Each day South Africa keeps its borders closed, albeit partially, the negative effects are felt by communities dependent on tourism for survival, says independent nonprofit organisation Africa Foundation business development manager Rebekah Copham.
She says the sooner government reopens borders in full, the sooner communities can get back to work and earn their livelihoods through tourism. “This will reduce the deepening of poverty that the closure of the borders is creating.”
In 2019, the Africa Foundation raised R35-million 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 [travel company] and beyond,” Copham says.
Explaining the dire situation many people reliant on the tourism industry are facing, she says that “so many of the incredible community programmes” are funded by international guests visiting South African 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.”
KRUGER PARK IMPACT
The Kruger National Park has been particularly hard-hit by the closure of borders, states Copham, adding that, within the greater Kruger area alone, 23 000 people are employed in tourism businesses.
As such, based on the ratio of 1:10 or more dependants supported by one tourism job, the industry in the area supports of the order of 230 000 people, she explains.
As well as community livelihoods, the lack of income and increased poverty within the tourism employee sector is leading to increased “environmental crime”, says Copham.
This, coupled with constraints on anti-poaching measures and security spending owing to equivalent total erosion of entrance fees and revenue for SANParks and other reserves, creates a huge challenge for conservation, she states.
Accounting for these growing issues, Africa Foundation states that both communities and conservation are becoming increasingly 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. 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,” says Copham.