By Amelia Meyer
Port Elizabeth - TownShips
Langa Township during the build up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup™
Townships are the communities in which most of the diverse South African population lives. Stemming out of the oppressive era of Apartheid, when black, coloured and Indian residents were prohibited from living within the suburbs, townships earned the reputation of being poverty-stricken areas where clean amenities and facilities were lacking. However, over the past few years, townships have emerged from these challenges as a culture-rich environment, home to a large spectrum of this Rainbow Nation.
Most of the townships, particularly in Port Elizabeth, are still made up largely of shacks – homes made by the inhabitants out of corrugated iron, wooden pallets, even paper and cardboard. Clearly, there remain economic challenges within these areas, which are usually located on the outskirts of a city’s commercial and suburban centre. RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses are continuously being erected by the government, and this growth is exponential in Nelson Mandela Bay. These are made out of bricks and concrete and usually have access to electricity and water.
Despite various challenges, any visitor to the South African townships will notice the vibrant spirit that permeates their homes and residents. This sense of community is commonly referred to as “Ubuntu”. Port Elizabeth’s extensive townships are no exception. These townships include Motherwell, Zwide, Kwazakhele, KwaMagxaki, New Brighton, and Walmer. Walmer Township is the only such community right within the suburbs of Port Elizabeth. The remainder of the townships are generally situated between the two Nelson Mandela Metro towns of Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage / Despatch. As a result, the residents are generally dependent on the busses and taxis as public transport.
Townships Tours are a major tourist attraction throughout the country and Port Elizabeth offers exclusive township experiences. These are an inside view of the lives and culture that so richly defines the country’s people. A Xhosa family is also often included in the tour, so that visitors are able to interact with the local community and ask them questions regarding their lives and environment. Guided walks through the township expose the shops, cafés, hairdressers and vegetable stands that join to create the vibrant ambience of the townships. Some tours also include a mock initiation ceremony as well as visits to local arts and crafts centres. Tours are generally between R250 and R350, and often include a traditional meal.
Of course, no township tour is complete without a visit to the local shebeen. A shebeen is an authentic township “pub”, where locals usually frequent, sharing home-made “umgqoboti” (a traditional natural-tasting beer) and relaxing after a busy day spent at work. Visitors are able to taste the umgqoboti, and experience a slice of this African life. However, the taste of this beer is something to which one should become accustomed!
Townships are an intrinsic part of the history and current-day culture of the South African community. Locals and visitors to Nelson Mandela Bay alike are urged to indulge in one of these guided tours for a first-hand glimpse of the local way of life.