As South Africans are about to enter into the busy and travel-filled Easter period, it seems right to look at some of the best township destinations Mzansi has to offer so you can have more options if a getaway trip is in your plans.
Township tourism has become more well-rounded and technology has enabled these destinations to become even more accessible to travellers. Overall, township tourism is changing the image it once had among visitors.
An example of the negative image township tourism’s had for long is a video that’s doing the rounds on social media, where former American boxer, Mike Tyson said he witnessed extreme poverty when saw “a seven year old wrestle a 250 pound (113 kg) pig” in front of a corrugated iron shack in Soweto, and further saying the community “had nothing but were happy because they don’t expect much”.
Though townships may have their struggles, they have come out of shell in terms of their tourism offerings, in general – becoming friendlier and better serving towards the travel market.
Tshepo Matlou, who is Head of Marketing and Communications at online booking, Jurni says, “township tourism is no longer a portrait of poverty but a celebration of transformation and development of our nation. South Africa offers world class destinations and incredible cultural experiences, and a platform like ours has been created to showcase these special destinations.
“Travel is a good teacher, even for domestic travellers. People can learn a lot about their nation by visiting different parts of their country. For example, someone from Gauteng can visit the Cape and experience the biodiversity there, while a person from the Cape can visit Venda and experience the cultural differences in that part of the country,” he adds.
For those looking to explore South Africa more, here are the “Top 5 Township Tourism Destinations in South Africa”, based on historical and biodiversity related bragging rights, as well as cultural and lifestyle showcases:
Marula Festival is a must see
The annual festival is a celebration of African music, fashion, food and drink. It takes place in the small town of Phalaborwa towards the utmost Northern part of the country.
The township of Namakgale in Phalaborwa is famous for some of the freshest mopani worms – it’s in the Mopani District, after all. So whether the annual festival is on or not, if you travel to the small town, you can enjoy a mouthful of the famous delectable worms and stay at some of the cozy B&Bs and lodges in the area, which are close to key tourist destinations like the Kruger National Park, Magoebaskloof and Blyde River Canyon.
En route to Phalaborwa from the South-Eastern direction towards Gauteng, the famed open-flame grilled chicken intestines and braai chicken at Baroka Malana eatery in Zone F, Lebowakgomo township, is a definite destination to stop at and grab a bite.
World renowned Vilakazi Street in Orlando West, Soweto
The street has a unique place in history books, not only locally but internationally, as it is the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners – in Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, whose former houses are now museums.
The street is usually a hive of activity with vibrant eateries, including Sakhumzi and Makhelwani restaurants, as well Restaurant Vilakazi. This is the kind of vibe every South African should experience at least once in their lifetime!
Busy Corner Imbizo Shisanyama is more than just a famous restaurant in Ivory Park
Considering how important braais are in the collective South African culture, this list would not be complete without the big cheese of local buy-and-braai restaurants, which are popularly known as ‘shisanyamas’.
This restaurant in the vibrant township of Ivory Park, which is next to Tembisa in the City of Ekurhuleni, is more than just that. It’s also a landmark and an urban cultural hotspot, attracting international and domestic visitors curious to know what the buzz is about. It also offers some of the best braai and pap around.
Max’s Lifestyle is a must visit in Umlazi, Durban
Another popular shisanyama on the national scale is Max’s Lifestyle in Umlazi, Durban. The meaty restaurant is more of a host for high-end fashion and luxury cars, along with expensive bottles of drinks.
The venue is more of a social icon than an eatery, a definite landmark in the prominent township of Umlazi, which is the fourth largest township in South Africa, after Soweto, Tembisa and Katlehong – making it the country’s biggest township outside of Gauteng. Umlazi is the only township in the country that has its own registration plate, which is NUZ.
Graskop Gorge is the perfect adrenaline injection
For adrenaline junkies, Graskop Gorge in Mpumalanga, which is near Hazyview and Bushbuckridge, is the perfect getaway for a fix. The tourist attraction is on the leafy and breath-taking Panorama Route ecosystem and it gives travellers a chance to experience the lift, big swing and zipline, among other outdoor activities. If you like nature and plunging from high platforms, this is the perfect destination for you. ‘Local is lekker’ indeed, and township tourism is an option for travellers who want to experience alternative travel products. South Africa has a lot to offer and is worth exploring.