Tourism people are very capable of doing good. In words and deeds, that’s who Ella Mapurisa, co-founder of Emzini Township Tours in Knysna, is at her core.
Behind that broad smile is someone who feels acutely for the people who tourism supports, not only in her community, but across South Africa.
“Tourism is an industry that can improve things quickly in South Africa, especially in areas like where I live – the township,” says Ella, who began her tourism career moonlighting for a wedding organiser who organised international weddings on weekends.
“It inspired me to start my own business in tourism and become and SME. So, I quit my job in 2008 and launched a cultural tours business in Knysna which now employs six full-time staff and runs a range of social projects, such as a safe house and a soup kitchen in a disadvantaged community,” explains Ella.
Tourism is about putting food on the table
Originally from the Eastern Cape, Ella says the grass certainly was greener in Knysna when it came to getting a solid foundation in tourism. But tourism isn’t just about beautiful weddings or taking tourists on a tour. Tourism is about putting food on the table, helping women to become financially independent and giving children a decent education.
These are all ways in which Ella has harnessed tourism to support the community which now calls her ‘Mother of the Nation’.
In times of COVID lockdown, Ella is fighting tooth and nail to keep her staff employed and the livelihoods of their families intact. She is fighting to feed the children who have found sanctuary in the safe house her business has created and pay for their school fees so that they may have a better future.
That fight was one hard fought and won when she was able to ‘do tourism’. Despite Ella’s glowing smile, that fight is just too much and Ella and I both begin to cry.
“Tourism is very important for our communities, who depend on it for an income. Our bread and butter comes from tourism. If we’re all sitting at home and there’s no income coming in, how do we fund the outreach programmes?
Tourism is one of those sectors that funds these programmes. Through tourism, Ella works in communities and helps people. “And we do all this, not from funding we get from government, but through our own income, from our own businesses.
“We help people develop skills. We help children by putting food on the table. So looking at how things are, we are facing a huge disaster. Not only my family, but the whole country. It is our huge pain,” says Ella with tears running down her cheeks.
Get up and keep fighting
Certainly not one to wallow, Ella talks about how difficult it will be to “get up again”. She talks about how difficult it was to start up a business in the first place and how the industry will need to work together to get back on its feet. Of course, getting back on its feet, in Ella’s view, is being able to help the community. That is her priority; the reason her business exists. She wants tourism to get back into the community so that she can save her people.
“The lockdown has hit the lower class more than anyone else. We cannot run away from it and need to get tourism back into our communities so that we can deal with hunger. We do so much in the community as tourism businesses. They’re still hoping we can help them and it brings tears to my eyes that I’m not able to right now.
“It breaks my heart because I’ve been there. I know what people are going through now and its where we were before because we used to struggle before. But going back there, it breaks my heart, knowing that I don’t even I’m not even able to help anyone,” says Ella.
“Mr. President, on behalf of the women of my community, as a woman in tourism in South Africa, and as a mother, I plea to you to consider reopening tourism. Women who are in relationships are now fully dependent on men for their income and financial support. I started working in tourism when I was single and I was able to be independent financially.”
Powerful women whose voices need to be heard
But the cries of women carry power, says Ella, because women carry the nation. “Families come from us. We are the backbone and it’s what we were created to do. As women, we need to network and get our voices out there. We don’t want to fight. We don’t want to beg. All we want is to be given the opportunity because we have seen we can stand on our own feet.”
Standing requires lifting others, Ella reminds us. “We need each other at this moment and we need to remember each other as we get up because some of us will struggle more than others to get up.
“So I’m saying, please don’t fly alone. Take others up with you again. Remember others. We still need each other. Tourism is a huge pie and in tourism, we’re not selfish. We always share that pie.”