Tourism insights from the road

Dog-legged to Port St. Johns briefly on a roadie back home from uMhlanga Rocks. Keen to indulge in PSJ’s natural raw beauty and fresh paint-job inspired by that Indonesian rainbow village.

Before getting to PSJ, a word on uMhlanga. As a tourist town it rocks. Crawling with tourists, cash pouring from their pockets. Take a bow, surfer dudes. And others, please don’t mutter, “Ah, uMhlanga has beautiful beaches, warm surf, a pretty red lighthouse too.” Worth naught buried in garbage. And, “Ooh, they must have a functional and solvent municipality” doesn’t cut the ribbon either.

Fact is, the uMhlanga Improvement Presinct (UIP) is reaping rich dividends for locals. UIP signage, vehicles and personnel visible everywhere. A litter pick-up squad scour the beach at first-light. Every day.

“UIP creates desirable and well managed public spaces establishing private sector / municipal partnerships while delivering privately funded security, cleaning, maintenance, greening and marketing services.” Refer link.

Returning to PSJ. “Jeepers, it looks like Avatar!” exclaims Vanessa’s teenage-son as we descend the sharply winding road into PSJ. Surrounded by towering cliffs and jungles it’s stop-the-bus magnificent. The smartie-box bridge over the mighty Umzimvubu River is super-cool. Set against ancient trees and mountains it’s like a chap in tuxedo sporting a dazzling bow-tie. Scattered about splashes and buttons of colour.

Hats off to Port St Johns Tourism Forum and the community. Albeit a quick stop-over we enjoyed Outspan Inn and Steve’s Pub & Grill, but here endeth the praise-singing for PSJ. Forgive me for lobbing rocks in glass houses. I’m acutely aware the magnifying-glass blazes upon our little village too.

The CBD of Port St. Johns is a fouled and dishevelled Zombie Land. Garbage bags and raw waste strewn asunder, heaped head-high. Nauseating stench. At 2nd Beach – pristine in places – the adjacent bush a colourful toilet. So, mind your step. I’m told municipal workers on strike. Yet again. Mismanagement of the town presaged “communities taking matters into their own hands and cleaning up the town”. Appears this stratagem confined (at this stage?) to the marketing paint-job that grabbed the attention of Carte Blanche and hooked us as visitors. Proper, thorough, disinfecting clean-up of PSJ required before more tourism Rands proffered from the Holmes purse.

So, what now for PSJ, that soiled gem of The Wild Coast? The critical questions. What’s the root cause problem in PSJ? And, who needs to be dragged into the filthy streets and shot at dawn? Too harsh? No way. The precinct of PSJ is a health hazard and home-made visitor repellant. A haven for disease and the death knell for tourism. That tour-truck we followed out of town will stop coming back. The community will perish. Future generations will fall upon paradise at the foot of a winding path and wonder at the rare fortune of their discovery.

I’ll bet the root-cause is a divided community. The parties don’t talk. Can’t talk, forgotten how to talk, or perhaps never really talked. So let’s pull them out one by one. First up, the obvious. Local government. Officials to deal the issue by Friday or be fired by their political leaders. With CR that card coming. Trust me. Next up, local business leaders. I know of outstanding work over many years but redouble efforts to save the town. Next, usher forth labour leaders. I know not your gripe but striking in this fashion is damaging beyond proportion. Fourth in line, street-hawkers and CBD-based businesses. I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s not good for cash-flow to conduct business from a garbage dump-site. If your refuge is not collected, pay the unemployed to cart it off to a concealed area and politely inform municipality, “Collect when ready.”


Ok, so spare the firing squad. Archaic. But the parties must talk, jointly resolve their problems and chart a visionary path forward. In need, beetle up the coast to uMhlanga together and consume the UIP case study. In its entirety.

There’s a final group for a literary bullet. Bring out Corporate South Africa. Their ever-so-bright corporate colours sprouting from the muck. PEP, ABSA, Spar, Capitec, Shoprite, whoever the dickens owns Nasti, a long list of others. Do their leaders know about the filth of PSJ? Denigration of their brands, I say. Do they care a jot for PSJ and a thousand other little towns sprinkled across the continent? Or do they greedily gorge at the trough and giveth not? Gouging short-term corporate profits from afar they turn a blind eye to rural problems. Block their noses to the stench. Not good enough. Time for Corporate South Africa to extract hands from pockets and contribute to resolving local issues.

I fervently hope PSJ can rescue itself from the brink, for when it sparkles it is heaven. My life would be the poorer for its demise. Surely (all) those who live in PSJ share the sentiment. I look forward to next visit soon. Grahamstonians take heed.


Before moving back to Grahamstown in Oct 2017, Graeme was a bank executive based in the big smoke and craziness of Joburg. He has 20 years’ experience in the Payments Industry. He is a Chartered Accountant, has a Masters in Management by Research (MMR) from Wits Business School, and attended an Advanced Management Programme (AMP) offered by INSEAD (The Business School for the World!) in France.  

Graeme is the founder of The Grahamstown Project. It’s simple. He says, “Grahamstown is a microcosm of South Africa. If we can’t get this place to function properly then the whole country is stuffed. Many of the troubles we experience as a country today have their roots here in Grahamstown. it is here where black and white people first engaged in conflict on the African continent. It is here where 9 wars of dispossession over 100 years took place and virtually destroyed the amaXhosa nation. But we are where we are. I don’t have a British passport and the boat-trip back to where my ancestors came from is exorbitantly expensive. Furthermore, this is my home. I am a son of Africa. We must work together to redress the injustices of the past and move as one into a brighter future.”

Graeme is an avid historian, writer, vlogger and public speaker. Like and follow the Facebook page. Join him on a tour. Contact him. He would love that.