Tourists who come to visit Cape Town (including me!) usually only get to see the beautiful luxury places in and around the Mother City, the glitz and glamour of the Atlantic Seaboard as well as the absolutely breath-taking nature the area has to offer. And I admit it, I enjoy it. Very much. All of it. Every time. So much that I keep coming back to this beautiful country.
However, in the recent years the townships in South Africa opened their doors to tourism by offering guided tours to visitors. I did a lot of research beforehand and found a very reliable and trustworthy guide. I wanted my kids to understand that there is another side to life and that all the things we take for granted are actually not. I only realised after the visit, how much it actually had affected myself as well.
The tour itself provided incredible, very sobering insight into life in a township. It was a humbling, eye-opening and full of contrasts experience with our local guide Nathi, who also lives in the township. It was very inspiring to feel the human spirit full of optimism and enthusiasm despite the difficult living conditions. The locals gave us a warm and friendly welcome, told us about their lives and invited us into their homes. We learned a lot about the Xhosa culture and the township, where everyone knows and helps one another.
As I did not want to bring the usual “candy treat” with on our visit to the township, I asked my sons teacher, if they had some spare school material like booklets, pencils etc. they did not use anymore. Generously my sons school donated a huge bag full of school items which I brought with all the way from Switzerland to the Langa Township. Shortly after we arrived in Langa, school in the township was finished and the kids were on the way home. Immediately we were surrounded by many children. Every child waited very patiently until it was his turn to receive his share of the school items we brought with. There were so many, I wish I had brought more!!
Before our visit in Langa, I felt that a tour into a township to see “the other side” would be an intrusion into the lives of the very poor of Cape Town, but it wasn’t the case at all. First, it is a way for the people living in the townships to earn some money from tourism as they are obviously charging a fee for the tour as well as selling their handmade art and craft. But in addition, the people actually wanted us to see the improvements, initiatives and progress that have been made in this township over the past years since the end of apartheid. They wanted to demonstrate the energy that is there to lift themselves out of poverty with a focus on education.
While engaging with the people of Langa, I was able to see and experience a part of their lifestyle. Regardless of their poor economic conditions and their difficult housing circumstances, they were very confident, optimistic and strong. And therefore, many of the people in the township who “made it” over the years into a successful and well earning job though education, they actually stay living in the township because they want to carry on improving the situation there. Because the township is the place where their heart is. It is where their support system is as well as their strength is coming from. This visit reminded me of the importance of unity, friendship, supporting each other and the power and effects a smile can have, even when everyday life is surrounded by problems. It was absolutely eye-opening to see how happiness is possible under such scarce conditions and how people can make a living with what we would consider a spare change. It was extremely refreshing to see how a lavish life is not necessary to be happy and how human interaction, and not superficiality, is what really makes a difference and can lead us to be happy. And a visit like that puts life into a very different perspective – many people here in our Western world focus on the really small things to complain and find problems – let’s rather appreciate what we have and most importantly, walk with an open heart and a smile through life!!