Editor’s Blog: Too quick to judge South Africa
The death of Anni Dewani predictably shocked the world. Enjoying her honeymoon in South Africa with husband Shrien she suddenly came face-to-face with a nightmare; kidnapped, robbed and eventually murdered.
Mr Shrien escaped, emerging to tell a waiting global audience his version of events. But the grizzly picture painted has since begun to blur, with sources in South Africa suggesting Mr Shiren – the husband of the victim – may have played a role in her death as part of an insurance fraud.
He is now in British custody awaiting possible extradition to South Africa in order to face questions over his possible involvement in the crime.
But – whatever the outcome of the investigation – the damage has already been done to the South African tourism industry, with media outlets around the world quick to cast a disparaging light over the destination.
South African Tourism
In just a few short days all the work undertaken by South Africa over the course of 2010 has been undone. Sighs of ‘I told you so…’ echoed around the world as the country appeared to revert to type following a successful FIFA World Cup.
All those who had been quick to criticise South Africa in the build up to the competition – recklessly inflating stories of civil unrest, strike action, unsold tickets and missed deadlines – began to revel in their vindication.
South Africa hosted a successful World Cup
But, to South Africa’s credit, the major failing of the World Cup was on the field of play, not off it. The inquest continues into why the strongest teams and star players failed to perform, but whatever the reason, the quality of the actual games left many feeling cheated.
Little South Africa could have done about that. Indeed Bafana Bafana were among the highlights, narrowly failing to progress from the group stages on goal difference alone, and securing a memorable victory over France.
Organisers had ensured the stadiums were ready, security was in place, training facilities were provided, fans accommodated and transport links ran on time.
Even the relentless drone of the vuvuzela failed to dampen the atmosphere.
As tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk explained earlier this week: “I have no doubt that South Africa is reaping the rewards of hosting the Cup.
“The tournament has positioned South Africa as a viable investment market and the spin-offs of improved perceptions abroad could have a long-lasting impact not only on South Africa and its development but on the continent as a whole.”
But all this was quickly forgotten following the murder of Anni Dewani.
Immediately there was a feeling South Africa had let itself down, that the murder of a British tourist outweighed the tremendous strides forward that had been taken.
Commenting on the case Cape Town Tourism chief executive Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold said: “The furore surrounding the Dewani case has resulted in the cancellation of many cultural and township tours, deeply affecting those in the community that look to tourism for their livelihoods.
“In recent years township tourism has become crucial in the lives of many locals as well as for the new wave of responsible travellers looking for genuine cultural and interactive experiences.
“It is very important that we are unified in our stance that the tragedy surrounding the murder of Ms Anni Dewani was not, in fact, a township tourism incident.”
Even with the British tourists themselves now implicated in the killing, it is South Africa which will bear the brunt of the negative coverage; the image of an unprovoked, seemingly random killing fresh in travellers’ minds as they decide where to spend their money next year.
But there is more – much more – to this destination than the tragedies highlighted by the media spotlight. Perspective is the order of the day.