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Travel Guide: Township tourism in South Africa

2nd Nov 2011 1:53am | By Editor

While township tourism continues to divide the critics, the locals of Stellenbosch have come up with creative ways to address South Africa's problems. Words: AMY ADAMS

There isn't an inch of space left. The stadiums have been built over and, after one of many fires caused by haphazard electrical wiring, built over again. Off the roads that remain from the original layout, huts jostle for space, threatening the ever-diminishing mud track that zig-zags between them.

On our tour, our guide Thembi takes us into the home of a woman who makes a living brewing the traditional beer Umqombothi. On a wooden bench sipping the bitter, milky ale out of the communal paint can, the only similarity to the bars of Stellenbosch is the Pussycat Dolls blaring from the stereo. Here, though, it's coming crystal clear through the cardboard wall from next door.

While taking a township tour with one of three registered tour guides here, or even spending the night in one of 12 available home stays gives locals an income (and a good one in Thembi's case - she charges R80 per person for an hour's tour), many remain justifiably uncomfortable with this kind of zoo-culture tourism.

In Kayamandi, there are other ways tourists can help. The Ikhaya Trust centre, set up in 2000, seeks to "address the conditions of deprivation still suffered by our local people" through funding education, social services and entrepreneurial projects. The latter includes supplying artisans with equipment and studio space so they can make and sell their products.

When we visit, Jimmy is busy at his potters' wheel, whipping up pots before glazing them with shoe polish. In the next studio, four women sit before a table threading beads into necklaces and baskets. Their units come at R50 a month (which they'll recoup with the sale of one necklace) and they're entitled to keep any profits they make. The aim, Centre Director Eugene Newman tells us, is to empower the local people by making them self-sufficient rather than giving them handouts.

Four kilometres away in the heart of the winelands a similar empowerment project is being carried out at Eaglevlei, a wine estate recently opened by Englishman Tony Hindhaugh. Building on the social and educational powers of creativity, Hindhaugh has set up the Arts Foundation - a series of arts and crafts workshops for kids. Run in conjunction with the Pebbles Project and assisted by local artists, it gives back to a community working to ensure the smooth running of South Africa's premier wine region.

The children's art will be on display and available for purchase at the winery giving them, Hindhaugh hopes, a sense of pride and achievement. "It's not about charity, it's about hope, aspiration and empowerment," he says, though 100 per cent of the money made from the children's work will go towards Kayamandi high school. "It's really just about making them think they're worth something."

If the kids' behaviour is anything to go by the project seems a success. Concentrating entirely on the matter in hand (colourful lions in most cases) there was little chatter but to request artistic advice. It wasn't until on the bus home when given the driver's microphone that noise levels rose. And the song of choice: Justin Timberlake's Sexy Back, of which they new every word. •

• Amy Adams travelled to South Africa with South African Airways and Eaglevlei (+27 21 884 4713). Eaglevlei Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot can be purchased at Sainsbury's.

Cape Town
Walking tours
Ursula Stevens started the first walking tours of Cape Town eight years ago and hasn't lost momentum since. Her two-hour Cape Town on Foot walks are not for the idle as she marches round the city, one beady eye always on the lookout for pickpockets. Originally from Germany, history graduate Stevens has lived in Cape Town for 45 years and certainly learnt a thing or two about the city in that time. From busy thoroughfare Adderley street, to bohemian Long Street she escorts our small group through gardens and markets, history and architecture pausing for a welcome rest in churches and museums. See www.wanderlust.co.za.

Robben Island
Tours of this former maximum security prison, notorious for 'housing' Nelson Mandela for 18 years, are split into two sections. The first takes you round the island by bus, to the quarry dug by prisoners and its neighbouring cave, nicknamed both the University of Robben Island and the First Democratic Parliament of South Africa after the clandestine activities that took place there. The second half of the tour is taken on foot by a former political prisoner, in our case Sparks, who was imprisoned at the age of 17 for seven years after being caught recruiting people for the military wing of the ANC. He shows us Nelson Mandela's cell, the courtyard where the former president hid his book The Long Walk to Freedom, and his own prison dorm, which he shared with 79 other prisoners. "After all those years fighting for peace we didn't want to turn the country into a war zone," says Sparks, explaining the former inmates' decision to forgive their captors and turn the penal colony into a museum.

V&A Waterfront
Cape Town's tourist hub may be polished and preened but there's still a buzz in the air. Live music (from a cappella to thumping percussion) provides a soundtrack to the droves of shoppers, sightseers and diners. When you've stocked up on African artefacts and made the most of the fabulous restaurants, take a walk down to the water's edge to see the seals sunbathing on the pier.

Table Mountain
If you're short on time or stamina, skip the trails that lead up the mountain and opt for the Aerial Cableway. Get here early to avoid the queues, and if the line's already long, grin and bear it - taking the slowly-revolving lift to the top of Cape Town's most famous landmark means you too can loom over the city. Paths zig-zag across the table top, giving you the full view of the Cape Peninsula: of neighbouring peaks Lion's Head and Devil's Peak, the City Bowl and Table Bay. The only downfall is your camera can't really do it justice.

Camp's Bay
Beneath the Twelve Apostles mountain range is the suburb of Camps Bay, where Cape Town morphs into Miami. Victoria road runs parallel to the beach, flanked with palm trees on one side and neon-signed bars on the other. There's glamour if you're looking for it, in the form of luxury hotels and fancy restaurants, but you can still have a good time on the cheap, sipping a beer in one of the many bars as the night draws in on sunset strip.

Shamwari safari
As a young male lion slopes across the road, his stomach fat from last night's feed, he tosses a look in our direction that makes the jeep feel single-ply. He joins his family to settle down for a post-hunting sunbathe, prompting a collective slump of the shoulders from our group - apart from our drivers, of course, who regularly meet a pride of lions first thing in the morning.

Which is why our leopard sighting the day before had been such an event. With only a handfulin the whole of Shamwari Game Reserve, spotting one of the well- camouflaged cats is so rare that even our nonchalant guides got excited. After staring where they were pointing for five minutes, we eventually made her out, eyes shut to the sun as she tried to ignore us.

The 20,000 hectares that make up this private reserve in the Eastern Cape play host to the Big Five as well as cheetah, giraffe, zebra and more. Voted the best game reserve in South Africa, the real star of TV show Safari School is ideally located for those wanting to combine their visit to South Africa with Cape Town and the Garden Route.

The emphasis is on luxury, and at some of the five-star lodges, previous guests include Brad Pitt and Tiger Woods. You can rest assured that your money is being well spent, though. Shamwari is home to a branch of the Born Free Foundation and has won awards for its dedication to conservation. Staff include an anti-poaching unit, on hand to protect endangered species, in particular the white and black rhino threatened by the illegal trade in rhino horn.

After seeing two of the precious rhinos grazing, it was time to indulge in that great safari tradition, the sundowner. Driving far enough away so we could relax, we cracked open the gin and tonic. Watching the sun set over the rolling bush was good, but the trip home was better. Surprising a herd of giraffe, we followed slowly behind them as they broke into a lopsided gallop, before peeling off into the African night.