Township tours for a good cause

[Image] A visit by Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Uthando to Neighbourhood Old Age Homes (NOAH); NOAH volunteers and James Fernie.

[Image] Children from Uthando’s Jikeleza Dance Project light up the townships in Cape Town.
(Images: Uthando South Africa)

James Fernie
Director, Uthando SA
+27 82 496 4889

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James Fernie grew up with persistent compassion for the people victimised by apartheid. This compassion led to his work with Uthando, a non-profit organisation and Fair Trade in Tourism accredited company set up to raise funds and other forms of assistance for community development projects in South Africa.

The organisation is based in Cape Town and operates tours in townships like Khayelitsha where it supports projects. It also works in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

Touring for a good cause

Uthando, which means love in Zulu, was set up in 2007 with one of the best models for helping travellers to be more responsible and get a deeper understanding of local issues.

Fernie is the director of Uthando, through which he has brought tourists into the townships to show what South Africans are doing to improve their communities.

Using donations from tour operators, hoteliers, travellers, functions and online fundraising, Uthando helps to support and develop community programmes in many different areas, including abused women and children, domestic violence, agriculture, arts and culture, drug and alcohol abuse, education, housing, nutrition and health, unemployment, prison rehabilitation and elderly care.

Its township tours are R690 (US$78) each and by booking a tour with Uthando, clients automatically help the projects on a financial level. “By attending a field trip, visitors are automatically contributing to and assisting with social development,” Fernie explains.

Some of the projects the organisation supports are Home from Home, a home-based care group for orphans living with HIV or Aids; Greater Commission United, a youth development through soccer project; Greenpop, a tree planting environmental programme; Beauty for Ashes, a prisoner rehabilitation initiative for women; and the Khayelitsha School of Skills, a school for children with learning disabilities.

Over Christmas, Uthando donated new therapeutic and educational toys to Esinqobile Therapy Centre in Bulwer, KwaZulu-Natal. It also financed a number of building upgrades and revamps at the centre.

Understanding history

Historical tours are also offered, taking in places such as Robben Island in Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid political prisoners were incarcerated. During the tours, there are discussions on the legacy of apartheid, as well as on political, social, economic, cultural and local issues, to give tourists some background information on South Africa.

It is believed this helps them to understand the complexities of poverty. But the focus of Uthando tours is visiting the community projects.

The township tours, known as philanthropic cultural tours, take people into the townships to visit the projects with which it is working and supporting. These projects receive funding and other forms of assistance from Uthando and its benefactors.

On these tours visitors discover the stories of life in the townships, interact with residents in their places of work, and learn how these impoverished communities overcome adversity.

The Thokozani Brothers, which is a men’s and youth singing group, have impressed many visitors on tour in the past with their performances, as well as the people involved arts development projects in Gugulethu.”

Not a begging bowl

Fernie stresses, however, that an Uthando tour is not a begging bowl route and says clients are not made to feel uncomfortable about money. “Our tours and activities are authentic, meaningful, sensitive, respectful, non-invasive, and beneficial to local communities, and play a critical development role in impoverished areas.”

Uthando was awarded a certificate of excellence for 2012 by TripAdvisor, the leading international online travel resource. It was given a five-star rating by its clients, who have asserted on TripAdvisor that to visit Cape Town and not do an Uthando tour is a missed opportunity.