[OPINION] Travel in the time of global unrest
Some years ago I had the pleasure of driving a minister of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic and her ambassador from Durban to Johannesburg.
Several times along the N3, she said: “Look at this world-class infrastructure. Do you know what you have? Do you appreciate it?”
I recall feeling rather proud and expressed the wish that one day the Saharawis too could have a motorway across their desert land.
What might the minister have said had we been travelling along the road on Sunday?
With the burning trucks, it could easily have reminded her of the war her people have fought to rid their country of Moroccan occupation.
Together with arterial roads closed by demonstrators in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town in recent days, they are certainly not showpieces for a developing country heading for prosperity.
How do we explain this motorway mayhem to potential investors or tourists?
The authorities warned motorists on Sunday not to use the N3 at night.
Their caution is laudable, even though it sends a dire message to potential investors in and visitors to South Africa.
Such caution is invariably expressed by countries concerned about the well-being of their citizens abroad.
It invariably attracts fury from the targets of their warnings because it tends to deter tourism.
We saw this last month when Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu angrily responded to a travel advisory from Australia, saying it cast a slur on the country.
Sisulu appears to have been responding to media reports rather than facts.
The Australian travel advisory is actually no less than 17 years old.
True, it advises travellers to South Africa to exercise a high degree of caution.
Actually, it places South Africa on the second lowest degree of danger - in the same category as countries like Belgium and France.
In much the same way as an advisory would use a health ministry warning of cholera to urge travellers take health precautions, the Australian document uses material from SAPS annual reports to advise of the possibility of murder, rape, mugging and robbery.
The advisory has been updated to include water shortages in the Western Cape - again using language deployed by the local authority.
I remember after contracting malaria in Zimbabwe, I asked the South Africa health authorities in high dudgeon: why did no-one warm me?
True, there were posters at the border posts. Surely I have a right to expect more from a caring government?
If you are travelling to a country where protestors make nocturnal travel hazardous, would you not expect your own people to tell you so?
It is axiomatic that there are good things and bad things about any destination: from insect-born lurgies and pickpockets to flat-out terrorism.
The simple answer to avoiding them is stay home.
If you can’t or won’t accept this option, arm yourself with the information you need for your security. But please, don’t shoot the messenger.
Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish
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