SA's rampant crime largely spares tourists

Every day South Africa sees about 50 killings, but the startling statistic masks enormous differences among violent crimes, which rarely affect tourists.

Crime remains one of the chief concerns in the run-up to the Soccer World Cup, where 373 000 foreign fans are expected to visit for the June 11 to July 11 championship.

One British tabloid recently warned of a “World Cup machete threat”, while stab-proof vests are being marketed online with football insignia.

But South Africa ranks only 10th among the most dangerous countries for British tourists, according to the Foreign Office.

Of the 870 000 Britons who visited or lived in South Africa last year, only 139 needed consular assistance, against 5 500 in Spain and 2 000 in France.

Britons also have a greater chance of becoming hospitalised in Thailand, Greece, Egypt or India, where they can get mixed up in sexual or drug crimes, the ministry said.

While German football great Franz Beckenbauer has urged fans “to be watching out everywhere they go,” the statistics show that tourists don’t face a high risk of crime.

“In the first quarter of this year, there was not one incident of a German tourist travelling to South Africa that we know of that has become the victim of violent rime. There is no one,” said Martin Schafer, spokesperson for the embassy in Pretoria.

Localised crime
The French embassy said murders of tourists are so small that the mission doesn’t even track them.

“In South Africa, 80% of the murders are between people who know each other, and more than 50% of those are committed under the influence of alcohol in a dispute that becomes more and more violent,” said Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies.

Crime is also very localised, mainly affecting the poorest neighbourhoods where tourists are unlikely to visit, he said.

“That’s why most people who come here generally do not experience crime,” he said.

“During the World Cup, stadiums, hotels, all the places where the tourists will be are going to be heavily policed ... so it’s very unlikely that there is going to be a high degree of violence.”

That doesn’t mean that thieves, pick-pockets and other petty criminals will disappear. In December, masked men broke into a hotel room and tied up two German tourists, robbing them but leaving them unharmed.

Even that risk will likely diminish because of South Africa’s heavy security deployment during the games, Newham added.

South Africa has spent R1,3-billion ($180-million) to to recruit, train and equip 41 000 new police.

Foreigners may bring crime with them
Police chief Bheki Cele said South Africa now has 186 000 police for its 47-million people, compared to 140 000 police for 60-million people in Britain.

And he said the country is also preparing for the risk that foreigners could bring crime with them: South Africa will block 3 000 known football hooligans from Britain from entering the country.

Hooliganism is rare in South Africa, where football matches are family affairs.

“If it happens that they sneak in, they will move faster getting out of the country,” Cele said.

Most at risk are the 80 000 visitors expected to come from neighbouring countries, people who are more likely to stay with friends or relatives in informal settlements that are the epicentre of South Africa’s crime problem.

“Indications show that immigrants from Africa in South Africa have higher victimisation rates than South Africans,” Newham said. - AFP



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