Bheki Dube is a young entrepreneur in South Africa’s tourism industry. He recently founded ‘Curiocity Backpackers’ situated in the heart of Maboneng. The accommodation, and the guided experiences through the inner city that it offers, allow locals and people from around the world to see Johannesburg at its finest. Bheki’s main aim is to break the negative connotations that surround ‘the city of gold’.
Curiocity is currently the home to 6 artists taking part in The Residence by ABSOLUT, a two week campaign challenging the participating artists to ‘Transform Today’ using Johannesburg as their inspiration.
A creative himself, Bheki studied photography at the Market Photo Workshop and it was through a project taking portraits of backpackers that he became interested in the culture. A true local who grew up just a kilometre from Maboneng, Bheki has always been an advocate for the area doing walking or mini bus taxi tours for Main Street Walks with partner Greg Sooik.
We asked the photographer turned entrepreneur a few questions about his new venture:
Please tell us about yourself and what you do:
I’m Bheki Dube, an entrepreneur who is focusing in the tourism industry. I run a company called Main Street Walks and I also recently opened a backpackers called ‘Curiocity Backpackers’ which is based in the vibrant Maboneng neighbourhood.
How did the concept for Curiocity Backpackers come about?
My background is in photography. I grew up in Troyville which is a kilometre away from Maboneng and I basically grew up skateboarding, photographing the city. There was a trip I took to Durban when I was documenting different portraits that was the catalyst of me actually making this dream of starting a backpackers come alive. On my journey back, I met up with the property developer of Maboneng – Jonathan Liebmann – whom at the time was also thinking of starting a backpackers. We sat down and put our heads together and said yeah, why not start a backpackers together? And seeing as though I was already in the tourism industry with ‘Main Street Walks’, opening a backpackers would complement the tourism ideas that were already infiltrating within Maboneng and within the inner city of Johannesburg.
Do you travel often yourself? If so, did this influence you to start Curiocity Backpackers?
I actually don’t travel much. I mean I’ve only been to Sweden and just around the African continent. It’s the fact that I didn’t travel much that actually made me want to start a backpackers. By having a backpackers essentially leads to meeting many different people. I get to share this vibrant city with them and give them the authentic Johannesburg experience. At the end of the day it feels like you’ve travelled the entire world by just meeting the different backpackers that come in.
What do you enjoy most about our city when compared to others?
Joburg is a city with miracles of kindness and it’s got its own generosity. It’s special because you have to strive to find its love and you have to fight to make you mark – I think that’s what I love the most about our city. It really pushes you to your greatest potential and takes you beyond human existence.
Other than being situated in the heart of the Maboneng, how does Curiocity Backpackers incorporate Maboneng for tourists to interact with the ‘city of gold’?
We are very fortunate to be situated in Maboneng because of the vibrant neighbourhood and that it is one of the oldest suburbs. The history that comes with Cucriotiy Backpackers is a story for another day – I mean this is where ANC comrades used to hide out. But we’ve incorporated the city by organising authentic tours. So one would start off exploring and engaging the surrounding communities by using public transport. The tour also takes you from the oldest traditional healers’ market to the largest second hand book store in the Southern hemisphere to the Ethiopian community on Jeppe Street to some of Joburg’s best views – many of these spaces are places where people are reluctant to visit. We’re actually incorporating a really cool tour – a three day package- where backpackers can explore the city on their time.
What do you think is one thing every South Africa should know about or experience in Maboneng?
I think the history within Maboneng is incredible, this is where one of the first Randlords settled. Yeah, so the history of Maboneng is a vital part of Johannesburg’s existence. I think everyone should experience the public art as it is so fascinating and incredible. The community within Maboneng is also very special.
What have you learnt from starting Curiocity Backpackers? Any experiences you would like to share?
One vital thing that I’ve learnt – especially based in the Backpacking industry – is that it’s not based on socialism or on capitalism. It’s about following your dreams and passion and I think that no school or any millionaire can teach you that.
What has been your greatest challenge in starting this business?
Converting people who still have a negative stigma about Johannesburg. But once you achieve it, you feel very happy about it. When I started Curiocity Backpackers, a lot of guys used to tell me that it was bad idea but being the first backpackers in the inner city and looking at the numbers of the different people we’ve hosted at Curiocity is incredible.
Which other local creative entrepreneurs inspire you, and why?
I look up to my mentors like Jonathan. Every business in the precinct that has been started by young entrepreneurs that have established their own path inspires me . I try to grasp as much from each individual to create a better me. So the surrounding community within Maboneng itself inspires me on a daily basis.
Where do you see Curiocity Backpackers going and how do you see the business growing in the future?
For now, we want to focus on the business and make it the best backpackers in Africa. We want to expand and have a few changes through the African continent. Our goal is to create experiences within Africa for backpackers and just change the local and international mind on how it perceives Africa as a whole. We want to be the champions in Africa and just take the backpacking industry to the next level.
Photos by Thato Sehlabela.