Since the ending of Apartheid, Township Tours in South Africa have become really popular, but AWOL Tours was the first tour operator to start offering the same experience by bicycle in Masiphumelele Township on the Peninsula in Cape Town. Involvement with the local community earned AWOL Tours an international responsible tourism award at the World Travel Market in London in 2006.
Back in 2002, Sally Petersen the founder of AWOL Tours said she had mixed reactions when she told people that she was doing ‘bicycle’ tours in a small community near Noordhoek. Somebody even asked if its an adventure race where you have to cycle as fast as possible without being mugged! Since those early days, many more operators are now offering bicycle tours in townships all over Southern Africa including Katatura Tours in Windhoek Namibia.
Besides the atmosphere of warmth and friendliness of residents, there are 5 highlights that we visit.
Self drive guests meet Zwai, our township guide at the nearby FoodZone supermarket who then safely escorts guests into the community. He proudly shares the stories of his township, his life in the Eastern Cape and how he started working at AWOL Tours back in 2008.
The tour starts at the BEN bike shop, a bicycle non profit organisation that facilitates the importation of bicycles and assists small business owners to start bicycle shops selling and repairing bikes to local residents in the community.
On the first stop guests visit Masiveli crèche where Sylivia and 3 teachers looks after over 40 children, while their parents are at work. Guests get to interact with the children in a meaningful way like doing art, reading and puzzles. The creche is only open during the week and school term time. Please note that during school holidays the creche is closed.
On Sundays you can spot the residents in colourful church robes and we visit a local gospel church service in lieu of school visit.
AWOL Tours has partnered with Masicorp, an NGO aimed at uplifting and developing the community who built and paid for the upkeep of the Masiphumelele library. In addition to the thousands of books for lending it has afternoon learning programmes, from pre-school to high school students. Including a few adult development courses in the mornings.
Guests can also meet Ndileka who proudly calls herself “A qualified fashion designer” and owner of a sewing business making shweshwe clothing. Between bursts of laughter she will happily share her journey through clothing design and how she came to design her own brand – Biyo designs.
Join Sangomas (Traditional Healers) perform drumming and dancing ceremonies – an ancient tradition to connect with the ancestors. Healers also share knowledge of how they use natural herbs to remedy ailments.
Another interesting fact is that you are welcome to join in on any event even weddings that is taking place. After all this is a community where no formal invitations are sent out, but all events are open and free for all.
After all the cycling through the community and, interacting with the locals; you can finally relax at Nonny’s cosy home and enjoy a hearty home cooked African traditional meals. Her meals are inspired by the diverse cultures in the community. She is also busy printing her own cookbook which will be available to purchase shortly.
Written by Zizi Silwana