The heart and soul of Africa — and especially South Africa — is its people. That’s why a dedicated and enthusiastic group of entrepreneurs from Soweto recently came together under the ‘Township Tourism’ umbrella at Indaba to share their passion and community with the world.
For years, due to its rapid growth and a high rate of unemployment, Soweto was a hot spot for violent crime. In the mid-90s interest in this area started to grow and as tour companies started visiting the township — and “bus tourism” was introduced to the area.
Senthereng Tshikane, owner of Atamela Tours, said initially tours into Soweto didn’t work out: “Buses came driving through our streets with tourists taking pictures out of the windows. They were afraid to get off the bus, which made us feel like we were animals in a zoo.”
However, following some time studying tourism in Germany, Senthereng returned to Soweto and developed her own tour company, offering itineries across the whole of Johannesburg, including Soweto.
Sowetans are now not only offering visits into their community — they are keen for tourists to linger, spend some time, share a meal and experience the real Soweto: ‘The Heart of Africa’. The locals are opening their homes to tourists.
Zaza’s Guesthouse and Spa, which has been operating since 2003, provides a luxurious experience for its guests, with all the latest security measures. The owner Ayanada Hermanus is quick to add that, “It is not that Soweto is unsafe, it is to ensure that the guests feel comfortable, and since we have been open we have not had one instance of theft or violence.”
Lebo’s Soweto Bicycle Tours and Backpackers is also a huge success. In 1998, Lebo Malepa started his backpackers’ business when he too started noticing the buses driving through his community. He felt that the tourists on those buses were missing out, so he set out to ensure that they stopped, had a meal, talked to the locals and experienced life in Soweto.
He gave his first guests his own bedroom, and over the next five year he continued to grow his business, Malepa is now proud to offer private rooms and dorms. He originally catered to the “younger crowd” but he soon opened a second business to focus upon an “older crowd”.
Soweto’s doors are now well and truly open for business. These businesses want to share all that Soweto has to offer with tourists. The warmth of the people of South Africa can be felt within this group of very dedicated tourism entrepreneurs.