Blazing trails in township tourism

Lessons in bringing tourist money to the township

 Enver Duminy, CEO, Cape Town Tourism

You’d expect aspirant, young business people to look outside of the townships for opportunities, but for three entrepreneurs, casting an eye around those vibrant neighbourhoods them their inspiration. Their businesses may be different in nature, but they all have the added benefits of driving transformation and generating employment within communities outside of the traditional tourist stopping grounds.
Each has proven that it’s possible to create going concerns with very little in terms of capital, provided that the drive and willingness to learn are there.

Sabu Siyaka

Siyabulela (Sabu) Siyaka is an enterprising young man. He spotted a gap in the tourism market – that international students at tertiary institutions should all have the chance to explore a township in Cape Town. Sabu conducted research into creating a business proposal by attending tourism trade meetings and networking until he was able to draw up a suitable proposal. After that, he approached a local university with his concept, and they bought in.

You’d expect aspirant, young business people to look outside of the townships for opportunities, but for three entrepreneurs, casting an eye around those vibrant neighbourhoods them their inspiration.

He didn’t have a website, or even a business card in the early days, but managed to create a township tour experience that would become the foundation of his company, Ubizo Tours and Events. The township tour takes international students and other visitors around Langa, the oldest township in South Africa, providing a close-up, intimate experience of the local culture and heritage. It’s not just Sabu who benefits, he has employed a team and, as part of his tour, eight other businesses benefit. The tour showcases local musicians and artists as well as street traders and food stalls. It culminates at Mzansi restaurant which is owned and run by his mother, where guests are treated to a delicious culinary experience accompanied by live music.

What stands out about Sabu is that he was prepared to build up his dream company from the foundation. He’s also great with people, a necessity when it comes to visitor-facing tourism. His ability to network and seek out opportunities also took him to Cape Town Tourism (CTT) where he applied to be the beneficiary of the CTT Board Development Fund.

The Board Development Fund was created by the organisation’s board members as a means of providing support in the form of a cash injection through waiving their stipends; and other non-monetary benefits such as mentorship. Each year the board chooses two applicants (there were three for the first time in 2016) as recipients of the R50 000 award. The fund is there to assist Historically Disadvantaged Individuals as entrepreneurs or owners of SMMEs with businesses that have the potential to grow.

For someone like Sabu, it’s a chance to realise more of his potential.

Iain Harris

Theatre. Most of us think of dressing up and going to large auditoriums, then facing a huge stage where the curtains slide back to reveal the cast. Iain Harris’ vision is quite different: his company, Coffeebeans Routes provides a remarkable township theatre experience. The company is built upon the premise of storytelling, and using storytelling in tourism to reveal the narratives of an oppressive past and a vibrant present. One of their business offerings is Theatre in the Backyard; groups of visitors are taken to township homes and entertained with a show, written on the theme of and performed in township backyards. The guests are treated to the show and then join the actor and director inside for a traditional isiXhosa dinner.

Again, the strength of this concept is built on partnerships. Iain has partnered with Cape Town theatre director Mhlanguli George. Mhlanguli writes the site-specific plays and has helped to create the travel experience around these in the most authentic of settings.

According to the tour company, their response when asked “why Coffeebeans?” is that everywhere in the world, across all languages and creeds and borders, everybody understands coffee. It is the universal communion. When people share a coffee, it is implicitly understood that they are sharing stories.

Their intention is to facilitate communion across borders that are both real and imagined, creating the platforms that bring people together across boundaries, and in doing so, to discover shared resources and opportunity. We create cultural interventions for economic growth.

Tourism is our key tool for unlocking economic potential through exploring our cultural diversity and legacy, and managing it by creating sustainable development, and, in this way, creating cultural interventions for economic growth. This thriving business is centred in local communities and, once again, is constructed on the premise of benefiting others beyond those in the company itself.

Magic Mzu

Imizamo Yethu tours is run by a magician. Not just a great businessman, but a fully-qualified magician. After working in tourism for many years for different hotels around Cape Town, Two Oceans Aquarium, the Castle of Good Hope and City Sightseeing Cape Town on the red topless buses, Mzukisi “Mzu” Lembeni kicked off his own township tour company.

Besides his qualifications as a magician (a skill that works in his favour when he’s working with kids) he also holds a tertiary qualification in Tour Operation Management from Unisa and is a certified Western Cape tour guide.
His former employer, Two Oceans Aquarium has boosted his business by providing input from senior management on financial management, marketing and communications, website design, and staff selection and employment. They have also assisted him financially.

It’s his passion for the townships that drives him – he has even published a book titled “Introducing Cape Town’s Townships”. When he’s not taking people on walking tours around Khayelitsha, he’s looking for ways to get local schoolkids interested in tourism by doing career orientation and school tours – so in the same way that his former employers have backed his entrepreneurial interests, he’s a firm believer in passing on skills and mentorship to others.

That’s a common theme for these tourism trailblazers: they understand that working collectively produces stronger, more efficient results. In a vacuum, they’ll never achieve as much as if they’d pooled resources, shared their knowledge and ensured that there’s always a Plan B.

The theme of community is one that’s inseparable from tourism in the townships. From the associated businesses that benefit to the storytelling that takes place, it’s an intimate, engaged form of tourism that is alive with reinvention as the communities within which it takes place are always changing.

Not only do businesses within these communities benefit, but, as can be seen with Mzu’s drive to reach the youth, it is transformation at work in tangible ways. As an entrepreneur, that may not always be the primary focus, but it is a welcome result of working closely with real people.

 Enver Duminy, CEO, Cape Town Tourism