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Tourism blossoming in Limpopo amid COVID-19 pandemic

The tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic - with apocalyptic job losses resulting from the long, hard lockdown and the shutting down of South Africa’s borders.

Limpopo's tourism MEC, Thabo Mokone, calls it the "Garden of Eden" and wants to share its beauty and delights with more locals. Pic: Abigail Javier

JOHANNESBURG - It’s been a month since South Africa moved to level one lockdown and the battered economy is still trying its best to recover, especially though local tourism.

Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has been visiting several holiday destinations in the country and last week, and she took a five-hour drive to Limpopo over the weekend.

It's a Wednesday morning when we hit the road, starting the long drive from Johannesburg to Limpopo, with agricultural land stretching as far as the eye can see.

Then, the green and fertile area gives way to red barren land - baobab trees and scorching sun.

With every kilometre that passes, the rat race back home fades a little more.

Your mind wanders happily until you receive a random message as your cell phone signal returns for a brief moment.

After a five-hour drive, Eyewitness News arrives at the Palala Boutique Game Lodge and Spa - it feels like walking through the gates of heaven.

From a bush breakfast under the trees, to a game drive through the park, to fishing as the sun goes down - setting the African sky ablaze.

What really makes people from the "concrete jungle" drive all the way to Limpopo is the executive spa sessions - bathing in red wine, sipping on champagne; and enjoying the panoramic views and the regular sightings of wildlife.

It's easy to forget, in these moments of tranquility, that COVID-19 has turned the country and the world upside down.

"Should we still wear our masks?”

The game driver answers, “yes mam - we still have the pandemic".

Owner Maria du Plessis says tourism is picking up in this part of the province - most people visit with their families and they've managed to carry on working remotely from this location.

“We have not retrenched anyone - we managed to survive – and we hope it will pick up,” she says.

The tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic - with apocalyptic job losses resulting from the long, hard lockdown and the shutting down of South Africa’s borders.

But Limpopo is hoping for green shoots - its tourism MEC, Thabo Mokone, calls it the "Garden of Eden" and wants to share its beauty and delights with more locals.

"We are rise again - rising we are blossoming like flowers in summer ... we want to encourage people to start going around again."

Limpopo definitely has beauty in its favour, but it also has geography.

It's the only province which borders three neighbouring countries - Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It is also connected to three provinces - Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West, which makes it ideal for the local traveller to explore South Africa.

Kubayi-Ngubane has been criss-crossing the country and Limpopo is her fifth provincial visit.

Her sector has been battered by COVID19 and it's taken a toll on her personally.

"I’m still studying ... I am exhausted ... but I can’t rest now... I need to save this sector and I need to make it work."

But for some, the ripple effect of COVID-19 has been unavoidable.

Malesela Rammutla is the deputy general manager at Warm Bath Forever Resorts.

They had nearly 200 staff before lockdown but the business took a huge financial knock, resulting into salary cuts and retrenchments.

“We are positive that how the regulations are now - we think it will take up now. We are still struggling during the week but things are picking up during the weekends"

In line with the COVID-19 regulations, the number of people allowed inside the pools have been severely affected, but management hopes that there won't be a second wave as seen in other European countries.

Seipelo Masemola, owner of Lerato's Grill House, has survived through the lifeline given by the UIF tourism relief fund which paid out R50,000.

The shisa nyama spot had to reinvent itself just to survive the COVID-19 storm.

"I ran my store like a liquor store. It’s been hit hard - we will not survive a second wave.”

As the sun dips beneath the horizon of the dry Limpopo skies, one of the country’s poorest provinces - with a population of over five million people calling this home – residents are hopeful that they will be able to fully recover from COVID-19, with thousands of families counting on them for survival.

GALLERY: The beauty of Limpopo

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