It has been incredible to see how many lodges, hospitality companies and organisations have reached out to surrounding communities during the Covid-19 national lockdown in South Africa.
Despite having no income due to restrictions on the leisure industry and the international travel ban, many companies and operators have really stepped up to assist communities in many ways, including the distribution of food parcels to those in need.
The travel ban has meant that numerous lodges and community trusts have had to rely on their reserves in order to ensure the most basic community programmes stay in place. One of the main reasons for pushing the #SAisTravelReady campaign to open up international air travel is to ensure that the entire tourism ecosystem can recover.
A balancing act
No stranger to the rural areas, Dr Reuel Khoza, former chairperson of Nedbank and Eskom, philanthropist, author, speaker and business leader, grew up in Bushbuckridge (a sprawling settlement outside Hazyview). His life came full circle a few years back when he became the owner of Koeltehof Packers in Mpumalanga (growers and distributors of avocado pears).
“I am a farmer now,” Dr Khoza says proudly, although he still wears many other “hats” and continues to be involved in the world of business and investment. Hoyohoyo Hotels and Resorts, of which Dr Khoza is Chairman, is involved in a number of safari lodges in the Greater Kruger area, and Dr Khoza has tourism close to his heart.
He agrees that there is a good case for international tourism being opened up sooner by government, if all the health and safety regulations are in place.
“I think the big proviso is if all protocols are in place in terms of practices that are proven worldwide - social-distancing, the washing of hands, taking temperatures and testing and screening for Covid-19 - then we will be ready to begin to open up.” Says Dr Khoza, “People really want and need the economy to be resuscitated.”
Dr Khoza and his team have been active in the distribution of food parcels to those affected in the Bushbuckridge area. He says the situation on the ground is dire for those who work in tourism in Sabi Sands and the Greater Kruger.
“We are going into a situation of desperation. We employ 351 people, but we have had to do with a basic staff of 98 during this lockdown. Given the level of income, people really do live from hand to mouth,” says Dr Khoza.
Dr Khoza says that living below the breadline brings with it the possibility of an increase in poaching in these wildlife areas, which will have long-term effects for the environment and for tourism.
When it comes to opening the provincial borders and lifting the international travel ban, Dr Khoza says Covid-19 has been something of a double-edged sword and that balance is absolutely key in going forward.
“For the government to manage the economy and manage the health of the people, we need to look at the risk – people’s lives are at risk from Covid-19 and lives are also at risk due to starvation. It’s a balancing act,” says Dr Khoza, “I believe that if all protocols are in place, we should be able to open our borders to international guests and keep the tourism industry going. We need to find a way to live with it, Covid is going to be with us for a long time to come.”
Down to basic needs
Robert More, CEO of The More Family Collection is passionate about the work done by the MORE Community Trust and he has great concerns about how his company will be able to continue to support the local community in the months to come if the international travel ban is not lifted soon.
“We have moved away from early childhood development, a women’s commercial sewing project, and a digital learning centre – which is where we have invested in education and the health of our surrounding communities for the last 15-20 years. This pandemic has been so extreme that all of that has been parked and we are now just supplying food. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food, water and oxygen are right at the bottom, so we have dropped down below any skills development, education or security within the community. We have now gone down to (Maslow’s) lowest level, which is providing what people need to survive – food and water, just for them to get by.”
He doesn’t see his company being able to sustain further support of communities over the next three to six months without any income being generated from tourism.
“It’s winter now; there is no rain, not much farming going on – and soon we will see communities running out of food.”
Hlokomela - Feeling the effects of lockdown
Hlokomela is an HIV and AIDS educational and treatment programme targeting farm workers and communities in the Greater Kruger to Canyons area.
M.J. du Preez, Hlokomela’s Media & Marketing Manager, says the national lockdown under Covid-19 has really hit their projects hard.
“Because of the various levels of lockdown and the related regulations, we have not been able to offer any public tours since March, says Du Preez. “As with most industries, these projects saw a substantial loss of income during this period.”
However, it has been a time for innovation and the team at Hlokomela redirected some of its activities into Covid-19 support services – making buffs to protect farm workers on their daily commute to work. The spaza shop and herb-garden staff also assisted in packing food parcels to assist families in need.
He says the organisation relies heavily on donations from international tourists and foreign support to help fund Hlokomela’s many projects
“For example, it was through the generosity of our previous tour guests that we were able to raise the funds needed to distribute food parcels. It is a lot more difficult to get donations locally. Due to the exchange rate, small donations from foreign guest translate into substantial amounts when converted to rands.”
Du Preez says unemployment has increased drastically in the area over the past few weeks.
“Some of our employees, while lucky enough to still have their full salaries, went from looking after four people to suddenly needing to support as many as twelve. Many family members had employment in the tourism sector and related industries, losing all income when the lockdown was imposed.”
“One thing is sure, the longer the tourism industry remains closed, the more we will see families suffering financially and needing serious food support.”
Should companies or individuals wish to contribute to relief efforts, please contact the following:
Nkateko Khoza, Hoyohoyo Hotels and Resorts: [email protected]
+27 (0)11 465 6666
More Community Trust: morecommunitytrust.co.za