“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.” – James Michener
Do you agree with this quote? It applies in an extra special way to Cape Town. Because, if you come to Cape Town and just visit luxury hotels, fancy restaurants, and pristine nature spots, you’ll have a very limited perspective on this crazy, amazing place.
To get a deeper sense of this city, you need to meet ordinary people in their homes, eat their favourite food, play with their children, and even dance to their drums. And, since most ordinary people in Cape Town still live in townships, the best way to do this is on a township cycling tour.
Masiphumelele is a relatively small township sandwiched between the swanky residential areas of Kommetjie and Noordhoek. The name means “we will succeed” in Xhosa, which suggests the optimism and courage of its residents. On a township cycling tour, you have a chance, in just a morning or an afternoon, to taste real life in Cape Town.
Cycling through dusty township streets is chaotic but fun. As an umlungu (white person), you’re noticed – and welcomed – everywhere. Children run after you squealing with delight and shouting ‘teacher!’ (Many of the teachers here are overseas volunteers.) Beautifully-dressed women and strolling young men respond to waves with shy smiles or huge grins.
Yes, you’ll undoubtedly be shocked and appalled at the hardship, squalor, and crowding. The lack of basic amenities most of us take for granted is, quite frankly, a crime.
But, you’ll also discover that people here have some things that privileged Westerners lost long ago. They have a true sense of community. Everyone knows everyone; people look out for one other. If a party is held, anybody is welcome, even if they weren’t invited (which they admit makes catering a bit of a nightmare). And, when people like us come to visit, we’re welcomed with excitement – and even gratitude.
What you’ll find on a tour of Masiphumelela is the real beating heart of Africa, the thing that sneaks under your skin and spreads into your soul with its warmth. It’s the thing they call ‘ubuntu’.
So, I’ll leave you with another quote, this time in Zulu: “Ubuntu umuntu ngabantu“. It means “a person is a person because of other people”. And, I think you’ll find that the people of Masiphumelela are just fantastic.