The vibrant Khaya community is a melting pot of entrepreneurial flair and creative talents — all while rising above a fabric of societal ills

Formed under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and with a turbulent history of segregation and forced removals attached to its heritage, Khayelitsha is one of the largest and fastest-growing townships in South Africa today, comprising a population of approximately 400 000 residents. Located on the Cape Flats in the Western Cape, just 30 kilometres from Cape Town’s central business district, the partially informal settlement has overcome monumental challenges to reach its current status of a flourishing entrepreneurial hub. ‘Khayelitsha’ itself translates to ‘new home’ from Xhosa, the dominant language of the community and one of South Africa’s official languages. The name is a touching tribute to the town’s early populations, who displayed unwavering strength and fortitude as they rapidly assimilated into what was, at the time, unfamiliar territory.

This fighting spirit continues to manifest in the township’s residents, the majority of whom are young rural-top-urban migrants with ardent ambitions to uplift their community while forging better prospects and brighter futures. Permeated by an enthusiastic and business-savvy mindset, and combined with close-knit roots to cultural traditions, Khayelitsha has amalgamated into a tourism hot spot for both local and foreign visitors alike.

The people of the township have channelled their struggles of rampant poverty, violence and crime into an inspiring atmosphere of creativity and innovation, creating a sustainable platform for economic growth in the area. From cycling tours and community gardening to indulging in traditional shisa nyama (braai) cuisine and visiting neighbourhood taverns, there are a number of ways visitors can experience the culture, hospitality and authenticity of the Khayelitsha community.

Eat & Drink

When trendy coffee culture began percolating the Mother City, the majority of the popular spots remained exclusive to working professionals and the inner-city crowd. That is, until three business-savvy Khayelitsha locals — Wongama Baleni, Vusumzi Mamile and Vuyile Msaku — envisioned bringing the culture of artisanal coffee to a township context. The trio are the brains behind Department of Coffee (DOC), the township’s very first coffee shop, which aims to dispel the notion that cappuccinos and coffee culture  are expensive and unattainable. Vuyile, a trained barista, had worked at a number of establishments, such as Vida e Caffé and Woolworths, before passing on his skills to his colleagues. Opened in 2012, the café takes the form of a sleek and modern over-the-counter espresso bar situated in the heart of Khayelitsha, directly opposite the bustling train station and open weekdays from 5:30 am to 6 pm. The aim, says Wongoma, who now runs DOC by himself, is to 

break down the barriers between Khayelitsha and the rest of Cape Town through the shared love of a coffee sub-culture

that transcends socio-economic differences. As such, DOC runs regular open days, parties and events to facilitate this engagement, and provides a fun way for visitors to experience the township from a unique perspective.

A multifaceted venue, Rands Lifestyle Space is characterised by tasty food, feel-good tunes and a laid-back atmosphere. Open seven days a week, Rands prides itself on its traditional fare that encapsulates all the goodness of a hearty, home-made meal. Patrons can choose from a menu of favourites such as creamy spinach, ribs, chakalaka pap or buffalo wings dipped in Rands’ secret sauce. Mfundo Mbeki, who co-owns the spot with his brother Mshayi, says Rands is the ultimate after-work joint, where people come to escape the stresses of the daily hustle and spend their well-earned ‘rands’. When the weekend arrives, the space transforms from a relaxed after-work hangout to a fun party spot. The resident DJ entertains lively crowds until the early hours while well-known performers, such as Euphonik and AKA, occasionally grace the stage, pulling even greater crowds than the 1 500-capacity venue can accommodate.

For a truly inspirational entrepreneurial journey, a stop at 4Roomed eKasi Culture is a must. A multi-dimensional lifestyle concept, 4Roomed is based on the four-roomed dwellings of old South African townships. Known as shanties, these residences were often divided into a lounge-cum-dining area, a main bedroom, a second bedroom and a kitchen, and were often shared by multiple families. Founder Abigail Mbalo-Mokoena says such shared living spaces, found within the marginalised black communities of growing cities, showcased the epitome of the spirit of ubuntu, both a Xhosa and Zulu word for a quality that possesses the essential human virtues of compassion and humanity. Abigail’s aim is to revive the philosophy through her services, which comprises a restaurant, a food truck, and 4Roomed Pantry Goods that promotes food security and healthy food choices in rural communities.


Children play in the yard at Makukhanye Art Room. Photo: © Cape Town Tourism
Children play in the yard at Makukhanye Art Room. Photo: © Cape Town Tourism

Stay & Play

With nothing but a dream to own a guest house, former domestic worker Nomalungelo Sotyingwe, affectionately known as Lungi, chanced a meeting with Marijke Fritjers, a Dutch woman who used her network to raise support and capital for Lungi’s vision. And so, Lungi’s Bed & Breakfast was born. Amidst the growth of township tourism in recent years, Lungi’s B&B opened its doors in 2010, providing a pioneering concept of ‘shack-chic’ accommodation to guests looking for an authentic township experience. The business quickly prospered and grew into an integral part of the community and tourism sector but in December 2014, was ravaged by a fire. While no one was hurt, it took Lungi many months to rebuild the lodge from scratch and, in 2015, it reopened with a fresh new look: A homely multi-coloured offering that features two large bedrooms, a conjoined dining and living room, a kitchen as well as two additional bedrooms for Lungi’s own family. The presence of the B&B in the community has had a ripple effect on local entrepreneurs from other sectors — neighbours offer parking bays, taxi drivers transport guests around the township and art by local artists are exhibited within the guest house — that displays the trademark township collaboration and unity prevalent in Khayelitsha.

If a night on the town(ship) is what the doctor ordered then KwaAce nightclub should not be overlooked. Off the back of a stylish new relaunch, KwaAce has once again cemented itself as the township’s official night-time hot spot. Named after owner Ace Mabheka, KwaAce — which means ‘at Ace’s’ — aims to provide an all-round quslity club experience for locals on home soil, saving them from expensive trips to the suburbs or city centre. An exclusive VVIP section on the first floor has a pool and revamped balcony while each floor sports its own bar and dance floor. The club’s three resident DJs spin an array of urban beats that include hip hop, kwaito and deep house. Enjoy the popular Groova weekends with premium cocktails and MCC. And, in true eKasi style, KwaAce will be expanding with the addition of its own butchery that will serve traditional shisa nyama accompanied by veggies and pap.


Residents of Khayelitsha outside Makukhanye Art Room. Photo: © Cape Town Tourism
Residents of Khayelitsha outside Makukhanye Art Room. Photo: © Cape Town Tourism

Explore

Township tours have become a popular attraction in South Africa’s tourism industry, with Khayelitsha often frequented by many a curious visitor eager for a glimpse into a lifestyle that melds city amenities and township panache. Led by a knowledgeable guide who is often a local of the area, the tours provide visitors with an intricate understanding of the community’s inner workings. This includes a first-hand perspective of how formal and informal businesses co-exist side-by-side as well as the ongoing projects that seek to foster community spirit amongst the youth. Many tours also highlight the art studios, craft centres and extra-curricular activities that provide employment and skills development to residents, and in which visitors can get involved.

One company that is not only passionate about showcasing the area but also transforming it, is Juma’s Tours. Operated by Juma Mkwela, each tour includes meaningful activities, such as planting a vegetable garden or painting a wall mural, that provides guests with the opportunity to make a valuable — and genuine — contribution to the community. Visitors can also stop by Makukhanye Art Room, run by Theatre4Change, a non-governmental organisation (NGO),  or assist teachers at a primary school to truly engage with locals. 

No township tour is complete without a stop at the Khayelitsha Craft Market, situated at St Michaels and All Angels Anglican Church. The market is dotted with trinkets of pottery, woven baskets, beadwork and paintings, all hand-made by township residents — and is a burgeoning display of the artistic and entrepreneurial talents present in the community, including the renowned Baboon Man, who uses cement and other materials to create beautifully intricate baboon statues. 

Another intriguing stop is the 18 Gangster Museum — a living, interactive museum and the first of its kind in Cape Town — that provides a first-hand look at the consequences of gangsterism and the difficulties of prison life. 

Ex-offenders and reformed gang members share their experiences of a life riddled with violence, crime and substance abuse while visitors learn about various crime and gang-related statistics

as well as the root causes that underlie these issues. There is also a showcase of memorabilia and archives that relate to gangsterism and, through the retelling of these stories, the museum seeks to encourage a positive alternative for township youth by illustrating how some gang members have been able to turn over a new leaf and reintegrate into society in a positive way.

Additionally, the museum offers various immersive experiences that range from a three-hour prison and community tour to biking, walking or taxi tours that include stops at various points of interest and a broader overview of the complexities of township life.


Performers from Khayelitsha onstage. Photo: © Cape Town Tourism
Performers from Khayelitsha onstage. Photo: © Cape Town Tourism

Engage

In addition to experiencing life in Khayelitsha, the community also provides ample opportunities for visitors to participate in various projects in the township. For example, eKhaya eKasi Art and Education Centre, located in a residential area of Khayelitsha, offers activities and development programmes for community upliftment with initiatives that specifically target unemployment, illiteracy, poverty and the AIDS epidemic. From the centre’s Family Literacy programme and Babies and Books initiative, which collects and distributes black dolls and multi-cultural children’s books, to the communal vegetable garden and various health education talks, eKhaya is a dynamic and safe space that fosters creativity, ambition, hope and self-confidence amongst marginalised members of the society. Tourism plays a major role in sustaining the programmes as many of the arts and crafts created by locals are sold at the on-site boutique store, with the money reinvested into developing and improving the centre.

Partnered to the centre is The Heart Of A Woman (THOAW) project, founded by Canadian photographer Andreas Rees. The project partners with non-profit organisations to uplift women in impoverished areas and, at eKhaya, offers an 11-day mobile photography and digital literacy workshop where women with no previous photography, social media or digital knowledge are taught these skills and tasked with capturing meaningful imagery that showcases their community. The workshop, which for some women is the first time they become connected to the internet, encourages attendees to promote their work and businesses online. The main ethos of THOAW is to equip women with skills beyond that of the camera in order for them to leverage their work as a means of income and remove the barriers they face in accessing education, job opportunities and health information.

An organisation that focuses more on culture than business is that of Ezakwantu ‘The African’ Youth4Change Group, which incorporates a traditional choir, traditional dance, poetry and drama as a means for youth development in the township. With approximately 50 vibrant and passionate members, who range from the ages of seven to over 30, the project has cultivated an experienced and highly professional group of performers who are available to perform at private functions and other special occasions. 


Helping hand

THOAW project is in need of second-hand iPhones and Android phones, which are used in the digital literacy workshops for its high-quality camera capabilities. Donations of new models (such as the iPhone 5, 6, 6S and SE) are also accepted and donors will receive up to three images taken by the participating women as well as a postcard featuring one of the images with a handwritten note. heartofawomanproject.com


A version of this article first appeared in Edition 4-2018 of Intrepid Explorer.