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Travel Advisory

Safety Concerns in South Africa

November 24, 1996|EDWARD WRIGHT

Africa

South Africa: How safe is South Africa? Visitors who held back during the apartheid years are traveling there in large numbers to enjoy the country's great natural beauty. But South Africa is troubled by economic uncertainty and political and tribal divisions. The transition to multiracial democracy has not been smooth, and violence has accompanied much of it.

It should be noted that the U.S. government does not consider South Africa dangerous enough to warn Americans against going there. (The State Department's current Travel Warning list has 17 countries on it, including Afghanistan, Colombia and Rwanda.) But the department's information sheet on South Africa is full of cautionary language for travelers. Here are some of the observations:

Although political conflict is decreasing, it remains the bloodiest type of violence in South Africa. This is concentrated in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, particularly in townships around Durban, but can also occur in townships around Johannesburg and Cape Town. Foreigners have not been targeted in these attacks, but some have been caught up in general disturbances. Tourist areas, such as major hotels and beaches, have been free of political violence.

Even though most visitors will come and go without incident, they need to be aware that South Africa has an exceptionally high level of crime, from credit card theft to murder. Assaults and armed robberies are routinely reported in cities and around suburban hotels and public transport centers, and carjackings are widespread in the suburbs. Earlier this year, a senior South African tourism official said the safety of tourists cannot beguaranteed.

Outside the cities, no major incidents have been reported in the game parks in recent years. The State Department warns Americans to use caution when driving in the former independent homelands of Transkei and Ciskei, which now are part of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. Some of those areas have high levels of crime and inadequate medical services.

For updated information on travel and security, Americans visiting South Africa may register with the consular section at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria or with the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban.

South Pacific

Papua New Guinea: Police were issued shoot-to-kill orders and the nation was placed under a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in response to a surge in violence by armed gangs. Large parts of central Port Moresby, the capital, have become off-limits for tourists and foreign residents, the Reuters news service reported earlier this month. Shootouts between police and gangsters have left several people dead in recent weeks. "Crime and personal security are serious concerns" in the island nation, the State Department advises, and visitors traveling alone face greater risks than those in groups. Since rape often accompanies armed robbery, the department warns, "Women should not walk alone anywhere in Papua New Guinea at any time of day or night." Travel outside Port Moresby by car at night can also be hazardous because of robbers' roadblocks.

Latin America

Paraguay: U.S. government facilities in Asuncion, the Paraguayan capital, have been threatened by an international terrorist group, a State Department spokesman said, and all Americans in Paraguay should show extra caution. The group was not specified, but other sources told wire services that the Iran-backed Hezbollah, suspected of bombing a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994, may be involved. About 250 U.S. government employees and 2,000 private Americans live in Paraguay. The State Department advised all to take precautions, especially if they visit U.S. government offices. Americans were urged to vary their travel routines and be alert to surveillance, and also not to take packages from strangers.

French Guiana: France sent 200 riot police reinforcements to its overseas territory after two nights of rioting and looting by high school students protesting poor conditions in the schools. The riots erupted in Cayenne, the capital, earlier this month after hundreds of demonstrators blocked the main government building, erected barricades, threw rocks and burned tires. One person was killed and seven were injured. Shops, homes and cars were damaged, and a sporting goods store reported the theft of dozens of rifles. The riots touched off a one-day strike by unions that led to a temporary shutdown of the international airport. Americans traveling in French Guiana are advised that there is no U.S. diplomatic post there; the nearest is in Suriname.

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