Opinion: Johannesburg, the city of tourism gold


The race to the local government elections has meant that all political parties have campaigned intensely. On the 30th of July, the Democratic Alliance hosted a rally in Dobsonville, Soweto. Soweto is the largest township in South Africa and an integral part of the fabric of the liberation struggle.

The township was regarded as a temporary dwelling place for Blacks, as Blacks were not regarded as permanent residents of urban areas. Johannesburg, being the economic centre of the country, would naturally attract inward migration from all corners of South Africa. This resulted in Soweto becoming home to millions of Black South Africans who sought refuge in search of the elusive gold.

Soweto would be home to two of the four Nobel Peace Prize winners, namely former President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Almost all Black South Africans claim to have a family member or relative that lives in Soweto.


The cowardly acts of state sponsored gangsterism on the 16 June 1976, resulted in the deaths of many students that faced the barrel of the gun protesting against Afrikaans. The world was shocked by the events of June 16, and was once again reminded that apartheid was a crime against humanity as declared by the United Nations. 

The scars of apartheid have been used to promote tourism, as Soweto is the hub of the township tourism economy. Tourism has created labour intensive jobs in Soweto and was the thesis for motivating the Gauteng Provincial Government led by Premier David Makhura to lead a township economy revitalisation programme.

Soweto is experiencing inward investments that seeks to capitalise on the stream of tourists. Today Soweto has backpacker establishments and even a hotel. Soweto is fertile with opportunities and government has continued to support the tourism sector through the provision of the necessary infrastructure that has created an enabling environment for business to flourish.

The biggest beneficiaries of the tourism economy are the residents of Soweto, who share the infrastructure created to benefit the residents and the tourists.

Soweto is home to two of the biggest soccer teams, Orlando Pirates that produced legends such as Kaizer Motaung, who today owns Kaizer Chiefs. The Carling Black Label Cup is a pre-season tournament between these two soccer rivals, which has managed to engage fans creatively by allowing them the ability to determine the starting line-up of their teams. The tickets of the Carling Black Label Cup are always sold out, and television viewership is always high.

When the Soweto derby starts, the country is divided along soccer lines, as the rivalry between the two teams is intense. The derby occurs at FNB Stadium, which is regarded as the national stadium. Created in the image of a calabash, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the FIFA 2010 World Cup, the first on African soil. The tourism economy of greater Johannesburg has benefited immensely from the arrivals of thousands of fans that kept the economy smiling all the way to the bank.

On the 31st of July 2016 the oldest liberation movement in Africa, the African National Congress hosted their Siyanqoba Rally at Ellis Park. The pulling power of the ANC is perennial because it is a mass democratic movement. The ANC in Gauteng launched its manifesto at the 85 000 seater FNB stadium on the 4th of June, filling the stadium to the rafters and winning an important psychological battle in the run up to the local government elections. Ellis Park is the stadium that hosted the historic victory of the Springboks during the 1995 IRB Rugby World Cup, against the All Blacks.

The Siyanqoba Rally by the ANC will bring in thousands of supporters that will be have wallets to spend to benefit the economy of Johannesburg.

The decline of the production economy of mining means that the consumption economy of tourism is now the new gold. Tourism will continue to grow as the number one economic sector to drive the economy of Johannesburg.

Pre-election weekend events demonstrated a pulling power  that attracted thousands of visitors. Johannesburg benefitted from these events and the future is firmly tourism. Much more needs to be done to promote tourism that can create the jobs that the mining sector has been consistent in cutting. Promoting domestic tourism will ensure that the economy is saved from a recession.

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