Overnight stays in Soweto

13 October 2004

Any visitor to Soweto knows that a tour of the Hector Pieterson Museum is compulsory. So are visits to the houses of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, and dinner at Wandie’s Place. But not everyone knows that overnight stays are an option.

Guesthouses and bed-and-breakfast establishments are a little-known but fast-growing phenomenon in Soweto.

Neo Mamashela and Ellen Mabiletsa are two women who are reaping the rewards and gaining recognition for successfully converting their living space into guesthouses.

Travel awards
Earlier this year they were announced the winners of the 2004 AA Travel Guide Awards for best traditional township accommodation and best modern township accommodation respectively.

The two women triumphed after a vigorous selection process and a thorough inspection of their houses.

“The AA Travel Guide sent over inspectors to come and check the house”, says Mabiletsa, the owner of the Botle guesthouse. “They checked everything – even the taps to see if cold water comes out of the taps with blue dots. They flushed every toilet and checked every cup and plate to see if they were chipped. They even checked under the mattresses for dust.”

Nestling between the uniform four-roomed houses on Monyane Street in Dube stands the Botle guesthouse – the name, also that of her daughter, means “beauty” in Sesotho.

The high-rise face-brick wall surrounding the property encloses a three-bedroom home with as many bathrooms, a kitchen, a kitchenette, two lounges, a dining room and a garage that doubles as a conference room.

“I realised that when people come here, they sometimes need to hold meetings”, says Mabiletsa. “I found that, especially during the [World Summit on Sustainable Development], people needed a place to discuss business.”

A rather pleasing feature of the conference room is the skylight. “My guests love this room. Sometimes they prefer to have breakfast in here in the mornings than in the dining room.”

The main bedroom – or the “executive suite”, as Mabiletsa calls it – comes with a queen-size bed, an en-suite bathroom, wall-to-wall burgundy carpets, cupboards, a television, a radio, a heater, bedside lamps and extra bedding.

From creche to guesthouse
Mamashela’s house retains its original form, unlike the Botle guesthouse, which has completely replaced the earlier house.

“This house used to be a creche; that’s why you will see there are three toilets outside”, says Mamashela. “My grandfather bought it and I found out only after I got married that the first grandchild to get married would inherit the house.”

Neo’s B&B is a charming kaleidoscope of colours. Matching, non-matching, bright and dull – they’re everywhere. From the kitchen-cum-dining room, all the way to the two bedrooms, one is greeted by colour.

The main bedroom – in cream and lime-green, with a beige ottoman at the foot of the queen-size bed – is the epitome of cosiness. The second room has two separate single beds. “Very useful”, says Mamashela, “when people come here with more than one child.”

Probably the most popular feature is the thatched wooden deck in her garden: it provides welcome shelter in summer and is perfect for soaking up the sun in winter.

International appeal
Mamashela has hosted people from Germany, London and elsewhere. “We get people coming from all over the world – Germany, the UK; businessmen, journalists, all types of people, but most of them are from overseas”, says Mamashela.

She says not many South Africans have stayed there because they are not aware Soweto offers such a thing. “People don’t trust the B&Bs in Soweto. They are scared of their safety, but the people here are educated on how to treat tourists.”

Mamashela and Mabiletsa are proud of their homes and their achievements. “I love this place and it felt really, really nice to get that award”, says Mamashela.

“When I walked up on stage I felt proudly South African. The award came at the perfect time – after 10 years of democracy and the announcement of the Soccer World Cup bid. This award is not for me, this is for my people.”

Both places offer breakfast, dinner on request, a laundry service and guided tours of Soweto.

For bookings and inquiries, contact Mamashela on (011) 536-0413, and Mabiletsa on (011) 982-1872.

Source: City of Johannesburg