Xenophobia: A word ugly in itself. In the news every day, almost constantly. The facts behind it are ugly as well. Many killed and thousands of foreigners, the majority Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, on their way back to where they came from.
We have received calls from Norway from people wanting to know if we are all right, and we have had similar conversations with clients due to arrive here later this year. The answer is that, as with crime in general, almost all of it – in this case all of it – takes place in townships and other areas with a high concentration of poor and often jobless people. If we had not followed the news we would not have known.
However, as in any crisis, the bad is complemented by the good. The vast majority of South Africans are just as shocked, horrified and disgusted by what is happening as TV-viewers around the world. Probably more so. It is becoming increasingly clear that the word “Xenophobia” should be replaced by “Crime”. Thousands have marched in Johannesburg to protest against these crimes and criminals, many of which are “young men, either unemployed or too lazy to go to school”, to quote a community leader in Khayelitsha, one of the affected (poor) areas near Cape Town. The marchers in Johannesburg want to make such facts clear, they want to project a different picture of South Africa and South Africans. A truer picture.
There is no denying, though, the underlying facts: Millions remain poor while a small handful of well connected, opportunistic “fat cats” become increasingly fatter. A growing gap between rich and poor, which Desmond Tutu warned against already four years ago. The dream – the promise – of a better life for all has not been realised. Things must change, policies must change and thousands of jobs must be created. Which is where the tourism industry comes in as a major player. There is general agreement that our industry is of major importance when it comes to job creation. And for us and our clients it is business as usual. General rules apply, as they do for tourists anywhere in the world: Take care, be aware of where you are and what you do. And remember, perhaps more here than in most places: Smile and you will receive a smile in return. A big smile!