While I was in beautiful Cape Town for my leave (wow, that was a long time ago), my sister and I mused about how we have access to this gorgeous country simply by virtue of being born here. “Just think,” she said, “people pay thousands of rands to see Table Mountain, and here we are, just walking around and seeing it as much as we want!” She was quite right, of course – at the same time, the MV Explorer was docked in Cape Town.
But for a long time, I’ve been thinking how not all who are born in our country have access to these attractions on a very basic level.
Virtually everywhere I have traveled, foreigners pay more than locals to see attractions. I saw this for the first time in China in 2011, where foreigners are very clearly divided from locals wishing to visit the Huanglong caves.
In Zambia and Zimbabwe, I saw the same thing. To enter Victoria Falls National Park, locals only had to pay 7 Kwacha – that’s barely one US dollar, compared to the 20 US dollars for foreigners. (On the Zimbabwean side, SADC nationals paid 20USD and other nationals paid 30USD.)
Of course, people like me cry fowl – how is this fair?! I’m just barely out of my student years and I can’t afford 20USD to see a waterfall! (But of course, I really wanted to see it, so I afforded it. And it was worth it.)
But on some level it makes sense, right? I mean, if you’re paying an insane amount just to fly to their country, I guess you can fork out 20 dollars to see the prime attraction.
Not so in South Africa. I have never seen an attraction in our country that allows cheaper entrance to citizens compared to tourists. And you would also think that was wrong if you heard the cleaning ladies on a medical campus wonder out loud what it looked like from the top of Table Mountain – women who had lived in Cape Town for over fifty years, yet never been afforded the opportunity to see the mountain from the vantage point thousands of tourists see it every year.
I have no official stats to offer, but I would be willing to bet that fewer South Africans visit the top of Table Mountain, for example, in a year than tourists do. An adult return ticket on the Table Mountain Cableway currently sells for R225. That’s, what? At least 20 loaves of bread (probably more). It’s a lot of money for somebody living on the breadline.
Do we think that people living on the breadline don’t want to see beautiful places? Do we not think that they could do with the inspiration and the awe of it? I’ve heard them wonder about it, and hope for it.
I think I know the rationale. Victoria Falls National Park is fairly overrun by locals who offer “guided tours” but kind of don’t take no for an answer, and cheat visitors out of their money. Many travelers feel a little threatened, though they probably needn’t be, but it is a little annoying when you’re just trying to enjoy the sights and someone won’t leave you alone.
A lot of public spaces in South Africa are unsafe these days because people who have nowhere else to go hang out there, smoke there, and eventually just stay there. And in a country that relies so heavily on returns from tourism, I suppose we can’t afford to have the esteem of places like Table Mountain dropping in the eyes of international visitors.
But I still think that’s awfully elitist, and that it is WRONG that so few South Africans get to experience the famous sites in their own country. I think things are the way they are not because they are difficult to change, but for a lack of trying.