Watching Nelson Mandela’s Memorial this morning reminded us of our recent visit to the Masiphumelele Township, where 40,000 live in shacks.  The Township Sisters, Ali and Mandy, gave us a unique walking tour through the “eyes of a local.” In memory of Nelson Mandela, we share our impressions from meeting the people in this township – proof of Mandela’s legacy!

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 “Masiphumelele means ‘we shall succeed’ in Xhosa,” shared Ali as we started our tour.  We had heard that most township tours take place in vans, and shared our safety concerns about walking the township roads with our guides.  Mandy, who is from the township, reassured us with a huge smile that “It’s the best way to see the township and  really understand the people who live here.  The Masi people are determined to create a better life and help themselves.  You will see for yourselves.”

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Ali and Mandy’s relationship started in 2005 when Mandy went to Ali’s home to help with her children.  Mandy looked after Ali’s family as a domestic helper.  Ali told us, “We would be totally lost without Mandy.  She’s family – our mom, our sister, our friend.”  Ali is committed to meaningful programs in Masi, and has been working in the tourism industry since 2002.  Mandy lives in Masi and is a mom to 3 children – Kitanyisile, Lilita, and Lithemba.  Her knowledge of and enthusiasm for community resulted in joining forces with Ali to offer tourists a glimpse of Mandy’s life and her house.

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Located southwest from Cape Town, on Old Kommetjie Road between Kommetjie and Noordhoek, this township is also referred to as “Site 5″.  Life in a township is difficult.   Most residents live in poverty and are faced with challenges related to water, hunger, HIV/AIDS, healthcare, sewage, policing, safety, education and employment.

Our tour walked us down the paths to the township’s school, local homes, stores, library, cafes, clinic, where we met some residents and heard about what life is like in a township.

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We saw a strong sense of community and hope for the future as life continues to slowly profess improvements in education, health care, and opportunities for small business.  We met a seamstress/clothing designer at her humble shop where temperatures can soar in the summertime, but she continues to design clothes and is grateful to be able to do her work.  She generously gave me this skirt (see photo below) with a Nelson Mandela design.

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We were moved by the South African dream of creating a better life for your children.  Inspired by Mandela to improve the quality of life for all.  This community pulls together to take action and be part of the solution for a brighter future.

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We heard the about the vulnerabilities and challenges from residents in this township from the impact of 30% unemployment.  Economic opportunity is the key to a better life for all.  As we walked each block in the township, we noticed there are entrepreneurs who have set up their own businesses – hair salons, cafes, grocery stores, sewing shop.

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We felt a sense of pride in South Africa instilled in the children, evidenced by their beautiful singing of  national anthem from their heart, feeling with their eyes closed and moving to the rhythm of the song  together. Their voices lifting up in solidarity and freedom, so pure and real.  Click here to listen to the Masiphumelele Township children sing the South Africa National Anthem – full of heart!

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The impressions of graffiti street art by Paradox and the inspiration of his music.

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After a few hours at Masi, we left with reminders about the daily comforts, privileges we take for granted, and a heightened awareness of the townships living in poverty.

More importantly, it was inspiring to witness what can happen when a community joins together to face adversity and improve lives.  We saw a wealth unmeasured by most people in this world.  A wealth brimming with vibrant culture,  great hope and undying love for South Africa.

We were touched by the forever bond between Ali and Mandy.  Their efforts to improve each other’s lives, and so many others in the Masiphumelele Township, are a shining example to all of us.

Ali and Mandy teach us how to share each other’s struggles, hopes, and dreams – true sisterhood lives here!

By:  Marianne Burtnett and Patricia Stone

Acknowledgement:  This tour was hosted by Ali and Mandy of The Township Sisters

To book a township tour with The Township Sisters, please contact Ali and Mandy, +27 82 306 8877 or by email:


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