Despite the odds being stacked against him from a young age, Donovan van der Heyden, 47, saw the benefits of living on the slopes of Hangberg, and he’s determined to turn them into a tourism bonanza for his community.
Growing up in a fishing village, Donovan says he
always wanted to maintain his connection to the sea, but was discouraged by his family who didn’t want him to end up as another struggling fisherman.
But, after completing high school, Donovan didn’t have money to study further so he
did volunteer work while working with his grandfather and father at sea.
“I come from a traditional fisher family and boat builders. After school, I did various things from building boats with my uncle, fishing with my grandfather and also spending time with another uncle who was a welder in the boating industry. I basically worked with whoever had work available at the time. My father dived and my aunts all worked in the fish factories.
I was part of the first set of matriculants at Hout Bay High in 1991, when the school opened, and only later, in 1998, I managed to get a partial bursary from a yachting company and went on to study diesel mechanics,” he said.
It was a step in the right direction, and Donovan worked tirelessly to cover his college travelling costs and support his family.
“I had ambitions of working for a big company and getting to travel, to see the world,
earn good money and take my grandparents out of the conditions we were living in; and just breaking the cycle of becoming another fisherman.
But the bursary only allowed me to get up until my N2
qualification and, at that time, you needed at least an N3 to get into a company. I was unable to further my studies because by then I had children and a family of my own which I needed to support.
And even if I was able to come up with the funds, it wouldn’t have helped because I was 29 years old and the
big companies decided to employ young people who were fresh out of school and could give them longer years of service,” he said.
Donovan realised he needed to create his own opportunities and not wait for handouts.
“I thought that despite our living conditions, we are really fortunate to live in Hangberg… we have the ocean, the mountains, nature, the fishing culture and the fact that it is a tourist attraction.”
He realised the community was “sitting on a gold mine,” he just needed to find a way to start mining some of that gold.
“What usually happens are the tourists come in their buses to the harbour and that’s where it ends for them, and we who live in the community don’t directly benefit from it. I started taking people voluntarily up to my village and telling them about our
culture and tradition… taking them over the mountain to Seal Island and just offering them the experience for free.
I got positive feedback at the end of these tours and started data collection through an exchange experience. I’d also cook for them, showed them how I grew up, how we cooked back in the day and have them fully experience our culture. This is how the idea was born,” he said.
Later, Donovan completed an adventure hiking guide course through the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and he is now fully qualified to do hiking tours on any of the mountains in and around Cape Town.
He’s also done a Culture tour guide course which complements his hiking skills and lets him do township tours as well.
“What I want to do now is create a tourism co-operative in Hangberg and have
everyone who is doing tourism in the community work under one banner as a collective.
“Everyone will still be unique and do as they’ve been
doing, with the difference
being we’ll complement each others’ businesses while supporting and promoting each other.