South Africa is seemingly at odds with the rest of Africa and, probably, the world over a rising wave of crime and sporadic attacks on foreign nationals.
In recent weeks, at least three countries including Kenya issued travel alerts to their citizens. Understandably, according to data released by the South African police at the end of March, over 960,000 serious crimes were reported to the police between April and December 2016, averaging over 3,550 cases every day – or 148 every hour. The biggest increase has happened in the contact crime category, where robbery with aggravating circumstances, including carjacking, showing an increase of 6.1 per cent.
With this, the so-called ‘trio crimes’ – carjacking, robbery at home and robbery at non-residential premises – all saw huge increases across all crime categories. Foreign nationals have not been spared, hence some countries cautioning their citizens intending to visit the Rainbow nation. Kenya had a more pronounced advisory after its Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Monica Juma warned of increased cases of armed robberies, carjacking, theft, burglary, kidnap, rape and mugging.
“The most worrying element of this crime wave is the rising number of incidents of attacks within the vicinity of hotels,” Dr Juma said.
She added that the diplomatic community was being openly attacked in residential areas and in the central business district.
The African Diaspora Forum (ADF) chairperson, Mr Marc Gbaffou said the travel warnings were a very strong message to the South African government that the world was watching.
“It’s quite disappointing to hear the remarks that authorities will make publicly about issues like xenophobic attacks. It shows the world that visitors are not protected in the country,” Mr Gbaffou said.
Three months ago, houses belonging to migrants were burnt down in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg and in Pretoria west. Several businesses belonging to foreign nationals were also attacked by locals, who looted them. Dr Juma’s letter blames South African authorities for failing to stop the wave of attacks, despite the crime reports being filed with the police.
“We need to bring to the attention of all official delegations or members of public travelling to South Africa on duty or official assignments to be cautious,” the letter says.
The Kenya advisory advises visitors to arrive in South Africa before 6pm and book accommodation in well-established areas and avoid travelling in public service vehicles.
Ironically, the letter is dated April 24, the same day the UK issued a travel advisory against South Africa.
“There is a very high level of crime, including rape and murder in South Africa,” the UK says in its travel warning.
South Africa has one of the highest rape statistics in the world, with 30,069 sexual assault cases reported between April and December 2016. An NGO that helps rape victims, Rape Crisis said “most cases went unreported because victims have lost faith in the country’s justice system”.
A 35-year-old Zimbabwean woman has been clamouring over how the police have neglected a case of rape she reported against a prominent figure.
“I am aggrieved with the way the police have handled my case. The person assigned to investigate my case told me that I do not have a case and l feel that it is not the place of the police to decide on whether or not I have a case. Theirs is to investigate and collect all evidence, which they have dragged their feet in doing,” she said.
The UK’s advisory further said the most violent crimes tend to occur in townships, remote and isolated areas and away from the normal tourist destinations. Nyanga, a notorious township in Cape Town, and Tembisa in Johannesburg, are the murder capitals in South Africa, recording the highest cases every year.
“Most visits to South Africa are trouble-free, but you should take sensible precautions to protect your safety,” the UK advisory read.
Canada also issued a travel advisory against South Africa. On May 2, the North American state said it had not issued a nationwide advisory for South Africa, but warned its citizens “to exercise a high degree of caution due to the significant level of serious crime”.
South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Corporation (DIRCO) slammed Kenya for its alert. DIRCO spokesperson Clayson Monyela said he noted with concern the manner in which the Kenya alert had distorted information and randomly elevated issues which were inconsistent with the main thrust of bilateral relations between the two countries.
“The South African authorities will continue to seek further clarity on the matter from their Kenyan counterparts. “South Africa wishes to emphasise that Kenyan citizens continue to travel to South Africa on a daily basis as well as official and business visits, with only three incidences reported to the South African authorities,” Mr Monyela said.
He added that South Africa was home to more than 3,000 Kenyan students who lived and studied in an environment free of harassment. “South Africa wishes to recall the historic State Visit to Kenya in October 2016, which was hailed as a remarkable success following the signing of five new agreements. The signing of these agreements is a demonstration of the collective determination to take our bilateral relations to a higher level.”
A fortnight ago, South Africa’s Police minister Fikile Mbalula, sparked a spate with neighbouring Zimbabwe when he said Zimbabwean ex-soldiers were wreaking havoc across South Africa, committing violent crime including robberies. Zimbabwe’s ambassador Isaac Moyo, promptly hit back saying the minister’s remarks were irresponsible.
“We cannot accept the many ill-informed elements in the said statement and we deeply regret that they were made without due regard to their accuracy,” he said.
Two months ago, Nigeria called on the African Union (UN) to intervene over the renewed xenophobia attacks in South Africa. The Nigerian government said it had it on record that 16 of their nationals had been killed in South Africa in the last two years.
“This is unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria,” read an emailed statement. Mr Gbaffou believes how South Africa handled concerns about the safety of visitors and migrants was critical to its relations with other nations.