Last updated: 06:28 PM ET, Fri April 24 2015

Travel Warnings for South Africa Issued in China, UK and Australia

Impacting Travel | David Cogswell | April 24, 2015

Travel Warnings for South Africa Issued in China, UK and Australia

PHOTO: As South Africa prepares for Indaba, its annual travel trade show, its blossoming tourism industry is under threat from the stain of recent incidents of xenophobic violence in Durban and Johannesburg. (photo by David Cogswell)

The wave of violence during the last two weeks against immigrant communities in Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa, is now creating repercussions for the country’s travel industry.

Travel warnings against travel to South Africa have been issued in Australia, China, Hong Kong and the U.K.

The Australian government warned its citizens traveling in South Africa to “exercise a high degree of caution in South Africa due to the high level of serious crime.”

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government posted a warning on its website saying, “Residents intending to visit the country or who are already there should monitor the situation, exercise caution, attend to personal safety and avoid protests and large gatherings of people.”

China and the U.K. have issued similar warnings.

The warnings are in response to a recent wave of violence against immigrant communities in the cities of Durban and Johannesburg, as well as in the townships of KwaMashu and Umlaz in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The violence has been directed to immigrant communities who moved into South Africa during its post-apartheid renaissance. Immigrants from surrounding African countries have settled in South Africa and created communities, many of them becoming merchants.

But with South Africa’s 25 percent unemployment rate, many South Africans are struggling desperately. In some cases their frustration has boiled over into rage directed towards foreign nationals who have moved into their country and in many cases are faring better than the South African natives.

As is typical in situations of economic stress, some of the frustrated have focused their rage on those whom they perceive to be doing better than they are, perhaps taking their slice of the economic pie.

The situation is laced with cruel ironies.

- Waves of immigrants moved into South Africa because of its renaissance based on the vision of Nelson Mandela of tolerance and inclusion. Now some of them are seeing intolerance of the ugliest kind.

- The vast majority of South Africans still cling passionately to Mandela's vision of a Rainbow Nation in which diversity is celebrated. But a few incidents of xenographic violence threaten to taint that image in the minds of would-be visitors.

- South Africa’s democratic revolution gave every South African the vote. But unfortunately the political revolution was not accompanied by an economic revolution that could lift the country’s poor out of poverty. Twenty years after the establishment of the new South Africa, many South Africans are feeling left out.

- One of the cruelest ironies is that tourism, the one industry that has proven the most effective in rapidly giving developing countries a leg up and spreading economic advantage throughout all levels of society, is now threatened by the incidents of violence.

South African Tourism, the tourism promotion department of the government, has responded to the warnings, saying that the attacks are isolated criminal acts, do not reflect South Africa at large and do not pose a danger to visitors.

In a statement Thulani Nzima, CEO of South African Tourism, said, "As Chief Executive Officer of South African Tourism, I want to state that I categorically condemn the appalling xenophobic attacks taking place in the various locations in our country.

"It is with embarrassment and shame that I come before the world and especially my fellow Africans to apologize for these senseless attacks. I hold in contempt the loathing and subsequent attacks suffered by our brothers and sisters from the continent.

"The majority of us South Africans perceive and carry ourselves as Africans and believe what we have witnessed in some parts of our country goes against the grain of who we are as a people, our constitution, and the principles of Ubuntu that we so dearly adhere to."

The Zulu word “Ubuntu” translates to “I am because you are” and refers to the dependence of members of a community on one another.

Nzima reassured those planning to attend Indaba, the African travel trade show set in Durban in early May, that South Africa is safe to visit.

The handling of the wave of xenophobia is being taken seriously at the highest levels of government. According to Nzima, "President Jacob Zuma has assigned the South African Ministers of Home Affairs, Police, State Security to work with provinces affected to contain the violence. Task teams have been established to coordinate the response.

"Additional law enforcement officers have been mobilized from around the country and deployed to the affected areas to enforce the law and prevent further attacks. Since Monday morning 310 suspects have been arrested. All district disaster management centres have been placed on high-alert and a 24-hour call centre has been established. Shelters have been set-up to accommodate displaced foreign nationals and basic amenities such as water, sanitation, and healthcare are being provided.

"Government is working closely with the UNHCR, UNICEF as well as non-governmental organisations to provide food, psycho-social and other support to those affected."

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