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Treating the poor like zoo animals?

Do so-called poverty tours exploit or enlighten? Township residents don't seem to mind.

Mafuduka led the group, telling us we must ask for permission before taking photos of any people. The families living in the houses we visited, he later told me, did not get paid for being part of the tour. They did it to share how they lived, and also because the tourists sometimes brought candy, toys or stationary with them. “They are very grateful for that,” he said.

He added that the tour companies had worked to help people understand the benefits, both economic and educational, that township tours bring to the community. “People are happy,” he said. “We interviewed people about the tours and they feel positive about them.”

Locals were not surprised to see a group of foreigners strolling through their neighborhood; most returned smiles or greetings to us, and all greeted Mafuduka and Mbinda with familiarity.

I smiled at a boy coming out of his house and raised my camera questioningly. He flashed me a cheeky grin and held out a red plastic object — a toy camera of his own — then bounced off to play with his friends. I laughed to myself; mocked by a four-year-old.

One of our last stops on the tour was a large hostel were Mbinda grew up to see a youth project called “Happy Feet,” which was created to keep kids off the street. 

Before arriving, Mbinda asked if we would each donate 10 Rand — about $1.30 — to the children after they performed traditional African dances for us. Afterward, one man in the group donated 100 rand — about 13 dollars.

Mbinda took it, hesitated, and refused to take any more donations. “I don’t want them to get used to a lot of money,” he said, slightly uncomfortably. “It wouldn’t be good for them.”

On the way back to Cape Town, Chris Lewis, a 39-year-old business consultant from England, said: “I like seeing the real country and getting away from the FIFA-branded idea of it. I like to see how people really live.”

A Singaporean man on the tour said he had also done a large township tour in Soweto, outside Johannesburg. “It was shit,” he said with a laugh. “Disorganized and impersonal.

Earlier, in the shebeen, one of the tourists asked Mafuduka if things in Langa had improved since apartheid came to an end in 1994.

He hesitated before answering; “Some things have changed, and sometimes it’s a sensitive thing to discuss. [Democracy] is a newly born child; it is starting to grow now. In the near future, you will find the baby crawling or running. As the saying goes, Rome was not built overnight.” He looked troubled.

Then he smiled at us. “Before we take our leave, we have to thank the people for welcoming us. We say enkosi.”

“Enkosi,” shouted the tourists in unison.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/study-abroad/100911/south-africa-poverty-tours-tourism-townships