Rural communities have felt the brunt of South Africa’s international travel ban

6 min read

Every day South Africa keeps its borders closed, albeit partially, the effects are felt by communities dependent on tourism for survival.

The sooner Government reopens in full, the sooner communities can get back to work and earn their livelihoods through tourism, says Rebekah Copham from andBeyond’s community development partner, Africa Foundation. “This will reduce the deepening of poverty that the closure of the borders is creating.”

In 2019, the Africa Foundation raised R35 million for community development and conservation projects comprising a combination of international donors and South African grant funding.

“International visitors play a key role in the Africa Foundation funding model, and a significant number of guest donors remain committed to giving to the Africa Foundation many years after their initial holiday with andBeyond.”

Says Copham: “So many of the incredible community programmes are funded by international guests visiting our lodges. The spending power of international currency is the reason that many of the lodges are able to continue the philanthropic work done by their trusts and foundations.

Impact to Kruger National Park communities

The Kruger National Park has been particularly hard hit by the closure.

In the Greater Kruger area only, 23 000 people are employed in tourism businesses and based on the ratio of 1:10 or more dependents supported by one job, the industry in the area supports of the order of 230,000 people.

As well as community livelihoods, the lack of income and increased poverty leads to increases in environmental crime. This coupled with constraints on anti-poaching measures and security spending due to equivalent total erosion of entrance fees and revenue for SANParks and other reserves, creates a huge challenge for conservation.

For Africa Foundation, both communities and conservation are under threat.

Says Copham, “As the pressure on communities continues, the risk to conservation also increases, as desperation leads people to make choices that are not in the best interests of protecting wildlife and the environment. Furthermore, the return of international guests opens the opportunity for securing additional funding to support community work, which as indicated above, is more critical than ever.”

Community and conservation are the mainstay of RETURNAfrica’s Pafuri Collection in Limpopo. The international travel ban has had major repercussions for business, says Godfrey Baloyi, General Manager.

“At the moment, not all staff members are back at work, hence it is important for international travel to be unbanned in full,” he says.

The livelihood of the Makuleke community has been drastically affected due to the lack of tourism to the region and domestic tourism will not be its lifeblood.

“The Makuleke community gets its revenue from tourists who visit the concession, If we only depend on local tourism, it will create a big setback in terms of revenue for them, and in the end their livelihoods will be badly affected.

“RETURNAfrica’s Pafuri Camp has more than 95% staff members from the community and if nearly all of them lose their jobs, that is a big blow. So we need the international guests to be allowed to visit us again,” explains Baloyi.

Copham explains that the economic consequences of the lockdown have been felt in the extreme in the communities in which the andBeyond are active, as so many people in these communities depend in some way or form on tourism.

The majority of guests who become donors are from the USA, Australia, UK and Europe. In this regard, a reliance on domestic travel would be disastrous.

“Africa Foundation and andBeyond also support local craft markets with guest visits, and again we have observed that interest in visiting and purchasing from the craft markets is largely among international travellers,” says Copham.

The closure of lodges has had serious repercussions for the women who depend on income from such sales. “The lockdown has meant that there have been no guests attending the craft markets in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. There are 49 women working at the craft markets, supporting more than 150 dependents, and their sales plummeted to zero. Not only these, though, but hundreds of people who earned a living through the tourist sector have also been impacted by a lost, or reduced, income,” adds Copham

Food security now a concern

Acute food insecurity has been felt in the communities – and supporting with food relief is an additional project for Africa Foundation, says Copham.

She says the additional food projects require the generosity of donors, at a time when our target audience of guests has diminished. “Essentially the lockdown has meant that needs are greater, and the opportunities to expose these needs to people who can support has been reduced.”

Robert More, CEO of MORE Family Collection, says the impact of the international lockdown has meant community programmes are only able to provide the very basics to the communities due to the lack of funding.

“We have invested in education and skills development funding & supporting management at two pre-school facilities educating in excess of 100 children; a commercially sustainable sewing project servicing the surrounding Game Lodges and a digital learning centre catering to adolescent and adult learners. We have invested in the education and health of our surrounding communities for at least 15 or 20 years.

But this pandemic has been so extreme that our continued expansion and development in these areas has been put on hold as we have needed and been asked to go back to the basics of supplying food and health supplements to our community. If you look at Maslow’s pyramid of needs, food, water and oxygen are right at the bottom. So, we have dropped down below any form of skills development, education, or security within the community. We have gone down to the lowest level of what people just need to survive.

Tourism’s multiplier effect on job creation is unlike any other industry. “The tourism industry employs so many people and if more than 50% of those people lose their jobs, the unemployment rate will skyrocket,” says Baloyi.

“People will be left with very few options to put food on the table and many will be involved in crime and, as a nation, we don’t want that,” says Baloyi. “The government must open the borders in full as soon as possible to prevent what is coming.”