Did you know?
Vilakazi Street in Soweto was once home to two Nobel laureates – Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and former president Nelson Mandela.
Heita! Township lingo for 'Hello'.
Welcome to the real South Africa. The townships of South Africa are the place where the heart of the nation beats.
While the plusher suburbs have more of a polished veneer, and may serve up more in the way of consumer conveniences, it's the townships in South Africa where you discover the emotional connection, the conviviality and the sense of camaraderie that underpins South Africa's working class.
The townships in South Africa were designed as fortresses of apartheid control, a malicious and deliberate use of urban planning to alienate communities.
Post-apartheid, shacks are being replaced by government subsidised houses, hostels are being carved up into proper family quarters, roads are continuously being tarred, and basic services are slowly being installed.
Don't visit South African townships on your own steam. Often road signs are absent and maps can be confusing.
There are myriad professional tour companies that specialise in township tours, including transport to and from the townships, colloquially as 'eKasi'.
Be it Johannesburg's Alexandra or Soweto (the country's most populous and historically rich township), or Pretoria's Mamelodi and Soshanguve (both jazz strongholds), or Cape Town's Khayelitsha and Langa (where Brenda Fassie, the country's undisputed queen of pop was born), all are covered by professional outfits who will guide you through these sprawling warrens.
Go on a tavern crawl, where you can dance till breathless to the tune of jazzy African rhythms and imbibe traditional Zulu tipple, sorghum home-brewed beer. But first, be sure to line your stomach 'eKasi style'. Try chisa'nyama, meat braaied or cooked over an open fire on an outside pavement.
Travel tips & Planning info
How to get here
Townships adjoin every major South African city and town. Township tour operators are most available in all the major cities and will collect you from your hotel or guesthouse.
Tours to do
Numerous city-based tour operators offer township tours. Take your pick.
Take a township tour with an accredited tour guide. Tour guides normally reside in the township, so you're in good hands.
What will it cost
Depending on the distance of the township and length of tour, you'll pay up to about R500 per person for a half-day tour and R800 for a full-day tour.
Length of stay
A full day, half day or evening. Township tours are tailor-made to your requirements.
What to pack
Walking shoes, a hat and comfortable clothing. Not too much jewellery.
Where to stay
Large townships like Soweto near Johannesburg have clean and safe B&Bs and backpackers, but most visitors prefer to return to their city-based hotels.
What to eat
Traditional township fare at a shebeen (a township tavern). For the not-so-adventurous, there's also Western food on offer.