Left without income since before lockdown in March 2020, South Africa’s safari tourism industry has run out of oxygen. That’s why tourism stakeholders from South Africa’s Mpumalanga province launched a peaceful protest against the ban on leisure travel.
The Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) regulations issued this week extending the outright ban on all leisure travel, which includes overnight holiday stays in game lodges as well as game drives, while public transport that can hold up to 14 people per vehicle called taxis are allowed to operate at 100% capacity, is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
With Unemployment Insurance Fund Temporary Employee Relief (UIF TERS) at its end, no financial relief for what has become viewed as a ‘high risk’ industry and absolutely no end in sight for tourism businesses that have been unable to trade for many months, desperation and anger has set in. Petitions and protests are being organised across the country by tourism stakeholders questioning the rationality of the regulations which have put 1.15 million tourism jobs in jeopardy.
One such initiative was held today in Nelspruit, organised by safari operator Hylton Langley, who confesses he just needed to start something. “If Government officials had had 100% of their salaries taken away from them the way we have, they would understand how deeply this crisis has affected us. I don’t know where they think we’re going to get the money to pay our staff,” says Langley.
“We hope that our peaceful awareness drive to highlight the plight of the people in tourism will gain traction across the country and we encourage all wheels operators to get behind this action and do a slow drive past their municipal offices to show how their staff and businesses have been affected by these irrational regulations that are having untold damage on South Africa’s tourism sector.”
Langley’s peaceful protest on wheels from White River to the Government buildings in Nelspruit were backed by some 60 tourism vehicles displaying placards stating “14 people in a taxi allowed. 0 people in a safari vehicle. Once a contributor, now a beggar” and “No salaries for government ministers since they have shut down tourism”.
As one of the first and hardest hits sectors, and certainly the last earmarked for reopening, the Tourism Sector has been forgotten.
“Action is the only language our Government seems to understand. I don’t know where this action to highlight livelihoods lost is going to go, but if it works for the taxi industry, perhaps it will work for Tourism,” says Langley.