One of the many hidden gems of South Africa is the Knysna township.
With a population of only 38 000 people, this community is a unique place of deep culture and history, which is why you should visit this Tourism and Heritage Month.
Global travel company Contiki also offers travellers tours of Knysna township on their various South Africa trips as part of their Make Travel Matter Experiences as a way to give back to the local communities they travel to.
The travel company spoke to Ella Mapurisa, one of Knysna’s very own tour guides and community workers on what to expect on the tour.
Ella is an integral part of the township’s community as she has been contributing to the guided tours, which have been going on for 15 years now, and this is what she had to say.
Could you tell us a little about the township?
According to Ella, Knysna township is one of the smallest townships in the country.
“We have a lot of nationalities in the township: we have people from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Nigeria, Congo, Bangladesh. We speak three languages: English, Afrikaans and Isixhosa, Isixhosa being the language specific to Knynsa’s Xhosa people,” said Ella.
She said the people in the community are very friendly.
“They all smile. Everybody will greet you,” she said.
Why is it important for travellers to visit this community, and why is it different to other townships?
“It’s very important for two reasons,” said Ella.
She said it’s important to come and see and know the other side of this country (South Africa) where most of the people live.
“A lot of the time people think that townships are ‘no go’ areas, but ours is different – people are welcomed into this loving and caring community,” said Ella.
She also said that when you pay to come on the Knysna Township Tour, you’re supporting their community and helping them to change lives from within.
“The money that you paid on the tour is given back to the community, which I think is the most important thing.
“What makes this township different from others is that we’re an involved community, we help each other out, and we accept and welcome outside guests. It’s also special because this is where I live, and there’s only one Ella,” she laughed.
What’s life in the township like?
Ella said that due to the townships high employment rate, they have a very low crime rate here and since the township is so close to a forest area, part of the township’s main income is through construction and lumber retail.
She said this allows people to stay employed and tourism also helps.
“Our bread and butter is tourism,” said Ella.
She explained that Knysna Township Tours are a popular tourist attraction in South Africa, and these allow the inhabitants to be employed as tour guides, and also allows an opportunity for travellers to give back to the communities they visit.
She also revealed that there is a spirit of collaboration and community that runs through the people living here.
Can you tell us something that would surprise people when they come and visit?
“I think what would surprise people is what we call ubuntu these days, where people will welcome strangers and pray and be friendly and kind to them.
“I think that surprises people, because there will come someone whom you don’t even know and they will welcome you with love and a big smile which, these days, is quite rare,” said Ella.
What is the Township Big 5?
In Safari terms, the Big 5 refers to lions, elephants, buffalo, leopard, and rhino, however, in the Township, the Big 5 are like this.
“We divided the cows into two, the brown ones will be your elephants, and the black ones the buffalo. Then the spotted pigs appear and those are the leopards, and the dogs will be our lions. And then we have white rhino, which will be a goat,” joked Ella.
She said they try to encourage people in the community to take care of the animals and also have the numbers for different animal welfare organisations and vets so when the animals get old and need care they can’t provide, they can get that as well.
She revealed that the dogs roaming around the township are mostly strays but due to the care that the community provides they are all healthy and sterilised, and safe to pet and be friends with.
What are you most proud of that you’re doing now?
“What I’m proud of at the moment is the fact that I get to show people from other countries the real South Africa, not the version that is always in the media,” said Ella.
She said that as a community worker here, she is also extremely proud of the help she’s been able to provide the children that come from a similar background as her’s, which is to say a background of family alcoholism.
“Being able to support them and give them the opportunity to better themselves and break the cycle is meaningful work to me,” said Ella.
What do you hope people will take away after the Knysna Township Tour?
“When I do the Township tours I meet all different people from all different aspects of life. And that inspired me also to know that I can do more. I hope it inspires them as well.
“What they have to take back is the joy, their peace and love. Those are very important memories,” said Ella.