Source: Ryan Paul James

Every day that South Africa keeps its borders closed, albeit partially, the effects are felt by communities dependent on tourism for survival.

The sooner government reopened in full, the sooner communities could get back to work and earn their livelihoods through tourism, said Rebekah Copham from &Beyond’s community development partner, Africa Foundation. “This will reduce the deepening of poverty that the closure of the borders is creating.”

In 2019, Africa Foundation raised R35 million (€1.7m) for community development and conservation projects, comprising a combination of international donors and South African grant funding.

“International visitors play a key role in the Africa Foundation funding model, and a significant number of guest donors remain committed to giving to the Africa Foundation many years after their initial holiday with &Beyond,” said Copham.

She added that many of the community programmes were funded by international guests visiting lodges. “The spending power of international currency is the reason that many of the lodges are able to continue the philanthropic work done by their trusts and foundations.”

Impact to Kruger National Park communities

The Kruger National Park has been particularly hard hit by the closure.

In the Greater Kruger area alone, 23 000 people are employed in tourism businesses and, based on the ratio of 1:10 or more dependants supported by one job, the industry in the area supports in the order of 230 000 people.

As well as community livelihoods, the lack of income and increased poverty lead to increases in environmental crime. This, coupled with constraints on anti-poaching measures and security spending due to equivalent total erosion of entrance fees and revenue for SANParks and other reserves, creates a huge challenge for conservation.

For Africa Foundation, both communities and conservation are under threat.

“As the pressure on communities continues, the risk to conservation also increases, as desperation leads people to make choices that are not in the best interests of protecting wildlife and the environment,” said Copham.

“Furthermore, the return of international guests opens the opportunity for securing additional funding to support community work, which, as indicated above, is more critical than ever.”

‘Livelihoods drastically affected’

Community and conservation are the mainstay of RETURNAfrica’s Pafuri Collection in Limpopo. The international travel ban had had major repercussions for business, said GM, Godfrey Baloyi.

“At the moment, not all staff members are back at work, hence it is important for international travel to be unbanned in full,” he says.

The livelihood of the Makuleke community has been drastically affected due to the lack of tourism to the region, and domestic tourism will not be its lifeblood.

“The Makuleke community gets its revenue from tourists who visit the concession. If we only depend on local tourism, it will create a big setback in terms of revenue for them and, in the end, their livelihoods will be badly affected.

“RETURNAfrica’s Pafuri Camp has more than 95% staff members from the community and if nearly all of them lose their jobs, that is a big blow. So we need the international guests to be allowed to visit us again,” explained Baloyi.

Most donors are inbound

The majority of guests who become donors are from the US, Australia, the UK and Europe. In this regard, a reliance on domestic travel would be disastrous.

“Africa Foundation and &Beyond also support local craft markets with guest visits and, again, we have observed that interest in visiting and purchasing from the craft markets is largely among international travellers,” said Copham.

The closure of lodges has had serious repercussions for the women who depend on income from such sales.

“The lockdown has meant that there have been no guests attending the craft markets in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu Natal. Forty-nine women work at the craft markets, supporting more than 150 dependants, and their sales plummeted to zero. Not only these, though, but hundreds of people who earned a living through the tourist sector have also been impacted by a lost, or reduced, income,” added Copham

Acute food insecurity had been felt in the communities – and supporting with food relief was an additional project for Africa Foundation, she said.

Community programmes under pressure

CEO of MORE Family Collection, Robert More, said the impact of the international lockdown had meant community programmes were only able to provide the very basics to the communities due to the lack of funding.

“We have invested in education and skills development funding and supporting management at two pre-school facilities educating inexcess of 100 children; a commercially sustainable sewing project servicing the surrounding game lodges; and a digital learning centre catering for adolescent and adult learners. We have invested in the education and health of our surrounding communities for at least 15 or 20 years.

But this pandemic had been so extreme that continued expansion and development in those areas had been put on hold, said More.

“We have needed and been asked to go back to the basics of supplying food and health supplements to our community. If you look at Maslow’s pyramid of needs, food, water and oxygen are right at the bottom. So, we have dropped down below any form of skills development, education, or security within the community. We have gone down to the lowest level of what people just need to survive.”