‘Tjommies’ help lost tourists


Tourists visiting Cape Town now have no excuse for getting lost thanks to the Cape Town tjommies, a unique project taking unemployed people and turning them into visitor guides.

The brainchild of non-profit organisation Men on the Side of the Road, the tjommies (Afrikaans slang for friend) are dressed in yellow bibs and red caps.

There are now eight tjommies helping lost tourists, but thanks to a R250 000 injection from the City of Cape Town, there are plans to employ 100 tjommies by 2009.

But one of the tjommies, Nosipho Damane, 28, who comes from Gugulethu, but can be found in Adderley street, said it was not easy to approach tourists who appeared visibly lost as they became aggressive and thought she was a beggar.

“It’s not easy. When you see a tourist walking carrying a map, you can see that he or she is lost, but when you approach them to render the tjommie service they say ‘No, no, no… It’s fine’. They appear upset and scared.”

Despite this problem she said she enjoyed helping tourists.

Sipho Ndzukuma, 21, from Khayelitsha, said the project had helped him.

“The tjommies project has been helpful. It has boosted my welfare. Before joining the tjommies I was just sitting at home doing nothing,” he said.

Project director Peter Kratz said Men on the Side of the Road, in partnership with Cape Town Tourism, had come up with the concept last December.

Kratz said a pilot project had been conducted to find out if the idea could work. This saw 11 tjommies being selected and trained.

He said the project was part of developing visitor services for 2010.

Tjommies could earn up to R450 a week.

Social development and tourism mayoral committee member Simon Grindrod said the programme was an example of tourism creating opportunities on the ground for the unemployed.