Young entrepreneur gives Soweto tourism a boost
Lebohang Malepa started selling craftwork at the historic Hector Peterson Museum in Soweto about a decade ago, with no inkling it would make him a force in the tourism industry.
Malepa, 32, is now the proud owner of Lebo's Soweto Backpackers, an enterprise in Orlando West that gives tourists the opportunity to visit tourist hotspots without being restricted to the set tours run by most other operators.
In November last year, Malepa was chosen the first runner-up for South African Tourism's Emerging Tourism Intrepreneur of the Year Award. The ceremony was held in London at the yearly World Tourism Market, the world's biggest tourism trade show.
"I did not win the first prize, but it is encouraging to know that my efforts have been recognised. That will encourage other youth to do things for themselves."
He won another prize for excellence from the Tourism Business Council of South Africa last month.
Malepa went into tourism as a bored 20-something who had just completed his matric and had no interest in furthering his studies at tertiary level.
"I joined the guys who were selling craftwork at Hector Peterson Museum. I was living alone at my grandparents' house and met people who would tell me they knew tourists who wanted to spend a night in Soweto and were not interested in a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast. They were adventurous people who did not want formality.
"Tourists from France advised me to open a backpacker. I started three years ago when this house was still an original four-room [matchbox]," he said.
He then introduced bicycle tours, the first in Soweto or in any other black community in South Africa.
He offers single-bed rooms, double beds and dormitories at the backpacker, which he runs with his Swedish fiancée, Maria Westlund. The establishment also offers guests breakfast and dinner.
"We encourage people to eat lunch at restaurants because that is the time they are out on tours," says the father of a six-year-old daughter.
He already has another project: setting up a park opposite his house, as one of the formal fan parks for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
"I am planting trees so we can use the park to watch the games," Malepa said.