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Tourism is the key to unlocking the potential of South Africa’s economy, writes Bonang Mohale

As we celebrate thirty years of democracy, we 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 to 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 those 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 in which the President is provided 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 Siting of the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

This is commonly known as the ‘Opening of Parliament’ for all the three arms of the state, namely, the Legislature, Executive, and the 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 Minister of Finance a guide to prepare his budget. There is no doubt that all of us have not succeeded in eradicating the legacy of apartheid and 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.

One of the key low hanging fruits to address both youth unemployment and the township economy is tourism—that also has the potential to be the biggest foreign currency earner for most countries. It has the potential to 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 twelve 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 ten 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, is 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 Western Cape provinces 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 of the tourists arriving 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, 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 contributing ten percent to the GDP from the solid base of 10.5 million (8 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 in-bound tourism with very little coordination and cooperation, as well as the fact that we have had four ministers of tourism in five years.

Bonang Mohale is the Chancellor of the University of the Free State, former President of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), and Professor of Practice in the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) in the College of Business and Economics.

By Editor