Township Tourism: Zim concept fails to catch on

 

Once viewed as the panacea for the country’s waning tourism earnings, the concept of Township Tourism in Zimbabwe appears to have failed to make the desired impact of historical and cultural tourism in local communities through the use of significant landmarks.

Launched amid much pomp and fanfare in October 2012 in the historic township of Highfield, the event had all the trappings of a well-choreographed script featuring some of the bigwigs and enablers in the tourism industry and political leadership.

The reason why Highfield was the launch pad was probably because it is the bedrock of nationalist politics. And was home to icons such as President Mugabe, the late Vice President Joshua Nkomo, the late Herbert Chitepo, the late Leopold Takawira, the late Enos Nkala, the late Bernard Chidzero and many other luminaries, who were behind the liberation of the country from colonial rule.

Working closely with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, the Ministry of Tourism was expecting to take the township or village tourism concept a step further and harness the expected economic benefits from the innovation.  Beginning with the homes of the well-known nationalists, it was expected that the initiative would help create knowledge about the early nationalist movements and also provide insights into the African way of life particularly in Harare’s second oldest township, Highfield or simply ‘Fio’ in street language.

Almost a year has passed since the historic launch of Township Tourism by Vice President Joice Mujuru and besides the symbolic sheds built outside the homes there is nothing to show that the concept still lives. At the house belonging to President Mugabe in New Canaan where one of his close relatives now lives, there was no activity at all and security details there said that no one was allowed to enter the house unless they got clearance from the Zimbabwe Republic Police in Southerton.

We were also barred from taking pictures of the bullet-riddled walls of the residence that has since been declared a national tourism site. The house bears the marks of a foiled assassination attempt on President Mugabe and is steeped in the history of the struggle for independence.  Although it is understood that plans are underway to open up the house to the public to create a better understanding about the President’s lifestyle, nobody has been forthcoming with the details.

At the house belonging to another significant national hero, Leopold Takawira in the same suburb, it is a different story as it has now been turned into a private clinic. Tenants at the clinic said they were not aware that the house was a national monument and could not give further details.  Although the staff was friendly and welcoming, there was no clear position regarding the provision of data about the historical significance of the residence.

Elsewhere in the suburb, the imposing single-storey residence of the late Vice President Nkomo in Old Highfield still remains intact and the woman staying there said there were no overtures extended regarding the status of the home. She, however, said that she was open to any visitors who wanted to view the premises.

Township tourism is a key sub-sector of the tourism industry in neighbouring South Africa.

Soweto Township is by far the biggest draw card in the industry given its significance in the country’s fight against apartheid.

Orlando Street is probably the most popular street given that it used to be home to some of the most prominent black liberation leaders during apartheid who include the late former President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

And just a stone’s throw away from the Mandela house is the Hector Pieterson Memorial, which is located close to where Pieterson was shot dead during the Soweto uprising in 1976. The Mandela house, which is now called the Mandela Family Museum, was petrol bombed and set alight several times during his time as a liberation fighter.

Today, however, busloads of foreign tourists frequent the house on a daily basis to get a feel of life in the township and also to get a first-hand account of the struggle at a nominal fee.

Township tourism has since spread to other cities such as Cape Town and Durban, where it has also recorded successes.

Other attractions in Soweto include the Apartheid Museum, which is filled with exhibits that include photographs and video footage, among other paraphernalia, which were used during the fight against the white system.

Visitors also get an opportunity to listen to township jazz music while enjoying braais at different spots dotted around the townships.

Township tourism is a type of tourism that involves visiting low-income areas mainly by foreign tourists.

In Africa, township tourism dates back to the 1980s in South Africa where black residents organised township tours to educate the whites in local governments on how the black population lived.  It has now developed into a fundamental sub-sector of the tourism industry down South.

The township tours, which are highly popular with Western tourists, involve guided walks through sections of the locations, as well as visits to places of interest, including township schools and sites dedicated to people and events pivotal in the struggle for independence.

Proponents of township tourism argue that it affords tourists, especially those from developed countries, an opportunity to get a “feel” of life in the townships.

Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi was emphatic at the launch of the Township Tourism concept that this tied in well with the country’s National Tourism Policy. Besides learning history in schools, the broader plan was to package it and sell it for economic benefits and thereby enriching earnings of the tourism industry. – The Herald

January 2014
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