More than 300 died during the eight days of looting and violence that followed former president Jacob Zuma’s arrest. By Miriam Mannak in Cape Town.

With provincial polls less than four months away, South Africa’s ruling party is being torn apart by corruption wranglings. By Don Paul in Cape Town.

South Africa is to ban canned lion hunts and the trade in endangered animal parts as the country looks to salvage its damaged reputation. By Britt Collins.

As a proposal to seize white-owned farms looks set to upend Mandela’s post-apartheid vision, businesses warn it puts more than just race relations in jeopardy. By Donald Paul in Cape Town.

The so-called ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ model negotiated by Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s last white president, F W de Klerk, could soon be consigned to history.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is likely to support an amendment to the country’s constitution that would allow the seizure of private land without compensation.

Minister for Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille defended the new Expropriation Bill, which was drawn up to amend Section 25 of the constitution, in order to introduce land expropriation without compensation.

The bill, which has been driven by pressure from smaller hard-left parties, has been in the works for several years and has generated more than 200,000 written submissions in favour and against.

Matthew Parks, parliamentary coordinator for the ANC-linked Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), said that the bill and the amendment would speed up land reform, which had been ‘held to ransom’ by the high prices being demanded.

He said there should be no need to compensate those who had acquired the land through ‘apartheid-era appropriations’.

Land reform – and particularly the concept of expropriation without compensation – is an issue that has overshadowed South African politics ever since the end of apartheid in 1994. According to Parks, millions of South Africans are landless and living in informal settlements, something, he said, the bill will redress.

There has been a large push back against any amendment to the constitution from businesses, most notably from the Banking Association of South Africa (Basa), which represents registered banks in the country.

Banks have approximately R1.6 trillion ($112 billion) in land‚ commercial property and home loans.

Expropriation without compensation, it said, could spark an economic crisis, similar to the 2007/2008 global recession which was triggered by the downturn in land-based property in the USA.

Basa’s claim has been refuted by Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a judge in the Land Claims Court. Speaking recently at a webinar organised by the Wits School of Governance, he said it was doubtful that ‘compensation on a targeted basis for specific classes of property will bring down the entire banking industry’.

Much of the discussion over land reform is being driven by the hard-left, ANC-breakaway party the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose deputy president, Floyd Shivambu, has said that the issue is non-negotiable.

The EFF, which is hoping to capitalise on South Africa’s sluggish post-lockdown recovery at upcoming municipal elections, is calling for the nationalisation of all land in the country, including all black-owned land.

The ANC has taken a less radical approach and has made a point of reassuring the Zulu royal family that it is not targeting the enormous tracts the family holds in trust for its subjects.

But the ANC has changed its stance on expropriation without compensation of white-owned land, having adhered to the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ principle championed by its former leader Mandela.

It is thought the policy shift has been largely driven by fears over the EFF and the upcoming elections, scheduled for October this year.

The ANC faces a balancing act – making sure its voters don’t opt for the populist call of the EFF while ensuring that South Africa can continue to attract foreign and local investment.

The threat posed by expropriation without compensation is manifold as it speaks to the rule of law and the security of property rights.

Failure to attract and keep investments in the country will impact the urban poor severely, as witnessed in the once-booming Zimbabwe, whose land reform programme ushered in two decades of economic collapse, mass emigration and sporadic famine.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma is facing possible jail time for refusing to give evidence to an anti-corruption commission.

The investigation into Jacob Zuma’s alleged corruption took an unexpected turn in February, after the former South African president and African National Congress (ANC) leader was warned he could face up to two years in prison for contempt of court.

The former commander of the ANC armed-wing during Apartheid, Zuma, who went on to rule South Africa between 2009 and 2018, has been accused of corruption over his links to the Gupta Brothers, three India-born businessmen sanctioned by the US Treasury over their opaque financial dealings with Zuma’s South Africa.

Zuma’s financial involvement with the Guptas led to his downfall in the ANC and has seen the ex-president forced to appear before an anti-graft commission.

Crucially for the ruling party, Zuma has refused to work with the corruption enquiry, commonly referred to as the Zondo Commission, and now faces possible sanctions.

The investigation is being presided over by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, a former Constitutional Court judge tasked with investigating allegations of ‘state capture’ – government contracts awarded by corruption.

The 355-page charge, compiled in 2016, looks into ‘alleged improper and unethical conduct by the president and other state functionaries’ and the Gupta Brothers’ involvement in the removal and appointment ‘of ministers and directors of state-owned entities’.

It alleges that the agreement led to the ‘improper and possibly corrupt award of state contracts and benefits to the Gupta family’s businesses’.

It added that the investigation should ‘look into the president’s conduct in relation to the alleged corrupt offers’ and the Gupta family’s involvement in the appointment of cabinet ministers and directors of state-owned entities.

The allegations against Zuma – 40 at last count – range from whether or not he received regular monthly payments from the State Security Agency to the nature of his direct involvement in state entities engaged in ‘vastly corrupt activities’.

Zuma has used several manoeuvres to avoid appearing at the Zondo Commission, including claiming that Judge Zondo should recuse himself because he had a personal relationship with the former president.

More controversially, Zuma tried to ‘excuse’ himself entirely from the proceedings, and in November last year, walked out without the chairperson’s permission.

This led to the case being taken to the Constitutional Court, which ruled unanimously that Zuma must appear at the Zondo Commission.

But while the former ANC leader and his legal team may have perfected the so-called ‘Stalingrad defence’ – dragging out legal proceedings by appealing every ruling – the delaying tactics are not yielding the results they hoped for.

The Commission filed papers calling for Zuma to serve two years in jail for these ‘multiple’ acts of contempt, leaving the former anti-Apartheid fighter with just one card left to play – outright defiance.

He stated he was ready to go to jail rather than give evidence.

And he has a substantial cohort within the ANC who will stand by him if this happens.

For the country, Zuma’s actions pose a considerable threat to the rule of law.

For the ANC, it could be the final straw that will see the collapse of the liberation party and even define its legacy.

The Commission has, again, provided a serious amount of wiggle room for the accused.

Inquiry Secretary Professor Itumeleng Mosala has suggested that the court suspend the two-year sentence if – and it’s a big if – Zuma appears and gives evidence. He has set a deadline for March 31.

But with the hard-left Economic Freedom Fighters buoyed by the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic – South Africa’s economy has been one of the continent’s hardest hit – a further schism in the ruling party may prove fatal for the ANC.

Sinesipho Tom reports from Cape Town on the alarming rise in anti-female violence that swept lockdown South Africa.

Even by South African standards, the headlines have been chilling: ‘You left me no choice but to kill you,’ read one.

‘KwaZulu-Natal resident living in the shadow of a serial killer,’ screamed another.

‘Manhunt launched after elderly woman, daughter murdered.’

But while violent crime has become part of everyday life in South Africa, and rape something many women expect to happen to them at some point in their lives – four in every 10 South African women will be raped at least once in their life – the scale and brutality of the attacks during lockdown have caused shock. 

In the first three weeks after the stay-at-home order was announced, there were 120,000 anti-female crimes in the country, according to the government agency tasked with recording gender-based violence and femicide.

It cited ‘economic vulnerability’ as one of the key factors driving the rise. 

Elaine Pypers, ambassador for the anti-gender-based violence (GBV) group SA Women Fight Back, described the recent statistics as ‘shocking’.  

‘Gender-based violence statistics have always been quite high and higher than the global average. I think it’s quite evident right now that our government still doesn’t know how to deal with it.’ 

The campaigner, who has written numerous articles on gender-based violence, commended the government for a recent legal amendment to address crimes against women, but said it didn’t go far enough.  

‘Their response when it comes to gender-based violence is lacking and the police response is also lacking.’ 

A victim of rape and domestic abuse herself, Pypers said that the government needed to address the increasingly low conviction rates of gender-based violence and added that children should be taught about consent from a very young age. 

‘[The fact that] only three per cent of perpetrators are actually prosecuted is worrying,’ said Pypers, referring to arrest reports on the period in question.

'Before the lockdown, the conviction rate for rape was around 14 per cent.

‘We need to educate young boys and girls in the country on consent and what gender-based violence is and to teach them that love is not harmful.

'Love does not hurt, being in a relationship does not hurt. A lot of the survivors of gender-based violence are attacked by people they know.  

‘We tend to believe that gender-based violence or rape is done by someone you don’t know, by an unknown monster, but instead over 50 per cent of gender-based violence perpetrators are people you already know.’ 

The familiarity between victim and attacker may go some way to explaining the country’s low conviction rate for gender-based violence. 

Only 130 of the 4,058 people arrested for alleged gender-based violence since the announcement of the lockdown in March have been convicted, according to police minister Bheki Cele in parliament.  

Cele said 2,234 GBV cases were reported countrywide.

The province of Gauteng, home to Johannesburg and Pretoria, record the most at 743 (1,173 arrests), followed by the Western Cape with 534 cases and 1,093 arrests, the Eastern Cape with 243 cases and 488 arrests, and KwaZulu-Natal with 230 cases and 375 arrests. 

Colette Solomon, director of the Women on Farms Project (WFP), said that the low conviction numbers reflect the general trend in the country, where rape is generally under-reported, and arrests and convictions are unacceptably low. 

Solomon believes that while more women are reporting rape, this is still only a fraction of the actual number. 

‘Women are discouraged from reporting rape because of systemic failures of the criminal justice system, which arrests and convicts only a small proportion of perpetrators,’ said Solomon, whose NGO has been studying recent and historical attacks of women in the country.   

She believes that the problem is particularly bad in rural areas. 

‘In farming communities, women face additional, specific barriers, including distance to police stations.

'Police are usually unable or unwilling to drive out to farms.

'There are also poorly trained police officers, including often a shortage of women police officers. And most rural police stations don’t have private and safe rooms for victims reporting rape,’ said the WFP director. 

Solomon also identified a lack of support services, such as counselling in rural communities, and said rape cases are routinely postponed which makes it expensive and difficult for women to travel repeatedly from farms to courts. (Most rural courts don’t have specialised Sexual Offences Courts.) 

Speaking in parliament, the police minister acknowledged that some members in the police force do not take rape seriously. 

‘One thing we accepted is that sometimes our own police do shoddy work, but that is an improvement we are trying to do,’ said Cele. 

He said that cases are often opened, and then withdrawn. ‘You find that families and friends put pressure on the abused women, especially if the perpetrator is a relative or a father, uncle or known boyfriend.

'Families tend to tell the victim that ‘you are bringing embarrassment to this house’ or ‘who is going to take care of us if the uncle or father gets arrested’.’ 

Cele encouraged the public to report police members who failed to execute their job.

He also promised that disciplinary actions would be taken against officers where necessary. 

Such assurances from the police have done little to tamper public frustration, with protesters taking to social media sites to campaign against the issue. 

Not everyone is convinced the lockdown has exacerbated the problem to the extent the figures suggest.

GBV and femicide psychologist Dr Karin Walton said the violence is ‘not something new’ although she welcomed the fact that both the authorities and campaigners were raising ‘a lot of awareness’.

In 2019, more than 52,000 sexual offenses and almost 42,000 rapes were reported to the police, according to official statistics. 

‘I think it is actually just consciousness raising because these are things that have been happening for a very long time,’ said the psychologist.

‘Women and girls have always disproportionately been kind of the victims.

'So, I don’t necessarily believe we are under attack as such now, it is just that we are much more aware of incidences and that has a lot to do with how we have the ability to now quickly communicate with one another and share experiences on social media.’  

She argues that the violence is driven by power relations that have been in the country for a very long time and cited increased competition for jobs as one of the main reasons for South Africa’s gender violence problem. 

‘You know when World War II came along, sometimes there were no men to work in the factories and women needed to work in the factories. After that women discovered that they wanted to work, too, to a large extent and they didn’t necessarily want to stay home.’ 

This increased competition for work resulted not just in many of the country’s racial problems – the apartheid government was famously elected over poor whites’ fears over ‘cheap’ black labour – but also its long history of gender violence, according to Walton. 

‘If I am living in poverty and I lose my job and things are not going my way,’ said Walton, channelling the rationale of resentful unemployed men, ‘it’s not necessarily that I am looking for someone to blame for it, although sometimes I can, especially when I lost it to a woman. 

‘I can say ‘it’s her fault, that’s why I lost my job’. So that can be one of the drivers.’ 

Job insecurity has increased dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 2.2 million jobs lost during the second financial quarter thanks to the country’s lockdown, tourist ban and prohibition on alcohol and cigarette sales.

GDP, meanwhile, more than halved in the same period, and many of the country’s restrictions have yet to be fully lifted. 

Leading scientists in South Africa believe the country may have accidentally established herd immunity to Covid-19.

The announcement by the country's leading vaccinologist, Professor Shabir Mahdi, follows an unexpected drop in the number of infections after a major outbreak in June and July.

Commenting on a series of studies that revealed the existence of high antibody rates in the Western Cape and Gauteng provinces, Professor Mahdi told Sky News that he believed the coronavirus had stimulated a level of immunity in approximately 12 to 15 million South Africans.

The findings support NewsAfrica’s investigations last month into the unexpected drop in infections across much of the continent, including South Africa.

‘The only way to explain it, the only plausible way to explain it is that some sort of herd immunity has been reached,’ said Professor Mahdi of South Africa’s plateauing cases.

South Africa was ranked as the world's fifth most-affected country at the height of its pandemic, behind only the US, India, Brazil and Russia - all of which have much larger populations.

A study in Gauteng, which is home to Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, revealed that approximately one in three people tested had some form of antibodies.

An earlier study in Cape Town had posted even higher levels of infection, with 40 per cent of respondents testing positive for antibodies.

South African researchers believe that the country's strict lockdown – imposed in March – inadvertently kickstarted a massive wave of infection in the country, as people massed in shops, spreading the virus, before the lockdown began.

Across the country, people were forced to queue for essentials like food and social security payments, creating what the virologist Dr Marvin Hsiao described as ‘new networks for the spread of the disease’.

He added: ‘When we analysed the data it become clear, this immunity within the population level linked to the big surge in infections is probably the main reason why we've seen the [recent] decrease of numbers infected.’

Paradoxically, President Cyril Ramaphosa was forced to deny rumours the government is considering tightening Covid-19 last month.

Speaking to Sky News, Professor Mahdi dismissed the notion of a second national lockdown, saying: ‘Under no circumstances is a lockdown on its own going to achieve elimination of the virus.’

South Africans donated billions of dollars to protect key workers. But with bank accounts frozen and sports cars seized, questions are being raised about where the money went. 

What started as a rallying call for South Africans to stand together against the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, quickly disintegrated into a morass of bureaucratic bungling, corruption and outright looting involving multi-million-dollar tenders allegedly awarded to politically connected individuals tasked with supplying personal protection equipment (PPE). 

In March, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

He called on the people to be resolute and firm and to support the government’s decision to declare a national state of disaster, and lockdown the country for three weeks.

He also announced the creation of the Solidarity Fund – with an initial R150 million ($8.7m) from the state – to deal with the coming Covid-19 storm.

The speech, delivered with gravitas and frankness, shifted even his most fervent detractors, and the money poured in.

The families and businesses of the Oppenheimers, the Ruperts and the Motsepes immediately committed R1 billion ($58m) each.

Online internet giant Naspers kicked in R1.5 billion ($87.5m). Two-thirds of the cash was used to source, procure and distribute PPE and the remaining third paid directly into the fund.

Within weeks, the fund had attracted $30bn, and within six months some $142m had been disbursed on what the fund listed as ‘interventions and projects across three key pillars – Health, Humanitarian Relief and Behavioural Change’ – with huge sums spent to provide PPE for frontline health workers.

As the country moved into ever-decreasing alert levels, the regulations surrounding the lockdown became submerged in illogic and nonsense.

Retailers could sell T-shirts, but only if they were to be worn under a jacket; they could not sell open-toed sandals; the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition even placed absurd restrictions on e-commerce shopping.

There were rumours of fierce battles within the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), headed by Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. 

The mood of the country shifted from determination and support to anger and disillusionment.

Then stories began to trickle in about the PPE contracts.

In April, the province of Gauteng’s Health Department’s Supply Chain Chief Director, Thandy Pino – just two weeks into her position – apparently warned her department head, Mkhululi Lukhele, and the Chief Financial Officer, Kabelo Lehloenya, that the department wasn’t complying with National Treasury procurement guidelines for Covid-19 PPE.

The amount involved was around R2bn ($116m).

A month later, Lehloenya resigned, and Pino was suspended while the SIU investigates her role in the tender awards. 

But the alarm bells went off in July when presidential spokesperson and confidant Khusela Diko was placed on leave following revelations that her husband, king of the amaBhaca people Thandisizwe Diko, had secured a $2.75m PPE contract.

By the end of July, the deal – which Diko withdrew from – along with more than 90 other tenders issued by Gauteng’s Department of Health, was being investigated by a nine-institution unit headed by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

The SIU was set up by the President on July 23 to deal with allegations of PPE corruption.

The probe into Khusela Diko, which includes the Gauteng health minister, Dr Bandile Masuku, and his wife, councillor Loyiso Masuku, has yet to be resolved, despite a marathon two-day hearing held mid-September. 

Questions really began to be raised, though, when a young businessman by the name of Hamilton Ndlovu posted a video showing him taking delivery of five luxury vehicles – three Porsches, a Jeep and a Lamborghini Urus SUV – worth roughly $645,000.

Ndlovu, who runs an ‘engineering solutions’ company, reportedly secured a $7.3m PPE contract in the Eastern Cape province.

At the time of going to press, Ndlovu’s bank accounts had been frozen and three of the cars seized pending an investigation. 

By mid-September, the SIU was investigating more than 658 PPE tenders and other pandemic-related contracts worth around $300m.

Meanwhile, Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi, spokesperson for South Africa’s elite anti-corruption unit the Hawks, confirmed officers were investigating more than 50 cases regarding substandard or falsified PPE.

This investigation followed on reports from the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), which revealed that approximately 60 per cent of the medical-grade masks it tested did not meet its quality criteria. 

Ironically, the Hawks are also involved in investigating themselves after it came to light that four contracts worth $31.6m to supply the police with PPE were under investigation. 

The rot seems to be widespread. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the SIU is looking into the Department of Education and the Department of Social Development’s PPE contracts respectively valued at $28m and $1.25m. 

According to a report issued by the Auditor-General, Kimi Makwetu, the items were ‘priced at more than double, or even five times, the prescribed price’.

It goes on to say: ‘There are clear signs of overpricing, unfair processes, potential fraud and supply chain management legislation being sidestepped’.

The Auditor-General’s final report is expected in November.

It will be his swan song, as his seven-year term of office comes to an end. 

Donald Paul reports from South Africa on the street protests and anti-migrant laws targeting Nigerians and other foreigners.

Back in May 2008, South Africa’s status as the so-called Rainbow Nation was hanging by a thread.

The townships were ablaze, foreign-owned businesses had been looted and thousands of migrants – specifically those from other African countries, as well as people from Pakistan and Bangladesh – had been forced to flee their homes.

The xenophobic violence spread to Cape Town, and the world watched in horror as clouds of thick black smoke rose against the iconic Table Mountain.

Gangs of South African youths rounded on migrants from Zimbabwe, Somalia and Nigeria, among others, for ‘taking jobs’ and being ‘responsible’ for the rise in crime. Sixty-two people were killed, of which 41 were immigrants.

The repeated official line from law enforcement that the violence was criminal-driven and not xenophobic implied that the government was not taking it seriously.

The year ended with the then president Thabo Mbeki being recalled by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the country collectively shrugged its shoulders and carried on as before.

Life did not get any easier for foreigners (or locals, for that matter).

By 2019, with an estimated four million immigrants, South Africa was the largest home for immigrants on the continent.

In September last year, the simmering xenophobia flared again, with more deaths, looting and destruction, fuelled by the government’s increasingly disastrous economic and social delivery programmes.

True to form, the government launched what it called a ‘National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance’.

Like most government projects, it was soon bogged down with endemic bureaucratic malaise.

According to a report released last month by Human Rights Watch, the xenophobia never went away.

It linked attacks on truckers between 2018 and 2019 with the problem.

Almost 200 truckers were killed during the period and numerous vehicles torched.

President Cyril Ramaphosa called for calm.

But critics have claimed that the president played up to ‘xenophobic populism’ during his 2019 election campaign.

The non-profit organisation Right2Know, launched in 2010, even went so far as to blame the South African government explicitly for the xenophobia.

Fast forward to today, and once again xenophobia has surfaced, this time with the added value of social media.

Over the past six months, a concerted campaign – mostly conducted on Twitter and Facebook – began amplifying the xenophobic populism.

The most prominent on this was an incendiary anti-immigrant Twitter account, @uLerato_pillay.

The messaging taps into one of the country’s most critical socio-economic problems: unemployment.

The Quarterly Labour Force Survey released in June stated unemployment in South Africa increased to 30.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2020.

The demographic most affected are young people aged 15–34 years – more than 63 per cent are unemployed.

The messages from @uLerato_pillay are regularly re-tweeted by the African Transformation Movement (ATM), whose head of policy and strategy, Mzwanele Manyi, is a former ANC government spin doctor.

ATM, a fringe political party whose manifesto is ‘Put South Africans First’, along with a group calling itself ‘Action For Change’ was behind the protests in September outside the Nigerian High Commission in Pretoria and the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg.

Nigeria recalled its high commissioner to South Africa, Kabiru Bala, in response to the violence and wild accusations levelled during the protest, accusing Nigerians of being ‘drug lords and rapists’.

Jean le Roux, a research associate with the Digital Forensic Research Lab, who is based in South Africa, has tracked the anonymous @uLerato_pillay Twitter account for two months

He wrote in a report that the Twitter account ‘belongs to Sifiso Jeffrey Gwala, a former lance corporal with the 121st SA Infantry Battalion, in KwaZulu-Natal.’

Le Roux pointed out, the Tweets ‘bubbled to the surface of mainstream media outlets’ and amounted to ‘reckless political opportunism’.

The ATM and Action for Change distanced themselves from the account.

Ramaphosa, hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa at the beginning of September, said the nation was committed to stopping the attacks.

Nevertheless, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Malawi pulled out of the conference and talks about developing intra-African trade seem to have stalled.

To add fuel to the fire, the province of Gauteng, which is home to Johannesburg and Pretoria, proposed a new law that would reserve certain economic activities in townships for South African citizens.

Drawn up by the provincial premier David Makhura’s office, the draft Gauteng Township Economic Development Bill does not specify which economic activities, but critics argue it plays into the xenophobic populism and fits in with Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola’s call last year for ‘tough legislation’ against foreign nationals operating in the townships.

Foreigners are reluctant to comment for fear of being singled-out.

Most told NewsAfrica, however, that the mood in the country was tense, and that they did not expect the government to provide much relief in the foreseeable future.

And with the municipal elections scheduled for 2021, fears are that politicians are likely to ramp up the xenophobic populism.

Almost 10 per cent of Africa’s economy relies on the tourism industry, which was shuttered by Covid-19. But, as travel editor and TV tourism expert Jill Starley-Grainger reports, for the millions employed by the safari industry, there is confidence that the good times – and the tourists – will return. 

In a typical year, thousands of tourists visit Africa to spot lions, zebras and elephants – and to lounge on the continent’s white-sand beaches.

It’s a vitally important industry that employs 25 million people directly or indirectly, including a large number in well-paying jobs, such as rangers and guides.

But Africa’s safari industry has been particularly badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with the impact devastating businesses, communities and conservation efforts alike.

Africa as a whole has suffered a 57 per cent loss in international arrivals due to the pandemic, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, and safari business are particularly reliant on an international clientele, most of whom have been unable to travel to Africa since March.

This has led to a significant reduction in customers and the temporary – and potentially permanent – closure of many companies reliant on safari tourism.

A recent survey by SafariBookings.com found that safari tour operators have seen bookings decrease by three quarters or more over the last four months, compared to the same time last year.

And many have received no customers or bookings at all.

The human cost:

Travel operator Aardvark Safaris,, which works with lodges throughout Africa, has seen the devastating human impact of this sudden loss of tourists.

‘We support over 1,000 camps and lodges throughout sub-Saharan Africa,’ said co-owner Alice Gully.

‘And they are all looking at a year with limited or no income. Not only does this affect jobs, but it affects the dependants on these employees.

In Kenya, for example, seven million people are employed in tourism - a third of the country’s workforce - and they each have approximately seven dependants.’

In Botswana, Desert & Delta Safaris managed to maintain all of its staff, albeit on reduced incomes, said Andrew Flat, Desert & Delta Safaris’ marketing manager.

‘High-value, low-volume destinations like Botswana have faced incalculable losses. Botswana is roughly the size of France, but with a population of just over two million people, and around 40 per cent of the country consists of protected parks and reserves.’

With so few visitors to such a vast region, even a small dip in numbers can have devastating consequences for communities.

Some safari businesses have managed to fare a little better, such as Go Places Africa DMC.

It arranges safaris in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia, and has managed to maintain all staff.

'Management and directors took salary cuts to make sure that we were able to pay our staff without any cuts as they rely on their salaries for their livelihood, and some of them are the main bread earners in their families. We also set up internet services for our staff in their homes to ensure regular communication virtually with them as well as with our clients.’

In South Africa, meanwhile, hotels across the country have had virtually no income since March.

Royal Malewane was effectively closed for five months with zero revenue,’ said Ross Bowers, marketing manager of the luxury lodge in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park.

'The pandemic has been devastating for our industry, for our staff and for their many dependents. Government support for the industry has been extremely limited, but we fought hard to keep everyone employed.

He added: ‘Since we reopened, we have had very limited local business. We need international visitors to return as soon as possible. Recovery for the safari industry will be extremely slow, but we are optimistic that safaris, nature and wildlife will be highly sought after post-Covid experiences.’

Conservation crisis:

Covid-19’s economic impact is significant for conservation, too, with some reporting an increase in poaching activity.

‘With no game drives, there are fewer eyes on the ground to watch out for poachers,’ said Gully of Aardvark Safaris.

This is a real concern throughout the industry, added Luke Bailes, founder and executive chairman of Singita, which has 15 luxury eco-lodges in Rwanda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

‘If ecotourism stops funding the conservation work of non-profit conservation partners, the likelihood of illegal hunting and poaching increases,’ explained the Anglo-Kenyan businessman, whose family have been involved in the Kenyan safari industry since the 1920s.

'Laid-off workers could turn to poaching to make ends meet, and if anti-poaching efforts are not maintained, traffickers have easier access to the animals and will simply stockpile until they can transport to their end markets.’

Some governments have taken heed of the impact on their wildlife and landscapes, and have put plans in place to try to increase protection in some areas.

In South Africa, the government, conservation organisations and local communities recently announced a plan to create protection areas to safeguard rhinos from poachers.

But the funds available for this are limited, and until international visitors return in significant numbers, it’s likely that both the landscapes and the animals that conservation projects help will suffer.

Future bookings:

While some African countries have recently started allowing international visitors, more openings are planned in the coming months.

This has helped a little for 2020, but since much of Europe and North America – the two major markets for Africa’s wildlife experiences – are still in various forms of lockdown, most safari businesses are pinning their hopes on 2021.

Roar Africa, a luxury specialist operating in 13 countries in southern and eastern Africa, has seen a massive profit hit this year, but does have some bookings for next year.

‘We had over 300 trips booked for 2020, and have had to move 80 per cent of them,’ said Deborah Calmeyer, Roar Africa’s CEO and founder.

‘With the recent reopening of Kenya and Rwanda, we have seen more enquiries for travel to these destinations, but we have a long way to go to get to pre-Covid levels of tourism.’

‘We have seen a marked increase in enquiries since restrictions began to lift,’ noted Toby Pheasant, founder of Bonamy Travel, which operates in 15 countries in Africa.

‘There has been an increase of 320 per cent [in enquiries]. But while we would normally expect to convert between 60 and 70 per cent of these, [the number that result in sales] is significantly lower than we would expect, at around 10 per cent.’

It seems many customers are dreaming and planning, but still worried about the pandemic and travel restrictions, so less inclined to make a booking.

But some of the people who missed out on their 2020 safari trip are securing bookings early for next year.

African Bush Camps, which runs 15 luxury camps in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, has recently seen a noticeable increase in reservations, particularly for 2021, said its CEO and founder, Beks Ndlovu.

‘Bookings were up 400 per cent in mid-August for 2021 in comparison to 2019 bookings.’

This increase is no doubt helped by the company’s new policy of a 100 per cent refundable deposit – a clever strategy to ensure guests know they won’t be out of pocket if the crisis affects their travel plans.

South African tour operator Unearth Experience has seen a similar trend in forward bookings for its safari trips, which it arranges to destinations throughout Africa.

‘The majority of our clientele impacted by Covid-19 restrictions have opted to postpone their travel plans versus cancelling their trips.

This has allowed us to have a strong forward book for 2021,’ said Rory James Loader, managing director.

Nobody knows how the pandemic will play out, but many safari businesses are doing their best to prepare, and there are hope that many will be able to adapt to ensure the future of the industry.

‘Africa is tough, its people and wildlife are resilient,’ opined Flatt of Desert & Delta Safaris.

‘The silver lining is that we are still here, ready and waiting to welcome guests back to our lodges, and ready to prove that, post-pandemic, nothing beats the social distancing a Botswana safari offers.’

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