We took a long, hot journey through the Northern Cape, stopping at small towns and larger ones like Kimberly, Upington and Springbok. Along the way we stayed at Augrabies and spent some time observing the spectacular Augrabies Falls.
Then it was down to the coast on gravel roads and finding our coastal destination through thick mist for about 40 km.
Apart from the main economic activities such as agriculture (grapes, wine making, raisin drying, nuts and other crops as well as cattle and sheep farming) and mining the other main economic activity is tourism in the Northern Cape. Note no mention of fishing – see below.
On our trip we experienced and saw fine accommodation places for overnight or longer stays and roadside stalls selling everything from biltong to fruit preserves, jams, home-baked biscuits and savouries and craft items.
At the small coastal village where we stayed for a few days, we saw how ingenuity was at work. Small businesses ranged from seaside view restaurants, coastal tour operators, fishing trips and even fine artists who have made the sea village their home and are selling their art.
For coastal towns including Port Nolloth tourism has become the main source of economic activity. It is sad to see how over the past four decades the fishing industry has all but gone.
Overfishing has virtually depleted fishing stocks such as crayfish, pilchards, soles and hake. West Coast fishing has been decimated. At Port Nolloth, for instance, there was not one fishing trawler in the harbour (and none were at sea). Only a few diamond dredging vessels owned by a very large JSE-listed company were moored in the harbour.
Even close-to-shore-based diamond diving is now practised on a very small scale after four decades of hammering the coast. The coastal diamond rush had its heydays in the 1980s. Coastal weather conditions have changed resulting in fewer sea days annually in the Atlantic ocean and all the rich spots have been pumped out.
The illegal mining by individual diggers shows economic desperation. Deaths have resulted and crime is on the rise. Fortune seekers are rushing in from Southern African countries and all over the place with little or no knowledge of mining. One wonders who benefits because the locals seem to be crowded out.
Tourism remains relatively small in the Northern Cape. The country has major attractions in other provinces. However small, tourism in the Northern Cape is done with professionalism, warmth and friendliness. Tiny businesses eke out an existence mainly from local tourists who largely know what to expect in the region. Small business owners have to carefully position their small businesses also towards locals who provide their bread-and-butter business throughout the year.
The Northern Cape and surrounding coastal areas provide a fantastic opportunity for a memorable holiday, especially with family and close friends, and showcases the real warmth South Africans are well known for. The small businesses scraping out a living in this dry semi-desert country demonstrate ingenuity, hard work and resilience.