As the lockdown regulations intended to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic have been eased to the second lowest level in South Africa as the number of infections are manageable (courtesy of millions of vaccinations), let me this week focus on tourism as one of the sectors hardest hit by the outbreak of the pandemic. Yes, although prospects of recovery are quite promising, all stakeholders – public, private, civil society, including you and I as customers – as still have to work doubly harder to ensure our efforts are successful. The mammoth task should begin now as we have been celebrating the Tourism Month in September. By the way, in my last week’s comment I indicated that Brandhill Africa (Pty) Ltd has just been accepted as a member of the African Tourism Board (ATB).    

As Jambo Africa Online, we commit to covering the tourism sector as a build up towards the festive season. Our mantra will be  “from the Cape Point to the Confluence”.

The Cape Point is the most southern point where the Atlantic Ocean ends and the Indian Ocean begins – it is the point of interaction between the two oceans, one cold (Atlantic) and the other warm (Indian).

The Confluence is the far northern part of the country in the 11th century Mapungubwe World Heritage Site at which one is privileged to see three countries at once: Zimbabwe on the right and Botswana on the left with these two countries separated by Shashi River that flows into the t-junction of Limpopo River that separates South Africa from the two countries. 

I believe we can learn something from Germany. South Africa has historical ties with Germany that date back to the 18th century when the first German immigrants arrived and bringing with them German ideologies of mobilising the emerging proletariat class – resulting in the formation of the Yiddish-speaking branch of the International Socialist League (ISL) in South Africa.

Mindful as its role as the world’s cradle of philosophical thought leadership, Germany adopted ”The Land of Ideas” as its brand mantra when they were hosting the FIFA World Cup 2006. 

I personally experienced how this brand positioning resonated with all the stakeholders as I was privileged to be part of the South African delegation to whom Germany was to hand the hosting baton for the FIFA World Cup 2010.

So, the campaign will showcase all the tourism treasures that the country is endowed with between the Cape Point and the Confluence in Mapungubwe – these include our ten World Heritage Sites such as Robben Island, Table Mountain, the Cradle of Humankind and Mapungubwe itself. Just a few weeks ago I was welcoming the announcement from South Africa’s Ambassador to France, H.E. Mr Tebogo Seokolo, that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee had at its 44th session inscribed 33 heritage sites on the highly-coveted World Heritage List and two of which were from African countries – namely, Gabon and Ivory Coast. 

We also congratulated Amb Seokolo on being elected as one of the five Vice Presidents of the Committee, representing Africa.  

Furthermore, Amb Seokolo also reported that South Africa had so far inscribed ten heritage sites on the World Heritage List – including the Cradle of Humankind and Robben Island. This Is a gem worth celebrating by taking our family members to visit these treasures.

By the way, the newest place with ancient ruins to be made publicly known  by the University of the Witwatersrand’s archaeologists through government is Kweneng – the name is derived from an ethnic Batswana group of Bakwena, thus meaning their place of habitat. The ruins, which were unearthed in the 1960s by archaeologists Revil Mason and Tim Maggs, are located 30 kilometres south of Johannesburg. These are the remains of a pre-colonial Batswana capital occupied from the 15th to the 19th century AD which was made of a number of circular stone walled family compounds which were spread out over an area 10km long and 2km wide. The researchers said that it was the largest of several sizeable settlements inhabited by Batswana prior to European occupation. They have also indicated that the capital was probably abandoned in the 1820s during the Mfecane civil wars which led to the dispersal of its residents.

So I guess Kweneng will in future be submitted to UNESCO to be declared a world heritage site. 

Kweneng instils in me a sense of pride as I am a mokwena (singular form for Bakwena). This is about recognising my traditional heritage and has no inclinations of tribalism at all. Those who follow me on social media will attest to my decrying some section of South Africans, including the mainstream media, attributing a national tag to a tribe. My position is fully subscribed to Frédéric Nietzsche’s contention that every object is a multiplicity of subjectivities. And as a dialectical materialist, I believe in the supremacy of the “culture dialectic” – as coined by the Jamaican cultural theorist, Stuart Hall.

While on this slight cultural detour, let me also say how excited I was on Sunday when publisher, Rose Ssali, gifted me with a copy of Suzan Skhosana’s “Poko ‘a Sekwena” (loosely translated as Bakwena’s poetry), which I have devoured incessantly since it taught me about my Setswana heritage. 

I left aunty Rose (as she’s affectionately known) and Ntsikelelo Vimbayo (my friend and comrade in the trenches of our cultural struggles) in stitches when I relayed to them an awkward moment when after my mother had asked me to welcome our delegation that went to negotiate magadi (dowry) on behalf of my youngest brother, Mpho, and to bring the makoti (bride), Phina, and her family members (nominated to accompany her) to our home, I responded when I was asked to spice my remarks by reciting our praise poem: “I haven’t memorised it yet, but I’ve transcribed it from one of my elders’ rendition when I was researching our family tree, so I still have to memorise it. Unfortunately, it isn’t saved in my phone to read from but it’s in my PC. So I can’t recite it yet.”

By the way, research indicates tourists are now interested in regional tour packages – and we will be able to promote such for them. For example, tourism students may start with Kweneng after landing In Johannesburg; then visit the Cradle of Humankind; go up north to the Kruger National Park to visit Thulamela ruins; then dash into Mapungubwe outside Musina; cross through the Beitbridge into Zimbabwe to visit the Great Zimbabwe in Masvingo. Thulamela and the Great Zimbabwe are the offshoots of Mapungubwe. Then from Masvingo proceed to the north eastern part of Botswana to visit Domboshaba, an offshoot of the Great Zimbabwe, before going to cool off at the Musi-oa-Thunya, the Victoria Falls – either from the Zimbabwe or Zambia side, though after experiencing both sides, I recommend the latter.

Or others may after spending time in the Kruger National Park, drive through the Giriyondo bordergate into Mozambique through Masingiri and proceed straight to Xai Xai where they will enjoy warm crystal clear beaches, the best seafood and even take a boat to go view the origin of the Limpopo river as it oozes right out of the womb of Indian Ocean – this is what one may experience when they visit the ground zero of the Nile river as it oozes out of the Victoria lake in Uganda. These are the kinds of tourism experiences that are timeless and I had the privilege to experience.

These ideas, though not comprehensive, may help our tourism industry to rise from the ruins out of the ruinous degradation imposed by COVID-19 pandemic. According to the 2020 report released by Statistics South Africa, foreign arrivals in the country diminished by 71% from almost 16 million in 2019 to less than 5 million in 2020. This was as a result of the economic lockdowns, that included travel restrictions, not only in South Africa, but across the world too.

An analysis of the distribution of tourists by region of residence as reflected in these  statistics, though dire, motivate for the integration of Africa as envisaged by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). This distribution shows that 74,8% of the tourists who arrived in South Africa in 2020 were residents of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states and 1,5% were from “other” African countries. 

These two sub-regions constituted a total of over 76,3% tourists came from within Africa. Tourists from overseas countries constituted only 23,6% and when StatsSA compared the 2020 volumes with the 2019’s, the number of tourists decreased in all ten leading overseas countries with Australia recording the largest percentage decrease of visitors to SA at 81,4%. The latter point is interesting for me since Australia is home to the biggest number of South African expatriates globally.   

Expectedly so, Nigeria was the leading source country for tourists from “other” African countries for South Africa considering that it has the biggest population and economy on the continent.

These are scary statistics but that’s why I earlier indicated the recovery of the sector depends on all stakeholders, including you and me. Let’s start this weekend by taking our families on a sho’t left to explore our tourist attractions.

Happy Heritage day to all.

Saul Molobi