Emmanuel Sithole has been trending for the past week and it’s not for a good reason. The late Mozambican has now become the poster child for xenophobia in South Africa after he was stabbed to death for being an African migrant in the wake of South Africa’s xenophobic attacks. This can be considered a great faux pas for a country that thrives on tourism. Hong Kong, amongst other counties, has issued travel advisory for its citizens to South Africa but unlike the last xenophobic attack in Durban, it seems late Nelson Mandela’s country has bitten more than it can chew this time around, Omolola Itayemi writes
Violence and crime is no news in South Africa, especially in high-density areas (I have personally been a victim of it) which serves as little or no deterrence to tourists from all over the world, including Nigerians, who still flock there daily with South Africa featuring highly amongst ‘must go’ countries to visit before you die. From summer holidays to Christmas holidays, it’s a constant stream of Nigerians travelling down there for leisure and business.

One needs to understand how much time, effort and money South Africa has deployed into its tourism industry to feel their pain. South Africa’s spectacular scenery, friendly people, world-class infrastructure make it one of the most desired destinations in the world. The sector was given a massive boost by the successful hosting of the World Cup in 2010, when the country received a record-breaking 8.1-million foreign visitors. Despite tough global economic conditions, tourism grew in 2011, with 8.3-million international tourists. Among the main attractions are the diverse and picturesque culture, the game reserves and the highly regarded wines, add Sun City that has hosted many high profile events in the world and you won’t be wrong.

A labor-intensive sector with a supply chain that links across sectors, tourism is a priority sector in the government’s planning and policy frameworks – it is one of the six job drivers of the New Growth Path framework.

Tourism in South Africa is huge with a very detailed structure that has earned them several awards from 36 South African beaches that have been awarded international Blue Flag status for excelling in safety, cleanliness, the provision of amenities and setting and maintaining environmental standards to the prestigious Condé Nast Traveler’s 2012 Readers Awards which named South Africa’s glorious scenery as the best in the world while Cape Town features second in the World’s Top Cities.

Seven South African hotels have made it into the Top 15 of Africa’s best hotels. Also, in the 2012 Reader’s Travel Awards by the UK’s Guardian, South Africa was voted the world’s third favourite long-haul destination, after Japan and Cambodia.

Beating off competition from Dublin and Bilbao, Cape Town was named as the World Design Capital for 2014 at the International Design Alliance Congress in Taipei and Table Mountain was voted in as one of the world’s new Seven Wonders of Nature in 2012.

No single country in Africa can boast of these long lists of awards from serious organisations in the tourism industry, South Africa won 32 awards out of 57 categories in the 2012 World Travel Awards for Africa, including leading African airport, beach destination, family resort, city hotel, conference venue, safari lodge and spa resort. When it comes to tourism, South Africa is taken seriously and this accounts for its enormous growth in that sector. Earmarking tourism as a key sector with excellent potential for growth: the government aims to increase tourism’s contribution, both direct and indirectly, to the economy from the 2009 baseline of R189, 4-billion (7.9% of GDP) to R499-billion by 2020 (National Department of Tourism, 2012). Tourism supports one in every 12 jobs in South Africa.

Succinctly put, it will be foolhardy to give all the glory to the government as tourism is known to thrive in areas where the locals or citizens are also equal participants in this chain and it came as little or no surprise when Wilderness Safaris won a responsible travel award, recognising the tour operator’s efforts that cover 40 projects and its joint ventures with local communities.

So seriously does South African government take tourism that once it envisages a potential market, all things are out in place. That South African Tourism (SAT) is now in Nigeria is no happenstance; it’s part of their strategy to consolidate their business. Seeing huge numbers of arrivals for tourism from Nigeria and other West African countries in the past 10 years necessitated the need for offices in the region and starting with Nigeria two years ago, regional offices became a reality. The regional African tourist market is South Africa’s important tourist market, contributing more than 73% of total tourist arrivals and more than R50-billion in revenue in 2011.

Xenophobic violence does affect Tourism…
Feelers from practitioners in the tourism industry of South Africa suggest that the xenophobic violence we see and hear about in South Africa does not target tourists and does not affect tourist regions; however, it does affect tourism as trade partners and tour operators are getting concerned especially for their clients safety.
“We got a little concerned about the development in Johannesburg and are re-evaluating.” This is the response of a tour manager, following reports of renewed outbreaks of xenophobic violence in certain parts of South Africa.

However, it does affect tourism badly, because around the world, headlines like “Foreigners attacked in South Africa” and “Violence erupts against foreigners” are often misinterpreted by tourists and potential visitors as being directed against anyone from outside South Africa.

Tourism Update, an online tourism news portal based in South Africa couldn’t have explained how it affects tourism any better: “As South Africans all know, xenophobic violence is aimed at foreign immigrants, mostly shop owners, who are perceived as a threat by some locals. Unemployed and angry, a few small-minded thugs think that foreign immigrants are taking their opportunities, their jobs and their wives, and decide to chase them back to their own countries by looting and burning shops and attacking the shop owners and their families.

“We saw it in 2008 and sporadically since then and, sadly, we are seeing it again now, with violence flaring up in Durban and spreading to other parts of the country, following some ill-considered and inflammatory remarks in a recent speech by King Goodwill Zwelithini. Among some cowardly individuals, it does not take much to stir up the flames of hatred, bigotry, racism and xenophobia. But it is especially shameful that one of our leaders, like King Zwelithini, should be the one to stir up this hatred. So far, we have seen no apology or retraction from him. Only a denial that he said such a thing and that his comments were taken out of context.
“Xenophobia refers to the fear of foreigners – and that is what this is. Fear. It is a fear bred from narrow-mindedness and lack of education and results in anger, which is exacerbated by conditions of poverty, unemployment and hopelessness. Unemployed locals see foreign immigrants as a threat. They open up shops and carve out a life for themselves here, and it upsets these locals. They fear the success of others. They are scared that these people will take away their jobs, their wives, their own opportunities. What they fail to realise is that these enterprising immigrants did not take away anybody’s opportunities – they created their own.
Through sheer hard work and entrepreneurship, they started a little shop in order to make a living. Any unemployed local could do the same. But instead of building their own opportunities, they destroy the lives of others.

“What our xenophobic locals also fail to realise is that, in most cases, these people fled desperate conditions back home. For them, South Africa represents a beacon of light, a candle of hope, the chance of a better life here on the southern tip of Africa. And let us not forget that many of the African countries where these immigrants come from have welcomed exiled immigrants who fled South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. Is this how we repay those countries for their hospitality?

“At this point, it is imperative that we as an industry stand together to condemn this new wave of xenophobic violence, and also to champion the message that South Africa is open for business and remains safe to visit. The misleading headlines do incredible damage to our reputation as a destination, and even the UK’s Foreign Office has added a warning about localised disturbances and violence in Johannesburg, Durban and other parts of KwaZulu Natal province.”

In the same vein, the Chief Executive Officer of South African Tourism, Thulani Nzima, said: “I want to state that I categorically condemn the appalling xenophobic attacks taking place in the various locations in our country. It is with embarrassment and shame that I come before the world and especially my fellow Africans to apologise for these senseless attacks. I hold in contempt, the loathing and subsequent attacks suffered by our brothers and sisters from the continent. The majority of us South Africans perceive and carry ourselves as Africans and believe what we have witnessed in some parts of our country goes against the grain of who we are as a people, our constitution, and the principles of Ubuntu that we so dearly adhere to. Government is working closely with the UNHCR, UNICEF as well as non-governmental organisations to provide food, psycho-social and other support to those affected. The process of reintegrating those who were displaced back into their communities has begun. Community engagements are being conducted through the Communities in Dialogue programme, Community Safety Forums, Ward Committees and through Community Development Workers, amongst others.’’

But much more than apologies, the bottom line is the tourism industry contributing its own quota to the country which might to some extent be sharply reduced this year and other years if the xenophobic activities are not put in check.

To be continued next week

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