“I’m not disabled. I’m differently abled.”
This is how Winston Fani, Cape Town’s first blind tour guide, describes himself as he leads tourists through the streets of Salt River, stopping in front of giant works of art dotted around the suburb.
His tour is a flagship project to create a more inclusive tourism sector.
Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy on Tuesday announced a series of new measures to make tourism in the Mother City more accessible as part of a new campaign, including audio descriptions of landmarks, audio guides and maps of accessible routes for disabled tourists.Fani was born partially sighted and lost his sight completely at the age of 11
Losing his sight meant he could no longer play the sport he loved, but the support of his family and friends made him determined to make the best of his situation.Fani, who grew up in Gqeberha, moved to Cape Town to be with the “love of his life”, Busisiwe.
Fani gave his first tour to the media on Tuesday and said he had practised so many times that he was no longer nervous.
“Being the first blind guide in Africa is important. People think things are impossible and they limit themselves. But it is possible. I’m possible,” he said.
Fani’s journey to become a guide began when he met Tania Robbertze and Wendy Purdon. Robbertze and Purdon are guide dog trainers.
Robbertze raised Gladys, the guide dog that was matched with Fani’s wife Busisiwe.When Robbertze met Fani and Busisiwe, she realised that they were living in difficult conditions in Mfuleni, partly because Fani had been unemployed since being made redundant in 2020.
She and Purdon – who runs a travel company – suggested that Fani take up guiding, and the mission began to find him funding.
Robbertze set up a Back-a-Buddy fund, and when she contacted Cape Town Tourism on social media, Duminy immediately offered to pay for Fani’s training.
Studying to become a tour guide came with its own challenges: Fani had to navigate public transport to Century City and walk more than a kilometre to his classes. There were also assignments and visits to areas to learn about their history.
“He’s very brave, but he’s also very willing. He’s got such a sense of adventure,” said Robbertze.
Busisiwe described her husband as having “huge potential” and the kind of person who “goes after what he wants”.
She said:I’m very proud of him. It was never a walk in the park.She added that the tour had also opened up the artwork to visually impaired people who might not have been able to appreciate it before.
“I never knew anything about the art before. It’s something you can learn more about,” she said.
Fani’s tour includes 12 murals on the streets of Salt River, each created in partnership with Baz-Art’s International Public Arts Festival.Although he has never seen the artwork, he describes the murals and unpacks the work with those who tour with him.
All the artworks on his tour have been fitted with Braille plaques and a QR code that links to guided audio content on each mural.
Fani is already thinking about new tours to keep his offering competitive.
“Instead of saying I can’t, I say I can try. It doesn’t matter how difficult it is, I’ll do it,” he said.