Mandela made South Africa a welcoming and worthwhile tourism destination
Nelson Mandela?s prime legacy is undoubtedly the fact that he skillfully steered South Africa from apartheid pariah state to multiracial democracy peacefully and successfully, when the alternative of civil war was regarded as a distinct possibility. For that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and rightly hailed as one of the 20th century?s most important political figures.
However, there has been a significant halo effect to the Mandela legacy, and tourism has been one of the principal beneficiaries. Prior to Mandela?s freedom, the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC), and the 1994 democratic elections, South African tourism statistics were notoriously unreliable. For example, arrivals from neighboring African countries such as Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho, and Botswana were ignored or discounted by the race-obsessed regime, and there were suspicions that arrival figures from Western countries were doctored to reflect ?normal? international relationships.
Through the 1950s and ’60s, there was certainly a constant trickle of visitors from the West, particularly from the UK and other colonial countries such as Australia and New Zealand. But as international protests against apartheid gathered momentum through the ’70s and ’80s, it became questionable for people of conscience to visit the country. Just as it was seen as inappropriate for musicians and artists to travel to South Africa, so too tourists and foreign visitors began to stay away.
The sudden democratization of the country in the early ’90s led unsurprisingly to a visitor boom. Between 1993, the last year of white minority rule, and 1999, the end of Mandela?s presidency, the number of Europeans holidaying in South Africa more than doubled from around 400,000 to almost a million, while North American tourism grew from 75,000 to almost 200,000.
Colin Bell, one of the pioneers of luxury safari tourism in the region, says that prior to Mandela?s release from prison, ?South Africa must have had one of the world?s worst performing tourism industries relative to its attractions. But when media images of President Mandela were beamed around the world, the country?s image changed almost instantaneously, and that, together with decades of pent-up demand, meant tourism has flourished.?
Whether the Mandela Effect will continue in the years after his death is open to question. Certainly the Mandela Legacy has been somewhat tarnished in recent years by unseemly squabbles among his relatives and by the dereliction of the great man?s museum in the Eastern Cape, his tribal homeland.
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