World Cup revs up tourism in Rustenburg

Former miner Oleseng Mokoena has broken 15 plates and a dozen wine glasses since becoming a waiter a month ago. His boss likens him to a bull in a china shop when he is in the kitchen.

Mokoena is one of the hundreds of retrenched miners in South Africa’s platinum mining town of Rustenburg who have sought employment in the growing tourism industry ahead of the Soccer World Cup — highlighting a shift in the town’s employment trends.

“Finding yourself suddenly doing soft jobs like sweeping floors and waiting tables is very hard for any man, especially when you are used to blasting rocks underground,” said the beefy Mokoena, while carefully unloading a trolley full of dishes.

“If it wasn’t for this job I would still be job hunting in far away cities. Many mines are talking about retrenchments these days,” added Mokoena.

South Africa’s mining ministry says 25 000 jobs have been lost in the sector since the beginning of the year. Rustenburg has been especially hard-hit, the world’s top producer Anglo Platinum and the number three Lonmin announcing 15 000 cuts, according to unions.

“I regard myself very lucky to be working here, it is very hard to find a job after being retrenched,” said the father of five young children.

The build up to the Soccer World Cup has steered Rustenburg towards new tourism opportunities — a sector overshadowed by a long stretch of growth in platinum mining.

The town, two hours drive from Johannesburg, is one of four hosts for the curtainraiser Confederations Cup running until Sunday. Lodges and guesthouses are already mushrooming across Rustenburg’s bushland valleys.

Business owners are enjoying a brief bumper season for the four Confed games played in the city.

Local authorities say the town has more than 100 non-hotel accommodation establishments, excluding luxury game lodges nearby, with many opening in the last two years.

“Tourism business is not entirely new in this town. The 2010 World Cup focus only increased opportunities around the sector,” said Peter Ramadikela, the town’s economic development boss.

“Given its current growth, I am certain that tourism would eclipse the mining industry as the biggest employer,” he said.

The tourism business here had for many years been dominated by the Sun City holiday resort, just 40km away.

With 450 000 visitors expected in South Africa for the soccer tournament, the spotlight is now shining on long-overlooked Rustenburg.

“I am always looking for staff,” said Johannes Kaledi, owner of Loving and Blessing lodge, who is among the new business owners tapping into World Cup related tourism.

“I am always referring guests to other lodges around me. We have been fully booked since about two weeks before the Confederations Cup,” he said.

Kaledi believes that the region’s bountiful attractions would continue to draw tourists to sustain the industry, long after the World Cup has ended.

“I am in this industry for the long haul, it’s not just a spur of the moment thing that will blow over after the 2010,” said Kaledi.

Kaledi quit his job as a chef at a leading hotel chain to open his guesthouse in 2007. Fifa has already booked all his rooms for the World Cup.

He said the number of desperate male job-seekers has increased in the past three months.

“Miners are being retrenched in droves and tourism is the only industry that is still offering jobs despite the current economic conditions,” said Kaledi. – AFP

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