A Letter From Cape Town / GUEST BLOGGER

Following a recent tragedy, Hg2 Cape Town co-author Keith Bain gets serious.

Dear Hg2 Editorial Team,

I overheard the first bits and pieces of the awful, tragic news as I sat down to coffee early Monday morning. I generally prefer to avoid bad news and steer clear of mainstream media. But as the couple at the adjacent table continued their discussion, I realized that it was going to be a big story, and when I uncovered the details, knew it was going to give South African tourism—and the country’s image—another kick in the balls.

A tourist murdered in Cape Town.

Not just a tourist, but also a newlywed on her honeymoon. Could the story be any worse? No life-loving hedonist wants a killer on the doorstep.

I’ve had some time to mull the story over, been away in the countryside with time to think about the ethics of tourism in a country where the divide between rich and poor, privileged and disenfranchised oftentimes feels like the biggest crime of all.

But there’s more to the incident, and part of what should be keeping us awake at night is the way in which it was reported.

Aside from the dreadful murder itself (and I’m as horrified as the rest of the world that it happened…really, we do not take murder lightly here), what’s equally appalling is that the event has attracted attention because it was a foreign visitor who was killed. The media really does its level-best to hype up such stories, and I think they lose perspective completely, given that this type of reporting trivializes the huge numbers of people—local, often poor people—who are raped and murdered daily in this country, especially in our crowded, socially-disadvantaged townships.

The media sensationalizes such one-off incidents when they could just as easily sensationalize the miraculous fact that dozens of wealthy tourists aren’t murdered in Africa each and every day. That’s because our cities are not, in fact, crawling with killers looking for random victims.

It also strikes me that despite our high crime statistics rate (including), the media pays almost no attention to the vast majority of murders that involve local people—unless, of course, the victim is high-profile, or wealthy.

One the one hand, it’s disgusting; a bit like insisting that the lives of Western tourists are more important than those of Africans. But on the other hand, it does suggest that life—even the life of one person—is important enough to generate global media attention. I only wish the lives of many millions of local people who suffer daily in travel-friendly destinations around the world might receive as much media attention as this single, awful tragedy.

I’ve also thought about the negative impact that the incident might have on tourism to Cape Town. I think it would be irresponsible and reactionary to play into the media’s bullshit by all of a sudden hyping the violence and labeling Cape Town a dangerous destination. Tourists are warned perpetually of the inherent dangers of visiting South African townships, and they are repeatedly informed that they should only visit with organized tours. Certainly, they are warned that this should almost never happen at night (again, unless there is a specialist evening tour). Going with a tour isn’t foolproof (just as preparing for a tsunami in Thailand isn’t foolproof), but you need to be a pretty brazen to take a taxi (or self-drive) into a township at night. It’s not that everyone in the townships wants to kill you, but statistically, there is a likelihood that—like a fish out of water—a foreigner roaming the streets of a township at night poses at least some threat to him- or herself. Let’s think back to New York City during the 1980s, shall we? I seem to recall that venturing anywhere after dark was at least a little bit dodgy. And there are plenty of dodgy neighbourhoods in large cities all around the world. Hell, there are loads of small towns and hick villages where I’ve felt a little threatened.

If we suggest that Cape Town is a no-go zone because of this horrible incident then we, as travel experts, are part of what’s wrong with sensationalist global media. Our job is to encourage people to explore the world, and we need to stand firm by our belief that world travel is always a great idea (it does not need to take a dip due to a one-off incident; civil war, perhaps, but not one crime event). Now, if I was the author of Hg2 Baghdad, I might feel slightly differently, but knowing how safe I feel as a citizen of Cape Town—a large city of well over 3 million people—I cannot imagine why I would do anything other than insist more people come to check it out for themselves. And, besides, if they’re armed with our book, they’ll always be in safe hands.

Best wishes from beautiful Cape Town,

Keith

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One comment

  1. While the story continues to develop here in South Africa, here’s a report on how township tourism operators have responded: http://t.co/5Ehb9p7

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