A new tourist initiative takes off in one of the city's most vibrant neighbourhoods.
Bheki Dube (21) forms part of a generation that is removing the jaded "city of gold" lenses through which many still view Johannesburg. Dubbed the "minister of tourism" in the trendy Maboneng precinct in the shabby east of the city's central business district, Dube's latest project as founder and managing director of Curiocity Backpackers encourages travellers to interact with Jo'burg as a metropolis that is a hotbed for urban growth, sustainability and culture.
How did you start exploring cities?
I'm a true Jo'burger. I grew up in Yeoville, about 3km from Maboneng. I lived in an area with some of the great starving artists, socialists and rebels of society. So, I come from a culturally oriented background, and it influenced the way I think and what I do. As I was growing up, I was always skateboarding and exploring the city and this is how I really got to know urban Johannesburg. And now, partnering with Maboneng in a social entrepreneurship, I feel as though my childhood and adult experiences complement each other.
So the Maboneng precinct played a big role in making Curiocity Backpackers a reality?
I studied photography at the Market Photo Workshop [in Newtown] and I thought that I would become a filmmaker. Then Maboneng became a great cultural neighbourhood that provided a platform for creative people like me to combine creative projects with an entrepreneurial edge. My first project at Maboneng was Mainstreet Walks in which my partner, Greg Sooik, and I would take people on urban walks and use transport such as minibus taxis that allowed them to discover the inner city of Jo'burg.
How did you make the transition from Mainstreet Walks to backpacking?
I started documenting backpackers in Durban by taking their portraits, which led me back to Jo'burg to explore the backpacking culture here. I did a photography series called White Trash about the secret societies that form among backpackers – I met people who had been travelling the world for 45 years. I became passionate about the idea of having a backpackers' lodge and worked in partnership with Jonathan Lieberman and Maboneng to achieve that.
What can tourists who go to Curiocity Backpackers experience that others miss out on?
The city has had a negative stigma for too long and we aim to break that down and encourage people to engage with and interact with the city in one of its most vibrant and creative neighbourhoods, Maboneng. Activities like our underground pub crawls give backpackers an authentic Jo'burg experience.
How does Curiocity work with the neighbourhood?
Maboneng is one of the most progressive neighbourhoods, not just in South Africa but also in the world, and the fact that the backpackers' lodge is located in the centre of this cultural hub is transforming how tourists interact with the city. With Maboneng we're taking tourism to the next level. Maboneng is about creativity, sustainability and prosperity, and now we're asking travellers to engage with us. Thanks to Maboneng, I'm achieving things I thought I would only achieve in 30 years' time. And while many South Africans move to other countries to find opportunities, I only moved a few kilometres.
Curiocity’s motto is ‘Explore our world, discover yourself'. How do you allow visiting backpackers to do this?
Backpacking is about finding yourself and we aim to give liberation to the individual. We host inner- city tours, live music, poetry, and combine all of these things so that people can learn. We also allow artist residencies – providing artists with the facilities they need to engage with the community, to create work, which they can donate and contribute in an exchange of ideas. In return, they can stay for free at the backpackers' lodge.
Phone 072 880 9583, email info@curiocity backpackers.com; website: www.curiocitybackpackers.com; Facebook: curiocitybackpackers