- Title: SOUTH AFRICA: Xenobobic killings scare tourists away from South Africa
- Date: 3rd June 2008
- Summary: (BN11) ALEXANDER TOWNSHIP, SOUTH AFRICA (RECENT - MAY 30, 2008) (REUTERS ACCESS-ALL) HOUSES AND BUILDINGS IN ALEXANDER TOWNSHIP
- Embargoed: 18th June 2008 13:00
- Location: South Africa
- Country: South Africa
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Travel / Tourism
- Reuters ID: LVAANWJVDN9D86KQVGDUSZ7VBDHV
- Story Text: Entrepreneurs in Alexander and Soweto townships say tourists numbers have dropped dramatically since a wave of xeonophobic attacks, amid concerns that the recent violence could affect the tourist industry.
A decline in the number of tourists visiting South African townships after the recent outburst of xenophobic violence there has raised fears of a downturn in the tourist industry.
Environmental and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has said the violence could hurt the tourist sector, which contributes around 8 percent of gross domestic product to Africa's biggest economy, employs a million people and attracted 8.4 million visitors last year.
At least 56 people were killed and up to 100,000 were displaced when mobs armed with clubs, knives and stones, rampaged through shantytowns in Johannesburg, Cape Town and other parts of the country after the first violence broke out in Alexandra township north of Johannesburg on May 11.
But U.S. tourist Paula McEniry, who visited Alexander township on May 30 said she did not believe everything she read in the media reports.
"I kinda took what was said with a grain of salt and didn't think it would really be as bad as that," she said.
Sarah Kim, a U.S. citizen taking part in a tourist group touring Soweto on June 2 said she had wanted to see for herself how prevalent violence was in the township, and had ascertained that it "did not seem to be." She said locals had reassured her that tourists planning to visit a township would be given advance warning of any violence there.
U.S. tourist Emerald Thompson said she had overcome her concerns about entering Soweto township after she had been reassured by a local delegation that her group's safety was a priority.
"So while we were here, we really didn't have any problems with it. So my concern wasn't really big," she said.
Rachel Pasha who works as a tour operator in Alexander township, said the numbers of tourists coming to the townships had dropped "drastically" since the violence. "As tour operators and tourist guides in Alex, we realised the very sudden drop within this period when this xenophobic attacks started, since the past two weeks," she said.
Lebo Malepa, a young entrepreneur, who owns Soweto Backpackers, which provides accommodation for tourists, said he had been receiving cancellations from international tourists ever since the outbreak of the violence.
He told Reuters he had to leave for Germany, Sweden and France to go and speak to investors and his clients that it was safe to visit the townships.
"Since the attacks began we just having cancellations, people are scared, they've been calling asking about safety and we've realised that also international embassies have given an alert that people must be very cautious when visiting townships. And when we don't have people today and we not surprised, because that's what we've been hearing - people are worried."
The violence has subsided but there is mounting criticism of the government's response to the crisis, which has tarnished the country's image internationally and raised investor concerns about political stability within its borders.
The unrest threatens to increase political instability at a time of electricity shortages, rising inflation and disaffection among the poor over President Thabo Mbeki's pro-business policies.
Mbeki has faced strong criticism, especially from ANC left wingers, for not spreading the benefits of black rule to millions of poor people.
South Africa, with a population of 50 million, is home to an estimated 5 million immigrants.
Foreigners have been lured from poorer neighbours by work in mines, farms and homes and by one of the world's most liberal immigration and refugee policies. The biggest group -- an estimated 3 million -- are from Zimbabwe.
They have fled economic collapse at home and the violent political stand-off since disputed March 29 elections.
Mbeki and ANC leader Jacob Zuma have called for an end to the attacks, which have dented South Africa's reputation for tolerance and threaten its hopes of attracting an estimated half million foreign visitors to the 2010 soccer World Cup.
But Mbeki's critics say his soft approach has done too little to end the crisis or stem the flow of migrants.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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