Meet Katchie Nzama, “the solo wandera” from Venda who grew up in Johannesburg. Katchie soon realised after starting her working career that she hated corporate life. Her solution? Starting a travel blog without any plan. She laughs: “Travel plans were not very popular at the time, so I didn’t even know how I was going to make a living out of it.”
Who needs a plan when you have curiosity and Katchie ventured forth with her travel blog which has since evolved into a platform highlighting community tourism across the continent.
Her focus has been on small and local dorpies, villages and young Africans, helping others explore and find the opportunities that tourism offers. “And yeah, eight years later, Corona is here and my career is pretty much just chilling at home.”
But chilling at home isn’t in Katchie’s DNA. From a young age, she was destined to do tourism. “I always loved travelling because of my grandparents, who introduced me to travel. So my first job after high school was in events and marketing.
“I loved events and marketing because it involved travel and doing conferences in different parts of the country,” says Katchie.
Explaining how she leapt from events to “Solo Wandera”, Katchie says she started thinking about how she could get more involved in tourism. “I thought of a platform that would rival Sho’t Left to provide information on affordable travel options and places across Africa and South Africa.
“We don’t tend to share affordable travel options and much of what the tourism boards talk about game drives or the beach. These opportunities do exist, but I realised we didn’t have a platform that shared that information. I just felt that wasn’t enough because, I mean, there’s no continent like Africa.”
Katchie speaks passionately about Africa and its assets, and her hometown, Jo’burg. “I always tell people there’s no city in the world that compares to Jo’burg. Joburg is literally the only city on this continent where I have found that you can actually find a community from every single one of the five African countries.
“In Jo’burg, so there’s so much history, culture, heritage, so many points and interesting facts about Africans languages, our food, everything, there’s so much to say that gets missed when we focus on just a safari.”
Katchie’s greatest wish is to show that there’s more to Africa than poverty porn. “I wanted to bring some sense of humanity to Africans. But it also gets Africans involved in our tourism industry. These are our stories and that’s how the brand basically grew,” explains Katchie.
Katchie shares her story of her “Cape to Cairo Journey. “I received so much love across the continent. People went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable.”
With laughter in her voice, Katchie explains that when she arrived in Cairo, it was all a bit overwhelming because she had never done anything as crazy. She didn’t know anybody and didn’t know the language.
But as her journey continued, people built up her trip from one country to another. The people she met along the way would call up their friends in other countries and tell them to look out for Katchie Nzama. “She’s going to be in your city, so go and be her friend,” they would say.
“One day, I was in a random rural, remote village. Out of nowhere, as I was just sitting on a log, the chief came over and said, you look different. You must be that South African traveller. So I looked at him, like, what do you mean? How do you know about South African?”
Thinking back on her trip, Katchie says the one thing she realised was that she had not been able to relate truly to the different cultures and heritage of African people by sitting on the couch and reading up about them.
“There are so many similarities about us Africans. When I experienced the culture of the Masai people in Kenya, I realised that there’s nothing strange about their cultural practices, because even though they’re Maasai and living in Kenya, I can relate to what they’re doing being from Venda because my great grandmother used to do the same things.”
For Katchie, community-based tourism holds great value for empowering people. “You don’t need a degree to get involved in community-based tourism. You just need to know who you are, to have conversations with your elders, learn about your history, your culture and your heritage. That’s all you need.”
Building something from one’s own community, getting the community together so that they can benefit means creating jobs is what drives Katchie. And this type of tourism, she says, is increasingly sought after by young people who are looking for authentic experiences when they travel.
With a great goal in mind, Katchie shares her hopes for once lockdown has lifted. “We can now change the narrative and focus on domestic tourism. Many of us derive an income through the local tourism industry. Yes, there is a part of the industry that depends on international travellers, but as a country, we have never ever focused on building our tourism for the domestic market.”
And while we rebuild, Katchie urges communities to collaborate. “This is a good time for us to come together and build tourism to South Africa as a community, focusing on the domestic market. Not that we would neglect our international market, but let’s build something for us as South Africans so that no matter what happens in future, tourism can always be there.”
Despite the challenging past five months, Katchie refuses to give up on tourism. “South Africa will be fine. We will be fine.”