Squatter camp residents find way to cash in on tourism

Seeing buses full of tourists looking for a glimpse of South African poverty, squatter camp resident Lawrence Rolomana decided to try to earn a share of the cash they were spending.

Seeing buses full of tourists looking for a glimpse of South African poverty, squatter camp resident Lawrence Rolomana decided to try to earn a share of the cash they were spending.

Bored and jobless, he approached the tour guides and asked: "Can you please share your guests with us?"

He suggested showing the visitors around the camp where he lives, offering them more than just a fleeting glimpse from the road. "No problem," he was told, "as long as you bring them back in one piece."

Attracting tourists might seem a daunting task for someone living in a squatter camp in Soweto.

However, Rolomana and his friends now take hundreds of mostly Western visitors around their community every week.

Before tours were organised, visitors on their way to see the house of former president Nelson Mandela in Soweto were already stopping by for a glimpse from the safety of their buses.

Four years later, after working with residents on security and tour guiding skills, professional guides are happy with the arrangement.

So are Rolomana and 20 other residents who share the work.

Touring the settlement is free. But Rolomana can make up to R100 in tips, taking visitors on a short stroll down the narrow alleys, visiting a shack and watching residents coming and going and collecting water at one of the communal taps.

Growing numbers of tourists are now visiting townships between safaris and trips to the beach in Cape Town.

Professional guide Antonio Vukman said visitors usually wanted to see the camps but money was a problem and tours needed to be better organised, with a fixed price.

"People hammer on their poverty, they ask for money ... it lacks structure," he said. "Tours may take Soweto out of their trip if people complain about being compelled to give money." - Reuters

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