I have read articles where people have an opinion about visiting a township, some even call it ‘Slum Tourism’ and as a guide I am often asked if it is okay for tourists to visit homes of people and take pictures with them.
Townships like Soweto have made a name worldwide because of all the riots and boycotts against the Apartheid regime in the 70’s right up to the 90’s, people read and saw disturbing pictures in the media of innocent young lives killed fighting for their rights.
When township tourism started gradually in the 80’s with busses full of tourists were driven through our streets and people taking pictures of us, I felt like I was in a zoo or Kruger national park, the only difference was that all this was happening in a residential area. Buses never stopped and gave the visitors an opportunity to interact with us.
I thought this has to change and in 1999 I started my company Atamela Tours, which means come closer or come together. I wanted to change the industry, I wanted to see people talk to each other, I wanted to give people a chance to learn from each other’s life experience and learn about other cultures.
Atamela’s ultimate goal through township tourism is to create a bridge between visitors and the people of South Africa.
The following are tangible achievement:
Kindergarden has been sponsored – building was improved, Toilets were built, library built and stocked
Two very hard working young girls have foster parents that are paying for all their education needs
Lastly, visitors more often than not give clothes and even donations to families we visit.
South Africa is a beautiful country blessed with the best weather, diverse animal world, breathtaking views, flora and fauna and most interestingly a very diverse people and culture. Having said that one need to mention that the legacy of Apartheid is still very visible, meaning there are class stratification characterised the very rich and the very poor.
Township tourism in my opinion has improved the quality of life for a few people and I strongly believe if more tourists would visit many more would be helped.