Although I was born in Rustenburg, today’s North West province, in a rural village a stone throw away from the Sun City tourism behemoth, my family – when I was aged under five – relocated to Stinkwater and a couple of years later to the neighbouring New Eersterus where I started with Grade 3 and basically grew up in this village – two villages among the sprawling many in Hammanskraal, 40 kilometres north of Pretoria.
Since the subject of Publisher’s Comment this week is tourism, I won’t share the grudge I harbour that almost 28 years after democracy, the name Stinkwater still persists for this village in which availability of drinkable water remains a problem (even the South African Human Rights Commission has ruled against the City of Tshwane on this two years ago), but I will just say that we grew up forced to drink water with high florine probably because of the meteorite that fell over 200 years ago and plunged into the earth, left what is a salt lake today, that we have since declared a national heritage site, Tswaing Crater – (“tswaing” is a Setswana name meaning “a place of salt”). The crater is less than ten kilometres from both villages.
Similarly, New Eersterus – loosely translated from Afrikaans as “a new first place of resting” – was established in 1969 after Eersterus, between Mamelodi and the north east of Pretoria, was declared by apartheid as a “Coloured” township, and indigenous Africans were then forcefully removed to Hammanksraal to start a new village – so don’t be misled by the adjective “new”, the village has always looked older than the original Eersterus as government provided no services to it until in 1994 – courtesy of the African National Congress-led national liberation. Yes, I had to commute to Mabopane daily for my high schooling as the village didn’t a high school – while on this, do know that the impoverished community started a school building fund through which they built three primary schools and a junior secondary school and the Bophuthatswana bantustan only financed the salaries of teachers.
Post-1994, a section of our home town, Hammanskraal, has now being developed into a tourism of choice as it hosts Dinokeng – a place that affords you the opportunity to experience the Big Five at a click of finger. Yes, we do have the Carousel Casino too. Both are easily accessible from the N1 – yes, a world class national road stretching from Cape Town to the Beitbridge border post that takes you into the rest of the African countries north of the Limpopo river. Hammanskraal is only 105 kilometres – a less-than-one-hour seamless journey – from Johannesburg, the nucleus of the Gauteng City Region (GCR) which is the core subject of this article.
This golden city, Johannesburg – Jo’burg or just Jozi as those of us initiated call it – is the capital of this Africa’s economic wheel: the GCR – yes, all economic sectors are its spokes. Actually, it is the economic capital of the entire continent. The GCR hosts the largest number of metropolitan cities in South Africa – namely, the City of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni aerotropolis. It contributes over 35% to South Africa’s GDP. I moved to this Africa’s most sophisticated metropolitan city in 1988 when I got my first job as a journalist.
The GCR is the tourism mecca of Africa and Jozi is the best place to be based in to explore this correspondence. In the city itself, you have such compelling destinations as the Constitution Hill, the Newtown precinct (that houses the Market Theatre, Museum Africa, The Workers’ Museum and Museum Photography, and Sci-bono), the Maboneng Precinct, Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg Zoo and Soweto – where one may visit the world famous Vilakazi Street, the only street to produce two Nobel Peace Laureates, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Within a radius of less than an hour, one may visit other parts of GCR. In the east corridor is the Ekurhuleni aerotropolis. The latest archaeological finding, the ancient village of Kweneng, is located here. In the south corridor, is Sharpeville where 67 anti-pass book protesters were massacred and scores wounded by apartheid security forces. Just a stone throw away from Sharpeville are tourism facilities along the Vaal river, that demarcates the GCR from the Free State, which provides such services as boat rides. The western corridor is endowed with God’s archaeological gift to humanity such as the UN-declared World Heritage site, Cradle of Humankind. The corridor is endowed with flora and fauna.
With a distance of less than 30 to one-hour from Johannesburg, is the northern corridor – which is home to the country’s capital, the City of Tshwane. The city hosts Pretoria Zoo, one of the eight largest zoos in the world; the State Theatre; the architectural behemoth, Union Buildings; Ditsong National Museum of natural History; the Monument with its nemesis, Freedom Park – which challenges the former’s historical epistemology and ontology. Although this is contested, Pretoria prides itself as the home of jazz (as there are many jazz clubs in its townships such as Atteridgeville, Mamelodi, Soshanguve, Garankuwa, Mabopane and even Hammanksraal, my hometown. Like Stinkwater, my blood boils each time I read or type the name Soshanguve because it’s an apartheid coinage that perpetuated tribalism as this acronym is derived from So(tho)ShaNgu(ni)Ve(nda) – the then government split what was once a thriving township named Mabopane into two through a railway line, and the one part was declared a territory of Batswana and it retained the original name but then transferred into a bantustan of Bophuthatswana (thus losing their South African citizenship); the other part was renamed Soshanguve which was a place for the non-Tswana tribes. Twenty years after we have defeated apartheid, the two sections of the original township remains and thus tribal divisions still persist. So sad.
Further north of Pretoria is Hammanksraal, my hometown with its Dinokeng that I have already alluded to.
By the way, Jozi is also in the heartland of southern Africa. Last year in my 23 September Publisher’s Comment I spoke about the strategic imperative of developing regional tour packages for the sector to rise out of the COVID-19 ruins. Based in this city, you’ll be in a radius of less than three hours (by road or air) to reach all the tourism treasures southern Africa is blessed with. Cape Town is the longest destination in the country from Johannesburg as it is a two-hour flight, the rest are all less than this. Southern African capitals are also two hours or less away from the golden city – namely, Windhoek, Harare, Maseru, Gaborone, Port Louis, Maputo, Lusaka, Blantyre and the only furtherest is Luanda at three hours and thirty minutes.
Let me dispel the critical misperception that derives from the country’s brand mismanagement: Jozi is ranked 42 globally in the list of cities by murder rate. Yes, I’m repeating it: FORTY TWO! This after the top five most dangerous cities being Mexican; Cape Town at number 8; Nelson Mandela Bay at 24; and Durban 35. So out of the top 50 globally, there are only three cities from South Africa; 19 cities from Mexico; six from Venezuela; four from the United States; ten from Brazil; 1 from Jamaica; three from Colombia; two from Honduras; and one from Guatemala.
Granted, these are 2019 statistics. Yes, I also admit crime is broader than just murder; and the crime statistics have increased drastically during the lockdowns across the world intended to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. But I don’t think these have material effect on the position of Johannesburg. The low crime rate in Johannesburg could be attributed, my guess as a layman, to the close circuit cameras installed in strategic areas across the city. Am encouraging the “Big Brother” syndrome? Hell, NO!
Why did I share these statistics particularly about Jozi. In early 2020 before I quit my job as a Group Executive: Trade, Investment and Regulatory Enablement at the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency (GGDA), I was introduced by our number 2 at our embassy in Manila, Mr Boikie Motloung, to potential investors in the hospitality sector from the Philippines who were interested to come and conduct a market research in Jozi and Cape Town and I had to do develop and itinerary for them. I excitedly worked on it.
But they said something highly interesting to me. They asked me to get them a quotation for security security services only in Johannesburg as they heard it was too dangerous a city to visit. I couldn’t share with them these statistics as one arm of government, or one part of the country, cannot say anything bad about another. This was also from my experience from the outcry in the mid-2000s following Limpopo’s “Garden of Eden” campaign distastefully indicated the province didn’t a malaria problem during the time Mpumalanga was battling with this outbreak. So I just gave an assurance to my guests that they actually didn’t need any bodyguards in Jozi and to further give them comfort, I was going to receive them at the airport and travel with them to their hotel in Sandton.
I was glad that they raised this issue directly with me and that they were in conversation with our embassy. Because if they simply went to their local tour operators, they were gladly going to secure the security services as they were to benefit from the commission they were to charge my guests. I’m raising this because when I arrived in Milan as South Africa’s Consul-General in March 2012, I found Lance Littlefield, the Country Manager of SA Tourism’s office in Italy battling with the tour operators. They had priced South Africa out of the market. The two of us challenged the industry and decided to promote our country as the most cost effective destination (taking into consideration our weak currency against the Euro) through direct consumer marketing. Lance stood his ground by not advertising in their brochures. We were glad when the then tourism minister, Derick Hanekom, came over to endorse our marketing approach. We even launched the South Africa -Italy Tourism Awards, giving recognition to those tour operators who were going beyond the call of duty to promote our country as a viable destination of choice. I was featured in a number of radio and newspaper interviews promoting our country. Our gripe was that the bulk of the exorbitant money tourists paid to the tour operators stayed in Italy, and our tourism industry didn’t benefit much from such arrivals. The number of tourist arrivals from Italy increased every year. Lance became a star in the local tourism circles in Milan.
The tourism awards were held annually until 2016 when the office was sadly closed down after SA Tourism was forced by budgetary constraints to adopt a hub-and-wheel approach by establishing regional offices serving multiple countries in a region – so Italy was serviced from the Paris regional office.
So, dear readers, this is my open invitation to all of you – both local, continental and global – come and enjoy a holiday of a lifetime from this base in Johannesburg as the COVID-19 lockdown has been eased. We provide all aspects of tourism – including cultural, sporting and even medical tourism packages.
As we say locally, walala wasala! Come learn what it means.
Enjoy your weekend.
Publisher: Jambo Africa Online
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