Our previous blog post discussed all the wonderful things about Cape Town, of which there are many. We also wanted to try and see the other side of South Africa though, so we decided to do a tour of some of the townships around Cape Town (e.g. the slums). It was a bit of a weird scenario as you really want to be able to experience the townships with as little intrusion as possible...you feel weird looking like a bunch of voyeurs riding around in a van full of tourists taking pictures. We ultimately found a happy medium, signing up for a personal tour with a resident of one of the townships.
Our tour began with an inside look at the “apartments” of one of the townships. In a single room about the size of a college dorm room live 3 entire families. It has only 3 beds, meaning either the entire family shares a bed or all the kids sleep in the one kitchen that is shared by 18 families. As you can see in the picture, the conditions are pretty rough...the air felt very stale and was hard to breathe even for the few minutes we were in there. The families have very little possessions, because of the lack of space and fear of theft (and of course cost of goods). Each family had about a small suitcase worth of belongings (e.g. the family on the left only have whats on the bed and that suitcase on the shelf). Our township tour leader, Laura, told us that in the worst apartments in the township, each single room is shared by 8 families. As elections or big events come, such as the World Cup, the government tries to make things look better and build a few new apartments to move people out of the ones falling apart, but it is always a short, small scale project and the new ones aren't even that much better.
Next we explored the shanty town portion of the township, which is full of makeshift shack houses. The advantage of the shacks is that you get privacy as you don't share with other families, however they are very poor, unstable structures that are susceptible to fires that spread through the community or break-ins. There are also no toilets in the shacks, and the community thus shares a single outhouse style toilet or uses buckets that are changed once a week.
Lastly, we got to visit a pre-school that Laura founded from the funds gathered doing tours . Like everything else in the townships, it is a bit makeshift (the school is 4 storage containers put together), but this was definitely the uplifting highlight of the tour. As soon as we came in, 200+ screaming, smiling kids ages 3-6 came running over to us, demanding high-fives, giving us giant group hugs and singing songs. As per local custom, they all wanted to rub thumbs together and say “sha” meaning essentially “for sure” or “everything’s cool.” Although sometimes pretty cramped in the small rooms, they seemed generally happy and are able to learn some basics and also get three meals, which is more than most the kids in the township who aren't able to participate in this school.
Overall, it was a very interesting, informative and worthwhile experience. Similar to how our country had/has social and economic issues following the end of slavery, the end of Apartheid in South Africa has not meant equality for many of the black and colored residents of South Africa. However, Laura is a beacon of hope for her community Guguletu, and we only wished we could do more to support her and her wonderful school. For more information on Laura or if you find yourself in Cape Town, check out http://laurastownshiptours.co.za/about/about-laura/.
This is Caitlin and Jed's blog about our adventures.
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