Friday, January 25, 2008, 11:17 AM
Posted by Kimberly Wilson
Over the past couple of weeks we have had the opportunity to experience various types of tourism throughout South Africa. The trip has been a terrific balance of scenery, history, and cultural experiences. During my home stay in Hawston I was fortunate enough to speak with a friend of the family I stayed with, named Ellen. He asked me about my perceptions of South Africa before I arrived and then told me that we had just accepted a new job in which he was to find ways to increase tourism from the United States to South Africa. He explained that tourist generally come from European and German countries and he believed that Americans had many false beliefs keeping them from visiting South Africa. This became an interesting question to me and also made me consider what I would tell friends and family when I returned to the United States about my experiences.
Tourism is a huge part of the economy in South Africa, representing the 3rd largest business in the country. The one thing that I did not expect to see in South Africa were the mountains. The mountains in South Africa have provided multiple tourist opportunities including Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope, and God’s Window. All of these places have amazing views that I in particular never expected to see.
Due to the struggle of the Apartheid, South Africa has a lot of history to share with tourist. The District Six museum told the story of a community of all races being torn apart due to the Apartheid Regime. We also were fortunate enough to visit the Apartheid Museum which showed the struggle from all angles in detail. In addition to the other museums and activities it is my opinion that the most valuable part of our trip, in relation to the history of South Africa, has been the visits to the townships and interaction with individuals. Hearing individuals share their personal stories about their struggle under the Apartheid Regime has been an invaluable experience.
People from local communities are able to sell goods at markets and other areas that are attractive to tourist. The profits from these goods benefit the people and communities that are still struggling financially. With advances being made in the skill training area opportunities are increasing as well, such as the pottery center in Langa which teaches people to make pottery and then sell it for profit.
The last area of tourism that I have noticed is an awareness sector. It is my opinion this is the biggest difference between American and South African Tourism. South Africa does not try and hide the major issues facing their country but instead try to generate awareness and explain the steps they are taking as a country to improve these issues. After visiting different organizations in South Africa ,including the AIDS hospital and the Ons Plec Project a home for street girls, it became obvious that South Africa is very active in their own struggle. During our trip we have been told multiple times South Africa is not trying to build a nation of beggars. People in the local communities are putting their beliefs into action to make a difference. As a group from the United States we were welcomed into these communities and made aware of the issues in the positive light. Lelupa, a restaurant in the Langa township, welcomes tourist groups to come and experience the culture of a township while making people aware of the conditions that people are still living in post-apartheid. The biggest lesson learned throughout our time in these facilities and communities was not to assume the help that is needed but to ask what is truly needed.
After experiencing the different types of tourism in South Africa I hope to be able to share my experiences with friends and family and break down the false perceptions keeping people from visiting this incredible country.