Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Commissioner Teboho Maruping says the tourism sector in the country has been hardest hit by COVID-19, with the bulk of applications to the UIF for financial relief coming from there. This comes as business owners in the tourism industry are calling for the sector to be fully re-opened.

They are concerned that their businesses might not be able to survive the lockdown for longer.

In the video below, the SABC looks at the impact of the lockdown on restaurants:

Many joined thousands in the queues at the labour offices hoping to get their applications approved. More industry players say their pockets are now empty and their businesses might not survive.

Vilakazi Street in Soweto was once bustling and thriving street bursting with energy and entrepreneurial vigour. It was teeming with international visitors and locals.

After a brutal three-month lockdown, the effects on this world-famous street Vilakazi Street have been debilitating.

Vilakazi Street restaurant owners say that the lockdown has badly affected the tourism industry:

For Sipho Mduli and his brother, opening up their restaurant has always been a dream fulfilled.

“We grew up in the retail space. We had an opportunity with the person that owns the place … a family friend who relocated to Botswana. This project was self-funded from ourselves and we have reinvested each cent to the business. We do this for the love of people,” Mduli said.

From starting with just four people, he now has a staff complement of 30; who now are worried about their jobs due to lockdown restrictions.

“It pains us every month because we have had almost three non-commercial months and there are still utilities to be paid. They don’t stop,” Mduli added.

In the video below, thousands of jobs in the restaurant industry are at risk due to the lockdown:

Another famous restaurant on Vilakazi Steet is also facing a similar fate. Sakhumzi Restaurant is run by Sakhumzi Maqubela. Maqubela began his restaurant as a side hustle.

“I realised that I can start this business where I work with tourists during the day and locals later at night, and the business grew organically. As you know, banks don’t fund restaurants and we were not in a hurry to grow and now it’s been 19 years we are trading and we were enjoying it until this COVID-19 came into the picture.”

For many of his staff, Maqubela is not just an employer; he is a father figure. His inability to help his employees has left him gutted.

“We’ve been suffering because we keep on talking to banks and to retailers. Our people will be coming to visit me crying that they are being evicted and have no food and most of them are from rural areas and the only father they have is me. It’s really annoying and hurting to be so helpless,” he said.

Business owners here say they have received no help from the government. Their applications to the UIF have come to naught and so too have their applications for financial assistance from the tourism fund.

Mduli says he does not know whether they will receive any financial relief.

“Like any other business, we have all applied for them. Your guess is as good as mine (as to) when we will get anything.”

Auxiliary businesses in and around the area have also suffered. Some forced to close with no source of income.

In the video below, UIF Commissioner says the tourism industry has been the hardest hit by COVID-19: