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Meet Anthea – an African leader inspiring innovation, founder of Dreamcatcher South Africa NPC and implementer of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

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Anthea Rossouw’s dedication to improving quality of life and the environment has significantly impacted multiple communities in South Africa. She focuses on inclusive and responsible practices as a pathway to outcomes based sustainable community development. For over 30 years Anthea has challenged conventional business models and innovated a pluralistic approach for the greater good of society. Additionally recognising tourism as one of the world’s most lucrative and resilient industries, she has challenged traditional tourism business models to break the mould of exclusionary tourism practices to devolve its benefits down to grass roots. Anthea’s approach to community development prioritizes entrepreneurship and job creation over reliance on short-term solutions such as handouts and grants. She aims to enhance people’s self-sufficiency, boosting their self-esteem and ensuring long-term sustainability.

Realising Nelson Mandela’s plea for society to work ‘for a better life for all’ and embracing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Anthea is globally recognised for her contribution to truly sustainable socio-economic and environmental development, tourism and peripheral business enterprise. Revered in local communities, her contribution inspires us all.

Anthea training Kamammas
Anthea training Dreamcatcher Kamamma enterprises in 2011. We regularly bring together the Kamamma enterprises from across the country to network and catch up
Anthea distributing donated kit from Ajax FC to youth in Stutterheim, Eastern Cape. Thanks to our then ambassador Karin Bloemen for facilitating the kit

“Globally we find ourselves at a tipping point in terms of quality of life for people and our planet. Progress means moving beyond strategy and postulation. Best intentions can develop the most impressive policy, theory, plans, project or structures - reality shows they are meaningless without implementation. If change is the goal, you need the people, as ultimate custodians of their local environments, to make it work for the greater good of society. To do the right thing for inclusive socio-economic growth in South Africa, means challenging the status quo, because it is the right thing to do. It is time to forget the ‘Pie in the Sky’ stuff and ‘Go Truly Local’ to innovate for sustainable futures. Turning ideation into innovation is exciting. I wake with a spring in my step every day to be a changemaker!".

A chronology of Anthea’s pioneering work

Who is Anthea and where did her journey begin?

Between 1948 and 1994, the government of South Africa enforced a policy of racial segregation called Apartheid. The system led to significant challenges including inequality, unemployment, and widespread recurring poverty. Communities were segregated based on ethnicity – and non-white communities were excluded from mainstream business including tourism.

Anthea’s early years were spent in the Eastern Cape. During her childhood she moved to Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape where her father worked as a master builder and her mother a respected fashion designer and dress maker. Growing up in a multicultural community, she was greatly influenced by her multi-lingual and hardworking parents who raised Anthea and her siblings with values of justice and equality. She was taught to have empathy and humanity for people less fortunate. She was raised in a sports loving family and excelled at hockey representing her High School 1st team through the South Western Region of South Africa. Anthea’s passion for sport continued as a hockey coach and referee in the Western Cape, and she is an enthusiastic season ticket holder at Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club.

In 1986 Anthea and her family moved to the resort town of Stilbaai (Garden Route, Western Cape) 7km from the coloured township of Melkhoutfontein. Melkhoutfontein was historically a fishing community, but by the mid-1980s commercial fishing had stopped depriving the township of its primary source of income.

In 1990 Anthea was working as a dental nurse in the Stilbaai practice of her surgeon husband Hennie. Outside the local post office Anthea had a chance encounter with Moses Kleinhans, a Melkhoutfontein community patriarch, suffering from toothache. Anthea offered to take Moses to her husband’s dental surgery for treatment and then drove him back to Melkhoutfontein. Recognising genuine empathy, concern and humanity in Anthea, Moses shared this encounter with his peers and gave Anthea the moniker of ‘Dreamcatcher’ (‘Droomvanger’) and with fellow leaders approached her to help the community. Anthea was subsequently invited to collaborate on socio-economic research on Melkhoutfontein by the Human Science Research Council of South Africa. Their study from 1991 concluded Melkhoutfontein was one of the most deprived communities in the country with one of the highest levels of Tuberculosis. Based on this study, Anthea engaged with past research by Lundahl et al from 1967 and Lundahl & Kriel from 1987 which concluded over 20 years Melkhoutfontein had evolved into recurring abject poverty. Despite facing numerous social and political challenges, the community showed remarkable perseverance and an unshakable spirit. Their unwavering determination inspired Anthea to resign from her full-time career and dedicate significant time to identify, innovate and implement solutions to challenges inhibiting community wellbeing and sustainable growth. To this day Anthea has worked as an unpaid volunteer to improve quality of life and empower sustainability in the township communities of South Africa – with Melkhoutfontein no exception.

So, what is Anthea’s approach to sustainable development?

Leading community-based projects, Anthea ‘walks the talk’ to promote unity, mutual respect and understanding. Engaging locally from project inception, participant recruitment, planning, implementation, completion and day-to-day operations, she provides ongoing support. Her approach is to collaborate hands-on in communities over a protracted period to ensure sustainability.

Earning the respect of communities both in South Africa and beyond, she mobilises and inspires project participants to be the change makers where they live through practical implementation of her outcomes based ‘Go Truly Local’ ™ models, and researches the impact.  

Community-based care & wellness projects (1980s-1990s)

Article on the opening of Soeterus
The inauguration of Soeterus in 1995 by Leonard Ramathlakane, the Minister of the Executive Council for Public Works in the Western Cape. Anthea (second right) next to the indomitable Frank Malowitz, now sadly deceased, who ran his Dreamcatcher ‘Malowitz’ homestay and with wife Lucky
Opening of Stilwaters
The opening of Stilwaters housing development and incumbent medical emergency care clinic in 1995. Anthea pictured with the Mayor Professor Leon Taljaard and Mr Ebrahim Rasool - Minister of Health for the Western Cape Government

Before setting up Dreamcatcher, Anthea was actively involved in community well-being. In Stilbaai, alongside Gideon van der Kolf, she was pivotal in setting up Jagersbosch Community Care Centre in 1987 for ageing residents and those with physical challenges. The Centre aimed to improve quality of life by providing home care services, filling an important gap in support for the elderly in the popular holiday destination.  The project included restoration of the historically important and abandoned Jagersbosch homestead – as the epicentre of the Care Centre, and the adjacent Wagon House. Key to the restoration was gaining access to the land from Stilbaai municipality and mobilising members of Jagersbosch, many of whom were professionals, who helped restore the building to its pristine state and still in use today. Alongside Anthea, Roland Rudd, a retired Civil Engineer, was pivotal in the successful redevelopment of the building. Gideon van der Kolf was the first chairperson followed by Vicky Du Preez and thereafter Christie Burger, with Anthea managing the Centre and setting up community projects.

Based on the success of this work, in 1989 Anthea was seconded by the National Department of Social Services in South Africa to collaborate and help develop a new national policy on social care for the ageing.

In 1992 Anthea pioneered the extension of the Jagersbosch service model to Melkhoutfontein which led to the first care home in the township – Soeterus (sweet rest). This integrated a clinic, social housing, craft centre, community hall -and botanical garden. Anthea led on the successful funding bid to the Development Bank of South Africa. A key feature of Soeterus was that it was predominantly built by women from the community trained in building skills. Assisting in the development were Jagersbosch members who appreciated and valued Anthea’s commitment to help the centre in Stilbaai. Individuals generously offered their time and skills to help develop Soeterus, optimising community collaboration and diversity. Stilbaai municipality once again donated the land and architects Osmond Lange (today Thembela architects) provided the design and technical support.

Anthea also worked with neighbouring communities to raise funds for schools. Harnessing the significant talents of her mother, and mobilising residents of all ages in Stilbaai, Riversdale and Heidelberg, she initiated fashion shows accompanied by scrumptious food, in the three towns. With her mother and fashionista neighbour Mariaan Malherbe, Anthea mentored unemployed Melkhoutfontein school leavers, Gerty October (today Felkers) and Gayle Manho (today Kleinhans), to design and make a collection of award-winning clothes. Due to several high-end stores in Cape Town placing orders the two fashion seamstresses found work for several years. 

In 1995 due to the increasing need for housing elderly residents in Stilbaai and the absence of a hospital, Anthea was approached once more by Stilbaai residents to address this challenge. She initiated and led the Stilwaters retirement development comprising of 33 cluster houses adjacent to Jagersbosch Care Centre. The development integrated a medical emergency care clinic and end of life support services – extended, it is still in place today known as Alrema. Anthea spearheaded the development model with the assistance of Osmond Lange (today Thembela architects) and the Stilbaai municipal planning department – who again provided the land at low cost.

Sustainable tourism development (1990s)

Tourism bureau Stilbaai
Anthea (centre) with colleagues from the Stilbaai Tourism Bureau. Left - Dirkea van Heerden, and right: Hannetjie Ferguson who continued to work at the bureau until retiring in 2019
Craft Centre Soeterus
The Soeterus development in Melkhoutfontein integrated a craft centre which is still being used today. Training was provided on making crafts to sell to tourists. Anthea pictured with Lisa and Nettie

In parallel to the above Anthea was heavily involved in tourism in Stilbaai and the wider region where she chaired the Garden Route Tourism Development Committee. In 1992 Anthea co-founded and managed the Stilbaai Publicity Association, establishing the official Tourism Bureau in Stilbaai in the historical Palinggat Homestead. This became the first tourist information bureau to receive accredited status in the Western Cape – the accreditation handed to the Centre by the then tourism Minister of Western Cape, Lampie Fick.

Anthea was becoming increasingly concerned with the limited tourism offerings in South Africa and the lack of benefit filtering down to local communities. Mainstream tourism itineraries and travel routes focused on a few tourism ‘hotspots’ which dominated the sector. Anthea believed that too many tourists at the same place and time would negatively impact the destination, local environment and dilute the experience for visitors. Today this phenomenon is recognised as ‘over-tourism’. Her vision was to drive a pathway to more inclusive tourism focusing on diversity, people, their heritage and nature where they live. Moreover, for the sustainable future of the environment and people, she believes that locals, as the ultimate custodians, should be included and benefit from tourism offerings. 

Examples of initiatives led by Anthea to realise this vision, captured in the film ‘A Brave, Brand New World of Social Justice’ include:

"A lot changed when Anthea arrived in Stilbaai. The socio-economic growth in the greater Stilbaai area has had a profound impact as a result".

Melkhoutfontein tourism office
The Melkhoutfontein Tourism Bureau established by Anthea and her board in the late 1990s. The bureau was based in a restored fishermen homestead and was sponsored by Simon van der Stell Foundation and the local municipality. It was one of the first tourism bureaus in a township in South Africa. Sadly after several years of successful operation, the Hessequa Municipality decided to turn the building into an administrative office
Opening of the whale route
The opening of the Whale Route which Anthea helped to develop. Anthea with Joleen du Plessis, the Whale-Route coordinator. Over 30 years later they still collaborate. Also pictured Mayor Taljaard and Peter During from MTN who sponsored the Route. The image was taken at the whale viewpoint in Stilbaai - which is still there today

Due to the pioneering work in communities and tourism, Anthea was nominated to the Western Cape Tourism Board where she served as Chairperson on the Tourism Marketing Committee. She was also nominated to the National South African Tourism Board where she served as Chairperson of the Transformation Marketing Committee. Leaving the Stilbaai Tourism Bureau behind in good hands, Anthea spent the next 4 years serving on the Western Cape and National Tourism Boards. This included leading multiple tourism teams to market South Africa in USA, Canada, and throughout Europe. Other responsibilities were to identify gaps in the tourism provision, developing marketing opportunities, researching how South African tourism was being presented to the market, and learning from international good practice.

Anthea’s motivation for serving on these platforms was to implement her vision, set out above, of growing tourism responsibly and sustainably through transitioning South Africa’s exclusionary tourism offering. Despite her best efforts she was met with resistance to change with most of the sector having a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

The founding of Dreamcatcher South Africa (Ongoing)

Marketing in Canada
Anthea with some of the Dreamcatcher enterprises promoting South Africa and community based experiences in Toronto, Canada in 2006
Esme and Anthea
CookUp Kamamma Esme from Kaymandi, Stellenbosch with Anthea celebrating over 20 years of successful entrepreneurship

By the end of Anthea’s tenure on these boards, frustrated with the lack of commitment to adopt and realise her vision of inclusive tourism based on sustainability principles, she went truly local once more to work and collaborate with communities.  

Not finding a suitable pluralistic model which would serve the purpose of inclusive and fair tourism growth, Anthea researched the barriers inhibiting sustainable enterprise and tourism development in townships across the country. Key barriers were recurring poverty, inadequate education, lack of purposed skills, access to growth-sector industries, startup funds, and poor environmental quality. Simultaneous to her research, the 2000 United Nations Millennium Development Goals were released. Not finding a workable model for South Africa’s context, she integrated the Millennium Development Goals with her research outcomes to guide the development and implementation of her ‘Go Truly Local’ ™ models.

Over the ensuing years, to empower outcomes-based tourism enterprise, she mobilised predominantly, yet not exclusively women and youth living in South African communities, to work together to develop tourism experiences and services across the country. As the vehicle to implement her vision, Anthea initially set up ‘Brave New World’ her own communication and social change practice– which transitioned into Dreamcatcher South Africa NPC. From this website you can find out more about the founding of Dreamcatcher from Our Story plus details of the current ‘Go Truly Local’ ™ and sustainability projects Anthea spearheads.

Anthea’s approach is internationally recognised, included by the United Nations, where she was invited to present at the Africa Youth in Tourism/United Nations World Travel Organisation Conference. Her model features in recent textbook on Niche Tourism which features international good practice.

"Anthea - you should be cloned. You are 25 years ahead of inclusive tourism development in South Africa".

Other experience, roles and responsibilities

Anthea with tourism minister for Botswana
Knowledge exchange with Dr Philda Kereng, Minister of Environment and Tourism for Botswana
Guest lecture with tourism, economic and sustainability students at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK
Anthea guest lecturing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK

Anthea splits her time between South Africa and United Kingdom – in the latter she has worked on numerous environmental and community projects including:

International recognition

Anthea and Dreamcatcher South Africa are internationally recognised for their innovative and pioneering work. Individual accolades for Anthea include: