Dr Nokubonga Dube

From high school walls to lecture halls

Dr. Nokubonga Dube began her career in tourism unconventionally: as a high school geography teacher. She saw it as a logical progression: after all, she’d been good at geography when she was in school.

Around the year 2000 – after 18 years of dedicated teaching – Nokubonga’s school introduced tourism to the curriculum. Though she knew nothing about tourism, the school’s principal asked her to teach their new subject, claiming “if she could teach geography, she could teach tourism.” Nokubonga explains that geography and tourism are both interested in two things about a place: its environment and its people. Looking back, she chuckles: “It was not that difficult for me to switch!”

As fate would have it, this new job sparked an interest in and love for tourism that would headline her career going forward. She decided to continue her studies, earning a master’s degree and eventual PhD in tourism. Now, Nokubonga works as a lecturer at the University of Cape Town, specialising in Tourism Development.

She brings this dedication home with her in the best way possible. “To me and my family, tourism is important. At the end of the year, after we’ve been working so hard, it’s important for us to travel – just to relax, to be away from work, to be away from home… We find it so important for us as a family.”

Geography, Tourism and South Africa

Though Nokubonga raises the same points as many others in her industry about why tourism is so important to South Africa – even during COVID19 – her background in geography provides her with a unique outlook.

Tourism is a large contributor to South Africa’s economy. Nokubonga considers it to be “one of the most important sectors” in the country, and “linked to other sectors, like transport, agriculture, etc.”

Informed by her background in human geography, she reminds us that tourism also creates an arena for small businesses to thrive. “Tourists make bookings in our hotels, they hire cars, they go to our restaurants – they spend a lot of money!

“If you are in the tourism industry, anyone can start their own small business. You can turn one of the rooms at home into an AirBnB. If you have a small car, you can use it as an Uber. Tourism has these entrepreneurial opportunities for everyone.”

South Africa’s beautiful landscapes – from the towering mountains to the lush game reserves – are a kind of resource like any other, Nokubonga argues. Physical geography brings one’s attention to these natural features, and their impact on a country’s prosperity.

The resources in tourism, “such as mountains, beaches, protected areas, game reserves, etc.” will “always be there,” Nokubonga reminds us. “Think of resources like gold,” she says. “They will eventually be depleted, along with many others.” In this way, she suggests there’s an aspect of sustainability to tourism. Environmental policy supports tourism, and vice versa. “All we need to do is take care of our resource. As long as we take good care of our resources, they will always be there.”

Nokubonga is as in shock as the rest of the country over the recent COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s so sad… we never thought things would be like this.” Still, she carries hope. “We are now in stage two, and we are hoping that – very soon – we will be in stage one. Some of the businesses have already started functioning again.

Although she acknowledges it’s unlikely we will get back to normal, Nokubonga believe we should not lose hope. “Slowly, things will get better.” In the meantime, she is eager to see “especially domestic tourism taking off now. I’m hoping we’ll start to see people appreciate their country and its beauty.”

Dear Mr. President…

Nokubonga has two requests for the President of South Africa.

“First of all, I would ask the president to make sure he deals with corruption in the country. If there were no corruption in our country, it would not be where it is now,” she insists. “Money that is meant to empower women disappears.” This note foreshadows her second request.

“Number two: I would ask the president to empower women. To create opportunities for women.” She suggests that scholarships, bursaries, and training for young women is an excellent start. “To study further is to be empowered.”

In addition, she asks: “support businesses that are run by women. Create an environment for women to start their own businesses. Sometimes, we as women, do not have those skills and funding to start our own businesses. I would urge the president to fund women’s businesses and empower them to run them.” With this request in mind, Nokubonga urges the president not to forget about women in South Africa’s “rural areas and townships”.

After the lockdown ends, she hopes that the government will do whatever they can so that South African communities are ready to receive tourists from neighbouring provinces. By encouraging these people to travel within the country – not just to big cities, but to rural areas as well – Nokubonga hopes that they will get to experience their own culture in a new way. “By so doing, those people will learn, and will be able to start their own businesses in their communities. We will be able to change their lives.”

Dr. Nokubonga Dube spoke to Danielle Taute. Her interview reflects her personal opinion, and not the opinion of the University of Cape Town or its Department of Tourism. View their #IAmTourism conversation here. Profile written by Gabrielle Huston.

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All we need to do is take care of our tourism resource. As long as we take good care of our resources, they will always be there.