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Modi’s SA visit highlights that tourism is the new gold

Jul 13 2016 06:38
Unathi Sownabile Henama

THE arrival of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in South Africa during his recent four-nation tour of Africa presented is a perfect opportunity for South Africa and India to strengthen their diplomatic ties during times of uncertainty, especially after Brexit.

India and South Africa are both former British colonies and the former has already hosted the Commonwealth, while Durban will host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. South Africa, which was the last country of the African continent to gain independence, has received Indian support in the struggle for independence.

Since independence, India and South Africa have worked together to change the destiny of the United Nations, to create a more representative body. Trade between the two countries has been increasing; however, trade between South Africa and China has received more attention because China is South Africa’s number one trading partner.

China has been a major consumer of South African mineral extracts and the slowdown in the Chinese economy occurred at possibly the worst time as the commodity boom is no longer a bull but a bear market. The decline in commodity prices has negatively impacted on mining profitability, leading to the closure of many mines and the laying off of thousands of mineworkers.

The deep structural relations between the South African economy and mining mean that job losses are not limited to mining but also encompass other related industries that supply the mining industry. When mining sneezes, the economy catches flu. In a journal paper titled Attracting Indian Outbound Tourists to South Africa: A BRICS Perspective, it is noted that India has a diversified services economy when compared to China and that from a tourism perspective, India is a better fit for South Africa when compared to China.

Mandarin is incomprehensible to most South Africa businesses, while tourists from India, a former British colony, are fluent in English. Indians are very familiar with South Africa, considering that the country has already produced multiple cricket stars that take part in the Indian Premier League, which is big business with a great viewership.

The Indian Premier League was hosted in South Africa in 2009 due to security concerns in India, greatly benefiting the South African economy. KwaZulu-Natal hosted the first Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) 2013 Convention on African soil, as an opportunity to present destination South Africa generally and KwaZulu-Natal specifically to travel agencies in India.

India is the hub of business process outsourcing and South Africa can learn many things from India. Therefore, India actually is a better trading partner going forward than China considering that English is widely spoken in India. Statistics South Africa released the Quarterly Employment Statistics for the first quarter of 2016 noted that "employment in the mining industry declined for a sixth consecutive quarter. In the first quarter of 2016, the number of employees in mining declined by 4 000 employees, following a decline of 17 000 employees in the fourth quarter of 2015".

The decline of mining share of employment has been aggravated by the increase in labour costs; as a result, mechanisation has been implemented to mitigate where necessary and possible. In addition, the South African economy is not projected to increase its growth rate by more than 1% this year, in a country where unemployment is around 27%. The high rate of unemployment has been the thesis for many social ills and is a threat to national security as the unemployed can be used for destabilising the state, such as acts of violence carried out under the disguise of service delivery strikes, a present-day South African pastime.

The vast majority of those that find themselves without employment do not possess the skills required by the economy, subjecting them to indignity of human suffering and poverty. South Africa seems oblivious to the reality that tourism has the ability to create a plethora of labour intensive jobs that require menial and high skills to change the reality of doom that persists in South Africa. Tourism is the "new gold" as it attracts more foreign exchange than gold mining. The gold mining hangover is a national tragedy as it shows we have failed in providing leadership in these times of gloom by raising the flag that tourism is the answer.

Mining's sinking ship should be called the Titanic

The responsibility to cure the gold mining hangover is the collective responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism, the Tourism Business Council and the intelligentsia to challenge the hegemony of mining in the minds of our politicians and indicate that this ship called mining is sinking - maybe we should call it the Titanic. Tourism, unlike the Titanic, has sustained demand and it is very much resilient compared to other industries.

South Africa must get its act together, finish and klaar. Tourism must be elevated to the same level as ministries in the security cluster because of its dynamic, multi-sectoral and multidimensional nature. Poor levels of personal safety and security that impact on South Africans can be mitigated by increased policing that benefit the locals and the tourists, as tourism creates shared infrastructure.

Countries that have elevated tourism to have the same political weight as the security cluster have benefited with plenty of jobs that have removed hunger from existence and fattened the tax revenues of the state. Look at Dubai as an example, which has deep oil reserves but has diversified its economy to include tourism - not as a nice-to-have but as its number one industry. Tourism is not a nice-to-have, it’s a national imperative as it’s the only industry that can create the jobs now.

Therefore increase the marketing budgets for tourism, relax those visa regulations, give us a tourism police force, smile at the tourists, give them service excellence, and ensure that there are greater flight frequencies between India and South Africa.

That will go a long way towards ensuring that South Africa creates the jobs lost in mining in less than six months and ensure that the country becomes a prosperous nation free from the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

* Unathi Sownabile Henama teaches tourism at Tshwane University of Technology and writes in his personal capacity. Opinions expressed are his own.

opinion  |  tourism
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