Racial Disparity in Tourism Business in South Africa

by : Pancras Malani

I have been working as a tourist guide for 8 years and I have seen a very slow transformation in this sector. This is why I intend highlighting the imbalances characterising this lucrative business benefeting only a section of South African demography.

In order to show the on going disparity, I am going to report on my 13 days tour around major tourist attractions and so doing the readers will judge themselves whether the country is on path to transforming this business or failing to impact positively on the majority of this country who for centuries had been under oppression of colonial rule and apartheid. When Nelson Mandela go released from prison after 27 years of incarcelation, all South Africans entered a new chapter of freedom and equality. Democracy gained momentum ever since and people are free. My concern however is that freedom without equal access to national resources is not freedom at all.

First of all, I am employed as a tourist guide purely because I speak a foreign language not because I am a qualified guide. I don't nevertheless mean that there are no guides of colour in this country. There are few of them who manage to get employment in this very competitive sector. It is here where government should increase bursaries for people to study foreign languages which are a catalyst in tourism environment.

In tourism, the transportation plays a vital role for the comfort and the success of all tours. Moreover the major bus companies in tourism are owned by White individuals or white coorporate companies. The major companies are in no specific order are Hilton Ross, Mega coach, Le Roux coaches, Future coaches, Windward, etc

For this particular tour, i was using Hilton Ross for a 6 day Garden Route tour and Rainbow coaches from Durban to Johannesberg.

We stayed in Town house in Capetown and I am not sure who owns it but i don't know any hotel, Guest house or a BB in Capetown that belongs to Black people except the ones in Township.

Our first lunch was at Greak fisherman in waterfron where i know only one restaurant managed and owned by a black man who is a member of Parliement.

The second day of my tour was the peninsular tour. We stopped at Houtbay for a seal island boat cruise. I have no reason not to believe that all tourists cruise boats are owned by white folks. Our meal was served at the Two ocean restaurant, the only restaurant at Cape Point and this is the same story and unfortunately there is not even a competitor to challenge their business. Dinner was served at On the Rock restaurant in the Blouberg area. Who owns it?

Our third day was the Winelands tour. As we know, the whole business in this area belongs traditionally to Africaners and Huguenots who run away from France because of their protestant beliefs. The cellars, the wine farms, the restaurants and the hotels all belong to them. When are blacks are going to break through? Tourists always ask me where are the black people? They only see them as receptionists, porters, waiters but not as managers and owners in tourism establishments. We had dinner at Panama Jack.There wasn't even a black waitress. Black people stand behind the bar where i guess don't have access to tips in this busy corner.

On the fourth day, we left Cape town to Mosselbay on the garden route. We ate at the Gannet restaurant and slept at Dias Strand Hotel, both are white owned. Is there any place for tourists along the Garden route owned by blacks?

Next day we visited Highgate Ostrich farm. As far as i am informed, there is no single black person who owns an ostrich farm in South Africa. When I am asked why my answer is plain and simple: "black people don't own land". In evening, we did an oyster cruise in Knysna and this time the skipper was a black man, the only one i know hwerever i take tourists in South africa. We slept at NH Pletenbergbay and better there as one of the duty managers is an african. We woke up for a whale and Dolphin cruise and black people are the tractor drivers for launching the boat and pulling it out of sea. We had lunch at Tsitsikama. This restaurant has changed ownership and management several times but blacks haven't had their chances. We could argue that it is luck of funds or maybe no one gets informed. We slept at beach hotel in PE. Does anybody know any hotel in PE, Bisho or East london that belong to Blacks? This is the country of black people and still the whole business is out of their reach. Tourists say that only hawkers are blacks and they want to know why. I don't have any answer.

Next day morning, it was our time to come face to face with elephants at Addo national park. Most of rangers are black people but the owner of 4/4 vehicles operating in the park are white.

We flew to durban by a white pilot and stayed at the Tropicana hotel. We tend to say that Indians own more business in Durban but i don't know about this one. Where else can i take tourists if they want to support Africans except in Kwamashu and other crime hot spot?

Our next day was in Hluhluwe area. We stayed, ate and did a safari at Heritage hotel. There was a sigh of relief for my tourists when we visited Dumazulu cultural village where everybody were blacks except other tourists. The question is: do the cultural villages that we visit belong to black people?

Next day we were in swaziland and i don't want to comment on an other country.

We came to Matsamo cultural village and the white boss disguised into the crowds of tourists to watch the show. I followed his reactions as he was exercising pressure on the dancing group to perform beyond their best. We ate and left to the Shangana village for dinner and evening festival. this village of black people belong to a white person. Why?

We checke in at the hotel Hulala lake side. can someone advise me where can i take tourists in the whole of Mpumalanga if they want to stay at a black's owned hotel?

The next morning saw us at Pilgrim's rest village. The restaurant, the only hotel, the curio shop, everything is for white except the outside street market. We need revolution in this matter. it was the time for us to go for big five encounter at Timbavati game reserve. Who owns this one? is there any game reserve ownedf by black person. the national parks are run and managed by blacks but ownership of private reserves in also needed if blacks want to be in tourism sector.

Next day, we ate at Dullstroom and i can testify that there is no establishment owned by a black person. One of my tourists was very emotional when we were assisting at a weeding ceremony that was taking place next to ou restaurant. He exclaimed: "why there is no black people taking part", I simply uttered, "Here we don't mix cultures".

After lunch, we head up to carnivore restaurant. It is managed by blacks and if it is true, it is owned by blacks. it is a very successful business. We slept at Zulu Nyala manor, a white owned hotel.

Our last day was spent at Soweto and had lunch at Sakhumzi. I unfortunately had to confirm to my tourists that Soweto is where blacks so far belong. They seemed to be happy for visiting South Africa but wished that something was done to share equally the wealth that they discovered. It was the time to fly back to Europe.

The above highlight is not the absolute tourist routes but it represents more or less 3/4 of major attractions in this country. I don't accuse anybody for owning their business but when i look at the economic disparity in this country, my contribution is only to tell the reality surrounding the tourists establishments. I am not a racist and legally speaking i don't qualify for black economic empowerment policy of this country. I am black but from outside South African borders.