Op-Ed: #Mahikeng – a tourism perspective

PUBLISHED: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 11:58:10 GMT

Picture: CNBC Africa

By Unathi Sonwabile Henama

Violent and deadly protests occurring in Mahikeng last week have captured national attention. President Cyril Ramaphosa cut short the Commonwealth Heads of State meeting in London, to attend to the protests that had engulfed the North West Province.

President Ramaphosa was leading Invest SA to London, to woo investors and sell South Africa as an investment destination. Foreign direct investment is important as a driver of economic growth. The absence of Cyril Ramaphosa would be felt in London, as the global media followed his hurried departure back to South Africa.

Protesters have clashed with police, participated in public violence, looted shops and disturbed traffic on major highways. There was the destruction of public property, which has become institutionalised within the protest culture in South Africa. This led to the torching of the Mmabana Cultural Centre, which showcases the arts and cultural practices of the Batswana.

Mahikeng, which is the provincial capital city, has been at the epicentre of the protests, with sporadic disruptions also occurring in Klerksdorp.

Police dispersed protestors with rubber bullets. There were several arrests and two fatalities have been reported. Police resources were stretched to the limit, as the number of protestors far outnumber police personnel.

Tensions remain high as the top 6 of the African National Congress (ANC) on the 20th of April 2018 met Premier Supra Mahumapelo. The protestors have demanded that Premier Mahumapelo, should resign as Premier.

The ANC found itself in a tight corner, as the protestors happened to be voters who might dump the ANC in the general elections in 2019, should a resolution remain deferred.

The ANC would recall that residents in Tshwane voted against the ANC. This led to the ANC not achieving more than 50% in the local government elections for the first time, and the ANC was dislodged after opposition parties formed a coalition government.

The violence in Mahikeng led to neighbouring country Botswana closing its border with South Africa. This might negatively affect religious tourism to Tshwane, as thousands of Batswana regularly cross the border to attend church services at Enlightened Christian Gathering, hosted by Prophet Bushiri. Botswana has declared Bushiri as an undesired visitor to Botswana.

The closure of the border must be one of the reasons that led President Cyril Ramaphosa to become pro-active in trying to resolve the issue in Mahikeng, by returning home from an international commitment. The unrest in Mahikeng occurred concurrently with the World Travel Market (WTM) Africa hosted in Cape Town from 18-20 April 2018. This trade show is important to exhibit travel products and is a marketing platform for travel destinations.

The events in Mahikeng have done a disservice to brand South Africa generally, and the North West specifically. Tourism is very sensitive to external events and shocks such as protests, crime, acts of terror and political unrest. The violence that is associated with service delivery strikes in South Africa can be regarded as a form of home-grown terrorism.

South Africa already suffers from a poor image because of low levels of personal safety and security. In the tourism industry, perceptions and image trump reality. Tourism requires a favourable destination image, in order to grow. South Africa has capitalised on the successful hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and this reality must be replicated daily in South Africa.

Tourism is the new gold and it must become everyone’s business if it is to succeed. Tourism growth in the past 24 years has surpassed the national growth rate, which has been pedestrian. The ability of tourism to grow with jobs is unparalleled, due to its labour intensive nature.

For many localities, tourism has emerged as the only economic sector that can restore human dignity through jobs and entrepreneurial activities. Because almost all countries have jumped onto the tourism bandwagon, this has meant that competition amongst destinations has increased.  South Africa must improve its tourism competitiveness.

This, therefore, means anything negative that occurs in South Africa might have an impact on tourism. This makes the business of tourism everyone’s business. Tourism more than any other sector demands a responsible and responsive public service. If tourism can ensure that the public service is more responsive to the needs of the citizens, then tourism will continue its human rights dividend.

I wish President Ramaphosa well in trying to find a resolution to the crisis in the North West. A speedy resolution could be the best dividend for his Presidency, that he is a pro-active President that is Mr. Fix-It.

Unathi Sonwabile Henama teaches tourism at the Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity

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