Canada’s ban on S.African tourism will hurt locals

Written by Yasmin Shinoy, CNN

It’s easy to be underwhelmed when dealing with Africa.

The continent’s species are brutal, wildlife endangered, and the infrastructure less than ideal — all that before you account for widespread HIV, malaria and frequent droughts.

Yet there are some areas of remarkable and reassuring growth — indeed, as with Mexico or China, there are widespread reasons to examine a country’s commercial and cultural opportunities.

What could we learn from Africa on tourism?

Above all, how to ensure sustainability.

This consideration goes far beyond leaving money to the people and communities in the region. It’s about the fact that tourism in Africa has historically served to enrich the region by drawing in rich foreign investment.

To help Africa recover from these “high value” foreign investment losses, the Canada government announced last week a planned ban on all travel from South Africa.

With the cancellation of several upcoming Canadian-South African business and social forum events, including the Canadian Annual HIV/AIDS Conference in Durban next week, this decision was not entirely surprising.

However, let’s consider what the ban could mean for people across the continent.

Today, tens of thousands of Africans live in Canada. In 2014, Canadians spent $1.25 billion in South Africa, a huge proportion of which was connected to the country’s thriving mining industry.

The impact of this $1.25 billion spend could have been significantly higher had the Canadian government not intervened. In its 2015 budget, Canada’s federal government committed $49.1 million to a “social impact assessment of its dual trade and development relationship with South Africa.”

Of that, $40 million will be committed to a project that “assesses the social and economic impacts of Canadian dual trade.”

However, the more disturbing implications of the new ban go beyond compensation.

This could be the beginning of the end for the South African mining sector in Canada. It’s a vital export and a valuable part of South Africa’s economy — alongside fashion and wine.

But this ban will mean that job losses and investment losses for South Africa will be nearly as high as Canada’s own recent downturn, leaving its country less able to fund post-apartheid education, health, and social programs.

The Canadian initiative is not without support: The South African National Union of Mineworkers (S.N.N.U.M.M) is actively campaigning against this decision to block corporate and human travel.

In a statement, the union said: “Millions of Canadians live and work in South Africa, meaning that companies such as Alcan and Toronto-based Eaton and Bell are big and well-off businesses that rely on social programs in South Africa.”

S.N.N.U.M.M. called for Canada’s foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland to focus on the negative impacts of the economic expansion that the South African mining industry is currently enjoying.

As the union points out, the Canadians failed to properly articulate that.

Citizens of both countries can be assured that this announcement makes no mention of the impact on Canadian mining companies and their workers.

It’s important to remember that thousands of jobs are at stake for people across Africa. And an opportunity for prosperous nations and people to move forward at home has been squandered.

It’s important to understand that the decision was the result of commercial imperatives rather than ideological motivations.

Critics may be right that Canadian officials wanted to avoid a backlash from mining companies and their Canadian shareholders, but the damage caused by this unilateral approach cannot be overlooked.

It’s vital that Canada reconsiders its decision.

Not everyone agrees that the South African government is entirely responsible for the current crisis.

Some argue that Canada is wrong to condemn the government in Pretoria, and that Canadian foreign policy needs to demonstrate solidarity and support for the South African people.

The Canadian government’s actions have sent a clear message to the government in Pretoria: This country cannot be trusted.

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