I recently listened to an elder/storyteller/historian who is passionate about the history of South Africa, specifically that of Kliptown where he still resides, and I was surprised to learn that, in Kliptown, Black women were the first to start trading and doing business by selling fresh produce carried in their baskets on their heads, while their men worked the mines.
Fast forward to many years later, we find ourselves as a women-led tour company existing and competing with numerous male-owned tour operators, to the surprise of some guests.
I have been referred to as Mr Zandile Dhlamini on emails and usually get a surprised reaction, and a sense of appreciation from guests, when they see it’s a woman who holds the placard for a pick-up at the airport. The more I interact directly with guests the more I realise there is a genuine relief. We recently hosted three ladies from India for a couple of days, starting with a male driver, who was two days later relieved by a female driver, and the guests voluntarily confessed they felt more comfortable and relaxed with the female driver. I also felt that sense of comfort when we were conducting a tour on March 8, coincidentally on International Women’s Day, which represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality.
Each year, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 – the first was held in 1911. Thousands of events occur to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. This year, Women's Day 2015 theme is: Make it happen, and we are making it happen in the streets of Soweto.
We believe there is a niche market globally that would prefer women to handle their tours, for many reasons, including religious beliefs and personal choices, and this usually works to our advantage.
Women-to-women trade in business should be encouraged for economic growth of women. Luckily, women have immense support in different avenues including the Women Entrepreneurial Fund (WEF), which has been established by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to increase access to entrepreneurial finance for marginalised groups in South Africa, prompted by the realisation that race and gender remain important variables in the ability of entrepreneurs to access finance. The fund, which falls within the R1 billion IDC Transformation and Entrepreneurship Scheme (TES), has ring-fenced R400 million for women-owned businesses until 2015.
Meryl Mamathuba, head of Development Funds Department at the development financier, says: “We need to increase the extent to which women own and manage existing and new enterprises by improving their access to economic activities and infrastructure. This strategy is necessary to create viable opportunities that facilitate sustainable development and empowerment.”
United as women in tourism, so much can be achieved, and history is the best teacher. The 1956 Women's March, Pretoria, on August 9 was a spectacular success. “Many of the African women wore traditional dress, others wore the Congress colours, green, black and gold; Indian women were clothed in white saris. Many women had babies on their backs and some domestic workers brought their white employers' children along with them. Throughout the demonstration the huge crowd displayed a discipline and dignity that was deeply impressive.” (Extract from Women and Resistance in South Africa by Cheryl Walker.)
There is a saying that “if you want it done right, give it to a woman”. Need I say more?
The Department of Tourism will be hosting the Women in Tourism Indaba Networking Cocktail event, on May 10 at 18h00 at the Albert Luthuli Convention Centre (Durban ICC). Make your voice heard there.