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Minister concerned as safety, security issues take toll on tourism stats

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Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane is concerned about a 2.1% (164 989) decrease in tourist arrivals to 7 562 743 for the period from January to September 2019.

A major factor impacting the decrease in arrivals has been concerns around safety and security.

The decline was mostly influenced by a decrease in arrivals from Australasia and Europe, with a decrease of 5% and 3.9% respectively, according to data released by Statistics SA earlier this week.

At the same time, the minister is pleased with an increase in tourist arrivals from the Middle East (4.2%); Asia (1.3%), Central and South America (0.3%) and North America (0.2%).

In her view, it is a good indicator that more focused and aggressive marketing strategies in these regions will yield positive results.

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), told Fin24 on Thursday that the organisation, which represents the private sector, has already met with the minister about the impact of safety and security concerns.

“The latest numbers reflect what we have been cautioning about since last year, namely that forward bookings are down, despite some markets remaining resilient. We will respond to return confidence in the market,” he said.

“Now it is time for the public and private sector to get together to achieve our goals of growing the tourism industry. We now know where the cracks are – like safety and security – and we have to now move with speed. The TBCSA is always ready to get to work.”

Kubayi-Ngubane has already led delegations to places like China and Japan and is visiting Ghana and Nigeria with the aim to increase the number of tourist arrivals.

Further more, her department is engaging with local stakeholders like airlines to see how joint marketing strategies could possibly lead to better results.

According to Tshivhengwa, SA’s tourism marketing must be purposeful to fix brand issues. In his view, the recent scrapping of the requirement of unabridged birth certificates for foreign minors arriving in SA, will have a positive impact to repair the country’s image as a family market.

“We need to be competitive in presenting our tourism case. It will take hard work,” he added.

Kubayi-Ngubane indicated that her department, along with other stakeholders, will at the beginning of December announce a Tourism Safety Strategy and the implementation of plans as a response to the concerns raised by key markets.  

“We are committed to reach (President Cyril Ramaphosa’s) target of 21 million arrivals by 2030 and we are working with all the stakeholders in the sector to make this a reality,” she said.

“We realise that, as we work towards this target, we might experience some fluctuations, but we will ensure that the overall trajectory remains positive.”

Christelle Grohmann, director of the tourism specialist unit at professional services firm BDO, recently told Fin24 that Ramaphosa’s tourism target is double the number of tourists SA had at the beginning of the year and equates to a 6% compound growth.

According to Grohmann, the latest decline in numbers highlights that the SA tourism industry is far from having the momentum to achieve these goals.

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Eskom to implement stage 2 load shedding on Sunday

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South Africa’s load shedding woes will continue throughout
the weekend, as power utility Eskom said it will implement stage 2 load
shedding from 09:00 to 23:00 on Sunday.

According to a statement issued on Saturday night, Eskom
said that load shedding is necessary “to cater for further trips” and
to create capacity to “replenish water reserves” from its pumped storage
schemes.

“Sufficient water and diesel reserves are necessary to
limit the level of load shedding in the coming week. Eskom will communicate if
there is a change in the system,” the statement read.

Eskom’s unplanned breakdowns were at 11 600 MW on Saturday
evening – the power utility has been relying on water resources at its pumped
storage schemes to supplement capacity. Eskom said it did not use Open Cycle
Gas Turbines on Saturday, which are powered by diesel.

Eskom reintroduced load shedding on Thursday, due to
unplanned breakdowns.

It has since implemented stage 4 load shedding as the
situation worsened due to wet coal reserves, Fin24 previously reported.

The power utility has posted tips on Twitter on ways consumers can best prepare for load shedding.


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Vienna opera house stages first opera by woman

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Kate Lindsey as OrlandoImage copyright
Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Pöhn

Image caption

Kate Lindsey will play the title role of Orlando

For the first time in its 150-year history, the Vienna State Opera is staging an opera by a woman.

Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth has written a new opera based on Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel Orlando which deals with themes of gender fluidity and duality.

The title role is played by the singer Kate Lindsey.

Orlando lives for centuries, beginning as a man in Elizabethan England and then changing into a woman.

Image copyright
Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Pöhn

Image caption

The story by Virginia Woolf has been updated for the 21st Century

Olga Neuwirth says androgyny and the rejection of gender stereotypes have inspired her ever since she first read Woolf’s novel as a teenager.

“Not only is it a journey through centuries, but it is a journey of constant questioning of imposed norms by society, and society is made by man,” she told the BBC.

Olga Neuwirth

Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Pöhn

Orlando, for all of us, should be a symbol of freedom, humanity and freedom of opinion, but in a very playful and ironic way – which I like so much

“Each human being is allowed to choose what they feel is inside them,” she said. “There is no binary role model anymore.”

Conductor Matthias Pintscher says the ‘in-betweenness” of the story of Orlando is reflected in the music.

“She is mixing it all up,” he said. “We have a traditional orchestra in the pit. On top of that we have three keyboards, a jazz band and a lot of pre-recorded samples that interestingly, beautifully blend into the texture of the live instruments.”

Olga Neuwirth says “it feels a little bit strange” to be the first female composer to have a work staged at the Vienna State Opera.

The opera house cancelled her previous attempt to put on an piece with a libretto by the Nobel Prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek.

Image copyright
Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Pöhn

Image caption

The opera has special significance for Justin Vivian Bond, who plays Orlando’s child

“One hundred and fifty years is a long time. But I’ve always said it’s never too late. So it’s good that they finally have thought about it. And at least if you’re the first, there has to be a second and a third and so on. So it’s always good to have a starting point.”

The costumes are by another woman, designer Rei Kawakubo, of Commes des Garçons.

The story has been brought up into the 21st Century.

For transgender and trans-genre artist Justin Vivian Bond, who plays the role of Orlando’s child, this opera has a personal significance.

“Conceptually, I am the legacy of what the novel Orlando began to express about gender and transgression and about the difference between what it’s actually like to be a man or a woman, if indeed there is that much of a difference,” said Bond.

“And since I’m a non-binary person who’s trans-feminine, I guess you could say I am happily stepping into a moment and I’m the sort of representation of where we’ve come.”

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Media captionLucia Lucas tells the BBC what it’s like to be a transgender opera singer but still have to play male roles

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‘I Have Told Everything,’ Whistle-Blower in China Crackdown Says

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LONDON — A Uighur woman living in the Netherlands said on Saturday that she helped publicize secret Chinese government documents that shed light on how Beijing runs mass detention camps holding Muslim ethnic minorities.

She recounted how she lived in fear after she and her former husband received death threats and were contacted by Chinese security officers while journalists were preparing to report on the documents.

Asiye Abdulaheb, 46, said in a telephone interview that she was involved in the release of 24 pages of documents published by Western news outlets last month, and was speaking out now to protect herself and her family from retaliation.

The documents, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and examined by journalists around the world, followed an earlier leak of 403 pages of internal papers to The New York Times that described how the authorities created, managed and justified the continuing crackdown on one million or more ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs.

A Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant, first reported on Ms. Abdulaheb’s role in the dissemination of that second set of documents, based on interviews with her and her ex-husband, Jasur Abibula. Both are Dutch citizens who have lived in the Netherlands since 2009, and they have a 6-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son.

Ms. Abdulaheb said in an hourlong interview with The Times that she had decided to speak out in the hopes that the publicity would dissuade the Chinese authorities from seeking to harm her or her family.

She said they already knew she had the documents, and she had told Dutch police officers about her situation. She added that the danger became evident after her husband returned from a trip to Dubai in mid-September during which Chinese security officers told him about the documents, interrogated him about Ms. Abdulaheb and tried to recruit him to spy on her.

“I thought that this thing has to be made public,” she said. “The Chinese police would definitely find us. The people in Dubai had told my ex-husband, ‘We know about all your matters. We have a lot of people in the Netherlands.’”

Ms. Abdulaheb, who speaks Mandarin, said she had worked in government offices in Xinjiang, a vast northwestern region of China where the official crackdown on Muslims has taken place, but declined to go into details.

In the interview Saturday, she confirmed that she received and helped leak the 24 pages, but she declined to explain who had sent her the documents. She said Chinese officers had told Mr. Abibula they wanted to find out who had passed her the material.

The Times was part of the group coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, an independent nonprofit based in Washington, that reported on the second set of leaked documents on Xinjiang.

Ms. Abdulaheb said someone had electronically sent her the 24 pages of internal Chinese documents in June.

“When I got the documents and looked at them, I concluded this was very important,” she said. “I thought the best thing to do was to put them out publicly.”

After she posted a screenshot of one page of the documents on Twitter, hoping to draw attention, a German researcher on Xinjiang, Adrian Zenz, and another expert on the region reached out to her. They then put her in touch with a journalist, she said.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists later partnered with 17 other organizations including The Times to publish revelations on internment camps based on the 24-page set of documents.

That article came a week after The Times published a report based on 403 leaked pages that shed light on the origins and expansion of the crackdown in Xinjiang. The Times report said the source of its documents was a member of the Chinese political establishment who requested anonymity.

In a statement Saturday, the consortium declined to say whether Ms. Abdulaheb was the source for its report. “ICIJ does not comment on its sources,” it said. It also reported that Mr. Zenz said Saturday that he did not give the documents to ICIJ.

The two exposés sharpened international debate over the Chinese government’s intense crackdown across the region. Since 2017, the Chinese Communist Party has overseen a wave of mass detentions in Xinjiang, driving one million or more members of largely Muslim minority groups, especially Uighurs, into indoctrination camps intended to drastically weaken their Islamic beliefs and their attachment to the Uighur language, and make them loyal to the party.

Initially, Chinese officials brushed away questions and reports about the detentions. But late last year, Beijing shifted its response: The Chinese authorities have since acknowledged the existence of the program, but defended the camps as job-training centers that teach the Mandarin Chinese language and practical skills, and that also warn people of the dangers of religious extremism.

Earlier this year, senior officials in Xinjiang said that many people had been released from the centers, but gave no clear numbers to back up that assertion, which has been met with widespread skepticism among foreign experts and Uighurs abroad.

In past decades, tensions between largely Muslim ethnic minorities and China’s Han ethnic majority in Xinjiang have occasionally erupted in violence. About half the region’s population is made up of minority groups, including 11.7 million Uighurs and 1.6 million Kazakhs. Both groups’ languages and cultures set them apart from Han people.

In 2009, the year Ms. Abdulaheb left China, ethnic rioting erupted in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, and nearly 200 people were killed, most of them Han, according to government reports. China has cited that bloodshed and a succession of subsequent attacks on Han targets to defend its tough policies in Xinjiang.

The leaks have challenged the official Chinese position by revealing the coercive underpinnings of the camps, and by hinting at dissent within the Chinese political system over the harsh policies in Xinjiang. Chinese government spokesmen and official media outlets have denounced the reports, calling them “fake news” and claiming they were part of a conspiracy to undermine stability in the region.

In the Netherlands, Ms. Abdulaheb discovered that several of her social media accounts and a Hotmail account were hacked after she posted the tweet in June with the excerpt from the documents.

She said she also got a message written in Uighur on Facebook Messenger that said, “Stop it, otherwise you’ll end up cut into pieces in the black trash can in front of your doorway.”

“That made me scared,” she said.

Ms. Abdulaheb’s description of harassment and threats could not be independently verified. Still, her account fit a pattern that other Uighurs abroad have described. They have also recounted threats and pressure coming from China to remain silent or provide information to agents.

Despite such threats, growing numbers of Uighurs and Kazakhs have spoken out, often using Twitter and Facebook to publicize family members in Xinjiang who have disappeared, possibly into re-education camps or prisons. A Uighur-American woman in the Washington area, Rushan Abbas, told The Times about family members who had gone missing after she had spoken publicly about the camps.

In an interview Saturday, Mr. Zenz, the researcher, said that for Ms. Abdulaheb, “going public makes her safer” from potential retaliation.

“So if something happens to her now, it will become a new story,” Mr. Zenz said. “Silence would have been so much worse.”

Ms. Abdulaheb said she felt relieved to have revealed her identity.

“I have told everything,” she said. “My mind is calm now.”

Edward Wong reported from Washington, and Elian Peltier and Claire Moses reported from London.

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