Why White European Tourists Are Visiting South African Slums

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Cape Town is the premier tourist destination in South Africa. Wine tours, beaches, and scenic hiking are all within easy driving distance.

But if none of that sounds appealing, you can take a guided tour of a slum.

Mzu Lembeni runs one of the many tour companies that takes tourists into Cape Town’s townships, impoverished areas that were first created when the Apartheid government forced nonwhites to live in segregated areas.

On his tour, tourists can walk right into people’s homes, drink homemade liquor, play with children at a local school, and take as many pictures as they like.

For some people, this sounds like exploitation. But Lembeni, who grew up in a township himself, disagrees.

“If there was no poverty … I’ll do the township tour, because [of] the culture,” Lembeni says. “I don’t sell the poverty, I sell the culture.”

Most of Lembeni’s clients are white Europeans, who have come to see the “real” South Africa. Mzu says his tours are the best way to do that.

In a country where more than half of the population lives below the poverty line, and where the shadow of apartheid still looms over daily life, a township is a pretty good primer on what “real” looks like for a lot of people.

But not everyone who lives in the townships likes the tourists who are constantly wandering their streets.

Credit – Dexter Thomas