Did you know?
Port Elizabeth played a critical struggle role against apartheid, and its municipality is named the Nelson Mandela Metro.
People sometimes ask Paul and Thandi Miedema, who founded Calabash Tours in Port Elizabeth, whether township tours aren't perhaps a little voyeuristic. Paul's response is heartfelt.
'Township people are delighted to see visitors. They feel happy their histories and lives are now receiving attention, and also that these previously overlooked areas are now seen as tourism attractions in their own right.'
But he also points out that Calabash Tours doesn't do conventional 'township tours'. Calabash offers a 'real city tour'. It takes in most parts of Port Elizabeth, showing the context and history of all its people. It just so happens that 75% of the city is populated by Xhosa people.
You will see heart-wrenching poverty, but also hear inspirational stories and be exposed to areas being populated by a growing middle class and the elite. You’ll visit schools, you’ll see barbers, seamstresses and wire artists at work, you’ll experience real African hospitality, and you’ll interact with locals.
Nelson Sebezela and Mongezi Lumka, locals themselves, are seasoned guides and have been working with Paul almost since he started the business back in 1997.
Paul loves exposing people to 'his' Port Elizabeth. 'There is such energy and spirit in the townships,' he says. 'It really can be life-changing, and I want to share what I've experienced myself.'
Calabash Tours is one of South Africa's leading responsible tourism operators, and has won many awards, in addition to being certified by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa.
Part of the fee paid by visitors goes towards the Calabash Trust, which in turn goes to supporting feeding schemes, food gardens and other upliftment projects in the Port Elizabeth area. Calabash Tours also operates one of the country’s most highly regarded responsible voluntourism initiatives.
In the spirit of exposing visitors to local people in relaxed situations, another of Calabash's exciting tours is the Shebeen Tour. Here, with music and a convivial atmosphere, you can meet and mingle with friendly locals over a cider or beer.
The magic of a Calabash Tour is that you see South African life as it is – not packaged or contrived. You'll learn about the historical context, but also see how ordinary – and extraordinary – people live now. It's an insight into Port Elizabeth in under four hours.
And once you've seen this fascinating coastal city with new eyes – its beaches, monuments, heritage and a cross-section of its people – you can head on to the nearby Addo Elephant National Park or head west, down the Garden Route.