Thope Lekau, a registered tour guide and community economic development worker, is well known as a local legend in Khayelitsha, where she serves as a role model for other South African women seeking to open and run their own businesses. Growing up in the apartheid era, when her family struggled with poverty and forced relocation, Thope worked for a number of community development organizations, both before and after the first democratic elections in 1994.
Says Thope: "I decided to open a Bed & Breakfast in 1999 because I wanted tourists to see and experience the townships, and be able to spend the night in our township. Many visitors have been arriving to learn more about the new South Africa in this rapidly-changing post-Apartheid era. I wanted visitors to talk to residents, instead of just snapping photographs. I was disappointed that tourists only saw Khayelitsha from behind glass, from their cars or from tour buses. Khayelitsha isn't a zoo! Initially I opened my doors for tea and lunch. And now, I have a B&B!
"Some days, I have two buses full of people. I have people in my kitchen and everywhere, talking about everything. They've come from Germany, Ireland, the USA, Australia, Japan and Denmark. Because of apartheid, we never had the opportunity to share our cultures before."
Through welcoming visitors to Kopanong, Thope aims to improve cross-cultural understanding, while creating a ripple effect by sharing her small slice of cake with others in the township who help her, either directly or indirectly, to provide food, lodging, transport, entertainment or shopping opportunities for visitors.
Thope trains and mentors local women in guesthouse keeping, small business management and catering skills. Dedicated to the economic betterment of the community, she is an active participant and advocate for local NGOs and helps match guests interested in volunteering to organizations that need the particular skills of the guest.
Thope Lekau: Recognition and Awards
2007: Completed course as a small business trainer with THETA (The Tourism, Hospitality, Sports Education & Training Authority of South Africa)
2006: Nominated by the Department of Trade and Industry for South Africa to participate in Trade Mission to Ireland
2005: AA Travel Awards finalist for Township Modern B&B
2003: Ashoka Foundation Social Entrepreneur Fellowship
2001: On final shortlist of the prestigious 2001 AA Travel Guides Accommodation Award Program with her B&B.
1999: Award of Excellence, Tygerberg Tourism Bureau for outstanding
1997: H.J. Heinz Foundation Fellowship to study small scale entrepreneurship at the University of Pittsburgh, USA