House Chairperson, at the outset, let me thank the committee chairperson, hon Supra Mahumapelo, for hearing me and scheduling the extensive oversight to the Howick Falls or kwaNogqaza.
The focus of Tourism Month in September was "Tourism and jobs - a better life for all."
Such was the case with the Howick Falls, the only waterfall situated in the Central Business District, CBD, of a major town or city in our country.
At its tourism zenith, 25 500 visitors, many from overseas, visited the Falls every month. They spent an equivalent of R102 000 every day, supported well over a hundred jobs, a thriving souvenir industry and a string of shops on the Falls Road. They were enthralled by stories of the monster at the bottom of the Falls and the rich isiZulu ancestral stories relating to the location; undoubtedly much like Mark Twain was when he visited in 1896.
But much like the Falls itself in winter, the flood of tourists has petered out to trickle. The ten tour buses a day have dwindled to two. In the last few months, only 1 800 tourists have visited the site. This 93% decline has led to losses in income to local business and traders of around R3,5 million a month. Inevitably, eight
businesses have closed, and 60 people have lost their jobs.
The obvious question is: What has led to this catastrophic decline in tourist arrivals and job losses? The committee report paints a sombre picture: it cites neglect, x-rated activities conducted in the area, rampant crime, muggings, drunk driving, drug dealing, litter and indecent behaviour.
Not least, the report refers to "the perilous state of neglect and disrepair" of the Falls area infrastructure. That's being diplomatic. What it means, is that the once highly popular Gorge Walk/Bush Golf experience building has been completely vandalized and gutted, and is now a make-shift shelter for drug addicts.
The committee heard extensive inputs from stakeholders including local ward councillor Hazel Lake who led the guided tour, representatives of local tourism associations, businesses, communities and officials representing local and provincial government.
Perhaps the most frustrating evidence presented to the committee was the "long relentless" litany of historical appeals for help, all of which fell on deaf ears. These included a 755-strong petition, various submissions and lobbying by business and HUCTO, interventions to plead for the enforcement of by-laws and regular cleanups by the community and the DA to make a difference, as covered in page 24 of the report.
The tourism committee has made no less than 27 recommendations to restore the Falls area to its former glory and by so doing, re-invigorate businesses and jobs in the area. It also addresses the issue of safety at the informal settlement side of the Falls and has made wide- ranging proposals to draw in other government departments, assisting the Mpophomeni Tourism Centre and generally fostering a more non-racial and inclusive tourism framework and environment to deepen the tourism footprint among all our communities.
One of the more impassioned inputs by community members at the oversight hearings was that proposed solutions should be time bound and closely monitored by the
committee. This is absolutely essential to the success of the recovery plan because the reason for the decline in the first place has been chronic and sustained municipal neglect and zero enforcement of local by-laws.
The uMngeni Local Municipality has made just a few interventions since the committees' oversight nearly two months ago. Some additional cleaning has been done, but that stopped two weeks ago when no refuse bags were supplied. Only one crime enforcement action has occurred. No security cameras have appeared, and infuriatingly, no expression of interest has yet been issued for the Gorge Walk/Bush Golf building. No clarity has yet emerged as to how the informal settlement residents will qualify for housing at ekhayalitsha when 90% of them are in fact Lesotho nationals.
This oversight visit was a good example of constructive multi-party engagement and a sincere, thoughtful and wide-ranging series of recommendations which could yield a "best-practice" series of successes. For that to happen, the Tourism committee will need to be vigilant
and ensure the recommendations are followed up and implemented without fear or favour.
The DA supports the report. Thank you. [Applause.]