Defend Truth


SA is an unmatched tourist destination — use it to address youth unemployment and township economies


Bonang Mohale is chancellor of the University of the Free State, former president of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), professor of practice at the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) in the College of Business and Economics and chairperson of The Bidvest Group, ArcelorMittal and SBV Services. He is a member of the Community of Chairpersons (CoC) of the World Economic Forum and author of two bestselling books, Lift As You Rise and Behold The Turtle. He has been included in Reputation Poll International’s (RPI) 2023 list of the “100 Most Reputable Africans”. He is the recipient of the 2023 ME-Vision Academy’s “Exclusive Recognition in Successful Leadership” award.

Tourism is a catalyst for economic growth. As we celebrate thirty years of democracy, we must continue to strive for greater good and common purpose.

The four characteristics of a nation-state are sovereignty, land, population and government.

Sovereignty is the right of a nation or group of people to be self-governing because they are completely independent of any other political entity. A nation is a large type of social organisation where a collective identity has emerged from a combination of shared features across a given population, such as language, history, ethnicity, culture, territory or society.

The most apparent impact of the nation-state, as compared with its non-national predecessors, is creating a uniform national culture through state policy.

The model of the nation-state implies that its population constitutes a nation, united by a common descent, a common language and many forms of shared culture. Therefore, nation-building is constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state. It aims at the unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run.

Legitimate authority in modern national states is connected to popular rule and to majorities that employ three nation-building policies, namely accommodation, assimilation and exclusion.

Nation builders are the members of a state who take the initiative to develop the national community through government programmes and to foster social harmony and economic growth. Three factors tend to determine the success of nation-building over the long run, namely, the early development of civil society organisations, the rise of a state capable of providing public goods evenly across a territory and the emergence of a shared medium of communication.

The State of the Nation Address of the President of South Africa (Sona) is an annual event and one of the most important events in the parliamentary calendar.

The President is provided with an opportunity to speak to the nation on the general state of South Africa, to reflect on a wide range of political, economic and social matters within the domestic and global contexts, to account to the nation on the work of government and to set out government’s programme of action.

It is also a vehicle for the President to summarise the accomplishments and plans of the programme of government both for a particular year and until the end of their term of office, during a Joint Sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.

This is commonly known as the “Opening of Parliament” for all the three arms of the State, namely, the legislature, executive and judiciary. What happens after the Sona is that political parties have an opportunity to debate, comment and raise questions on matters addressed in the President’s speech during a debate on the President’s State of the Nation Address.

This debate usually takes place over two days in a joint sitting. So, Sona is about setting the strategy for at least the next five years and gives the line of match for the Minister of Finance to prepare his Budget — a financial language on how to execute on this strategy.

There is no doubt that all of us have not succeeded in eradicating the legacy of apartheid. When the President does not mention transformation as a key priority, there will be no resources (people, time and money) to execute on this critical priority.

Low-hanging fruit

One of the key low-hanging fruits to address both youth unemployment and the township economy is tourism – which also has the potential to be the biggest foreign currency earner for most countries. It can potentially provide both oversized and outsized employment, especially for the youth.

It has tangible benefits as most of both the labour and products can be provided by and sourced from the local community, often without the need for public transport. Treated well and engaged, the same community will protect the entire tourism and hospitality value chain.

In the eight years from 2012 to 2019, South Africa recorded 765,245 tourist arrivals from India versus Australia’s 2,093,000. If South Africa was able to sustain the initial growth rate in terms of tourist arrivals from India and keep pace with the growth rate that Australia enjoyed, an additional estimated R9.3-billion would have been injected into the South African economy in seven years between 2012 and 2018.

Instead, we have seen a decline in tourist arrivals from India over this period. Similarly, in the 12 years from 2008 to 2019, South Africa recorded 1,080,695 tourist arrivals from China versus Australia’s 10.4 million, in spite of South Africa being recently honoured by readers of the UK’s Telegraph Travel publication, with the prestigious title of “Best Country”, while its iconic city, Cape Town, claimed the coveted title of “Best City in the World”.

South Africa has 10 sites (five Cultural, four Natural and one mixed) inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage list, including the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal.

It is a land rich in contrasts and diversity, emerging as an exceptional tourist destination where natural beauty, history and a mix of cultures converge to offer a unique experience.

The country offers both domestic and international tourists a wide variety of options, among others, the picturesque national landscape and game reserves, diverse cultural heritage and hugely respected wine estates, several national parks, like the expansive Kruger National Park in the north of the country, the coastlines and beaches of KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, and the major cities like Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

A vast majority (76.2%) of tourists arriving in the country were residents of SADC countries, 1.9% were from “other” African countries and 23.6% were residents of countries overseas – most tourists came from Zimbabwe, topping the list at 31%, followed by Lesotho, Mozambique, eSwatini and Botswana. In addition, Nigeria was the country of origin for nearly 30% of tourists. Almost 3.5 million travellers passed through the country’s ports of entry in August 2017.

The top five overseas countries with the largest number of tourists visiting South Africa were the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and France. There is absolutely no reason why South Africa can’t attract about 16 million (and 12 million domestic) arrivals annually in the next six years and contribute 10% to the GDP from the solid base of 10.5 million (eight million global) tourists in 2018.

The lack of singularity of purpose in tourism and hospitality might be explained in part by the fact that the country has no less than four entities to promote inbound tourism with very little coordination and cooperation as well as the fact that we have had four ministers of tourism in five years. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Head in the sand

  • Metharam Dr Haresh says:

    This well written article is to be lauded. The only problem we face is crime and load
    shedding. If these two issues can be Addressed then we should have no problem of addressing the youth unemployment which is our biggest issue at present. The present
    Government has to take a stand on this matter and the tourism industry will thrive and so will the economy of SA. God bless South Africa.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    Well according to Lindiwe Sisulu, only three foreign tourists have been murdered in SA in the last 27 years, so it’s unlikely that it’s things like ‘concern for personal safety’ that’s keeping the tourists away … right?

  • Is there hope South Africa? says:

    The one major problem that is not mentioned is that we do not have a reliable national carrier. The author mentions that we could have so many more tourists from both India and China. One of the reasons we don’t have more is that there are no direct flights. SAA has been badly mismanaged and there is (understandably) a lack of confidence in this airline. Trust in an airline is built over many decades of observing their track record and SAA has certainly failed in this regard.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Direct flights are not an issue, there are many airlines that don’t fly direct between major destinations, that’s why there are hubs, for SA most travel through either Europe, UAE or Qatar

  • Change is good sa says:

    An ANC legacy.
    We cannot guarantee safety for tourists, add load shedding, visa delays, no national carrier, 3 departments ego’s at play trying not to work with an efficient Tourism Minister.
    We can change the unemployment statistics if our youth vote for alternative parties. A fresh start is what is needed to bring the unbelievable corruption of the ANC to an end. Everything will change when we put the brakes on the trillions that are being siphoned from the fiscus. Tourism would flourish without the nonsensical behaviour that emanates from the ANC everyday.

  • José Lueje says:

    Having been involved in the Tourism Industry, for the past 64 years, first in Spain, and the last 59 on RSA.
    I take with a pinch of salt, the many well researched and written articles, that appear regularly about Tourism.
    Unfortunately, though many people speak about what marvelous remedy Tourism can be for the local economy.
    Nobody ever does anything about it.
    Tourism is at best ignored, at worst blamed for the many ills of the Country. Here Spain is a good example. The raise of the Spanish economy built on their Tourism. Now many of the popular destinations, doing their level best, to reduce their growth, or reverse if they can.
    RSA is a wonderful destination, but is it safe to travel by road ?.
    I don’t thong so.
    Is it safe to venture out of the main shopping centres ?.
    I don’t think so .
    What happened to our fast disappearing road network ?.
    What happened to our long gone railway network ?.
    We continue promoting the wonderful destination we have. One of the best slogans ever used to promote Tourism, “A world in one Country”, was coined by SATOUR, in the 60’s I seem to remember.
    We’ll continue operating around the continous potholes, we encounter daily. From the roads, to the lack of action by the various official bodies.
    “Cry my beloved Country”, once again.

  • Robert Pegg says:

    I met a Russian tourist in Mauritius recently. She said she would love to visit SA but heard crime was really bad and was told you can’t walk around at night for fear of being mugged. I guess she’s not far wrong with that comment. Another 10,000 police recruits will not solve the problem if they drive around like the rest of them with their eyes closed.

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