Setting up township tours

Parys sangomas dressed in their finery

Some years ago I ran a township tour for half a dozen Sudanese journalists visiting Parys. We went to Tumahole and the visitors had their fortunes told by Sangomas throwing the bones and going into trances. After the throwing of the bones there was a throwing of dollars into the same pile.

That was a once-off tour. It’s only when you set out to start a new township tourism business that you realise how much needs to be done – and how many skills, and connections, are involved.

I’m currently helping a guide, Shadrach Qwele, to get his accreditation as an NQF-qualifed tour guide for Tumahole. He has years of experience guiding with me in the Vredefort Dome and on the Vaal & Orange rivers. He has already developed the township tour and proved that he has all the people skills, the business sense and the enthusiasm needed to make a lasting success of things.

Things are happening on the local scene with the founding of a new tourism association and promotions planned for Heritage Day in September. So it’s a good time to get going.

Shadrach with visitors at the Parys Museum

Parys and Tumahole are a fascinating combination: a typical apartheid white town and black satellite, slowly breaking down into a mixed city. The name Tumahole means “post box” in seSotho and it derives from the fact that people used to come from near and far to a trading store to collect their post. Parys, of course, is the “Paris” of the veld: the original surveyor thought the Vaal reminded him of the Seine!


We have done some historical research showing that the antigovernment uprising of 1984-5 actually had its beginnings in Parys, leading to the declaration of two successive States of Emergency under President PW Botha. The situation differed markedly from the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

The 1976 events arose from protests against the forced use of Afrikaans in schools. When police fired on peaceful young marchers there was a spontaneous outburst of rage which soon turned into community-wide wrecking of beerhalls and the blockading of no-go areas for police. The protests were eventually suppressed with great loss of life. Resentment continued to boil beneath the surface.

!!DOME BTF Sharpeville_Massacre
Scene after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960

The 1984-5 uprising was far more solidly organised as a revolutionary challenge to the regime as a whole. Those youths who had survived the shootings were burning to avenge the dead. Their spirit was forged in the fires of 1976-7 but they were now mature men and women and were determined to overthrow apartheid once and for all. It began with agitation in Parys, connecting with similar grassroots activities in the Vaal area and Soweto, leading to massive and continuous disturbances.

The apartheid state was now forced to defend itself on two fronts: in the border war against guerillas, and in the urban and rural areas where a low-level civil war took fire.

It was at this time that a young Parys activist called Stompie Sepei was recruited as a member of Winnie Mandela’s “soccer team” and eventually murdered as a suspected police spy. The allegation has always been denied; and it took a huge PR effort by the ANC to win back popular support in Tumahole in later years. Stompie’s grave is in the township and is one of the sites of interest on Shadrach’s tour.


Naturally, there will be visits to taverns to savour the local food and to down beverages with the shebeen guests. There are personalities aplenty to enliven tourists with their stories; and guest houses to stay in. There are various heritage buildings and memorial places.

Vredefort school choir

But there’s much to do to prepare his Portfolio of Experience for Drumbeat Academy, and not much time to do it. Shadrach wants to be legalised ASAP because tourists are pouring into Parys. What’s to do? Well…

  • Formalise everything that he has been offering, as written tour itineraries
  • Draw up a logical business plan for tour development, budgets and guide training
  • Set up an inquiries and reception system, office and database
  • Launch a website, print a business card and colour brochure
  • Promote and market through local outlets and further afield
  • Work together with the museum and heritage groups to broaden public knowledge
  • Manage tour risks, security, transport, monies and accounts
  • List all contacts in the township along with details of what makes each site interesting
  • Join various national associations and support groups with know-how and official backing

After running informally for a while the time has come for Shadrach to create the essential infrastucture of a sustainable business. Communities must see this type of tourism as a job creator and prideful asset.

Shadrach realises that to get the business running as a business is a 24-hour a day job. He will integrate with tours of Vredefort Dome and battlefields (Sharpeville is nearby, as are numerous Boer War sites). The gold rush of 1878 happened here too; so there’s no shortage of interest. Getting up and running is all about organisation.

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