The Big Issue - Safety & Security in Southern Africa
The Big Issue: Personal Security
Copyrighted Kevin D. Thomas©
There is little doubt that the biggest concern for potential safari clientele intent on hunting Southern Africa can be described by two words – personal security – and although sad to say, if one follows the daily news, it is a fully warranted concern, and particularly so here in South Africa. In the big cities, violent crime on a daily basis is bad, but it is taking place in areas seldom if ever visited by safari clientele. Even for those of us who live here, as a majority, we read and hear of these violent criminal acts via our various media channels but seldom if ever witness them. To actually be unwittingly caught up in the violence is sheer bad luck, but it does happen. Why?
Incidents of violence in South Africa where illegal firearms are brought into play are invariably one of two scenarios:
1) Pre-planned targeted shopping mall and/or bank robberies. These take place inside carefully pre-reconnoitred premises. It may be a jewellers shop, bank, mobile phone outlet or similar. Invariably at some stage during the attempted robbery and in the immediate aftermath, shots are fired and innocent bystanders caught up in the cross-fire. Often too, innocent individuals out in the mall car park may be injured, if the robbers attempt a vehicle hi-jacking during their attempts at fleeing the scene, or if they feel that they’ve been compromised during their attempts to get way. Seldom if ever, would a visitor to South Africa be witness to one of these incidents because whilst on safari, it is unlikely that they’d be inside a suburban shopping mall in one of our cities. These types of crimes too, are not poverty driven; they are carried out by well-organised crime syndicates.
2) Armed robbery and the attempted heisting of cash in transit armoured vehicles. Once again, incidents such as these are normally very carefully planned by organised crime syndicates and are not just random spur of the moment poverty driven robberies. Again, it is highly unlikely that visiting sport hunter(s) would find themselves caught up in such a scenario, unless exceedingly unlucky whilst travelling on a main freeway when the incident occurred.
One other incident where violence often occurs is the run of the mill house break-in, particularly so if the burglars are surprised during the break in, they will then normally resort to extreme violence, before making good their escape. However, house breaking too, is invariably pre-planned and the target house “cased’ for a number of days or weeks before the break-in occurs. These types of break-ins are quite often poverty driven. Again, the chances of a visiting hunter to Southern Africa experiencing this are highly unlikely because it won’t occur in a safari camp.
At this point in my overview I am going to look at a typical inbound client’s sequential procedures from time of touch down at their port of entry (Johannesburg or Cape Town International) until departure from the same.
• Collect baggage from flight arrival carousel.
• Proceed to SAPS desk to process SAPS 520 and collect guns.
• Exit Arrivals and be met there by your PH or a designated “Meet & Greet” appointee who will take you to your Bed & Breakfast where you will overnight or link up with your PH who will convey you to your hunting camp. Note: At no stage have you had to be on your own after exiting Arrivals, or trying to find out by asking total strangers, “Where to go and what to do”. If you have to do this, your Outfitter or Booking Agent has planned your hunt badly. It is a scenario like this that leaves you vulnerable to criminal elements within the airport Arrivals complex. Nothing stands out more inside an airport complex than an inbound bewildered tourist. Criminals home in on them like bees to honey. If you find yourself in such a situation, do not accept offers to help from strangers, but rather seek out an Information Desk or similar and ask for help in contacting reliable accommodations with a dedicated shuttle bus service.
Remember: A good safari operator will ensure that you are met at Arrivals and at time of booking you must make this clearly understood – it is not negotiable.
If you are not going to overnight at your Port of Entry city, it will invariably mean that you are going to catch a domestic flight for onward transit. This means that you still have to collect your gear, gun(s) etc and clear Customs & Immigration then move to a Domestic Terminal for onward passage. Both Cape Town and Johannesburg Domestic Terminals are some distance from the International Terminals, this means either pushing a trolley with your baggage along a designated route or taking a legal taxi. Do not allow total strangers to push your trolley, because you will find them soliciting you for the job, in return for a gratuity. There are designated uniformed individuals within the airport complex who can help you with this task if you require it. Do not exit a taxi and ask it to wait, whilst you go into the Terminal building without your luggage to check on flights etc, and ensure that at all times you have your baggage/gun box visual. If for some reason you are to use a taxi to commute within the bigger cities, preferably sit in the back seat, and ensure the door is locked and the window at least 3/4s up, and refrain from using a laptop or playing with an expensive camera whilst waiting at traffic lights etc. You are inviting a “smash & grab” incident.
Throughout your safari you will be accompanied by your PH or other members of the Operator’s staff. They know where it is unwise or unsafe to take you, and most certainly won’t subject their clientele to any form of risk or danger from unruly or criminal elements within our society. At the end of your safari, you will again be accompanied by the PH or the “Meet & Greet” staff right to the departures gate; so theoretically, at no time should a visiting sport hunter find him or herself vulnerable due to the “crime” threat in South Africa.
Whilst the Operator, PH and his support staff may go out of their way to ensure that client(s) do not come to harm, there are times when it may be beyond their control. Situations like this can arise if post-safari the client(s) decide to spend time on their own “experiencing” South African city life. If a crime incident is likely to occur at any time during a safari, this is the most likely time and the reasons are invariably one of the following:
• Visitors wandering into the wrong part of a city during a “night out” on the town. In any city in the world, it is unwise for strangers to wander around the ‘inner city’ after dark, looking for ‘fun’. I wouldn’t dream of wandering around an inner city after dark in the USA, or anywhere else for that matter. South Africa is no different.
• A visitor gets intoxicated in a hotel bar and allows themselves to be enticed to accompany total stranger(s) to some other supposed ‘night spot’ or ‘venue’. When this happens, a robbery or worse is probably in the offering.
• Cultural Tours: Many visitors to South Africa seem to want to experience African “cultural life” and this has quickly become a tourist trap. There is nothing wrong with experiencing supposed “cultural life” but if you’re going to do it, be responsible about how you do it. All of our major cities have huge shanty towns bordering them, not unusual in a developing world, just look at India or Brazil. However, South Africa has fairly porous borders and poor immigration control. Much of Africa is living in poverty or is made up of conflict zones, which in turn leads to those who dwell there trying to escape to a better life. South Africa has become home to many of these refugees, over 3 million alone from Zimbabwe. Probably 99% of these refugees live in the shanty towns adjoining South Africa’s major cities. Within their environs, and due to high unemployment, crime is rife and they are the last place any stranger to Africa should be seen wandering around unescorted in. Having said that, if visitors really want to experience the “cultural” deal. Ensure that you do so with a recognised, registered and licensed tour operator who specialises in that kind of venture. Your safari operator, hotel, or B&B will be able to arrange it for you. Do Not try to arrange it on your own using a local taxi as the tour platform. If you are hunting in or near a remote rural tribal area, ask your PH to take you to visit a proper tribal village which is vastly different to a sheet iron city shanty.
• Leaving valuables like purses, cameras or laptops unattended on table tops in hotel foyers or similar. Even momentarily can mean loss.
• If you are walking or driving in a South African city (or anywhere in Africa for that matter) and see a mob ahead of you “toy toying” (dancing and making a lot of noise with militant gestures and waving placards), turn around and retrace your route. Do not try and go through the mob. If there is politically or labour union inspired unrest anywhere in the vicinity of your hotel, remain in your room or inside the building. Management will inform you when everything is back to normal.
Africa is a vibrant and friendly continent but still has a long way to go before it reaches the levels of political maturity as is experienced in the First World. Because of this, the inhabitants of our continent are probably more likely to get emotionally caught up in waves of mass hysteria over perceived wrongs, than elsewhere on the globe. These spur of the moment flare-ups do not necessarily mean that Africa is a dangerous place to live – it merely means that one has to know how to interpret her moods, and few are better at this than your experienced PH and others who live close to the heartbeat that is Africa. Ignore the sensationalism and hype that the foreign media seem to so like. If you see something in the press pre-safari that concerns you, check with your PH.
Zimbabwe: To my mind still one of the safest venues to hunt on the continent of Africa. Granted, Zimbabwe has a governance problem, and even with the current Government of National Unity (GNU), is still a long way from solving the country’s woes. Many people find the ZANU PF side of the GNU government that has ruled the roost under Robert Mugabe for over three decades now, a repugnant regime with a dismal human rights record. This though is a personal issue arrived at through ones own moral code and beliefs, but the people of Zimbabwe on the other hand, are without doubt amongst the friendliest on the continent, and particularly so in the remote rural areas where visiting clientele may possibly only have brief interaction with them. I personally feel more relaxed in Zimbabwe than anywhere else in Africa, and feel that the tribal dwelling rural communities shouldn’t be punished for their government’s wrongs. When inbound client(s) arrive at either Harare or Bulawayo airports, they are always met by representatives of the safari company they are hunting with, or the charter pilot who will be ferrying them onwards to the hunting concession. My advice to clientele intent on hunting Zimbabwe is to not even worry about the word ‘crime’ or ‘security situation’ because to all intents and purposes they won’t even witness a criminal act. Book your safari and enjoy it.
Finally, after having spent five years of my life as a regular Special Force soldier in the Rhodesian Bush war of the 1970s, and from January 2004 to March 2006 in Iraq as a Private Security Contractor with a British Risk Management company contracted to the US Department Of Defence, I feel that I am suitably qualified to comment on the crime and general ground security situation in Southern Africa, as pertains to visiting sport hunters, with my advice being “Go for it” and enjoy your safari.
In the event of any sport hunter wanting me to answer a specific concern they might have related to personal security when visiting Africa, feel free to contact me directly on my email at firstname.lastname@example.org Kevin.