Cape Town – The South African economic and tourism industries will suffer a major blow following recent violence against foreign nationals, said Protea Group founder and chair Otto Stehlik.
Speaking on Friday at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business on how he grew the multi-billion rand empire, Stehlik said: “South Africa is taking a knock, not just from a tourism or travel perspective, but from an economic perspective.
“Our economy is not doing well,” he said.
Stehlik said the tourism industry has the ability to bounce back, provided government takes drastic steps to resolve the violence.
The Presidency recently announced that Stehlik would be awarded the Order of the Baobab in silver for his “excellent contribution to economic and social development in South Africa. His business skills in the hospitality industry have benefited South Africa significantly”.
Said Stehlik: “From a natural point of view, South Africa is one of the most beautiful places to live, therefore tourism is almost a God-given gift for the country."
Xenophobia is one of many problems in SA
Violence against foreign nationals has grabbed local and international headlines, but Stehlik said there are a few other “major concerns” that need to be addressed “holistically” in SA. He said the energy, healthcare, education, water and security sectors are in crisis and need urgent attention.
“If the government isn’t able to do the job properly, we need to find people who can do it better.
“If someone is competent and able to manage one function, they are competent to manage many functions – in the same way, if somebody is unable to manage a function, they need to be replaced,” he said.
Stehlik says he is hopeful that government will address its challenges, the same way the country fought to resolve apartheid.
“South Africa and its people have the capacity to resolve problems - a country that was able to resolve apartheid in the way that it did, will be able to address and manage the current security issues,” he said.
Limpopo government denounces violence
Meanwhile, the Limpopo government has denounced the attacks on foreign nationals.
Speaking at the official opening of Peermont’s Thaba Moshate Hotel Casino and Convention Resort on Thursday evening, Limpopo premier Stan Mathabatha highlighted the economic impact attacks on foreigners have had on the country’s economy.
He said the travel warnings issued by China, Australia and other countries show disapproval and fear, and would affect the tourism industry.
Mathabatha said citizens need to protect and cherish foreigners who are in the country, instead of peddling xenophobia.
“It is important as a province that we recognise that the growth of any country cannot be done by that individual country. Even if you go anywhere in the world, look at any economy... even the biggest economy today in the world is intertwined with other economies for them to survive,” he said.
SA needs foreign investment
Mathabatha cited the world's fastest-growing economy, China, as an example to show that countries need each other to accelerate economic development.
“Irrespective of those billions of people and billions of mineral resources in their country, they still need to invest in offshore for their economy to survive, for their economy to grow (and) for them to develop the country further.
“There is no country…. no economy that can develop in isolation; money, profit and economic sustainability knows no boundaries, it's globalised.”
People who attack those from other countries who come to their country to do business or seek refuge don’t realise what they are doing to the economy, he added.
Small group of criminals responsible
Mathabatha said he has "learnt that China, Australia and three other countries which are supporters of tourism" have already issued warnings or alerts to their citizens not to visit South Africa because they fear xenophobia is prevalent, "simply because of small group of criminals".
He urged leaders to join the war against xenophobia and bring communities together to fend off attacks on foreigners.
The attacks started in KwaZulu-Natal and spread to other provinces like Gauteng. However, there have been no reports of attacks in Limpopo.
Mathabatha said people in Limpopo have for years lived side by side with foreign nationals, and pleaded for the status quo to remain.
“They are our brothers irrespective of which country they come from; we cannot survive in isolation. If you think we can, you must know that we are taking this economy down the drain.”
Tackling SA's visa issues
In a bid to give tourism in the country a further boost, Stehlik said that he - along with a small negotiating team - has been in talks with the Department of Home Affairs for the past eight months in an attempt to renegotiate the country’s visa rules.
He said government has made it “difficult” for tourists to visit the country – leading to a massive loss in revenue.
“Although it doesn’t sound as extreme as the xenophobic situation, from an economic point of view, it is equally damaging,” Stehlik said.
Explaining how the Protea Group became a success, Stehlik said his focus on respect for human dignity, giving the best service and doing everything with excellence in mind contributed to its success.
Stehlik immigrated to South Africa from Austria in 1970 and founded the Protea Group in 1984 with no capital. He says the recent spate of violence against foreigners is “doing incredible damage” to the South African economy and the tourism industry.