Saturday, 17 August 2013

It was our Walk To Freedom

It was our Walk To Freedom

It was our Walk To Freedom tour day. All we knew is that we ended up on Robben Island so we could peer into Nelson Mandela' cell.  The tour bus is on time and the day starts well, a mini bus full of people we have never met before and will never see again. The guide talks us through Cape Town points of interest bringing us to the District 6 Museum.

The late morning brings us to the Langa Township where we come to a reception area not unlike many community centers I have visited on outer estates in England, where people are trying to do good work in challenging situations. We are given the opportunity to see some pottery painted by two township women with no sense of passion for their task. I have seen that look before on the faces of people serving fast food late at night near the end of a shift but not near enough. The corridors are littered with stuff made by local township artisans. This corridor I believe is supposed to instill in us a sense of achievement, a country moving in the right direction, but i feel none of that within me.
We are then introduced to our local township guide. I won’t tell you his name. I can’t add anything to his life so I should not take anything away from it as I am just another rich tourist passing efficiently through. He informs us we can take any photos we want but don’t give money; we will have the opportunity to do that at the end via him. He will judge who needs most of our money; I am already unsure of his generosity. I will not bore you with the whole hour tour; I will not do it justice. Our second to last stop brings us to a courtyard, filthy, not fit to keep you beloved dog in.

We are invited into one of the buildings where I am faced a young woman eating yogurt from as bowl, a young man possibly partner or husband and some small children running around the room. I think our guide is telling us about the lives of these people. I cannot remember beyond the look from the young woman. It is the look of a woman who is about to enter a contact with a man for sex whom she hates. I am guessing this as I have never done this transaction but it’s the closest I have come to prostitution. I register my and her discomfort with the guide but he has only one point left on his tour where he will offer us the opportunity to hand over guide money. The girl departs to another room leaving us in this filthy room, only now I feel soiled inside, as well as outside. I have come to a township and been involved in a transaction I am not proud of, that of being a voyeur of poverty.

We come to the next corner of the tour and the guide makes is last pitch to us. We are literally in the middle of a road. On one side of the road is an empty, fenced off, new houses built by the rich Banks that no one can afford; on the other side of the road is the bottom end of the township. It is a series of shacks with a shared water pipe and no toilets, literally a shit heap. We, the community of the tour bus, are now faced with a decision. What do we give him? How much is too much? How much to clear some of the guilt? I decide on some of money, feeling I am even closer to being involved in some sort of prostitution. I am the male with money and power; the girl in the room, I presume, has neither.


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