Why You Can’t Miss A Cape Town Township Tour in Khayelitcha

“Why is your friend not picking up his phone?” Our Zimbabwean Uber driver sounded angry.

“I don’t know. He should answer soon,” I try to assure him as my friend Seda looks at me uncomfortably. It’s her second day in South Africa and she’s already getting a full-on adventure.

“What kind of guy is he? Are you sure he didn’t just mess with you guys?”

“No, he’s a legit person.” I knew so!

The Uber driver got more and more antsy and moved around in his seat, looking left and right, watching out for people who would harm either us or him. After all, we were in Khayelitcha, Cape Town’s biggest township.

Townships are informer settlements of colored or black people, because due to Apartheid, these areas were segregated and sometimes even moved out of town to make more space for white people. Townships are not here for your or the media’s poverty porn. It’s where families live, kids play on the street, grow up, and go to school, and where entrepreneurs are created. Yet, they’re an experience only South Africa can give you.

Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha

People always expect townships to look like this…

 

Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha richer neighborhood

…but not many know these richer neighborhoods to be there as well

 

Today, all you hear about townships is the worst. People getting shot, stabbed, robbed. “Don’t go there,” most people who haven’t ever been there – South African or not – will tell you. But there are organized tours by entrepreneurial locals, who invite outsiders to show them their home.

“Fuck, I don’t like being here. But I can’t leave you alone.” The Uber driver couldn’t stop.

“I’m really sorry…” I said. I decided I rather wouldn’t tell him now that all this was my fault and how stupid I had been for ordering our Uber half an hour early – not because I was German and wanted to show up half an hour early to be what Germans consider on time, but because I had messed up the times. Seda and I were supposed to meet Cojea [Koh-jah] at 12.30 p.m., not at 12, when the Uber had arrived in Khayelitcha.  So, I obviously didn’t blame Cojea for having his phone off.

I didn’t see anything that made me uncomfortable, but the Uber driver’s attitude.

Around 12.15 p.m., Cojea finally answered his phone and said he’d pick us up now. He had taken a nap.

The Uber driver would have surely lost his composure if Cojea had showed up any later than the 10 minutes that he needed to walk to us from his house.

I thanked the Uber driver and left a large tip for waiting with us.

Then, Cojea took us, the only two white ladies in sight, down the street towards his house. He was greeted left and right and everyone seemed to know him. We were also warmly welcomed and smiled at by everyone. We often heard the word “mlungu” (white person), especially from kids.

Cojea let us drop off some stuff at his house and then we walked towards a sports field.

Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha Cojea Vakasha Tours

 

On our way, a priest came up to us and told us that she was happy to see us, asked us what we were doing here, and wanted to take a picture with us, which I should send her later.

Then, a few kids came and inspected our skin and were surprised about being able to see our blue veins. The kids in Khayelitcha seemed happier to me than in Germany or the US, for example. They would just play on the streets and be happy with the little they had. Most asked us to take a picture with them.

There was one kid who stood out. He was playing in his backyard and when he saw us, had his dad help him open the door and the little boy asked us to take a picture with him. This is it:

Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha

 

Then his dad asked us why we were here and genuinely, happily welcomed us. “It’s great to have you guys here. We need more people like you here,” he said.

Our next stop was the tailor shop, where Cojea, a designer, would get his clothes tailored and where I had ordered a skirt and shirt of African fabric for the upcoming Afropunk festival. All the ladies welcomed us warmly and we had a lot of fun when she wanted to dress up in African clothes.

Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha

 

One of the ladies wanted me to try my tailored clothes on in their little store, which was open in front towards the street. She and Seda tried their best to cover me, but sometimes they lost attention and I’m sure strangers saw parts of my underwear. Because the clothes were a bit too small for me, Seda had to try them on now and “get naked” in front of people. We just laughed it off.

After this unexpectedly fun experience from which our bellies hurt from laughing, Cojea took us to his old school, where him and his friend are part of a group caring for a vegetable and fruit garden, the Ekasi Project Green, whose produce the guys use for the people in their neighborhood, to educate and to hold networking events. An amazing project, which they started in 2014.

Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha garden project

Ekasi Project Green

 

Now it was time to eat; therefore, Cojea took us to a tiny restaurant, where a lady cooked traditional Xhosa food in huge pots.

Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha Xhosa restaurant Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha Xhosa food

Eating at Cojea’s home marked the end of our tour unfortunately, because we definitely could have hung around longer.

To get a final South African experience and to save money, we now took a South African cab towards Cape Town, where we befriended a stranger, who had also been happy to see us in his hometown.

Now here’s the interesting part: While in Khayelitcha, I always felt safe and welcome. I even had both of my cameras with me – in a backpack, but took them out to take pictures. But as soon as Seda and I were back in Cape Town, around Civic Center area, a guy started fiddling around Seda’s backpack. When I caught him, he didn’t stop. Only when I slapped his hand and told him to leave us alone, he walked on and pretended like nothing happened. Now the worst part was that people around us saw this situation and nobody did anything.

Now, I have been to several township around the country now and I can say that I’ve always felt safe; however, only because I was always accompanied by a local.

I thought I didn’t have to write the following, but as it turns out, there are people (girls), who think they can go into a township without a plan and without being accompanied by a local. They seem to have no clue that if they are a lonely, obvious foreigner aka white or Asian person, they make themselves an easy, obvious target because pick-pocketing and mugging are a thing in South African cities.

If you also want to dive deeper into South African culture and explore Cape Town in a way not many get to see it, book a tour with Cojea here.

Cape Town Township Tour Khayelitcha Cojea

Cojea from Vakasha Tours

 

For 5 more amazing Cape Town day tours, go HERE. You can choose between drinking delicious wine, driving along one of the most beautiful roads in the world, and eating all the various foods Cape Town has to offer. Or combine the three 🙂

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11 comments

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  • What a great experience! Glad it all worked out great with your guide. As you already mentioned, you should visit Khayelitcha with a guide, or better, a good guide. They can inform you about everything you need to know, about how life is there, how the people are and the better places to visit. I will remember this guide’s name 😉

  • Hey Jenni love I am glad you had an amazing time with Cojea. I felt super safe in Khayelitcha while being on a tour with him as well. I really hope your post is encouraging more and more people to join township tours and that is is going to change their minds of a township . Love you.

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thanks for sharing that you felt safe and comfortable as well!
      I hope it will encourage more people as well 🙂

      Love you too <3 :*

  • I love this post and couldn’t agree more. More people should support these local entrepreneurs instead of giving money to big tour companies that bus people through the townships with barely a glance out the window.

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Hell yes! So true…

  • Jennifer,

    This was an interesting article! Most people rave about South African adventures but don’t really capture the culture and history. I’m going to South Africa in few weeks and now you got me looking into the tour.

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Hi Tahiya,

      Thank you for your comment! Let me know if you need Cojea’s info 🙂

  • Such a great post and what it seems a great experience. It’s always nice to see people shed some positive lights on what the media paint as absolute no go zone. Hopefully more people will book took and help the locals and learn more about their life. If I ever visit Cape Town I’d love to book a tour !

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Hi Lyne,

      Thank you for your comment! I hope you get to visit SA soon 🙂 Such an amazing place!

  • Kelly

    Reply

    What a beautiful article with a beautiful message. I am so glad you guys went and experienced the township for yourself. I also love how these kids seemed like the happiest kids you’d ever seen, even though they were poor. And it is so true. I really fwel like materialism creates discontent since we always want more! So happy to read this!

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thank you, Kelly.
      You are so right about materialism! And the wanting seems to never stop.

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