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Cape Towns Best Kept Secret: Khayelitsha Tours.

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

One of our all-time favourite Cape Town experiences in Cape Town is touring Khayelitsha, with Khayelitsha tours. This is an article about our experience.

When you think about experiencing Cape Town there is a lot that comes to mind, beaches, Table Mountain, penguins, food, and wine. The list is endless, with so many beautiful things to see and do, do you ever feel like something is missing? I know I did.

Think about it. You’re sitting in the aeroplane about to land in Cape Town, one final approach over the ocean, and the views! Breath-taking views of oceans that crash into mountains, and green vineyards are sprawled across the landscape.

Then you see it. A city within a city, corrugated iron, and wood fenced shacks as far as the eye can see, brown dusty roads, and cables, so many cables and satellite dishes. Khayelitsha is hard to understand, especially for someone looking from the outside. Everything about Khayelitsha is different to the way most tourists visiting Khayelitsha live and experience life. There is beauty in that statement. Knowing there is a world that functions differently from our own, but it functions in its own special way, has a way of opening up our minds. We see life’s beauty through a different set of lenses.

Cape Town Population: Approx. 4.6 million (2020)

Khayelitsha Population: Approx. 2.4 million (2020)

Think about that, half the population of Cape Town lives in Khayelitsha!

I’m not going to sit here and tell you it looks ‘classic pretty’ from the outside or hasn’t had its fair share of issues in the past or current. I will say, everything you know about a Khayelitsha is about to change. At most I would like to change the perception of what beauty means. Beauty is far beyond landscapes, fancy hotels and cars. Beauty lies in people, relationships, and culture.

Back to the story.

There we were, driving down the popular N2 highway (freeway). Myself, Ali, and Fran. All mates, and all connected by the love of storytelling, travel and filmmaking. Ali is a UK-based filmmaker and creative director. We’ve become close mates through travelling and creating films in South Africa, Iceland, Morocco, and Namibia. Fran and I have worked together for the last 4 years, and we have become close friends through our travels. I consider both to be the best in the world when it comes to what they do. Our friendship has grown through our mutual love of travel, curiosity, and storytelling. To put this into context, this specific adventure wasn’t a job or a sponsorship. The 3 of us decided to pay our own way to experience something unique. We wanted a new story; we wanted to smile and fall in love with our trade again. We decided to document our experience in Khayelitsha.

Ali had told me he was visiting Cape Town for 3 weeks; this was his 4th Visit to SA and 3rd to Cape Town. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, Ali had ticked off the entire standard bucket list of the classic things to do in Cape Town.

Somehow, I felt like there was something missing. That’s when I decided to jump on a call to Juma, a local entrepreneur and tour guide in Khayelitsha. I had done 2 tours with Juma previously for Cape Town tourism. Both previous tours impacted me on a deep level. I loved every moment and decided, this was the perfect activity to experience Cape Town in a uniquely authentic way.

The moment you take the Khayelitsha off-ramp, everything changes and when you’re not used to it, it shocks you. The roads are filled with people, taxis, vendors braaiing and selling everything you can imagine.

Houses turn into informal wooden and corrugated iron homes, and there is a buzz of people on the streets. You immediately feel something, in your mind, heart and soul.

We made our way to Juma’s google pin, slowly navigating our way through the streets of Khayelitsha. Every block, has something new and different to look at, every person, every house and vendor appears to have a unique story.

People are talking in the streets, there is dancing, kids, and smiles. Everything seems to revolve around the community. We got a little lost and 3 separate people stopped to point us in the right direction. 3 White guys in a car, in the middle of Khayelitsha, isn’t something anyone is used to seeing. As much as we stuck out, we were always made to feel at home.

Juma is pictured on the right.

We jumped on our bikes led by our local guides, we rode through the streets of Khayelitsha. I’ve always loved seeing a new city by bike, especially when bikes are a popular form of transportation in that city. On a bike you notice things, your senses are heightened and most importantly you feel a part of the environment while controlling your own journey. Now that I think about it, bikes are just fun, you feel like a kid again, especially when you’re riding around town with your mates (new and old).

Our first stop was at Abalimi Bezekhaya Herb Garden.

“The word “Abathethi” is a Xhosa word, which means, “We’re not talking, we just do it” and what inspired us was the fact that most young and vulnerable people are not making a difference in our lifetime. We want to revive the spirit of planting vegetables in our home.”– Simphiwe Daniel, one of the founding members.

That sums it all up for me.

At Abalimi, we learnt about the different farming practices that they teach locals to improve their farming, from soil preparation to insect hotels and planting schedules. Cape Town soil in general isn’t great to grow veggies, and Khayelitsha has its own set of complexities when it comes to growing vegetables. The aim of this Hub is to educate locals on best practices for maximum harvest yields. It provides them with all the tools and ingredients required to create their own gardens.

What stood out the most, were the people at Abalimi Bezekhaya. Their passion to share their love of urban farming and educate locals. Vegetable and herb farming is a great way for locals to provide organic food and vegetables for their families, some have even sold their produce for extra income. Beyond the obvious reasons, there is something about planting with your own hands, about sowing and reaping that is a timeless metaphor for life. It is rewarding both literally and metaphorically. There is a sense of care, and pride for your land and yourself when you see what you can create with your own two hands.

The next stop was at our guide's home, a hub for artists both traditional and graffiti. At her home, she explained the importance of art to the community. Art is used in telling stories and it can be seen through incredible wall murals.

The murals speak to the challenges of the area, with messages of hope, and the people that have shaped Khayelitsha both positively and negatively. We painted their new fire pit in their home in multiple colours. I couldn’t help by wonder what it would be like to have a couple of beers around that fire.

We walked through the dusty roads and small alleyways around her house, as we gazed at beautiful murals painted by the community. She explained how families live, and how things are changing in the area. I was shocked at the size of these tiny informal houses that housed up to 4 families without running water. Families must walk to a communal tape to get water. Given the small size of these corrugated iron homes, I was blown away by their design and beauty.

Artists had painted designs ranging from patterns to old English red telephone booths that brought the area to life.

I soon realised that Khayelitsha is a living canvas, a piece of art, fluid in its design created by people who don’t have much, but what they have, they are proud of!

We hopped back on our bikes and rode through the main market in Khayelitsha. This was an experience to remember. If you had to be dropped off in this market you would never guess you were in Cape Town.

There are so many little stalls and vendors selling everything from chicken feet to Rastafarians selling all kinds of herbs and natural remedies, to chips and groceries and electronics to barbers doing extensions and cutting hair.

This little hub was alive with people. If I had the time, I would have loved to have stopped at every vendor and understood their business and story.

We crossed over the train station and arrived at Juma’s other base.

This base had his new restaurant and coffee shop that included a new Italian industrial coffee machine, as well as his Bicycle shop that stocked some of the latest bike models. The set-up was incredible, designed from old shipping containers, it blended into the environment. Juma’s new space shows what is possible in Khayelitsha, a combination of containers, art, people, good food and coffee makes this a gem of Cape Town.

We sat with the team and enjoyed an incredible lunch and coffee. One of the Kids (18) who had been with us on the trip had something about him. He is 18 years old, and currently studying his first year of electrical engineering.

He hasn’t come from much at all, he doesn’t even own a mobile phone, which is unheard of in most of the world. You can see his curiosity and how his dreams light up in his eyes. He mentioned he wanted to be a model, so we did an impromptu photoshoot under the railway bridge and all things considered, the pictures came out great. What a legend with a bright future ahead of him

To finish the tour, we jumped into a traditional taxi that drove us through the street of Khayelitsha and dropped us off at Juma’s place. The trip cost R50. I’m so stoked I can tick that off my list.

Why visit Khayelitsha? Most articles will tell you it’s about responsible tourism and supporting a community less fortunate that ours. While it is that, it’s more than that for me. Khayelitsha made me feel like a kid again, I learned more about myself and the world, my mind was opened, I smiled, I laughed and lifelong memory was created.

Craig Howes shows the kids how a drone works.

While the world moves to digital art, the Meta-verse and NFTs. Khayelitsha values real art, real connections, and people. To see this firsthand and experience it is a true privilege. To help paint houses and plant vegetable gardens is to be let into the secret of the universe.

To love our world, to make it better, to grow and to create art in a way that uplifts our community. It’s about 1 person doing their part and transforming their community into something special. Trust me when I say, this tour will change the way you look at life.

As a last note on safety. I have visited Khayelitsha on 4 occasions, I have never felt unsafe, especially while on a tour with Juma, considering that I normally carry expensive photography equipment. I will say this, 99.9% of the locals I met were amazing. However, I don’t recommend doing a tour of Khayelitsha without a guide. There is a level of comfort knowing there is a local with you, they know where to go and where not to go. Guides also have strong ties to the community and understand the culture. Besides the extra safety benefits, having a guide really adds to the experience, and I have created great connections with the guides that have invited me into their community and even homes. I can say without a doubt that having a guide amplifies your experience.

The Tour costs R450 per person, which includes bicycle hire.

For more information, get in touch with Juma

Juma Art Tours: +27 81 511 6639

Images and words by:

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