Going AWOL in Masiphumelele

2012-08-15 09:42
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Photos: AWOL in Msiphumelele

Taking a township tour is not something you do everyday, but it will change how you see each day.

Mention the word township and a tour thereof isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. For South Africans the most pressing issue would be service delivery, especially if you consider the recent N2 protests that shut access to Cape Town International Airport.

But townships can be and are more than just a breeding ground for perceived negativity. I found this out when I had the privilege of joining four travel bloggers, or iAmbassadors as they refer to themselves, on their AWOL Interactive Township cycle tour.  It’s a slice of real South African life, yet strangely not so for those of us who have made it into the upper LSMs of society.

Being part of the media I know how easy it is for perceptions of a particular destination to be mismanaged. Good luck to Brazil as it now bears the scrutiny in the run up to 2016. If we could survive 2010, you can survive this.

Foreigners want to see for themselves if what they’re being fed is true. “It’s not as dire as what I expected,” was the comment passed by Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape that made me realize this.

So I asked myself the question, “Would I have done this tour on my own?”

Truth be told, my answer is no. Yes, I'm vaguely aware of its value, but I probably would not have contemplated it, had I not been invited to join Keith, Nellie, Matt and Melvin.



Photo: Deon Gurling, Cape Town Tourism

Without transfers it costs R600. Nominal I’d say for those flogging euro, pounds or dollars and it does include lunch with some of the most amazing chicken I’ve ever tasted. But I know many a South African who would rather spend that money on a Lady Gaga ticket or perhaps even on a quad-biking adrenalin fix. To pay that for a potential guilt trip, I doubt it? No we’re not superficial; we’re just doing what local people all over the world would do.

It is human nature to want to avoid the things we can’t fix or don’t want to deal with. Certain parts of the tour had my eyes welling up, in particular the visit to the crèche. Kids the same age as mine, with parents just like me, wanting the very best for them. They ran up to us with open arms, with such sincerity typical of a child. These tours improve their lives. They’re also hopefully being filled with aspiration as they get to understand that there is a bigger, wider world out there to discover.

Here’s the thing, in retrospect I realize I posed the question incorrectly.  The ‘township tour’ phenomenon, or conundrum if you will, is not unique to South Africa but it does give insight into our individual story. I definitely want to see the 'slums' of Rio that gave birth to the likes of Ronaldo.

So I’m asking it a little differently, “Did you not have the altruistic desire to see and experience the last place you visited for what it really is?“

A visit to Mozambique springs to mind. Seeing the bullet-hole perforation of abandoned buildings, expectantly pulling in a fishing net with the locals on a copper beach that went on for miles, sipping local beer in a shanty café on an island in the middle of the Indian ocean – all part of the unique Mozambique story and why I remember it so vividly and would recommend it so highly.

What makes the AWOL tour so striking is the honesty with which it dishes up a snippet of daily township culture, unsightly blemishes and all. It also highlights the ingenuity of people who want to make something of their lives.
Investments of time and money made by organizations and people such as AWOL and BEN, has rallied the Masiphumelele community together to help them do exactly that.



Photo: Deon Gurling, Cape Town Tourism


It is a young township, formed in 1994, in comparison to say Nyanga or Gugs - so it does seem to have less infrastructure problems – although there is work to be done, with the Masiphumelele wetlands being a testament to that. But they’ve been educated about the benefits of tourism and are clearly going out of their way to make it a viable source of income. Above all, many of the places we stopped at along the cycle route, such as the community centre and library are rubber-stamped with hope.

This is as much part of our unique story as Camps Bay beach and Table Mountain. I’m the friend and relative of many visiting foreigners – as are you. If you want them to have the full experience – this would be a worthy recommendation to make.

Selene Brophy is the editor of GoTravel24/News24 Travel. She has a genuine soft spot for kids  since through their simplistic nature they've been some of her greatest teachers. She will most certainly be going back to Masiphemelele to donate some useful supplies to their creches. If you want to get involved contact Sally Petersen on 021 418 3803 or sally@awoltours.co.za

Read more on:    travel south africa
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