Tourism gets affected by protest action

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By Mariana Balt

Tourists have missed flights, buses had to turn around and local transport operators suffered.

HAZYVIEW – Tourism, especially transport to and from Kruger Gate and Sabi Sand Game Reserve has been severely affected by service delivery protests in the region.

Unfortunately that is something the local tourism industry will have to tolerate at least until the coming elections. This is the view of local tourism organisations.

“It is inevitable that it will continue until May,” said Hazyview Chamber of Tourism and Business (HCBT) chairman, Chris Harvie.

“We have to understand the issues these communities are complaining about and from our side we also encourage authorities to give attention to their complaints.”

This was echoed by Tom Vorster of the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism (KLCBT), who said tourists have missed flights, buses had to turn around and local operators suffered because tourists now prefered to fly directly into Skukuza or the private game reserves.

“That way they do not see or experience the rest of Mpumalanga and perceive the province to be ‘behind a fence’,” he said.

“It affects freelance transport operators the most because they hardly get work any more.”

The R536 was blocked at Mkuhlu most of Monday and Tuesday.

Visitors to the Kruger National Park were not that badly affected because they had been advised by SANParks to use Phabeni Gate for entrance to the park.

Self-drive tourists travelling by road to southern Sabi Sand were advised by its management to avoid Mkhuhlu by entering Kruger at Phabeni and coming out at Paul Kruger Gate again, to use Shaw’s Gate into Sabi Sand.

Newington Gate was advised to be avoided. Visitors to Djuma, Arathusa and other camps in the north were unaffected and could gain access via Acornhoek.

Protests included marches to the municipal offices at the Newington and Belfast four-way stop on Monday morning and on Tuesday the R536 was blocked again. Protesters moved to different locations on the road through Mkuhlu.

Due to a police and fire brigade presence, the road was opened later on Tuesday morning, but travellers still found it difficult to negotiate the road due to debris such as stones and branches.

Local WhatsApp and online groups run by different tourism operators and traffic and security groups kept road users informed.

On Monday members of the HCBT had a meeting with SAPS commanding officer, Col Sabelo Mlangeni and his team. He assured them that the police are doing their best to curb the consequences of these actions.

“We are determined to make a difference, but have to deal with our own frustrations,” he told the representatives.

The Hazyview SAPS, however, only support the SAPS from the Calcutta station, which is nearer to the unrest areas.

Yesterday the station commander at Calcutta and team were occupied at a gathering where officials from local government were addressing crowds in the area and therefore could not comment.

There were, however, no reports of major roads blocked at the time.

The KLCBT confirmed in a newsletter that these disruptive service delivery protests have a significant negative effect on tourism in the region.

The letter further stated that although it does not have authority to direct law enforcement agencies to deal with the illegal road closures or solve the legitimate grievances of the protesting communities, it had been working to ensure that roads are cleared as quickly as possible.

Apart from receiving and distributing information about protests through the Kruger Lowveld WhatsApp network with over 500 members, they already had intense engagement with provincial authorities and the police. “We have finally been given access to the people responsible for tourism safety in the province and sent our messages directly to them, to direct the required resources to the problem area immediately,” it declared.

Through the South African Tourism Services Association, the KLCBT and other affected stakeholders are trying to approach the minister of tourism to inform him about the damage these protests are doing to the industry. They hope for assistance from his cabinet colleagues to attend to matters behind the protests, which fall under their portfolios.

Political opportunism is apparent in many of the comments overheard by community leaders in the area.

Allegations of water delivered to the area by local government, but then sold to residents by corrupt councillors, are rife, as is a rumour that they are assured that currently closed water supplies will be reopened after the elections.