Why Am I Afraid of South Africa When I Go There So Often?

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This article was originally published by Steven Clare on October 12, 2012. Since then conditions have deteriorated a lot with regards to corruption, crime and fraud in South Africa. So much so that even the infamous American criminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz called South Africa a failed state on Piers Morgan’s CNN show.

By Steven Clare

Why am I afraid of South Africa?

Why am I afraid? It is a country rich in culture, tradition, friendly people and a successful and growing tourist industry. Still, I am afraid.

Next week I am due to go to South Africa, again. If my trips to South Africa have not reached double figures by now then they are getting close. Even with this familiarity my apprehension always remains.

South Africa is a diverse country with a fascinating although violent history. Now it is famous for many things including Nelson Mandela (a beacon for black rights), the ANC, the Springboks, tourism, safaris and Table Top Mountain.

I spent over a year sharing an apartment with 3 South Africans and found them to be very likeable people and always enjoyed their company. Where possible I still catch up with them time permitting, when I visit South Africa.

I know of lots of people who have been on holiday there so they clearly are not afraid of South Africa. They’ve had a great time and rave about the trip. Many revisit time and time again. I even over heard a conversation yesterday about someone who is spending a gap year over there.

South Africa held the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2010 FIFA World Cup. I don’t recall any horror stories of fans suffering from bad experiences.

I myself have seen the beautiful Pretoria in bloom numerous times. In 2003 I took a very enjoyable and memorable safari trip for 3 days in the Kruger National Park. Even today I would recommend the trip to anyone. (Just prepare to get up early every day and experience long and tiring days; but it is worth it!)

On my last trip there I found the locals very pleasant and accommodating, I always do. I even found waiting staff with a great sense of humour and a pleasure to be with.

Each time I go my colleagues are more than accommodating. Every thank you I state is met with “It’s a pleasure” or “Welcome”. This sums up the warmth of their attitude which comes naturally.

My colleagues take care of me so much that every evening there is something planned. Someone is taking me out for a meal or to see an event. This is great hosting and very much appreciated. However as someone who has had business meals out for over a decade, having them every night can be a bit much. This is especially true when you just want to have some personal downtime after a day at work. Yet it is still hard to say no and it feels rude to me if I always decline.

I do find some of my colleagues still live with an attitude stuck in the apartheid era. This is hard to listen to when I come from a country with institutional equal rights for all over many generations. I hope the attitudes amongst this generation of South Africans will not be inherited by future generations.

So why am I afraid of South Africa?

In truth I’ve heard too much by way of negative stories to ever feel safe. Each time I go I am extra vigilant and never ever feel like I can fully relax and switch off.

The reasons behind this are numerous:-

– I know people who have been robbed in the street

– I’ve spoken to people who know of people being shot

– I know of people who have lost their parents who were killed whilst their house was broken into

– I’m warned to never catch a taxi, this is because I risk being robbed, kidnapped or the vehicle is just unsafe

– I see high walled security around all the reasonable neighbourhood housing

– I hear of police stations hiring a security firm to protect the police and the station

– At the airport I have to be careful and make sure I board the correct branded hotel shuttle bus. There are other bus shuttles who I’m told want to entice you onto the wrong bus!

– I switch on local TV and see stories of shootings and crime every day

– I have to go through security checks when entering some public buildings and complexes

– A person was shot whilst waiting for a security gate to open at our place of work

– I know of people who suffered a car jacking or even their bike been stolen

I could go on.

The fact that the place I visit for work is Johannesburg is maybe also a factor in why I am afraid of South Africa. It is a big city notorious for crime.

According to the BBC in 2010 on average murders total close to 50 a day in the country. That is 18,000 murders a year and another equal number of attempted murders.

Crime statistics indicates that this rate has fallen. Today it averages 43 murders a day. This equates to 36.5 murders per 100,000 whereas the global average is 7.6. Honduras averages 60 murders per 100,000 so I’m glad that I don’t go there!

According to official South African tourism figures the number of international tourists have risen 17% (Jan-Jun 2012 v Jan-Jun 2011). It would seem clear from this that a rising number of people either feel safer now than before to go to South Africa or other reasons abound. Maybe financial factors have influenced their choice of holiday destination.

In all the time I’ve been to South Africa, I’ve never been a victim of crime nor have I seen any. Maybe this is luck, irrational fear on my behalf of being a victim or just the result of good vigilance?

What do you think? Have you ever been to South Africa? If so was it a good or bad experience? Please feel free to leave a comment.

For me personally, until the crime figures drop dramatically I think I will always be afraid of South Africa.

The rants, ramblings and ruminations of a frequent traveller.

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