Once upon a time, many many years ago, I desired experiencing life in a township. Longing to spend a weekend with my maid and her family, I had an urge to walk kilometres for water, walk to the shop and carry the supplies on my head, make a fire to cook dinner and heat water, and everything else that encompassed living in a township. What would it feel like to exist without luxury? For some reason my parents prevented me from gaining such an understanding. So, the next best thing had to be the Gugulethu township tour whilst visiting Cape Town.
We chose AWOL to provide us with the Gugulethu walking township tour, known for its importance during the struggle against apartheid, because they are a non-profit organisation and proceeds are put back in to the community, given to the people who make the tour possible.
The knowledgeable and interesting guide, Ncebe, met us at Mzoli’s, a traditional bring and braai true-African-style establishment, and directed us to his home. Noticeably proud, he showed us around, explaining how he’d broken tradition with his renovations by building a bathroom inside the house instead of it being out back where most still have to trek to use the ablutions.
After finishing a glass of sweet mango juice, we climbed back in to our hired car and explored the township lasting four hours. Everybody we met – on the streets, at the unforgivable meat market, inside their homes, at the art community centre – welcomed our presence. Only a few of the children loathed having their photograph snapped, hiding from my camera’s glare. Most, differing ages, approached me and pointed to my camera while posing and laughing amongst each other, wanting to see their image on the view finder screen afterwards.
The poignant history becomes palpable while walking the streets, visiting places such as the Gugulethu Seven Memorial where seven young men, members of MK, the armed wing of the ANC, were killed by the South African security forces in March 1986. And the Amy Biel foundation where Amy, an American exchange student to the University of the Western Cape who wanted to make a difference in South Africa but was stabbed and stoned to death in an act of political brutality. She’d worked closely with the ANC on women’s rights and helped with the South Africa’s first free elections.
Lwazi Primary, a school in Gugulethu, became famous after it featured in Clint Eastwood’s film, “Invictus”. As soon the filmmakers discovered that Lwazi Primary’s girls’ and boys’ football teams had both won nearly every trophy in the Western Cape, they stared in the film. Now a source of pride in the Gugulethu community, the teams, along with their coach are highly praised.
With such obvious poverty, it’s astounding how most have a digital satellite television dish attached to their tin shacks. As most don’t earn well, how do they even afford such luxury? Stealing, or should that be sharing, each other’s electricity must count for something!