apartheid was abolished in 1991 but the country is still in recovery and it’s going to take a long time before there’s harmony amongst its citizens. Even today, it tends to be the white people that live in the large sprawling houses but all behind gates and guards. The mixed race people, some white people and some black people live in the middle. But a large number of the black community live in ‘Townships’.

I wanted to visit a Township whilst in South Africa. But the idea of wandering around as a white tourist checking out how the poor black folk live with my big camera made me feel uncomfortable. I did a little research and came across Emzini. A couple of ladies who live in a town called Knysna township set up a tour here not only to educate but also to help fund the care of children whose parents are unable to look after them. Ella currently has 13 kids living in her home and I was lucky enough to visit and feel the warm and loving atmosphere.

Ella’s son showed us around and without hesitation he said he’d much prefer to stay in the township than to be rehoused in the main town. I can see why as there’s such a strong sense of community, compared to living behind gates and guards like the white folk do. We checked out a township pre-school, local shops, library and saw the township hospital. Chickens, pigs and cows roamed freely from house to house but apparently they all know their own homes. If an incident like burglary or domestic violence occurs then they often police the situation themselves. Alcohol appears to be the route to any issues in this tight-knit group.

I felt incredibly grateful that I was able to spend a day observing how the township people live. They interacted with me and made me feel very welcome, with no sense of anger. I don’t know if I could be so forgiving because at the end of the day I am just a white face, with the ability to travel the world. It’s not fair that I was born into my life and their own lives have been deliberately held back just because someone decided that people should be prioritised by the colour of their skin. There are some fucked up people in this world.

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