The 'born free' generation and heritage tourism

Following the end of the apartheid system, the new democratic government declared a number of sites ‘places of historic or cultural importance’. The goal was to encourage the public, particularly the youth, to visit sites of cultural or heritage significance. To measure the success of this initiative, Steven Gordon, Jaré Struwig and Benjamin Roberts examined public attitudes towards heritage tourism, focusing on the ‘born free’ generation.
 
Sites of major historical or cultural significance in South Africa, including former sites of apartheid and colonial oppression, were preserved as museums, for example, Robben Island. A number of museum complexes were also created, such as the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, to remind present and future generations about the struggle against apartheid and racial segregation.

Provision was also made to celebrate and educate the public about the precolonial kingdoms of South Africa through the preservation of areas like Mapungubwe in the Mapungubwe National Park and the Ncome/Blood River Heritage site. Commentators have often said that the so-called ‘born free’ generation – those born during the period 1990–1999 (between 16 and 25 at the time of the survey) – are not attracted to the past and that the future is what concerns them.

We wanted to investigate whether the ‘born free’ generation was apathetic towards the past and uninterested in visiting the numerous sites of major historical or cultural significance preserved by the government. For this purpose we analysed data from the 2014 round of the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS), an annual cross-national opinion survey, based on a sample of 3 108 adults aged 16 years and older living in private homes.
 
Remembering the past

The results from the SASAS 2014 round showed that the 16–25 age cohort expressed an interest in their heritage and would be amenable to visiting tourism sites of cultural or heritage significance. Of those born in the 1990s, more than three-fifths (61%) reported that they would be interested in visiting sites of cultural or heritage significance (Figure 1). This compared favourably with those born in the 1950s (56%) or before 1949 (57%).

More than 61% reported they would be interested in visiting sites of cultural or heritage significance.

Among the 16–25 age group, the vast majority (70%) were also eager to know more about our national culture and history. Young adults were, in fact, no less interested in learning more about the past than older South Africans.

In SASAS 2014, respondents were asked what benefits (if any) there were to visiting sites of cultural or heritage significance. Most members of the ‘born free’ generation were of the opinion that visiting such sites had advantages (Figure 2). Only a very small share (8%) said that visiting sites of cultural or heritage significance had no benefit. The most commonly cited benefit was ‘remind us of our history’ and more than half (57%) reported this as a benefit. More of the ‘born free’ generation reported heritage sites as educational (57%) compared to those born before 1990 (47%).

70% of all young adults agreed it was important that South Africans remembered the apartheid past.

This generation was clearly not indifferent about, or disinterested in, remembering the apartheid past. Approximately five-sevenths (70%) of all young adults agreed that it was important that South Africans remembered the apartheid past. Less than a fifth (15%) disagreed, while the rest (16%) remained neutral. Again, this did not differ notably from those who lived during the apartheid era.

Visiting cultural or heritage sites
 
Many of those aged 16–25, however, had not been able to visit one of the country’s many cultural or heritage sites (Figure 3). When asked which of a list of 13 major cultural or heritage sites/events they had visited, almost four-fifths (70%) of this group reported that they had not visited any of them.
 
The most commonly visited sites by those in the 16–25 age cohort were Robben Island (7%), the Hector Pieterson Museum (7%) and the Apartheid Museum (5%). Even more concerning was an apparent lack of awareness about sites of cultural or heritage significance. While more than three-fifths (62%) were aware of Robben Island, less than two-fifths (32%) were aware of the Hector Pieterson Museum and only two-sevenths were aware of the Freedom Park or the Apartheid Museum.

Figure 3: Awareness and visitation of tourism sites of cultural or heritage significance for the 16–25 age cohort

Two-fifths of the older respondents reported that such sites were too expensive.

Acknowledging that many South Africans do not visit cultural and heritage sites, respondents were asked why they thought people did not visit such sites. Two-fifths (43%) of the older respondents reported that such sites were too expensive. Other common answers included no time to visit (33%) and a lack of knowledge about the sites (26%) – answers that did not differ much from those of the ‘born free’ generation.

Respondents were asked how likely they thought it was that they would visit a cultural or heritage site or attraction during their next holiday. More than two-fifths (43%) of those adults born after 1990 said that it was either not at all likely, or not very likely. About 38% reported that it was somewhat likely and only 16% that it was very likely. Older South Africans were even more likely to report that they would not be visiting a cultural or heritage site or attraction during their next holiday. Of those born before 1969, more than half (54%) reported that they would be unlikely to visit a heritage or cultural site during their next vacation.

Tourism and the economy

In South Africa, as in many other parts of the world, tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. There is significant potential for future job creation in this sector, particularly for the youth who often struggle to find employment in the tough South African labour market.

Positioned as a top priority sector in state planning and policy frameworks, tourism has been cited as key to meeting government promises on job creation. The public is supportive of this approach and many in the country believe that heritage tourism plays an important role in the national economy. Cultural and heritage tourism was seen by a majority (72%) of the public as a way of providing jobs and boosting the economy. There was considerable support for more investment. About two-thirds (67%) of the adult population thought the government and private sector should invest more in cultural and heritage attractions.

Conclusion

Sites of major historical or cultural significance have the potential to attract many young visitors, and the data presented here shows that young South Africans are interested in the nation’s history and heritage. However, the majority of the ‘born free’ generation have not visited such sites and many are not aware of their existence. Heritage tourism may contribute greatly to economic growth, but it is also important for creating a sense of national social cohesion. More must be done to help young adults visit cultural and heritage sites, and funding made able to more widely promote such sites to young people.

Authors: Steven Gordon, PhD intern, Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery (DGSD) programme, HSRC; Jarè Struwig and Benjamin Roberts, co-ordinators of the South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS), DGSD, HSRC.