The tourism industry in South Africa remains in a constant crisis mode, it’s either this or its either that. The tourism industry requires our collective attention as it attracts more foreign exchange than gold mining, hence we call tourism the ‘’new gold’’. The South Africa economy challenged by structural challenges will not reach more than 1% economic growth. This means that the labour absorbing potential of the economy remains low.
Tourism is the only industry that has the ability and potential to create a plethora of labour intensive jobs that can change the gloomy reality of poverty caused by lack of employment and high levels of inequality.
The high levels of poverty in South Africa are a ticking time bomb as the majority of the youth remain outside of employment and are fodder to be used by opportunistic forces. The majority of service delivery strikes are led by the youth because of their energy.
The recent protests in Tshwane after the announcement that seasoned ANC NEC member Thoko Didiza will be the City of Tshwane mayor candidate resulted in the unofficial national past time, the burning of property and the blockade of roads. The CBD was evacuated as the threat of violence swept through the city. The townships of Atteridgeville, Mabopane, Mamelodi and Hammanskraal were on fire, as acts of terrorism in Tshwane became national news.
The N1 around Hammanskraal was blockaded and traffic was negatively affected, considering that the N1 is at the centre of the national logistics system. The torching of buses, loss of life and the senseless destruction of property became a national shame. The news reached all of the earth as we live in a global village.
The one industry that would be negatively affected more than any other is the tourism industry. The tourism industry is super sensitive to negative news as tourists are generally risk averse. A destination that is crisis prone will experience a lot of cancellations and tourists will prefer destinations that are without negative news, voting with their feet and cash laden wallets to safe destinations.
The cancellations will reduce the tourism consumption in Tshwane, also threatening the livelihoods of thousands of households that depend on tourism consumption to put food on the table. This means that the many attractions in Tshwane, the hotels, restaurants, and the salaries staff from such establishments lost out on a valuable financial benefit in these tough economic times.
The night time economy that is entertainment-led and food-and-beverage-led around pubs, nightclubs, and malls that is so beneficial for the Tshwane economy also lost out. Township tourism that seeks to ensure that the economic benefits of tourism are shared with local businesses in the locations is curtailed by such acts of terrorism. Such acts ensure that the tourists avoid the locations like a plaque with their money laden wallets, meaning that the township economy fails to attract the economic dividend from tourism.
The Gauteng Provincial Government has a township revitalisation programme that seeks to strengthen the township economy, to ensure that the township retains the majority of its spending power. Tourism consumption benefits the township economy, a glance at Vilakazi Street in Soweto is testament to the importance of tourism. When tourism succeeds its naturally attracts investments, the Orlando Cooling Towers is now an adventure tourism destination that benefits the greater economy of Soweto.
Tourism is one industry that requires safety and security as pre-requisite for growth. The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2015, South Africa is number 48 because of low levels of personal safety and security. South Africa seeks to be in the top 20 tourism destinations by the year 2020; this can be achieved by ensuring that we improve safety and security amongst other challenges.
What is concerning is that South Africa is progressively showing signs of being a failed state. Robert I Rotberg in Failed States, Collapsed States, Weak States: Causes and Indicators noted that ‘’nation-states fail because they are convulsed by internal violence and can no longer deliver positive goods to their inhabitants. The government lose legitimacy and the very nature of the particular nation-state itself becomes illegitimate in the eyes and in the hearts of a growing plurality of its citizens’’. The police in South Africa seem to be unable to manage the plethora of acts of violence that have become the hallmark of everyday life in South Africa.
If the security cluster in South Africa is unable to manage internal security challenges such as the one in Tshwane how can we have confidence in the ability of the state to circumvent and foil a terrorist attack in South Africa. Travel advisories are taken very seriously by tourists from especially countries in the West, making South Africa less attractive after the UK and USA issue travel warning about possible terrorist attack around Ramadan in South Africa. What is begging to become a reality is that tourism is affected negatively by low levels of safety and security.
Mr. Unathi Sonwabile Henama is a tourism expert and writes in his personal capacity.