Following the crime statistics released by the South African Police Service this week, the US state department upgraded its threat level for US citizens to South Africa to level two and urged citizens to “exercise increased caution”.
“Violent crime, such as armed robbery, rape, car-jacking, mugging, and smash-and-grab attacks on vehicles, is common. There is a higher risk of violent crime in the central business districts of major cities after dark,” the advisory stated.
“Demonstrations, protests, and strikes occur frequently. These can develop quickly without prior notification, often interrupting traffic, transportation, and other services; such events have the potential to turn violent.”
It also warns about the drought in “Western, Eastern, and Northern Cape Provinces” and of Cape Town’s water restrictions.
The Citizen newspaper quotes terrorism expert Janine Opperman who says “if one looks at the advisory, it relates to the issue of crime, it relates to violent protests, and in that context and if one looks at the statistics released by the police, one can understand such an alert had to be issued…they have a responsibility towards their citizens. The moment they receive any intelligence which could constitute a threat, under law they have to warn their citizens.”
In February, and again in March, the United Kingdom issued a travel advisory warning of not only listeriosis, but “likely” terrorist attacks.
“Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners, such as shopping areas in major cities,” that advisory warned. “The main threat is from extremists linked to Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL).”
The warning remains, but with a note about the bomb threats at shopping malls in KwaZulu-Natal added.
Opperman said it was doubtful there were specific plans to attack US citizens in South Africa.
“But they could be victims of violent crime – it cannot be ignored and I think the US has merely adhered to its legal obligation,” Opperman said.
The British and the US travel advisories paint an apocalyptic picture of South Africa, where tourism directly contributed 2.9% to the GDP in 2016, according to the latest release of Stats SA’s annual Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa report.
How to turn around the picture painted by the travel advisories?
Communication strategist Sarah Britten said this was probably a good example of how social media could be used effectively.
“A rebuttal won’t necessarily be believable coming from an official organisation such as SA Tourism or the government, but if there [is] lots of positive word of mouth, this could lead to a groundswell of alternative opinion,” Britten said.
“If this were up to me, I’d challenge South African tourism outfits – B&Bs, lodges, tour guides – and overseas visitors who have actually been here and had a good time to remind potential tourists that most visitors have a great experience.
“Collate all these comments under a hashtag so it’s trackable and has more impact.”
Britten said there was a risk the hashtag could be hijacked by people who had a negative experience, but suspected most comments would be positive.
“Tourism is so important for jobs and the weak rand makes it much more affordable for people with dollars and pounds.
“I would focus on Instagram with amazing images and Twitter, which is monitored by the mainstream media and is a good way to get coverage.”