,Mzu Lembeni - township tour operator

Cape Town - An initial glance at the shack land that is most of Khayelitsha and other townships across the Mother City, could lead many to ask: What could it hold that would be worth a township tour?

Many things it would seem, judging by the success of Mzukisi Lembeni’s business and others like his.

When Lembeni started his township tour business two years ago, he only had 10 000 advertising brochures and R85 in the bank. He had no operating capital, no office space and no vehicle, only the firm belief that his business, Imizamo Yethu Tours, could offer tourists something different.

Lembeni says his clients don’t go to townships to gawk at the poor. Nor do they only view the areas from inside a bus.

“I make sure they get out and engage with real people and families. They spend time inside homes where there are no toilets, electricity or even food. They play soccer in the streets with the children. They see the poverty and the needs,” he says.

Lembeni also exposes people to the positive side – the resilience, creativity and sense of community in the township. The best part for Lembeni, is most clients end up making a difference by supporting the local economy, or sending donations.

Each month, Lembeni sets aside 10 percent of his profits to support pre-schools or other upliftment projects. “At the end of the day, it’s not only about me making money. It’s about me uplifting my community. That is my passion,” he says.

Lembeni loves all the tours his business offers, but his favourite is the Sunday gospel tour. He gives his clients a brief history of the area, then takes them to a tented church. From there they visit a family at home, a children’s centre and then end up at his mother’s B&B for a traditional African Sunday lunch.

When he started, he focused on Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay. Now the bulk of his tours are in and around Khayelitsha.

Lembeni grew up in Makhaya in Khayelitsha, the son of a domestic worker. While he was at school he didn’t know tourism was a viable career option, or that he wanted to meet people from all over the world and share stories with them, he says.

Then two things happened during his high school career that influenced his path: he attended the College of Magic in Lansdowne and worked at a Brackenfell hotel on weekends.

During the day, he would answer the phones and take bookings. In the evenings, he worked as a bartender.

This is where Lembeni’s love for tourism grew.

After matriculating, he took a gap year, and focused on magic shows. The following year he studied travel and tourism, and worked in the industry for a while. In 2012 he decided to go it alone.

After paying to have the brochures printed, Lembeni was left with R85. He spent another R20 on beer and the following day, his new life began – with R65 to his name.

“I took a taxi from Khayelitsha to town and started promoting my business,” he says. Because he didn’t have a lot of money, he walked from tourism businesses to hotels and B&Bs, from the CBD all the way through to Camps Bay and back, handing out his brochures.

He remembers getting home around 8pm that day, his feet aching.

Shortly after that, he received a phone call. A European couple wanted to do a township tour. Even though he didn’t have a vehicle, he agreed to the job. Lembeni borrowed a neighbour’s car, and did the tour. His phone hasn’t stop ringing since.

He now employs four part-time tour operators, has a car and bought a B&B for his mother, Buyiswa. Looking back, he feels he has come a long way in a short while. More than 60 percent of his clients are German and Lembeni is learning to speak the language.

Last year he published Introducing Cape Town’s Townships online and is in the process of printing hard copies.

“There are some days I ask myself why I do this… Then I remember my passion. And tourism is very important for the upliftment of the community. Every one has a purpose. As young people, we need to change our communities, and our world. Anything is possible.”


Putting townships on city’s tourism map

Enver Duminy, chief executive of Cape Town Tourism, says the city as a destination offers much more than just its scenic beauty. “Township tours are just one of many activities that can be undertaken on a trip to Cape Town and are one of the greatest ways to explore the unexpected, vibrant culture of our city as more travellers lean toward authentic cultural experiences,” says Duminy.

Township tourism has seen a significant increase in popularity since 2004, he adds.

Duminy stresses the importance of using reputable guides who have good working relationships with the community in which they operate. This is to ensure the economic benefits of tourism are evenly spread.

He says one of the City of Cape Town’s long-term goals is the development of township areas, such as Langa, with the development of the Langa Cultural Heritage Precinct. - Cape Argus