Under Apartheid, law prohibited social integration -and interaction between black and white cultures. This bred mistrust and hostility on both sides. Commercial fishing, Melkhoutfontein’s only sustainable source of livelihood, had all but dried up by mid 1985. Tourism, to Anthea’s mind, (already working in social development and poverty relief there since 1985), with all the attributes the area offered, was the path to the future. Social tourism entrepreneurship was the vehicle to drive it.
Her commitment to break down the many barriers, which includes emotional and lack of confidence, to become part of the economic benefits and the peripheral advantages of tourism, would take years to fulfil. In 1988 Anthea tabled her model of sustainable and responsible community based tourism, in Melkhoutfontein to offer an alternative experience, by the community, to visitors. In 1990 Melkhoutfontein was proclaimed one of the most destitute communities in South Africa by the Human Science Research Council.
The outcome of this research further motivated Anthea to continue in her quest to use what the people of Melkhoutfontein had, (their humanity and history), to offer local engagement encounters, participating in community life, at the heart of this personal experience. These experience would not be staged cultural experiences traditionally offered. It would engage life as lived and turn create paths to mutual understanding, trust, and respect.
Anthea’s work at grass roots in communities across South Africa for over two decades, despite a hostile political and social climate, led initially to the introduction of townships tours. Later the concept of a unique type of guest house experience was developed: interactive home stays in comfortable local accommodations where guests can participate in family and community life. Ultimately her efforts led to her involvement as founding member of the Global Community Based Tourism Network, initiated under the auspices of the Netherlands Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI). She is currently the elected spokesman for this worldwide organization.
Considered by international organisations in the travel industry who offer their clients more than a “bus window” experience and by the locals at grass roots as the “mother”of the concept of community based tourism in South Africa, Anthea longs for the day it will become mainstream. Her plan is simple: offer tourists a look at the “real“ South Africa—show them the soul of the country—let them engage and interact with its fascinating people & their diversity of traditional lifestyles as an integral part of the “must do” experience. Yes, of course, the abundant wildlife, gorgeous lodges, and stunning natural vistas are breathtaking for tourists to experience. But the people and their communities are the true heart of the Rainbow Nation. Anthea refers to this shift in orientation within the tourist industry as “Changing Lanes to the true South Africa”. In Anthea’s vision, one day, travellers from around the globe, conscientious of the important positive impact their patronage could have on local communities, will seek out cultural travel experiences and volunteer opportunities that help them broaden their horizons and become better citizens of the world.
Anthea doesn’t take a dime from Dreamcatcher and never has. A gifted speaker, she sustains herself in part and raises promotional expenses for Dreamcatcher by delivering keynote addresses and motivational talks drawing on her many years of real world experience in community development from the boot straps up. As an expert consultant with a lengthy and successful track record in improving quality of life through sustainable economic growth at the grassroots level, she also provides guest tutorials at universities and schools. (She is always on the lookout for such opportunities!).
In addition, Anthea is presently working part time with 2 Housing Associations, running trials on community engagement for Defra (Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) in the United Kingdom, implementing her forward thinking community and social engagement model. This innovative approach has earned her the prestigious Gatwick Diamond Green Champion award. It offers practical, outcomes-based solutions to people considered “hard to reach” in the United Kingdom, on issues such as lack of skills and knowledge, as well as the development of a community spirit among residents living in communal housing estates.
But Anthea’s approach goes yet further, fostering individual empowerment and accountability as well as a collective “community ethos” focused on the necessity to work towards sustainable living, personal health -and one which addresses the environmental impacts of waste at communal housing estates. In today’s world, this message is relevant across all cultures and nationalities world wide.
The key to Anthea’s approach is that she teaches ways to build bridges of understanding that eliminate barriers and promote cooperation and unity. For those who know her, despite being a true visionary, Anthea is a gracious and unassuming leader, not motivated by accolades. Her greatest joy is to assist individuals and communities find ways to develop to their full potential.
Says Anthea: “When I look at the world around me, I am pleased that I made the choices I did. To use an African word, I am Ubuntu. I am who I am through my association with others. I made the personal and conscious choice to get down to grass roots and remain in touch with the real world…I chose to share the ideals of Nelson Mandela: to build bridges of hope and universal understanding, not just by talking about it, but by living it and ensuring a lasting legacy of hope.”