In 2002 AWOL Tours initiated a bicycle tourism programme in the Masiphumelele community of Cape Town in conjunction with the Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) a non-profit organisation. BEN promotes the use of the bicycle in all of its forms to enhance low-cost, non-motorised, transport and health and access to opportunity, employment, skills and education. This programme evolved from BEN’s importation of second hand bikes and the establishment of Independent Bicycle Dealers (IBD) owned and operated by local residents. AWOL’s guests hire bicycles from the BEN IBD’s and we then conduct a tour of Masiphumelele incorporating local businesses.
In the 1980’s, a large migration of African people from the rural areas of Eastern Cape and other parts of the country moved to Cape Town in the hope of finding work and a better standard of living. In Nov 1989, the provincial authorities gave in to the inevitable and announced “Site 5” as a suitable location for the existing 1200 African people squatting in the area. Today it’s estimated that about 45,000 people live on this small piece of land. About 40% are unemployed and most live below the poverty line in some form of informal settlement without water and electricity. The name Masiphumelele was given to Site 5” and means “success” /“hope” in Xhosa.
Living conditions in these areas are far from satisfactory: HIV/AIDS is one of the major concerns as it has huge social implications. Levels of shelter and air circulation are inadequate and respiratory diseases are common; it is almost impossible to escape the mud in winter; fire is a constant threat; the system of sewage disposal is far from adequate; social facilities are lacking etc. On the other hand, the people are remarkable as they have a strong sense of community, high levels of social organisation, support for elderly and a safe environment for children. A number of women take it upon themselves to run crèches from their homes and feed children, who would otherwise be orphaned. We visit Peacock crèche on the tour.
Since establishment more 3000 tourists have participated on this tour, spreading considerable financial benefit to the community. Apart from the various donations from the visiting tourists, much needed income has been generated and put into circulation in local township as part of tourism services and fees paid to business owners such as Phumlani Dlongwana’s BEN IBD Bicycle shop, Nomawethu Maqungo’s small restaurant which provides refreshments; Traditional Healers/ Sangoma’s and the local Creche with approximately 100 children. Other benefits have included an exhibition of the township held by German photographer Christoph Siegert in March 2004. All the proceeds of the sale of artwork went towards BEN Bicycle workshop and assisted Phumlani Dlongwana to purchase tools and 20 bicycles. The BEN tourism project in Masiphumelele has generated significant, sustainable benefits and although operating on a small scale, has proven to provide real, lasting benefits for local people and greater Cape Town.
In 2006 at the World Travel Centre in London BEN was the winner of the First Choice Responsible Tourism Award for the category “Best for Innovation and Technology”. The First Choice Responsible Tourism Awards are the largest of their kind in the world and are collaboration between Responsible Travel; UK media (The Times and Geographical Magazine); Conservation International; and The World Travel. The central tenet of the Awards is that all types of tourism – from niche to mainstream – can and should be operated in a way that respects and benefits destinations and local people.
In 2008, the AWOL Bicycle Township tours received Fair Trade and Tourism status and we hope to continually expand and improve the community aspect of the tour and strive to create sustainable livelihoods for the people in Masiphumelele. AWOL Tours was also a finalist for the 2008 Imvelo Responsible Tourism Awards in the category Best practice - economic impact. The economic impacts of tourism on local communities was recognised, including local purchasing and economic practices, employment equity, Black Economic Empowerment, employee training and development of and adherence to general and industry-specific legislation.
In 2009, Sally Petersen Director of AWOL Tours was a finalist in the City of Cape Town ‘Women in Tourism’ Awards. The City of Cape Town honours remarkable women whose contributions to society and the economy go largely unrecognised. Fast becoming one of Cape Town’s premier events, this ceremony takes place every year at an awards ceremony that is both supported and attended by leaders from Cape Town’s business, social and economic sectors.
In the future AWOL plans to increase marketing and promotion of its tourism products within the tourism industry and provide ongoing education and raising awareness of the environmental upside of cycling and the entrepreneurial potential of viable community tourism businesses. The AWOL Tourism model has proved to be successful in one community and is replicable in other areas across Southern Africa. Given the resources, funding and community willingness, it is certainly possible to do this on a bigger scale and have a substantially greater impact. Guests might have reservations about visiting an informal settlement and awkward at viewing people’s obvious poverty. The people of Masiphumelele welcome you and encourage tours to take place in their communities, as it is one way in which they have an opportunity to get involved in the Tourism sector. The tours are run at a non profit basis and a fee goes directly to the people we visit and who make this tour possible. In conclusion, Townships should not be romanticised; but at the same time it is a reality and it’s important for people from more privileged backgrounds to see how a majority of people in the world live.
AWOL is also currently raising funds to build a proper building for Peacock Educare to replace the current little shack that has been a day care for up to 65 kids since 2001. We are looking at raising between $40 000 & $60 000 to build a double story structure that can accommodate at least 60 children. At the moment, Peacock Educare is operating illegally as it overcrowded and lacks the facilities required by government. Yet it is fulfilling a vital role in the Masiphumelele community. We are assisting Peacock crèche to get the right facilities to become formally recognised . If you would like to make a donation please contact us to make arrangements.