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No context in travel advisories

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Such advisories, in their nature, are going to examine the negative. They are skewed, there is no balance

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. File photo: ANA

INTERNATIONAL Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu is upset at the Australian government for its travel advisory on South Africa, and intends raising it with her counterpart in Canberra.

She is right: if one used 14 pages of cautions to decide whether to visit this country, the decision would definitely be no. The document does tarnish us.

Unlike our neighbours Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana, where it urges normal traveller caution, it warns of a need for high caution in South Africa and Lesotho.

High levels of crime are the principal reason. Robberies are frequent on roads and shopping centres, it says. Avoid large gatherings, as they could quickly turn violent.

It counsels against the use of minibus taxis. Murders, rapes, muggings and other forms of theft involving weapons and violence, are also cited. As are carjackings, spiked drinks and assaults and robberies on travellers.

“When travelling by car, keep the doors locked, windows up and valuables out of sight,” it says. Watch out also for thieves posing as vendors. And hikers on Table Mountain, or in the Drakensberg in the Royal National Park, should move in groups. Scams are common, and ATM and credit card fraud is common.

No wonder Sisulu is irate. An alert to the risk of terrorism, including in traveller places like shopping areas, would have irked her further. It is unfairly vague, but forbidding.

She should take note of the US travel advisory on Australia, however, and some comfort from it. It lists Sydney as a medium terrorism risk: “Between September 2014 and January 2017, there were four terrorist attacks and 12 disrupted plots in Australia, which has been identified repeatedly by ISIS leadership as a desirable target.”

Travel advisories are not puffy brochures. International relations are essentially about self-interest, about potential pitfalls for one’s citizens – not about promoting other countries.

So such advisories, in their nature, are going to examine the negative. They are skewed, there is no balance.

Sisulu’s problem is that ordinary South Africans will not find as much “misleading information” in the advisory as she will argue to Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop. Many citizens will identify with these risks, and the everyday counter-crime precautions that have almost become part of their DNA.

This is how it is for many. They keep their doors locked, windows up and valuables hidden.

But it does make devastating reading, condensed in what amounts to an indictment of our society. And it does make one realise how deeply crime has infested our society.

It should be said, though, that a glorious, crime-free visit is easily possible in South Africa. Hundreds of thousands of visitors will attest to that. As will citizens who explore their own country. One just has to know our safety rules, where to go, and when. Many of the listed hazards can be avoided or minimised.

What strangers need is such local knowledge, from relatives, friends, associates or authentic tour guides. This is perhaps where Sisulu could focus her argument with Australia, to soften the impact of the advisory’s negativity.