South Africa is such a beautiful country. Why are we allowing it to be messed up? Racism against black people and against white people, discrimination, poverty, unemployment, poor education, and health care nowhere near as good as it could be. These are the outstanding features of life in our country. Add to that a crime rate that seems to be spiralling out of control while confidence in the SAPS plummets and the SANDF is grossly under-resourced and barely able to fulfil its tasks. The picture is not a pretty one.
That is on the one hand. But there is another side to South Africa. We live in a country of great natural beauty and we have among the nicest people in the world. Much of the time we forget the positives and focus on the negatives.
My family recently travelled from Johannesburg to a place abutting the Kruger National Park and with direct access into the park across the Crocodile River. We had a wonderful house in the bush and we were able to do game drives both in our camp and also in the Kruger.
The journey to Malalane and beyond was along the most beautiful roads, well-constructed, well-maintained with not a single pothole in sight. A portion of the road was being doubled up and this was properly controlled and felt quite safe. I thought until recently that I was the only person in this country who likes SANRAL, pays all the toll accounts and appreciates the splendid job they do.
I have always felt that if you make the laws and apply them as I did in Parliament and in the Courts for most of my life, one must obey them. I recently met a man who had the same approach, so now there are two of us who are grateful for the job SANRAL does. After all, there is scarcely any other area of life under government control that works satisfactorily.
Everywhere we went we met friendly, smiling people, whether in roadside cafes, filling stations or other shops.
We were only in the southern part of the Kruger, so I cannot talk about the areas further north, but what we saw was impressive. To mention only one, Afsaal, the favourite breakfast stop looked inviting, clean both in the serving areas, seating areas and the toilets.
The staff members were friendly, willing and helpful, quick to give good service and provide facilities to suit all tastes. We were delighted to note that there were many overseas tourists visiting and it is clear that if one offers quality, it will be appreciated.
Instead of a minister of Tourism who runs around undermining her own government and president, we need someone who is passionate about what South Africa has to offer and takes steps to wake up investors to the tourism prospects that could be there for the taking.
Our biggest advantages are our marvellous people and the many beautiful places all over our country. We need a national effort involving our embassies, our tourism representatives and hundreds of thousands of our people who would benefit vastly by an explosion of tourists who would pay good money and provide jobs in new hotels, restaurants, airports, garages, car hire firms, farms producing food, bush and mountain camps and seaside accommodation. The possibilities are endless. We just need to realise that it is time to halt the decline in South Africa and enjoy it and market it as a great place to visit or to live in, with the nicest people in the world.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is: douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com
This article first appeared in The Star newspaper.