September is tourism month in South Africa and the continuous increase in the number of tourists visiting our country remains one of the biggest success stories of the past 20 years.
International arrivals have grown by 300 per cent since 1994, to reach nearly 15 million in 2013.
More Matshediso took to the streets to find out what draws tourists to South Africa. He also asked visitors how they viewed the country globally.
Harbin Dawson and his sister Suzanne Dawson recently landed in South Africa from England, on a visit to their relatives in Cape Town.
The Dawsons were born and raised in West Sussex, South of England, but their mother is a South African, born in Cape Town.
The two siblings visited SA at least once every four years, but never toured the country, until recently.
“… We would just get into another flight from OR Tambo International Airport to Cape Town, straight away… it is our first time touring Johannesburg,” said the 18-year-old Suzanne.
The Dawsons, together with their mother and extended family members, had just walked into Thrive Cafeacute in Vilakazi Street, Soweto, when I requested an interview with them in the restaurant.
They had just finished a tour of Soweto before breaking for lunch. Suzanne says Vilakazi Street was her favourite spot in Johannesburg.
“It’s our first time in Soweto, and so far, this is our only and favourite spot in Johannesburg. We normally just land at the airport and leave for Cape Town. This is a nice experience for us,” Harbin said.
This time, they had been in the country for three weeks and were leaving for England in two days’ time.
“Unfortunately, we will not be touring other provinces as we have to prepare for our trip back home,” Suzanne says.
In the Western Cape, their favourite spot is Hermanus – a town on the southern coast, famous for whale watching during the southern winter and spring.
Suzanne also admires the Waterfront and the beaches in Cape Town.
“I love the view and everything about it,” she says.
The Dawsons say they find South Africa very welcoming and its citizens very friendly. They would come more often if they could.
“There’s a nice, different feeling you get in South Africa, like… I don’t even know how to describe it, It gives you that natural feel,” says Suzanne, who will begin her first year as a Philosophy student in England.
The Head Chef and Events Architect at Thrive Cafeacute in Vilakazi Street, Paddy Khuele, says the restaurant opened its doors in November last year, and already employs 12 South African youth.
“Vilakazi Street lacked that cosmopolitan and contemporary offering. We wanted South Africans and tourists, who are not as aenturous, to find an exquisite restaurant in Soweto, which they would normally find in the suburbs of Johannesburg,” Khuele says.
He says tourists contributed vastly in generating profit for the restaurant, but the majority of support came from locals, who previously travelled to Sandton to get what Thrive Cafeacute offers.
“… The ratio is almost 60:40, where the 60% of our clients are locals and 40% tourists. Even locals who are not from Soweto come to Thrive Cafeacute. We get a positive response from locals.”
Khuele adds that crime is almost zero per cent in Vilakazi Street, and he has never heard of anyone being mugged in the street.
In his State of the Nation Address earlier this year, President Jacob Zuma acknowledged the role of tourism in South Africa’s growth when he said: “People love our country and continue to visit SA. We have set a target to increase the number of foreign visitor arrivals to more than 15 million annually by 2017. We are also looking at increasing the contribution of tourism to the country’s revenue to more than R125 billion by 2017.”
Boikanyo Mataboge, 28, is one of the many street vendors in Vilakazi Street, who sell craft work and t-shirts, and the top sellers are the Nelson Mandela face-printed t-shirts.
He realised his artistic talent in his teenage years and decided to turn it into a career about four years ago, and only started trading in Vilakazi Street in 2012.
“I use recycled material to create my craft products, sometimes I buy off-cuts… ” says Mataboge, who grew up in Palm Ridge but now resides in Phomolong, Soweto.
He says business had its peak and off-peak days in Vilakazi Street, but the most busy days were Wednesdays and weekends.
“Sometime I subcontract another artist, when I see the workload piles up.”
His business is equally supported by South Africans and foreign clients, but Soweto locals seldom buy his products.
“… They are afraid of buying. They hold a perception that everything sold in Vilakazi Street is expensive, which is not the case,” he adds.
Thirty-three year-old Brad Haynes from Tennessee, in the US, was visiting South Africa for the first time with his friend Josh Johnson.
The Americans were about to be chauffeured to O R Tambo International Airport for a flight back to their country when I spoke to them.
They say their stay in South Africa has been an amazing experience, although they have only visited Cape Town and Johannesburg.
“The diversity and everything about the country have been amazing. There are no other places we have been to, that are similar to parts of America, like South Africa.
“Cape Town is pretty similar to San Francisco, in terms of climate changes and its crazy people… Johannesburg has been awesome too,” says Haynes, who works as an engineer back in the US.
Johnson says the tour was a good experience for him and everybody in the country has been extremely good to them.
“Everybody is very friendly. We have been here for a few weeks. If we get another chance, we would love to tour Johannesburg more, and also go to Roben Island and the Drakensburg Mountains,” says Johnson.
Source : SAnews.gov.za