As part of the Gauteng SMME Tourism Indaba, which took place in Soweto last week, inbound tour operators were taken on tours of Soweto, Sophiatown and Alexandra. The tours were presented by some of the SMMEs that attended the Indaba, which aimed to create opportunities for emerging tourism businesses to tap into the inbound tourism market. After the tours, the trade were treated to dinner at Lebo’s Backpackers, Soweto.

The tour was presented by Soweto Outdoor Adventures Founder, Kgomotso Pooe, and included visits to Klipspruit, Orlando Stadium and the famous Vilakazi Street, with a visit to Mandela’s house. Other highlights included a visit to a shebeen, where the trade got to taste umqomboti and an opportunity to see Mzimhlophe, or Elephant houses, which were built by World War II soldiers.

Pelle Landstedt, Director and Founder of Propel Africa, enjoying drinks at a shebeen in Kliptown Soweto. Credit:Satsa

Pelle Landstedt, Director and Founder of Propel Africa, said the tour had been intimate and allowed for interaction and that Soweto had a lot to offer. “Vilakazi Street is legendary. We went into Mandela house.” Other highlights for him included the visit to the shebeen and Soweto Outdoor Adventures. He described the adventure centre as “amazing”. From Lebo’s Backpackers, the trade went on an impromptu cycle ride, which Landstedt said was a great way to see the neighbourhood.

Landstedt said, following his visit, he would put more Johannesburg, and specifically Soweto, into his clients’ itineraries. “Historically, Johannesburg has been a transit destination, which I would like to change and I think we can,” he said. “Soweto is such a signature historic township – probably one of the most famous townships in the world.” He added that he felt there was more to see in the township but, given the time constraints, this wasn’t possible. Landstedt also pointed out that while some agents feared that their clients would not enjoy a township tour because they did not want to be exposed to hardship, the experience was actually energising. “It’s also living proof that financial health is not always the key to happiness.”

The Sophiatown tour was presented by Eyitha Tour and Bongani Mathebula from Jozi Triangle, with transport provided by Aahaah Shuttle and Tours. The tour narrated the story of Sophiatown, including life before the forced removals, the forced removals and the rebirth of the neighbourhood since democracy. It included visits to Ghost House at Toby Street, one of the buildings that survived the forced removals; Bertha Street, where guests were able to meet a resident who was part of the forced removals; and Ray Street, where the removals first started. Guests were then also taken to Fordsburg, visiting historic sites and also the areas characteristic markets.

Mbali Zwane on tour in Sophiatown. Credit: Satsa

Rob Hetem, Director of Tamrich Tours, said the tour told a wonderful story of how Sophiatown came into being and how it had changed over the years, through apartheid and then democracy, where it was returned almost to its former glory, with many residents who had been evicted as part of the forced removals, returning to the neighbourhood. “What was nice about it was we got to walk through the area and see the people and meet the locals who have moved back to the area.

Hetem related the story of a lady who had been evicted and had since moved back. “She came out to talk to us,” he said. Traditionally, people would plant the umbilical cord of their babies in their gardens. This lady now lives two streets from where her umbilical cord is buried. “She said, for her it’s like coming back to her roots,” said Hetem.

According to Hetem, the presenters of the tour were also brilliant. “The information that they imparted was well balanced; it was accurate; it had emotion; and it had personal anecdotes.”

The Alexandra tour was presented by Sifiso Molotshwa and Abby Sechoaro of Bosele Tours. This tour included a visit to the Olive Tree Theatre, a community drama project; art galleries; a tour of local graffiti; and a visit to a traditional healer. Guests were also taken to a house where Mandela had stayed and the Zion Christian Church.

Art displayed at a gallery in Alexandra. Credit: Jene Barnes

Jene Barnes, Private Touring Manager at New Frontiers Tours, said the tour kicked off at The Hub in Alexandra, a multipurpose venue where a performer in traditional attire set the tone for what to expect. From there, they went to the theatre, where they met the theatre director, who spoke about the theatre’s involvement with the community. She said the theatre, which is driven by the community without government funding, could be an interesting addition to a tour, provided guests could see children either performing a play or being taught.

Other highlights for her included a gallery tour and the visit to the traditional healer. The gallery is a home that has been converted into a gallery. “It’s one of the original homes in Alex which is being used as a gallery space and showcases local artists in Alex,” Barnes said, adding that guests could meet the guests and purchase art from them. She said the engagement with the traditional healer dispelled myths associated with traditional medicine. She said it was a really nice way to engage with something different and would be enjoyed by guests who did not necessarily want to participate in a ritual but wanted to learn.

Barnes said Sechoaro was an amazing guide. “He grew up in Alex and could impart a lot of knowledge.” She said Alexandra’s proximity to Sandton was an advantage, because it meant tours of the township could be packaged for guests who did not have a lot of time in the city.