Lonely Planet Writer

Township street art tourism on the rise in Cape Town and Johannesburg

Visits to historic townships and tours of the most famous street art of Johannesburg and Cape Town are among the newest off-the-beaten track attractions for visitors to South Africa.

 A graffiti artist at work is seen during the 4th annual “City Of Gold” Urban Art Festival in Johannesburg South Africa on October 9, 2014.
A graffiti artist at work is seen during the 4th annual “City Of Gold” Urban Art Festival in Johannesburg South Africa on October 9, 2014. Image by IhsaanHaffejee/Getty Images

The popular graffiti tours bring tourists around the streets of the country’s two main cities by bicycle, guiding them from mural to mural, and explaining the background to artworks by both local and international artists.

The trips are available through Gummie, a company that wants to offer tourists a different flavour of South Africa to what they might find on their typical tourist maps.

Cycling tours of the township of Soweto are available where visitors can meet local residents, visit their houses, and hear their stories.

En route, day-trippers will pass Nelson Mandela’s former home, the house of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and also the “Beverly Hills of Soweto” where Winnie Mandela lives .

Ksenia Mardina, founder of Gummie, explained to Lonely Planet: “Cape Town and Johannesburg are often presented from a very obvious angle of beautiful nature, colonial history and extreme poverty.

“We at Gummie believe that these cities have more to offer. We also do not support so-called ‘human safaris’ – going to townships to photograph poor people. That’s why we source and promote authentic experiences that showcase creativity and talent of local communities.

“Street art, food, music, design and wine – these are just a few things South Africans are really good in, and I don’t see why every traveller should not get a first-hand experience of it all.”

On another walk, a local art gallery owner brings tourists on a curated tour of six of the best small galleries and studios in the bustling art scene of Newtown in Johannesburg.

There are also tours of Hillbrow – an area once notorious for crime in Johannesburg that is being “reborn as one of the most vibrant suburbs of the city”.

In Cape Town, the tours are mostly more traditional with horse riding, wine tasting, and guided hikes up Table Mountain.

However, Gummie also have available a tour of Khayelitsha, the largest township in South Africa, which is led by artist and social activist Juma Mkwela.