Discover iKasi: Putting an end to 'poverty safaris' with a new generation of township entrepreneurs

2018-05-03 12:49 - Ethan Van Diemen
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a view of khayelitsha township

A flag flies upright and proud in Khayelitsha (Photo: iStock)

For the most part, township tours as they are currently run are inauthentic cultural experiences led by persons with no real connection to the areas they are showing to tourists and visitors in general.

As such, township tourism is more akin to 'poverty voyeurism' than a true account of the lifestyle, culture and experiences of the millions of South Africans who call our townships home.

Ntsebenziswano November, and co, through the development of their new platform - Discover iKasi, hope to change all that and with real tangible benefit to traveller and resident alike. Speaking to a visibly curious audience at World Travel Market Africa 2018, November explains their platform that he co-founded. 

SEE: Airbnb to invest $1m to boost township entrepreneurship across SA and Africa

On the site, the founders state that “...townships in South Africa; [and] with that comes crime, extreme poverty and, a community infrastructure which can only be described as dismal. With all these notorious titles, there seems to be little hope for these townships and its residents. However, if you look beyond the timber and sheet metal roofs, you’ll find a new-ish tribe of tourism entrepreneurs who want to metamorphose the way the world views Cape Town townships, and in turn, boost its economic growth. Discover iKasi is one such enterprise. At our very core, we aim to promote township businesses by providing an online platform where they can showcase their services. We’ve embraced technology as we’ve realised that for people to know about these businesses – there needs to be a one-stop portal where people can easily find them.

Essentially, it is a startup founded by persons from the township for businesspersons from the township.

Specifically, it is a digital catalogue and directory of sorts that lists a variety of different township activities and businesses that can be accessed by interested parties whether tour operator, tourist or curious local. Describing Discover iKasi, November says, "...we make the dreams of township businesses come true."

WATCH: 6 stories from Khayelitsha that will make it your favourite Cape Town spot

Despite the lofty aims and goals of November and co, the startup like most - if not all - black-owned township businesses face numerous challenges from the outset. These challenges include: 

  • Townships not being marketed/ promoted through official/ government channels let alone by the private sector. 
  • Businesses in townships are seldom registered with accredited associations or tourism bodies. They often lack the insight or knowledge on why and how this is necessary and possible. 
  • A lack of product range is a major challenge. Many people (perhaps even you reading this) see very little value in going to and exploring the townships. Some don't and won't see anything beyond the selling of poverty.
  • The issue of crime and the perception of rampant criminality is a major challenge to black-owned township businesses. Discover iKasi has provided interested persons with information on how to stay safe during your visit to iKasi

Despite this, the potential for positive economic and social development arising from increasing township tourism is immense. November notes that: 

  • The largest proportion of emerging tourism entrepreneurs are black, African females between the ages of 25-60.
  • By increasing the visibility around township businesses and tourism, South Africans more generally are given space to confront the material reality of the past and build a shared, prosperous, harmonious future.

Beyond the immediate challenges facing township tourism business, emerging entrepreneurs face difficulty establishing a foothold in the lucrative tourism industry in South Africa. Some of these difficulties include: 

  • A lack of information technologies and related technical know-how. Beyond just being able to engage with these technologies such as Facebook and the internet at large, the support for emerging township entrepreneurs is often lacking in an appropriate delivery method where relatively complex information is conveyed and taught in a second or third language.
  • Perceptions are important in the tourism industry and rightly or wrongly, the perception around tourism products in townships is that they're of poor quality.
  • Another challenge to emerging entrepreneurs relates directly to accessibility. Information is not readily available for locals so it's certainly not easily attainable for tourists.
  • The lack of financial backing. Township entrepreneurs struggle to get business loans which often negatively impacts on the prospects of the success of their businesses.
  • The lack of skills is another challenge that emerging township tourism entrepreneurs have to manage. In addition to the lack of technical and business management skills, there is often an acute shortage of customer service skills. 

Discover iKasi can, therefore, be seen as being a part of the solution. The platform is unique in how it opens spaces to locals and not exclusively tourists thereby creating additional social benefit. Beyond the direct impacts that Discover iKasi may create, the indirect effects of economic self-empowerment and representation are also affected as a central organising tourism body, or council of the community is necessitated thereby allowing for community collaboration and social innovation. 

Some authentic experiences you can enjoy right now include:

  • Grab some food in a unique setting at Village House eKasi. With fried chips, amagwinya, samp and tripe to a variety of baked-goods, The Village House is a great space to eat local in an authentic local setting. 
  • If you’re looking for something more festive why not enjoy some of the very best in braaied meat Cape Town has to offer at Rands.  Enjoy good vibes with good beats and great eats in the heart of Khayelitsha. The home of some of the most happening parties in the greater Cape Town area, Rands is a premium space that exemplifies the best of iKasi hospitality and lifestyle. Go for the braai (with sides like chakalaka and creamy spinach) and stay for the entertainment.     
  • Catch your breath and have a coffee at Sikis Kofi Cafe. With businessperson and experience barrister Sikilela at the helm, Siki’s has become something of a local hangout that has infused a new energy into the immediate area. Hear the stories and enjoy some freshly brewed coffee. 
  • Stay the night at Nomase’s Guest House. Guests will appreciate the welcoming and warm atmosphere at Nomase’s Guest House in Langa township. With relatively limited space, the guest house has strived, and some may say succeeded, to bring the same high standards expected in more conventional tourist accommodation to the township. With double beds, laundry facilities on request and close proximity to Cape Town International Airport - Nomase’s is an experience that provides visitors with value for their money.  

November says that he hopes that more South Africans will make use of the service and enjoy local experiences outside of the obvious and off the beaten track. There is a real opportunity now to show that there is more to townships than corrugated iron shacks and dusty streets.

"A shack is not an experience, an experience is when you engage and see how people live," says November, adding "before we can market to internationals, we need to market to ourselves."

SEE: #LoveSA: 5 Reasons why we love our domestic tourists