South African tourism: Negative effects of marches and protests

by Unathi Sonwabile Henama 518 views0

March against Jacob Zuma in Pretoria on 12 April 2017. Photo: Motlabana Monnakgotla

On the 12th of April 2017, the nation celebrated the birthday of President Jacob Zuma. It was also the day that the opposition parties launched a national day of action, calling on citizens to converge at Church Square in Pretoria and then march to the Union Buildings.

South Africa is a country that has institutionalised marches. It began in the early 2000s with service delivery strikes in municipalities, and grew to crime-led xenophobic attacks all over the country. The new trend is increasingly violent political marches. Vuwani caught the national attention, when a municipal demarcation dispute led to the destruction of several schools, which is deeply regrettable.

The past two years have been dominated by #FeesMustFall, which captured international attention. On the 2nd of November 2016, the DA and EFF marched against the charges that were brought by the National Prosecuting Authority against the then Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. They marched from Church Square to the Pretoria Magistrates Court.

The #ZumaMustFall protest will be represented by citizens across racial and political lines and it will be a mass mobilisation strategy to send a message to the ANC to recall President Jacob Zuma, for a plethora of reasons.

Pretoria is the seat of the Executive and the head office of the majority of government departments and State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), hence the protests come to Pretoria. There is growing trend of marches that culminate at the Union Buildings. Remember the Million Man March in 2008 against crime, and the 2011 economic freedom march of the ANC Youth League, led by Julius Malema.

The #FeesMustFall movement led their struggles to the Union Buildings, where a concession by the government for a 0% increase in fees was achieved. And after the downgrading of South Africa’s sovereign credit rating to junk status, a march led by Save SA also ended at the Union Buildings.

Marches were staged in several other cities, including Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. The groundswell of support for President Jacob to be recalled has become a national talking point.

What is of concern is that the mass mobilisation that always descends on Pretoria has a detrimental impact on certain businesses that are forced close their doors because of these marches, which are sometimes hijacked by criminals that break into and loot shops.

Business prospects for growth diminish when several days in the year are lost to strikes in Pretoria. Bus companies also did not operate into Pretoria on the 12TH April 2017, even Gautrain buses, depriving many employees of their means to get to work. Those with cars, would not dare drive into town, and the Pretoria CBD would be a no-go area.

The deepening of political contestation will mean that rolling mass action will become the order of the day, the rule rather than the exception. We live in a globalised world, where at the click of a button, any image is shared all over the world. All these strikes, marches and protests are broadcast all over the world, and they create an image of a country that is about to implode.

This does little to restore investor confidence in our country. The downgrade can be likened to the descent of prime evil onto our wallets, heralding tough times and the increase of poverty. Society will rebel as they see their standard of living decrease, and cost of living rise. Citizens are already highly indebted, with the lowest household savings rate as a percentage of GDP. Worse, the majority of Blacks have no assets. They will experience the worst impacts of the downgrade.

The reputation of South Africa as an investment destination will continue to decrease and have a negative effect on tourism arrivals. Tourists want to travel to destinations that are safe and South Africa has consistently scored low on personal safety and security according to the World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report.

Tourism, the one sector that has been the perennial good news maker, will now suffer from fallout of our political challenges. Tourism has been called the ‘’new gold’’ as it attracts more foreign exchange and creates more employment than gold mining. But reputation is everything and we must be conscious that reputation is regarded as the truth.

We must seek ways to protect our tourism industry from our political contestation because peace is a pre-requisite for tourism growth. Growth in this sector creates jobs. For every eight international tourists one permanent job is created.

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