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The festival that got South African tour guides back on their feet

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Exploring Salt River in Cape Town, South Africa

31 August 2021 – What happens when you’re a tour guide and the world ‘locks down’? You experience no income for 61 weeks – or more.

This was the reality faced by Shelley Mileham, a 49-year-old, self-employed tour guide based in Cape Town. Jehaad Masoed, a 36-year-old Salt River resident and tour guide faced a similar situation. Both received income for the first time in over a year through the International Public Art Festival (IPAF), which reimagined its 2021 model to be Covid-19 compliant – and provide as much employment as possible.

Dennis Molewa, social media coordinator at Baz-Art, the host of the IPAF and an NPO specialising in using street art to revitalise inclusive urban spaces – says that the 2021 IPAF was business unusual. The team decided to draw on the fact that South Africans were seeking safe, outdoor activities. They introduced a walk-through event that took small groups through immersive artworks, with tour guides available to provide extra insights.

Molewa says, “We conceptualised street art tours that promoted the work of our local and international artists and created critical work for our tour guides, many of whom haven’t received any form of income in almost two years. We didn’t financially benefit, but we gained a whole community of local tour guides. Having the guides on hand to explain the art in more detail gave people a deeper appreciation for street art as an intellectual and legitimate art form.”

Molewa adds that he was part of the committee that trained the tour guides. This was done in two phases – training the guides in everything they needed to know about street art and Baz-Art. And introducing some guides to the local community in Salt River – the home of the IPAF. “We teamed up with three neighbours from the area to teach our guides about its history and heritage. We wanted to respectfully immerse ourselves in the community, to truly connect the artworks to the context.”

Local resident and guide, Masoed, was one of the IPAF 2021 guides. He says he relished the opportunity to do a tour in his neighbourhood, “For many years my tours focused on the Garden Route and other Cape Town attractions, etc. I’ve always seen the street art in my neighbourhood and wanted to include it in my tours, so the pandemic and IPAF finally made that happen.

“Visitors were amazed at Salt River. Some weren’t aware the area existed. We incorporated its history into our commentary as part of the IPAF. The paint on the houses in Salt River is peeling off, so I’d rather have the walls graced with captivating murals. Pensioners living in the area barely have enough money to make it through the month, let alone paint their houses. So, I think they appreciate the art on their homes.”

During the pandemic, Masoed had to turn to staff transportation to survive. The IPAF was something different and allowed him to make money at last. “It gave us hope and what I loved was meeting so many experienced tour guides – their knowledge was inspiring. We grew close like a family and leant new things together.” Book a tour with Masoed via Trans Tours Travel. 

His views are echoed by fellow IPAF guide, Mileham. She says, “I’ve gone from hero to zero – no income for more than 61 weeks. I’ve needed to use up my savings which are almost depleted. That’s brought a lot more anxiety to my day because the situation is stressful; you don’t know when it’s going to be over. I’ve paid UIF for years, which I haven’t been able to access.

“The IPAF was very exciting because a) someone’s thinking of us, b) someone’s including us and upskilling us. Being inquisitive has always been my first instinct because I’m naturally curious and a traveller myself, so learning about Salt River and doing the tours were very rewarding for me.

The tours were so affordable – it was R200 per household (to respect covid compliance) in order for the tour to be accessible for all socio economic groups, now the rate is R200 per person ) and for the tour to be accessible to all socio economic groups, now the rate is, which was decided by the tour guide community. They organised it in a way that people felt safe, with small groups made up of households.

For me it wasn’t really about the money; it’s been a mentally stimulating thing for me during a very stressful time. Doing what I love – it’s a passion. Imagine being able to talk for a living and then being locked away for over a year – it was extremely difficult for my mental health – as it was for a lot of others and still is. IPAF made me feel alive again and connected with a community.” Mileham can be contacted via  and at Cape Fusion Tours for food and culinary tours.

All the profits from the tours that come through the Baz-Art website go directly to the guides, along with any tips. This has created an entrepreneurial opportunity for a community of guides. It’s also enabling visitors to explore Salt River in a completely new way.

Molewa concludes, “It is well known that the pandemic had a negative impact on the tourism industry in Cape Town. However, IPAF brought a fresh wind. The street art tours were extremely successful and provided a platform for guides to work and earn an income.

Baz-Art didn’t take any of the profit, but invested time, labour and money to ensure the tours ran smoothly. It was incredibly rewarding to see the resulting success for everyone involved – our artists benefited from a huge amount of exposure, our festival was well attended and meaningful new relationships were formed with local tour guides.

We see ourselves as facilitators and connectors that bring different stakeholders in the industry together. The IPAF 2021 was an example of this in action.”

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