'How dangerous is SA for tourists?'

News media across the world have gone to town over the hijacking and murder of 28-year-old Swedish honeymooner Anni Dewani in Cape Town this week, with reports spotlighting South Africa’s high incidence of murder and hijacking and the alleged tardiness of the police response to the crime.

However, most media emphasised that violent crime was mainly confined to the townships and that attacks on tourists were rare.

As her millionaire husband, Shrien Dewani (31) is a British subject and the couple ran a chain of nursing homes in southwest England, the British press gave the tragedy, which occurred in Gugulethu on Saturday night, particular prominence.

The UK Daily Mail reported that South Africa had one of the world’s worst crime rates, but pointed out: “Most problems occur in the poorest areas where tourists are unlikely to stray”.

It went on to report that there were ‘14 915 car-jackings there last year, [but] they are a rare occurrence in the Western Cape, which has less crime than much of the rest of South Africa.”

Like most British media, the Daily Mail has an online version of the saga that constantly updates its readers.

Under its lead headline: “Gunmen said that we aren’t going to hurt you ... that was lie”, the British mass circulation Sun newspaper said on its website that Gugulethu is a “no-go area on Saturday night”.
Sky News online also led with the story, quoting travel writer Jane Anderson saying: “This is not a country where you can slum it ... there’s obviously a lot of poverty.”

18 000 murders a year
In a feature headlined “How dangerous is South Africa?”, the British quality daily, the Independent, said there were 18 000 murders a year in South Africa, “about 17 500 more than in the UK”.

However, the paper said that the violence is confined mainly to areas not frequented by tourists, adding: “It is a grim statistic, but one that is improving rapidly.”

It quoted Institute for Strategic Studies policing expert Johan Burger saying that although high, the incidence of murder in South Africa has fallen by 44% since 1995.

With Anni being a Swedish citizen of Ugandan-Indian extraction, the Swedish tabloid, Expressen, turned its spotlight on the murder, reporting Anni’s father, Vinod Hindocha, saying that she was “the most beautiful girl in the world”.

The story appears to have been widely reported in India, where the couple were married a fortnight ago.

The Deccan Chronicle said on its website that while townships are not too dangerous during the day, “weekend nights are notoriously volatile. Many local people get paid on Friday and so, on Saturdays, everyone drinks away their wages. Some say it would be suicide for a young, foreign couple to go to Gugulethu on a Saturday night.”

The Australian media gave prominence to the story, with Brisbane Times online writing that “South Africa is notorious for its high crime rate” and reporting Shrien Dewani’s complaints that the police took 25 minutes to reach the scene after being alerted and then “drove around slowly ... it was incredibly frustrating”.

Poor townships
The Sydney Morning Herald said that South Africa is notorious for its high crime rate. “About 50 people are killed through violent crimes every day,” it said, while pointing out that “tourists are very rarely victims ... Most of the deaths involve people who live in poor townships where visitors are unlikely to travel to.”

It reported that the “smart­traveller” website of Australia’s foreign affairs department advised visitors to “exercise a high degree of caution in South Africa because of the high level of serious crime”.

The advisory said there is a luggage theft and a “pilferage problem” at Johannesburg and Cape Town airports and that commuters have been assaulted and robbed on trains in Cape Town and hikers attacked on Table Mountain.

After the discovery of Anni’s body in the abandoned hijacked car, police cordoned off the area to hide the horror. However, photographs of the concealed corpse being removed from the vehicle were flashed around the world.

At the time of going to press, police had not responded to accusations that they had been slow to assist Shrien Dewani. However, police are still investigating the case and have refused to comment on the events of the night of the murder.

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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