South Africa is a stunning country. A wild coastline, national parks teeming with wildlife, great food, even better wine and of course, spectacular Cape Town. But it’s also a country with problems, and they’re obvious even for short term visitors. We didn’t want to ignore these issues and decided to visit the suburbs of Knysna, also known as the township.
“It doesn’t matter where in Knysna you are, you can always see the sea”, says Michael, our guide and inhabitant of Knysna township. “Living here gives me a great sense of freedom.” I look around. A sea of tiny huts, lots of them looking like they could fall apart any moment. Children who should be at school, but are hanging outside instead. A couple of men just sitting on the side of the road. It doesn’t look like freedom to me.
But after a tour through the township, I kind of understand what Michael means. Because Knysna Township is not all bad. It’s not all poverty and misery, there’s also a lot of hope. A close community. We visit a high school during lunch hour, when the kids (smartly dressed in their uniforms) are standing in line, chatting and patiently waiting for their food. A couple of women from the township are serving lunch and it looks great. We visit a kindergarten, full of colorful paintings and with a neat playground. Michael takes us to a local cafe, where strict behavior rules apply. A small hospital, and people starting small businesses. A lot of people in the township are trying to improve their lives, even though the circumstances are often incredibly though.
Michael shows us the different sides of the suburbs: the poorest houses, huts of corrugated iron. These are what you see when you picture a township. It’s a sad sight. But when we drive to another part, it’s like a different world. One of Michael’s friends just moved into his new home: a small concrete bungalow, brand new and freshly painted. Michael’s friend lives here with his wife and kids and he couldn’t be prouder: he’s still living in the community he grew up in, he has family and friends around the corner, but he created better living circumstances. And one other thing didn’t change: the sea view. Because it’s true: you can see the sea from all over Knysna.
The funny thing is: I expected the tour to be kind of depressing. And we did see many sad things: the poverty, the iron huts. But we also saw lots of good stuff: a strong sense of community and a kind of vibrancy I didn’t expect. A visit to a township really is a must in South Africa, because it helps you see beneath the surface of luxurious lodges and natural wonders.