Ever since I clapped eyes on a South African township as we arrived into Cape Town, I’d been intrigued by them. In a similar way as I would when walking through residential areas in London and having a sneaky glance as I walked past people’s home, I’ve always been intrigued by how other people live. I can’t even pin-point why – I’ve just always been curious.

With South African townships however, there was also a sense of danger around them – this was particularly so because every time you read or saw something in the news about townships, it was typically not great news. This being said, I knew you could visit townships and seeing as I missed my opportunity when we were in Cape Town, on this trip to Port Elizabeth, I knew I definitely had to visit.

The township we visited was Red Location township – South Africa’s very first township.

*Random note of caution – Never visit a township on your own, always visit with a proper local guide. The sense of danger around them is not unwarranted and although you can visit many, there are certain places in them that even the locals avoid so use the local knowledge available here and get yourself a guide. I haven’t got the details of our guide to hand but as soon as I find it, I will update the post with his details as he comes very highly recommended by locals and even the tourism board.

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In the past, to keep the residents of the townships docile, the government (during the apartheid days) use to have lots of these drinking shacks around and ensure they were always supplied with alcohol (not for free too) with the idea being that drunk residents were easier to handle and less like to revolt.

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Red Location got its name from the corrugated iron sheets which were used to build the shacks here, which then went rusty in a rather deep shade of red. These days, the Red Location is not as obvious as it was several decades ago and even when it is, its in containers of buildings like the one above which have been painted red.

In Red Location, there’s a hostel here (called “Red Location Lodge“) which has such a fantastic idea and story behind it. It was started a few years ago but several women who has served at least two prison terms for roles in the fight against apartheid. These brave and strong women are pillars of their community and decided to band together to create a hostel for visitors to get a taste of what its like to spend a night (or two or three) in a township. (There was an American group staying when we visited).

The rooms here are clean and cosy, the ladies are absolutely fantastic and will regale you with hilarious and poignant tales and you can even have a private room here. Evening are spent dancing, singing and with lots of stories and there’s security here so safety isn’t and hasn’t been a concern here. There’s just something special about these women who refuse to be beaten down and make something special out of something that was originally awful. (Huge kudos to them!)

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If you’re interested in spending the night here – or just in popping in to say hi to the ladies (trust me, they’ll love it if you do), their details are:

Address: Singapi Street, Red Location, New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, 6200

Phone: 071 104 2845

Email: redlocationbackpackerslodge@gmail.com

Website: www.redlocationbackpackers.wordpress.com

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After leaving the Red Location Lodge ladies, we headed off down the road in search of the local butcher in the hope of having a brai (a South African barbecue – which is no different than any other barbecue to be honest)with him later that afternoon. Alas, this was the start of the easter weekend and he was having well deserved time off so we headed off in search of Nathaniel and Samuel, two brothers who own a shop together.

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That’s the butcher’s below by the way…

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Sam wasn’t available at the shop but Nathaniel was and after working up a thirst (don’t get the clouds fool you – it was still a hot day), we decided to make a pit stop here for drinks and light refreshments…Visiting A South African Township In Port Elizabeth (11)

That’s Nath below…

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This is also a great place to spend time people watching…

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As soon as we were done with our, we popped across the road over to see Ayanda, a local artist.

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Every piece of Ayanda’s art is connected to her and she never throws away any of the defective pieces. Instead she turns them into pieces of furniture around her house and as soon as you arrive, you can start to see pieces of her work.

 

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It took all of 30 seconds looking through her studio to decide that I definitely wanted a piece of her artwork. She’s also very lovely and such a fantastic person to meet (so if you’re in town, definitely pop in to say hi!)

 

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We spent so long chatting to her, fascinated by her stories and how she became an artist (which, was harder than you’d think as studying in South Africa in the Apartheid days meant that she went to a black school and black schools then had no art programs). She followed her passion and built on her craft slowly and steadily which eventually even led to her going to study art in Denmark.

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Her home is filled with lots of her creations and make for such a beautiful and quirky mix of colourful pieces…

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Some of which she created almost specifically for herself.

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Eventually, it was time to say farewell to Ayanda and to Red Location, which was without a doubt, one of the most interesting and colourful experiences we’d had in South Africa thus far!

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So, what do you think? Would you be interested in visiting a South African township or perhaps even in staying overnight in one?



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  • It is such a tricky topic these township/favela/slum tours and I think you approached it well. I think the most important things for visitors to realize is that these are neighborhoods. Not just places of violence and poverty, but communities where people live, pray, go to school, hang out, shop, etc. There are quite a few around Cape Town where you can now just go like you would go to any other neighborhood even on your own. A lot of them have famous restaurants and bars, one even its own wine festival.
    I get why people would do a tour and you seem to have been on a good one, but I think a lot of these tours turn the townships into a zoo. Needless to say that is a problem. So for other visitors – If you have the chance I’d also try to take a private guide, someone who can just show you around his/her neighborhood. Meet a few people, hear there stories instead of seeing a sea of anonymous faces that just somehow intrigue you because they are different.

    You guys need to come back to SA when I am there next. The fact that nobody made you a proper braai (otherwise you wouldn’t dare to compare ;0) makes me sad. I will organize!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      You are so right Annika. This area is just another area now like anywhere else in the world where people live, work and spend time with their family and friends. There’s an intrigue about it but not any more or less than other parts of South Africa. It’s all a part of this huge country and it’s important to take people as individuals – that’s the best way to meet the locals anywhere in the world.
      I will happily take you up on the offer of the Brai by the way! I’ve wanted to have one for far too long!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      You are so right Annika. This area is just another area now like anywhere else in the world where people live, work and spend time with their family and friends. There’s an intrigue about it but not any more or less than other parts of South Africa. It’s all a part of this huge country and it’s important to take people as individuals – that’s the best way to meet the locals anywhere in the world.
      I will happily take you up on the offer of the Brai by the way! I’ve wanted to have one for far too long!

    • HandLuggageOnly

      You are so right Annika. This area is just another area now like anywhere else in the world where people live, work and spend time with their family and friends. There’s an intrigue about it but not any more or less than other parts of South Africa. It’s all a part of this huge country and it’s important to take people as individuals – that’s the best way to meet the locals anywhere in the world.
      I will happily take you up on the offer of the Brai by the way! I’ve wanted to have one for far too long!

  • Very interesting insight! Really enjoyed this article and I’m stunned by how brave you were!

    Sarah from a passport can get you everywhere

    • HandLuggageOnly

      Thanks Sarah though to be honest, it really didn’t feel brave. I definitely felt very curious and we were visiting with a trusted guide (it was just three of us in total) and he knew the people here personally so we got to spend time having drinks and relaxing with them. 🙂 It was a lovely and laid back afternoon…

  • The main thing I’d feel apprehensive about is whether I’d be thought of as rude, but it seems everyone really loved having you visit! it seems a really interesting place to visit more due to the people living there, I think in places like that, people start to realise what it is they really love to do and so you get an area full of passionate people?