Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsuMasizakhe
Where? To arrange a tour contact: Thandi on The Township Tours Graaff-Reinet Facebook page (if you cannot reach her, Graaff-Reinet's tourist information will have details).
uMasizakhe is the township on the edge of Graaff-Reinet, home to the town's Sotho and Xhosa speaking communities. The township's name means 'we built it ourselves' and has a history that hails back to the late 19th century.
It grew for a number of reasons.
Like many of the townships alongside small Karoo towns, its major reason for development was the need for black labour close to town. The other reason was the arrival of some 3 000 starving Xhosa people, as a result of the Xhosa Cattle Killings of 1856/7.
The Xhosa Cattle Killings is an intriguing story.
The story tells of two girls sent out to guard the fields of a minor chiefdom of the Gealeka Xhosa people against birds. The eldest was called Nongqawuse, the other, Nonkos, was a lot younger. Two men 'appeared' to the girls and sent their greetings back to the people, giving their names – the chiefs, Napakade, the son of Sifuba-sibanzi - as people long dead.
These men then prophesied that the whole Xhosa nation would rise from the dead if all living cattle were slaughtered. The cattle, they said, had been reared by those practising witchcraft and were tainted.
What followed was a senseless slaughter of some 400 000 cattle, in obedience to Nongqawuse's prophecy.
40 000 Xhosa died of starvation, and another 40 000, at least, had to leave their homes to find food. The ongoing resistance of the Xhosa to colonial expansion was completely disrupted. They virtually gave away almost all their remaining land to settlers (Nongqawuse was later arrested and imprisoned on Robben Island, by the British).
When uMasizakhe township began the earliest shelters were huts and Khoisan style homes with reed mats for roofs. Most were built from stone, mud and plaster. During apartheid no-one could own their homes. Today most people are residents, which accounts for the visibly spontaneous and creative renovations.
The township, like most townships across the country today, experiences high levels of unemployment, poor infrastructure and a major dependence on social grants.
But it has unique qualities that attract tourists to visit as part of a township tour.
These include: unique historical buildings in the Royal Block on Queen Street, erected during the Anglo-Boer War for stable grooms; unique architecture - at least 30 churches; and safety – it is possible to walk around and interact with locals.
uMasizakhe overlooks Graaff-Reinet's horseshoe shape on the edge of town.