Pumla Dlilanga

Tourism made me what I am today

Pumla Dlilanga’s parents hail from the Transkei, but she was born and bred in Khayalitsha, Cape Town. Growing up there weren’t many opportunities, but luckily she started in the tourism industry at an early age. 

“I am pretty much self-made and tourism has played a big impact in my life in terms of exposure, getting to meet a lot of people and job opportunities,” she says, “It has played a huge role for me to be the Pumla that I am today.” 

At sixteen, Pumla’s first job was as a part time waitress at a restaurant to earn a bit of extra money. After that she travelled around the country, working in hospitality and catering before returning to her beloved Cape Town. 

It was after returning to Cape Town that she met Toni Shina, who offered Pumla offered a job in the backpacking sector at The Backpack. 

She says the youth play a very important role in tourism and Pumla is passionate about the contribution of backpacking to the economy of the local travel industry. 

“It’s more than just accommodation. It’s the experience, it’s the things that we do in our community, we get volunteers from all over the world, people exchanging culture, experiences and all of that.” 

The Gift of Tourism 

She says the tourism industry is very important on many levels, and for her, being involved in the industry has been life-changing. 

“I wouldn’t have been where I am and with this much knowledge if it was not for tourism,” Pumla says, “I always say, education is not just going behind a desk at university and studying whatever the subjects are, it doesn’t end there. As a person, you need to be streetwise and for you to be streetwise, you need to be exposed to different cultures, how different people live their lives, how people do things and in my understanding, in South Africa, tourism helps us a lot…” 

She says because tourists visit the townships they also get to know more about real life for those who live there and these tours also give creative people from communities the opportunity to sell their artworks that has a big effect on the larger community. 

“…I don’t think people actually realise that most incomes and a lot of families get fed because of tourism. It plays a huge role in South Africa. People like me, we depend on it.” 

If only the government could see… 

She says that life has been “quite bad” under national lockdown, although she wishes it could be different. 

“If only the government could see and if only things would be dealt with in a different way. It has impacted me a lot, my life has changed entirely, says Pumla. 

Her tourism job gave her the opportunity to rent an apartment in the city for herself and her seven-year-old daughter, and send her child to a decent school, but because of lockdown and the resultant no income situation, she has to make drastic changes to her lifestyle. 

“It’s not just about my lifestyle, my family gets impacted because now we have to downgrade a lot, which is not the major problem, but there’s more to everything that is happening with this whole damn thing that we have to change. So it’s changed for the worse,” she says, “Because as time goes by you want to improve, there are a lot of things you want to do in terms of bettering yourself and all of that. But now it has come to a standstill, so what do we do now? Do we just live to survive, for food, or what’s next? It has impacted in a very negative way, but we are trying… 

Pumla admits that she has been tempted to change industries and try something else, but declares that her heart will always belong to the tourism industry. 

Although times are tough, Pumla has some wise words for others in the industry who are battling like she is. 

“I think we all get those days and those moments when we are down and out and sad because there is nothing worse than no knowing what tomorrow holds. You are constantly wondering what is it going to be, is it going to get worse? However, a part of me does believe that if we stand together as women of South Africa to try and fight this, we are going to see through it. 

Life won’t be the same in the new normal 

She says it’s important that everyone in the tourism industry stands together to try and motivate and support each other as well as come up with creative ideas to find solutions. Pumla also feels that acceptance is part of survival. 

“How are we going to deal with our new normal because, obviously, life is never going to be the same again. We are not going to wake up tomorrow morning and it’s all over and we go back to our normal. We just have to figure out what our new normal is. 

She says it’s important to not give up, to have some kind of faith in the future and to uplift each other with the thought that there is a better tomorrow, regardless of the fact that it’s going to be a “different tomorrow.” 

“I believe that there is hope for a change. A good change, at least,” says Pumla. 

A greater understanding from the Powers that Be 

If she had a direct line to the Minister of Tourism or the National Coronavirus Command Council, she would ask for greater vision and empathy. 

“I wish that they could try and see more into everything else that happens, try and see more into all the little businesses that are impacted by this pandemic because I feel like, there are a lot of people who are not acknowledged… It is like they don’t exist in this whole thing but they are there and they are impacted negatively.” 

She says she sees on social media that Europe is still battling with the coronavirus, but she says tourism is still happening overseas because “they are trying.” 

“I would love for our government to be considerate… like now what’s happening with the fact that people cannot sell their wine anymore. It’s bad for them, you know, because that is where their income comes from. So I just wish that they could see more into this than just from the positions where they are. 

A better tomorrow? 

Pumla breaks after from English to give a message in her mother tongue (Xhosa), loosely translated, she says: “When you are wounded or when the next person is wounded, you don’t laugh at them we help them to tie the wound so that the wound can heal. And we don’t throw in the towel of where we come from or forget about what we are about because of whatever pandemic that comes our way. We must unite together as Africans so that we can plan and have a better tomorrow. 

Pumla Dlilanga spoke to Natalia Rosa, view their #IAmTourism conversation here.  

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“I believe that there is hope for a change. A good change, at least.”