Every member of South Africa’s tourism industry should be part of the solution to dealing with the root causes of tourism safety issues.
This according to Oupa Pilane, SATSA Co-Chair, who was addressing a session with Mpumalanga stakeholders this week to provide an update of on-the-ground measures in place to enhance the security of travellers to the area.
“We have to be a step ahead all the time and see what programmes can be put in place to deal with issues of joblessness and organise our young people who are seriously disadvantaged and have few prospects,” says Pilane.
He praised community organisations and churches which are mobilising their members to discourage crime, adding that the suggested closure of Numbi Gate would not solve the problem. Criminals, he said, would simply move to other gates and communities would suffer unnecessarily.
“We can’t look at easy ways out. If we close Numbi, we would have to close the other gates and those communities are direct beneficiaries of tourism. If we agree to this approach, we may as well agree to blanket no-go areas across the country,” says Pilane.
Security was being enhanced at Numbi and Phabeni gates, he explained. This included total coverage by live surveillance supported by immediate reaction units and the deployment of the latest surveillance technology, among other initiatives.
Mpumalanga leads the tourism safety charge
Mpumalanga was one of the provinces with the most effective victim support programme, National Department of Tourism Chief Director Visitor Services Lizzy Mathopa highlighted, taking attendees through the department’s three-pronged tourism safety strategy, which included: Proactive Measures, Responsive Measures and Aftercare Programmes.
An MOU had been signed with SAPS to improve incident reporting and establish a database on crimes against tourists. Further, she said, the department had been working with the National Prosecuting Authority to establish virtual courts which would allow tourists who had already left the country to testify without having to be in the country physically. This, she said, would help to assist with prosecutions.
Aligned to the National Tourism Safety Strategy, Mpumalanga’s victim support programme would be enhanced, MPTA’s Tourism Safety Manager Lindiwe Mthombeni added.
In addition to continuing with workshops at police stations to provide guidelines on the process that should be followed to assist tourists who had been victims of crime, Mthombeni explained that a network of tourism volunteers had been identified to provide emotional and logistical support to victims. More volunteers at a local level were needed.
Security measures were being informed by a safety forum, including SAPS, Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency, SATSA, Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism, SANParks and other stakeholders, which had been established several years ago. A sub-forum did exist for the Numbi Gate area, KLCBT COO Linda Grimbeek told participants.
“We have raised a reward which will be used to incentivise people to come forward with the identities of the perpetrators of last week’s incident or information leading to their arrest,” said Grimbeek. “We really want to catch these culprits and I have every confidence in the local SAPS.”
While the existing victim support programme in Mpumalanga was effective in addressing the symptoms of the problem by providing swift support for victims of crime, work was under way to roll out quality community tourism activities in the villages surrounding Kruger National Park to help to reduce the very high unemployment rate in the area and deal with the root cause of the problem.
“We are helping the villages in the vicinity of the Kruger to establish 12 to 20 activities each so that travellers can enjoy authentic experiences and we can create jobs. There will be a hub in each village where bookings can be made and each village will host two tours per day – one in the morning, the other in the afternoon – lasting just two hours so that it’s easy for the tourism industry to sell these experiences on their road transfers from and to the airport,” explained Grimbeek.
SATSA for its part had established a Safety and Risk Management Committee which will be rolling out prevention, reaction and after care activities, including safety and security protocols, tour operator and staff training and tourism ambassadors and translators.
SATSA COO Hannelie du Toit shared that the organisation would soon be announcing its partnership with a Security Response and Emergency Medical Solution, which would be accessible to travellers on their mobile phones. This mobile system would connect travellers in trouble to hundreds of emergency responders nationwide.