Backpackerspacks them in

LEBO Malepa has one ambition - to sell the beauty of township life to the world.

In pursuit of this Malepa, 33, has turned his family home in Orlando West into an acclaimed tourist attraction and a dump site into a green camp site.

His business in Orlando West, Soweto, - Soweto Backpackers - started in 2003 and is now a big tourist attraction in the township.

It provides accommodation and a real feel of South Africa's biggest and most famous township.

But Malepa can only sum up his success with: "I'm just an entrepreneur from the streets."

His idea was sparked back in 1998 when he was selling artefacts to tourists at Hector Pieterson Square in Soweto.

"I used to ask the tourists where they were going in Soweto and what their expectations of the place was," Malepa said.

He then developed a thick contact book of tour operators that organised tours in Soweto.

During that time Malepa saved money for renovations but the house was still not his.

"I begged my father to give the house to me but he was not convinced my idea would succeeded. But he finally relented," he said.

Malepa lives in an apartment of the house while the main house is for letting.

Soweto Backpackers began by hosting two people a night in 2003.

"We did not advertise much. We hosted journalists who were here on special assignments, and when they returned to their home countries they wrote about our place," he said.

But opposite his tourist attraction was a dump site.

Malepa worked tirelessly with his staff and turned the dump site into a park where people now unwind with caravans during summer.

Today Soweto Backpackers can host 23 people and offers camping, live music and soccer games.

Malepo also coordinates soccer games between tourists and locals. Malepo also has 35 bicycles for tourists to tour around Soweto.

Soweto Backpackers is about 20 minutes' walk from former president Nelson Mandela's house and the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum.

"We are working on opening another outlet in Orlando East soon. In fact I want to have this done before the 2010 World Cup kicks off," he said.

"I would like to keep the new outlet as townshipwise as possible."

Asked about family life, Malepa said: "I'm very busy. It's too hard for me to get married now." But he has an eight-year-old son Lesego.

His dream is to open Backpackers in Durban and Cape Town after the 2010 World Cup.

Malepa attributes his success to three things - hard work, passion and being a go-getter.