Page last updated at 05:30 GMT, Saturday, 11 December 2010

Finding friends in dangerous South African township

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Gugulethu township, Cape Town

Following the kidnapping and murder of honeymoon bride, Anni Dewani, in a township outside Cape Town in November, some locals are keen to show there is another side to their community.

A man in Gugulethu township walking near the spot where a woman on honeymoon was thought to be kidnapped
Many residents feel Gugulethu does not deserve its bad reputation

You do not see many white faces in Gugulethu these days.

Virtually the only ones you see are those of journalists trying to make sense of this confusing place.

All the world has heard of the terrible things that can go on here, but that is not the whole story.

There are many who have pride in this troubled place and more often than not there is real warmth shown to visitors.

In the sweltering heat, our car has broken down. We grind to a halt at a busy intersection. There are shacks to the left of us and the ubiquitous white taxi-buses ambling past us on the right.

Fortunately it is daylight. Township code dictates that criminals rarely strike during the day here, for fear of being lynched by the community.

But at night few people walk the streets and even the toughest here will tell you that "Gugs" - as they call it - is just not safe.

Social melting pot

In this country, where everything is defined by the colour of your skin, the image of my white cameraman pounding frantically on the window of a bus alongside us, must have seemed bizarre.

Like many township residents in South Africa, people in Gugulethu feel their neighbourhood is misunderstood

But of course my colleague simply wants a lift, so he can summon help for his car.

The driver of the bus proves to be an affable man called Ernest with an easy smile and within minutes he has helped us to get our car back on the road.

In the white suburbs of South Africa, people fear strangers. Here it seems the vast majority of people welcome them.

We leave behind a trail of waving hands and kind words from the crowd that has gathered beside us. They urge us to return to "Gugs" when we have got more time.

Like many township residents in South Africa, people in Gugulethu feel their neighbourhood is misunderstood. They say outsiders frequently betray their ignorance of what everyday life is like here.

In the post-apartheid era, many people have chosen to stay on in the townships. Life feels more real here, they tell me.

Lele, a young businessman, shows us around.

He points to a row of brightly coloured houses where the posh folk of Gugulethu live.

Map of South Africa showing Cape Town

Absent are the high walls and the barbed wire fences that characterise the affluent and more nervous parts of South Africa. He tells me people know their neighbours here. That is more than I can say about where I live in Johannesburg.

These are properties that would not look out of place in any smart urban suburb, but not so far away there are ramshackle shacks too.

Gugulethu, like other townships, is a real social melting pot. Professional people live alongside the unemployed, gangsters and preachers rub along side-by-side. And they all worry about crime.

They all hear the same gunshots at night and they all feel tainted by the killing of a tourist.

Lele says the last time an outsider was killed here was back in 1993. The recent tourist killing, he adds, has left an ugly stain on this proud community.

Pride and dreams

I go to sample opinion in a lively restaurant called Mzoli's. Here people come to feast on thick chunks of barbecued meat served on enormous metal plates.

A man cooks a sheep at Mzoli's
Mzoli's restaurant opened in 2003 and has become a popular tourist attraction

In the corner there are a group of musicians, loudly improvising and singing. They have just dropped in from a practice session at Volcano's rehearsal rooms down the road.

Volcano, despite his name, is a quietly spoken Rastafarian, who like many here is trying to do something positive for his community. He has opened his backyard to provide a meeting place for the young people of Gugulethu to try to divert them away from crime.

For them, music has become a refuge. They make a few rand from concerts or by passing a hat around Mzoli's restaurant when the occasional tourist drops by. They have big dreams. They have dreams of big record deals.

Storming into Volcano's rehearsal rooms comes Kristi. Brash, confident and cool, he has heard the BBC is in town and wants to have a word.


There have been 700 murders here in the past five years, but many of them happened behind closed doors - they were domestic crimes, not attacks on strangers

With his sunglasses clamped firmly on to his face, he grabs a microphone and begins to rap.

His song is an ironic one, all about the township. He may be vain, but he is obviously a clever man who understands satire.

Afterwards I talk to him about his neighbourhood.

He is proud of it, yet he is also realistic about life on the streets here, where one in five people, many of them young, are unemployed and easily tempted into a life of crime. He tells me it costs 100 rand ($15) to kill someone.

The crime statistics in Gugulethu are staggering. There have been 700 murders here in the past five years, but many of them happened behind closed doors - they were domestic crimes, not attacks on strangers.

And this is clearly a community sensitive about airing its dirty washing in public.

A week later I am back in Gugulethu township and bump into one of Kristi's mates. He welcomes us with a broad smile.

"So we didn't scare you off, my sister?" he beams broadly. "No," I reply, "not at all."

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