Tourism takes a Pounding in lockdown Purgatory

Growing up in Soweto I have evidently seen this sizzling city evolving from a shanty town of corrugated barracks and huts to a sprawling city of gracious up market suburbs, poor shanty areas, first class malls and exotic restaurants. It is rich in political history and steeped in consumer culture. Malls have sprung up in every suburb and housing prices have boomed over the years. It is a city which evokes all the senses, emotional, tactile, olfactory and visual. Vibrant murals, heart breaking museums recording the pain of the struggle for freedom, smelly muddy roads in the squatter camps, if it was not for the lockdown regulation #nophysicalcontact and facemasks which makes all of us look unfriendly, hugs and smiles from friendly residents and mouth-watering smells from a bakery, are all part of the wholesome experience of being in Soweto.

For the past five months this historical place has been quiet, that you could literally hear the sound of an Autumn leaf falling from the tree to the ground. Presently and sadly a deserted place.

Vilakazi African Curios shop managed by Sipho Vilakazi has made Khumalo Street in Soweto its home. This is a one-stop shop together with Vilakazi Espresso coffee shop and The Soweto Pizza Company, is almost impossible to pass by without noticing its attractive colourful hand-crafts fully displayed through the glass walls.

When I got into the shop, the first thing that Sipho Vilakazi asked is “where are you from?!” and really I busted out in laughter, “just down the street” he then further more said “I guess it’s true that those who live nearby the river cannot swim”.

The local tourism sector came to a halt at the end of March when strict lockdown measures were imposed resulting in the closure of many businesses. Although most sectors of the economy are permitted to operate fully on level two, the tourism sector will be left out of the eased restrictions. “The shop’s revenue began to decrease as soon as the travel restrictions was implemented by governments across the globe,” hinted Sipho.

Small businesses are really great at being more agile and resilient in the face of a crisis. Unlike big businesses, they are not attached to the traditional ways of conducting business and therefore are able to make the necessary adjustments. “With leisure travel within one’s own province now allowed, people will gradually cross provincial lines and that means there will be a flow of visitors coming into our shops, confidently related Sipho,” who further mentioned that, “most people around here are still working from home, so they do come sit in for coffee.”

Tourism is one of those low-hanging fruits that South Africa should leverage and harness, not just as part of how we achieve our national priorities but also showcasing what our country can offer. Our story, our people and our culture to the world. For South Africans it is sometimes also important to be reminded of the beauty, splendour and diversity of our country. I can think no better sector to achieve this than tourism.

I must say that I agree with Sipho when he said those who live nearby the river cannot swim, I have never been inside his beautiful shop until last week people come from different parts of the world to witness our culture while we are not even mindful of its beauty. This is the mistake we do as locals, thinking that these places are meant to be explored and enjoyed by tourists. I actually came across a beaded necklace that I liked and affordable.

Happy tourism month ✈️🇿🇦🌍

Thanks for passing by 💓

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