My name is Meghan Muldoon and I am a PhD candidate in Critical Tourism Studies from Canada. I am living in South Africa for 5 months to undertake my dissertation research, which is focused on learning about how people living in the Townships feel about the groups of tourists that come through their communities to learn about their lives.
South African Townships were created during apartheid as racially segregated residential neighbourhoods for Black South Africans. Townships have been typically characterized as impoverished communities with poor housing and basic services, limited access to educational and employment opportunities, and high rates of crime. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, there has been little evidence of integration between racially distinct neighbourhoods in the cities, although physical changes in the Townships are evident in the housing complexes that have been built by successive governments as well as in the newer well-appointed homes that have been built by community members who have succeeded in their careers.
Township tours (also characterized as ‘Reality’ or ‘Cultural’ tours) were begun in South Africa by poverty and anti-apartheid groups as a way of showing politicians and social advocates the unequal and inhumane living conditions under which Black South Africans were forced to reside. Today, they are presented as a way to allow tourists to learn about the ‘reality’ of life for many South Africans as well as to spend their tourists dollars (or Rand, or Euros) in ways that directly benefit residents in the Townships.
These tours have also been criticized as an exploitative form of poverty tourism, one that treats people living in Townships as little more than exhibits in a zoo. There has even been suggestion that the tours place downward pressure on development in the Townships, as their appeal as tourism draws lies in their dilapidated and chaotic state.
I have begun this blog as a way of keeping in touch with loved ones back at home, but also as a sort of ‘anti-narrative’ travel blog, somewhere I can share the mistakes that I make as a foreign tourist and researcher, as well as explore the pre-conceived notions that I impose on the places and people that I encounter in my travels. I in no way mean to critique tourists or the tourism industry as a whole, but rather to look at my own behaviours and biases and maybe come to a deeper understanding of how my tourism is implicated in Othering and in imposing my Northern-centric values on how I encounter and engage with the world.
I would also add that because this blog is part of my reflective process in my dissertation research, I have taken pains to not identify the communities that I will be working with in order to protect the confidentiality of the people who live there. I have shared that I am in South Africa because the socio-political history of this place is an important component in understanding the context of the Townships, however I will not go into any specific details about where I am working. This poses a challenge in sharing photos that do not reveal the area or expose the identities of my research partners, but I shall endeavour to make this site as visually compelling as I am able.
I invite anyone encountering this site to initiate or join in a discussion of how we engage with the world as tourists, call me out on my bullshit, and/or challenge some of the perspectives that I write about that may be counter to your own experience or understanding. Thank you for checking out the site, and happy travels 🙂
Also, I owe a huge, HUGE thank you to the indomitable and brilliant Meg Whitton (Meg at The Dock 104.1) for sending me a list of approximately 25 name ideas for this blog. Additionally, my piece-of-love brother, John-Paul Muldoon (Muldoon Web Solutions), was instrumental in helping to get this Luddite online. Thank you both so much!!