I’m going to Gracelands ….

The Age, Melbourne

To see how the majority of South Africans live you need to visit dusty townships fashioned more by urban reaction than any concrete planning. Townships such as Langa and Khayelitsha, only a brief drive from the elite suburbs of Cape Town, represent an alternative universe in terms of style and amenities. Yet both have become a magnet for tourists seeking more than the obligatory snapshot of Table Mountain and visiting the region’s fashionable wine estates.

Graceland is an inner suburb of Khayelitsha where the ebullient Maria Maile has her small, attractive bed and breakfast. Called Majoro’s, it was the first township B&B to open on the Cape Flats.

Maria spent years cooking for students at the University of Cape Town before she became a university residence supervisor, only to gave it all away and open Majoro’s. That was in late 1998. She says there are now four B&Bs in Khayelitsha alone, one or two in neighbouring Langa, and she knows of several others in the pipeline.

The concept has also caught on in townships around both Durban and Johannesburg. There are mutterings about forming a national association. When Maria attended Indaba, the country’s annual travel mart, she found considerable interest among European tour operators in her establishment and the general township B&B concept altogether.

South Africa’s townships generally comprise row upon row of uniform “five by five” brick houses besieged by a riot of tumbledown shacks and ready-made shanties, the latter created through an ingenious application of discarded wood, stained corrugated iron and murky plastic sheeting. Where one township ends and another begins is anyone’s guess. The B&B idea provides a shard of new hope for locals struggling to survive within this informal jumble of pulsating poverty.

In Khayelitsha I see a disused shipping container on a busy street corner transformed into a booth filled with mobile phones. Customers pay by the second to yell into handsets in order to be heard. Down another street stands another rusted container that’s now being used as a counselling centre. Motor spares are spread across the pavements at busy intersections. The New Era Hair Barbing Salon, occupying yet another recycled container, even has a reclining chair. All these informal industries are examples of the ingenuity and enterprising nature of the residents. Contact me for full article