There was never going to be any getting over it. Notwithstanding that the world has been steeling itself for the inevitable since the first rumours began spreading in July, the news of the departure from this life of Nelson Rolihlala Mandela has broken across the world in a tsunami of emotion. You could trace the wave by watching the expressions of commuters in early morning traffic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape
Town: those who had not yet heard burst into tears as they turned on their radios and listened to the news that has dominated every international media channel today.
Perhaps the African National Congress's tribute said it best:
“Our nation has lost a colossus, an epitome of humility, equality, justice, peace and the hope of millions; here and abroad.
“Madiba loved South Africa. We recall the strength of his fist punching the air as he stepped out of prison after 27 years; and his sternness during the negotiations for the freedom of our beloved country. We celebrate his ever-present smile, the cheerful Madiba jive, his love for children and great respect for the women of this country.
“The large African Boabab, who loved Africa as much as he loved South Africa, has fallen. Its trunk and seeds will nourish the earth for decades to come.”
As regards South African tourism, the image of the baobab is particularly apt. An event such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which emblazoned South Africa on the world tourism map forever, would have been inconceivable without Madiba's nation-building genius. The “peace dividend” that his policy of reconciliation inaugurated has laid the foundation for the development of a nation that will continue to defy expectations. And nowhere are expectations more to be defied than in the many towns and settlements of South Africa that, unlike Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban, are not world-class tourism icons yet – but have every right to be, and will.
The nation-building spirit of Mandela is present in the efforts of regional municipalities to kindle the benefits of tourism for local economic development. One thinks in this regard of the City of Kimberley's hosting of the recent World Skateboard Championship, or the City of Ekhuruleni's partnership with the South African Maritime Safety Authority to unlock the potential of Ekurhuleni's waterways. These groundbreaking initiatives demand the support of local tour operators – whose imaginations are challenged to present South Africa to the world in a way that transcends its somewhat cliched image as a place of bush, beasts and braaivleis.
Nelson Mandela was known especially as a man who was very fond of children. Transforming the settlements of South Africa into havens of beauty will not only generate livelihoods by attracting tourists, but will also secure the future of the country's children. There could be no finer tribute to Madiba than this continuation of his living legacy. If you are taking part in ITB Berlin or the Tourism Indaba 2014, Explore SA encourages you to let this message ring out loud and clear.
Wishing you safety and prosperity in this festive season
The Explore SA team