A township visit with Selwyn Davidowitz
(Xhosa for "Home sweet home")
"A man is never so tall as when he stoops to help a child"
I am not a proponent of the manner in which most tour operators do so called "Township tours" in the Western Cape. I say this because I feel that these tours generally invade the privacy of my fellow South Africans who unfortunately, because of circumstances that still relate to our Apartheid past, have to live in such tough conditions. It is for this reason that when I take my visitors to a township I do this in a totally different manner to most tourguides and operators and prefer to call my journey a township visit and not a township tour.
When my visitors and I visit the township of Kayamandi we meet with Mzwaki (Armstrong) Ntoyakme, who is a leader in the township. He is a bundle of energy and a character second to none. Together with him we travel through the township. We experience township life exactly as it is and not as a show for tourists. Nothing is scheduled in advance. The experience just happens unannounced. One sees the real township. I visit Kayamandi because I know many folk who stay there and have over the past 9 years developed a great empathy for my fellow South Africans who stay in this township. I firmly believe in wanting to help all as best I can in Kayamandi, however it is the children of the township who really touch me, hence the opening quotation on this web page. When we visit Kayamandi my visitors will meet the wonderful people of Kayamandi as we travel and walk through the area and are welcomed into their homes. In essence we will experience the spirit of Kayamandi. I cannot tell you how long the journey will take as it can be anything from 1 hour to 4 hours due to the dynamic structure of our visit. I cannot describe this whole experience to you either other than by telling you that without fail every visitor that I have taken to Kayamandi has come out raving, saying that it was by far the most informative part of their whole vacation in SA.
A very important component of our visits to Kayamandi is the fact that we visit the township at 14h00 on weekdays. All visitors to Cape Town do township tours at about 10h00 daily. Mzwake and I find this to be unfulfilling because from 08h00 to 14h00 on a weekday most of the people of townships are either at work or in school meaning that visitors to Cape Town really dont appreciate the most important part of the township viz. its peoples and their spirit. By visiting Kayamandi from 14h00 onwards we ensure that our visitors enjoy this aforementioned spirit and love that the wonderful people of Kayamandi generate. When it comes to weekends it makes no difference when one visits Kayamandi as it is always bustling with people on Saturdays and Sundays
On entering Kayamandi one might feel very despondent with what one experiences yet when one leaves the area, recognizing the vitality and inner strength of the community as they build new houses and help each other in the spirit of ubuntu (African neighborliness), one feels a sense of hope and upliftment for the people of Kayamandi. It is via this unbelievable feeling and experience that I get my biggest reward for taking my visitors to Kayamandi
Mzwake and I believe very strongly in "putting back" into the community and have started up a foundation whereby I have found funding to support many projects in Kayamandi. You can see more of some of these projects if you click on the following link - IMPROVING KAYAMANDI The only other benefactors of a journey through Kayamandi are my visitors who benefit in that they not only start to understand the plight of the inhabitants of townships but also find within the enormous love, warmth, sincerity and friendship that its people generate. It is for this reason that I do not agree with those who say that township travel is not safe. The locals who proclaim this have more than likely never set foot in a township, yet act as if they are experts. These people are misinformed. I say this in a qualified manner as I spend the best part of 2-4 days a week in Kayamandi and other townships and can without any doubt say that these proponents of hearsay are completely wrong and do townships residents more of an injustice than anything else.
In order to try and understand what my visitors experience and feel when visiting Kayamandi please take a look at the photos below which are a small collection of some of the many that I have taken on past visits to Kayamandi.
The following story will give you a very good idea of the experience that one can have and learn from when visiting Kayamandi. I could do no better other than to let Lara Vancans tell you what happened to her when she visited the township in 2001.
In the picture below we see 12 year old Lara Vancans from Los Angeles helping with turning the soil at the new Church of Zion being built by the people of Kayamandi. As can be seen she has many admirers for her deeds however one of greatest that afternoon was 6 year old Kazagazi who is in the bottom right hand corner of the second picture and holding on to Lara's arm in the first picture.
When Lara returned to Los Angeles she wrote the below poem as part of a school project.
Young, na´ve and innocent she stands,
Oblivious to the unimaginable poverty that surrounds her.
The hardest thing to swallow is that she is happy.
She knows no better and neither does anyone else.
Holding her hand, my skin glows against hers,
Despite our many differences, I understand her
Her scruffy well-worn pink dress hangs just above her knee,
It is a sign of her mothers love and attempts to give her all she can.
Still clinging to my arm in the burning sun
She says in broken English, "I love you, I love you"
The tears swell in my eyes like water balloons ready to burst,
I must hide them or she'll question.
She knows not of sadness, but only freedom and happiness.
I feel guilty, sad and so much love all at the same time.
These people have fought for so long and gained only one thing.
Something that man should never have to fight for but is always forced to.
It's called freedom, and its all they need.
In February 2007, 18 year old Lara Vancans returned to the township of Kayamandi where she spent three months doing volunteer work for the Kayamandi community. She and her friend from Los Angeles, Emma Gibbons, who joined her as a volunteer, made an indelible mark on the township of Kayamandi. They have both become friends for life of so many people in the township and we regard them as well as all the other volunteers that we have hosted as family. Lara and Emma's lives as well as the lives of so many in Kayamandi have been enhanced in such a positive manner by their being with us. Their stay in Kayamandi left us with permanent structures such as a soup kitchen as well a spell-bee competition that have had enormous, positive impact on the children of Kayamandi. Their stay has also motivated us to start a very productive volunteer program in the township which has yielded some incredible experiences for volunteers as well as the people of Kayamandi. In a nutshell from small acorns big oak trees grow. From what was a family visit to Kayamandi in 2001 Lara (and Emma) have now seeded oaks in the township taking me back to the opening line on this page viz.
"A man is never so tall as when he stoops to help a child"
Lara with some of the kids in the soup kitchen that she helped develop in 2007.
Please join me in visiting Kayamandi and meeting its wonderful people.
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