During out Cape Town adventure, we spent an afternoon taking a township tour of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay. South African townships are large informal settlements that were put up illegally during Apartheid when black people were evicted from “white only” neighborhoods. The displaced built makeshift houses anywhere they could find space.
Over the years, people have tried to get rid of the townships, but just when one is cleaned up, another springs up in its place. Now, many of these townships in the country have become permanent ‘mini cities’. The townships continue to grow in density and size as refugees from other countries move in seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
30,000 people live in the Imizamo Yethu. Unlike many townships (and slums in other parts of the world), Imizamo Yethu does have electricity and running water. Life is still a daily struggle for its residents. Our guide talked about used condoms lying around and rats biting the children. Crime and drug abuse are huge problems. Many of the residents are unemployed and can’t find work to support their families.
The people in the townships ‘live under the promises of politicians,’ waiting for low income government housing (permanent homes without the constant threat of eviction) to become available. The list is a mile long, and the last time new houses were available was seven years ago.
We had a chance to visit the school at Imizamo Yethu. It was nap time when we visited, but the children were more than happy to wake up and mug for the camera. The children receive two meals a day at school. Classes are taught in English.
Our guide, Thobeka, was lovely. It was great to hear about the realities of life in the townships from a resident and we were so grateful to her for sharing her story with us.
Touring the township was a rewarding experience, but brought up conflicting emotions in both of us. Because our tour was organized through a non-profit, in theory the money we paid should go to improving the lives of those living in the township.
I want to think that we did the right thing by taking the tour and trying to learn more, but it’s also a bit bizarre to traipse through someone’s neighborhood, camera in tow. I can’t imagine if a bunch of strangers showed up outside our house and took pictures of me as I was leaving for work.
I did ask permission of all the people in the photos to take their pictures, in hopes to share their stories. I hope that by being respectful, and also open-minded, I’ve brought attention to the problems in the townships and also make you grateful for the comforts you have in your own life.
After the township tour, we stopped at T-Bag Designs in Hout Bay. The T-Bag factory is a non-profit that empowers local women to turn ordinary used tea bags into art! They sell everything from dolls to coasters and the women take the money from their earnings to support their families. I love sending handwritten notes, so I stocked up on their beautiful greeting cards. It’s great to see an organization teaching people a skill instead of offering handouts.
Because the townships can be unsafe, it’s important to only visit if you have a guide with you. We actually used the red Hop On Hop Off buses for our tour, which was super convenient and didn’t require a reservation (we waited until one of our last days before we decided to do the tour).
I’ve always made fun of the big tour buses when we travel, but we loved our ride on the red City Sightseeing bus. The drive had an audio recording, making it much more informational than if we had just driven ourselves, and it was nice to have our guide waiting for us at the bus stop. The fact that it was air conditioned didn’t hurt!
We only used the bus to get to Imizamo Yethu, but I think it would have been great to see other parts of Cape Town too if we had had more time. For the price of the bus ticket plus 70 rand ($5 USD) to pay for the tour, we had a great experience and I highly recommend it.
Imizamo Yethu Cape Town Township Tour
Cape Town, South Africa
City Sightseeing Bus Tour Info
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P.S. – Here are a few more posts from our Cape Town adventure!