07 March 2013 by Julienne du Toit

The magic of a small community

People rave about township tours in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and for good reason. But smaller communities around the country can be just as interesting.

The ideal way of travelling is not from place to place, but from person to person. Great tour guides like Velile Ndlumbini of East London understand the concept.

Velile Ndlumbini introduced us to Ncumisa Yoyo, who has started a beautiful crèche in Mdantsane. Picture Chris Marais

I’ve done the bus tours through Soweto, but Velile offered something far more personal. He took us into Duncan Village and Mdantsane in the Eastern Cape. What a fascinating afternoon. He introduced us to the enterprising informal car mechanics of Section C, and an angel called Ncumisa Yoyo, who has established a beautiful crèche in the midst of great poverty.

This is also one of the places where South Africa’s best boxers have their origins, and Velile took us to one of gritty gyms where the boxers train.

He also explained township slang for us. A small car like a VW Citi Golf is called a Starter Pack. A cellphone is referred to as a Nomyayi (which means crow in Xhosa). Somewhere in Zululand, while I’m on the subject, a cellphone is often referred to as ‘the screaming in the pocket’. I forget the precise Zulu words.

In Port Elizabeth, Nelson Sebezela of Calabash Tours took us on an evening shebeen tour in the township. There are taverns where you can sit and meet the locals over a meal and a few beers. You’ll sometimes even find excellent live jazz. We relaxed completely, made new friends and quietly agreed that this was much better than those impersonal bus tours.

On Show-Me Street, young people playfully parade any new cellphones or clothes they may have in the descending dusk.

At Intabazwe next to Harrismith in the Eastern Free State, local luminary Joyce Mthembu took us to meet musician James '14' Tshabalala, who hauled out his guitar and amp and gave us an impromptu performance. It was magic, especially against the backdrop of green rolling hills.

She also took us to the so-called Show-Me Street, where young people playfully parade any new cellphones or clothes they may have in the descending dusk.

In Cata we meandered down the streets, chatting to people taking in the setting sun. Picture Chris Marais

Cata, a rural village not far from Hogsback in the Eastern Cape, is one of my favourite little places. Here you can stay in the Amatola Mountain Village at the top of the hill and then wander down the little streets, stopping along the way to chat. When we were there, two little boys demonstrated their game of ‘soccer petyu’ to us – flicking the round head of a deodorant can through stone ‘goal posts’.

At the bottom of the hill, we admired the vegetable gardens and went for a walk along a clear stream where, they say, trout are known to lurk.

At each encounter, it felt like we were making new friends. Which is the best way to travel...

At Cata, we met all kinds of interesting people, and were invited in for tea. Picture Chris Marais

Category: Culture & History

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