On hijacked tourists

Eish. Bad news – unless you’re @emmaturd or the Daily Mail – the much-publicised story of British tourists hijacked in Gugulethu over the weekend and the subsequent murder of one of them. The Daily Mail report, strangely full of apparent fact and devoid of any major hysteria (although I very much doubt that Lieutenant Colonel André Traut actually used the exact phrase “the taxi was waved down by gun-toting men”) is here.
Meanwhile, the cynic in me wonders if there would have been more hype and drama in there if the couple had been… er… *cough* white.

The thing is, South Africa does have a problem with violent crime – anyone who says it doesn’t is being ridiculous and you can tell them I said so.  But as a local or as a tourist, you can limit your chances of becoming a statistic by not doing foolish (and by “foolish”, I’m just being polite: I actually mean “utterly stupid”) things.

I covered this over 3 years ago in the now infamous Big South African Crime Post.

Don’t wave your iPod around in downtown Cape Town – it might get nicked. As it might in downtown New York, Amsterdam or Sydney.
Don’t wander round Nyanga on your own late at night. Or Harlem. Or the Manor Estate in Sheffield.

Yes, I said Nyanga and that’s just next door to Gugulethu, which is a place I would not be going to in a branded luxury hotel shuttle bus at 11pm on a Saturday night. While what happened to this couple should certainly not have happened to this couple, questions must be asked about what on earth they were doing there. Even if they weren’t aware of the risk they were putting themselves at, the hotel driver should have told them and refused to take them into that area.
Something isn’t quite right with this “detour into Gugulethu to see the nightlife” story in my mind.

Some will say that having “no go” areas shows how dangerous South Africa is, but I disagree with that sort of ill-considered exceptionalism. In exactly two weeks time, I’m heading up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne (in the UK) for the day, just to relive some of my old memories from University days. I’m going to visit several areas that day, but I’m not going near Benwell, because it’s a (seriously) high crime area and that would be putting myself – my possessions and my health – at risk. Sure, I might not get hijacked or shot, but I might get mugged or stabbed. Forewarned is forearmed.

This incident puts a huge dent in the good publicity that came out of the World Cup earlier this year and it frustrates and depresses me, because there are so many reasons that it shouldn’t have happened.
And while it might not seem a very sensitive thing to say right now, I feel that there’s enough publicity about South Africa’s crime problem for visitors to take some responsibility for their safety as well.

The fact that no-one took that responsibility on Saturday evening cost Cape Town a hit to its reputation and it cost Anni Dewani her life.

UPDATE: Some good safety tips on the Portfolio Collection Travel Blog.

4 thoughts on “On hijacked tourists

  1. This is an incredibly sad and tragic event, and clearly not good publicity for Cape Town and South Africa. And yet: Will it really make a big dent in SA’s tourist reputation? While you are correct that, statistically, crime rates in SA are high, as the WC showed somehow it is astonishingly rare that tourists encounter this kind of extreme violent crime. Don’t intelligent, worldly, people . . . the sort who are apt to consider SA as a tourist destination . . . realize this?

    Also, most thinking people know that the Daily Mail is utter tripe. And its signal-to-noise is so poor, in today’s edition Gugulethu has been pushed off the page by another whole collection of similarly horrific stories from other places (mostly the US, it seems to me): see or this, many, many, others. Many of the negative commentators, on the Daily Mail and other websites including SA news sites, strike me as trolls.

    As you point out, South African violent crime is highly localized, and it’s relatively straightforward for tourists to substantially mitigate the risk. This is no doubt very troubling to sensitive SA citizens–as is the extraordinary official response to the rare event of commonplace “township” crime connecting with a tourist–but the point remains. You are correct too that this particular incident could easily have been avoided. But then again isn’t it inevitable that from time to time someone is going to screw up like this? Resulting in another story for the Daily Mail. I can only imagine that the impact of this event will fade, like others, into the background.

  2. Jonathan >Many good points. But the old idiom “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” doesn’t hold here.
    Anyone researching SA as a potential holiday destination will bring up this incident now. And after all the good works of the World Cup, that’s a big blow – even though, as you say, the news will move on.

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