South Africa townships

Once notoriously violent no-go areas, South Africa townships – home to predominantly black, as well as Indian and coloured communities displaced during Apartheid – are becoming tourist destinations in their own right. It’s easy to see why. In these communities, Xhosa, Zulu, Setswana and Sesotho cultures (among others) collide in a melting pot of heritage, music and tongue-twisting language. Opportunities for visits are varied: volunteer as a sports coach, try a cooking class, or enjoy a day of one-to-one cultural exchange with township residents.
Done well, tours of South Africa’s townships take you into the heart of the communities and cultures that make South Africa, as a whole country, tick.
While many areas of these townships are now safe to visit – on foot or by bike – the legacies of Apartheid still endure. Black South Africans experience the highest unemployment and poverty levels in the country. Choose a tour run by local people and be respectful and you’ll be given the humbling chance to meet a collection of people deeply proud of their roots, and bravely building lives in the shadow of entrenched prejudice.

South Africa’s townships are…

lively, vibrant and culturally colourful cities-within-cities, with music pumping and a dance move for every beat.

South Africa’s townships are not…

a vacation park or a human zoo. Visitors are welcome, but only those interested in real cultural exchange, and not those on a voyeuristic point-and-shoot tour.

South Africa townships map and highlights

Travel to the outskirts of almost every town or city in South Africa and you’ll discover at least one township. These vast, impoverished settlements are a mixture of formal, permanent housing and shanty towns that were created under Apartheid to segregate the non-white population and remove them from designated central, affluent, ‘white’ areas. Fly into Cape Town and you’ll travel through the vast Cape Flats to reach the city, a sprawl of townships behind Table Mountain which includes Khayelitsha, home to almost 400,000 people, purportedly the largest and fastest growing township in South Africa. While poverty is still rife in the townships, in the post-Apartheid era pockets of increasing affluence and industry are growing, as is recognition of their cultural legacy spanning jazz musicians to Nelson Mandela.
Cultural activities

1. Cultural activities

The sights, smells and sounds of township life – buses pumping African beats are ubiquitous – can be overwhelming, but dive headfirst into local culture under the friendly wing of a local guide and you’ll end up with an inspiring, unforgettable experience. Join in with a local cooking class, walk or cycle your way around Soweto with a resident, visit a township house or browse craft collectives and markets.

2. Knysna

Knysna is one of the iconic Garden Route’s prettiest coastal towns surrounded by ancient forests and fronted by a 21km2 marine reserve. Travel to the outskirts, though, away from the lagoon and its upmarket town center, and you’ll find poor, overcrowded township schools dependent on volunteers to deliver the sports lessons mandated in the South Africa curriculum. Expect class sizes of up to 40 children.
Soweto, Johannesburg

3. Soweto, Johannesburg

Nowhere in South Africa is quite as synonymous with Apartheid, and the violent uprisings against it as Soweto. Now, Soweto is a vibrant and in some parts thriving city in its own right. Walk its streets with a local resident, and maybe stop at the emotionally charged Hector Pieterson Museum, named after the first student killed during the 16th June 1976 uprising.
Uthando, Cape Town

4. Uthando, Cape Town

This community-driven NGO runs grass-roots tourism experiences – you could be visiting a dance group, craft collective or an urban farm – supporting a range of social projects in some of Cape Town’s largest townships including Khayelitsha. Meet the local entrepreneurs who are driving these projects forward and discover inspiring stories of hope while your tour provides the financial support needed to keep them going.
Volunteer projects

5. Volunteer projects

A range of social, cultural and educational projects throughout South Africa’s most disadvantaged communities rely on the manpower – and financial support – of volunteers. Coach sports, work as a teaching assistant or assist local project staff in delivering health workshops to young township children. The options are varied, and what project will suit you depends on the time you can give and the skills and experience you have.

Our top South Africa townships Vacation

South Africa vacation

South Africa vacation

Explore Cape Town, the Winelands and the Garden Route

From £2650 to £4500 15 days inc UK flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be tailormade throughout the year and can be adapted to suit your interests, budget and requirements as necessary
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If you'd like to chat about South Africa townships or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: LauraVl] [South Africa townships guide icon: Dplanet] [Townships are/aren't: meshugas] [Cultural activities: jit bag] [Knysna: Elleithyia] [Soweto : Martyn Smith] [Uthando: Michael von Aichberger] [Volunteer projects: Frontierofficial]