Johannesburg

Joburg People – 15 Minutes with Bheki Dube of Curiocity Backpackers

more than a year ago

Bheki Dube describes himself as ‘born, bred and buttered in Joburg’. Twentysomething-year-old Dube is the force behind the inner-city’s first backpackers hostel, Curiocity, and Maboneng-based walking tour company MainStreetWalks. Ask about his influences and he’ll mention growing up in the city neighbourhood of Troyeville, in a 1930s building among artists, poets and filmmakers, bohemians and rebels. ‘They shaped how I relate to the city and to humanity as a whole.’

He attended the Market Photo Workshop, and while studying in 2010 worked at independent cinema The Bioscope, in what was then the start of one of the most successful city districts, Maboneng. ‘People were just beginning to engage with the city, a place of real neglect,’ he says, partly a response to the city pride inspired by World Cup 2010.

Given the opportunity to run walking tours, Main-StreetWalks developed a repertoire, offering art and justice tours to Constitution Hill, rooftop ‘picnics in the sky’, and art walks to see graffiti, street art and sculpture around the Maboneng precinct. In 2012 Dube travelled around the coastal city of Durban photographing the youth hostels he stayed in and the people he encountered. His experiences became the catalyst for opening Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng.

Today Curiocity is the beating heart of the neighbourhood, and if you meet Dube you’ll understand why. His creativity, keenness and genuine interest in the city ensures the space is ever-evolving, and being shaped by travellers’ needs. Curiocity offers artists residencies, accommodation in exchange for artwork, hosts live music events and exhibitions.

The rise of the flashpacker – slightly older than the average backpacker but with a shared appetite for experiencing the world in the same way, albeit with a bigger budget and more tech devices – is an international trend that is shaping what Curiocity offers. ‘From a design point of view people want private spaces while still enjoying communal experiences.’ The plan is to extend the Curiocity brand across the continent.

Dube calls Joburg the ‘misjudged’ city. The place is not one thing but a collision of many things. He quotes a local poet and singer Jennifer Ferguson: ‘Joburg is a city of cruelty with even greater miracles of kindness.’ If you truly want to understand a person popular wisdom dictates you need to walk a mile in his shoes. It holds true of a place, and in this case it’s worth taking that walk with Dube by your side.

Associated Venues

Market Photo Workshop

 Market Square, 138 Lilian Ngoyi St (entrance at 57 Margaret Mcingana St), Newtown

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