Peter Fabricus, Daily Maverick, October 5, 2022
“German killed: How safe are tourists in South Africa?” Zeit Online asked in the headline to its story about the murder of German tourist Jörg Schnarr near the Kruger National Park on Monday.
But Germany’s ambassador to South Africa, Andreas Peschke, has praised Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and the government for their “exemplary” response.
Sisulu and her officials spent much of Wednesday meeting, consoling and helping Schnarr’s widow and the two other German tourists who were with her in a hired car when her 75-year-old husband was fatally shot near the Numbi Gate to the Kruger National Park.
Sisulu confirmed that three men had been arrested for questioning about the murder and suggested that the R50,000 reward offered by the local tourism authority may therefore have paid off.
Peschke said at a joint press conference with Sisulu on Wednesday evening that the South African government’s response to the fatal shooting could help mitigate any negative impact on tourism. He said that his government had not revised its advice to German travellers to South Africa but added that he was still reporting back to Berlin on the incident.
He said he would include in his reporting, “the responsibility taken by the government for this tragic incident, which is quite exemplary”.
Peschke noted that in his experience it was “not so usual” for the competent minister and her team to have spent so much time with the widow and friends of the man who died, offering support and arranging for their swift return to Germany and to their families. He also expressed condolences to Schnarr’s widow, wider family and to her two other companions.
He noted that the incident had occurred after a sharp increase in tourism from Germany, following two missed years caused by Covid. In response, Germany had just decided to lay on a new flight to Mbombela (Nelspruit) in Mpumalanga. This arrangement would still go ahead, he noted.
Sisulu said Schnarr’s widow and the two other members of the party took a flight back to Germany on Wednesday. The government had arranged for an accelerated autopsy and embalming of Schnarr’s body, and had hired an aircraft for it to be taken to Johannesburg. The aim had been to return Schnarr to Germany on the same flight as his widow. But the requirements of the German authorities had prevented that, so it would be flown to Germany on Thursday.
Sisulu said the government had also organised for a doctor to attend to Schnarr’s widow to help her deal with the traumatic flight home.
“I would like to again convey my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the tourist who was killed in this incident,” Sisulu said.
She added that the survivors of the shooting, who were still visibly traumatised, had “indicated that this was an isolated incident that could have happened to anyone and that all countries are dealing with some level of criminality”.
“The tourists also expressed their love for South Africa and its beauty.”
She nevertheless insisted that: “The attack of tourists is not a daily occurrence in the country and South Africa is a safe destination.”
Sisulu claimed that only three foreign tourists had been killed in South Africa since 1994. The murder of Anni Dewani, had been an organised hit – her husband Shrien was charged but later acquitted, another death had been accidental and only Schnarr’s death could be attributed to the general environment of crime.
Asked by a journalist how she could guarantee tourist safety in an environment where murder statistics were rising, she said this was because it was her responsibility as tourism minister to ensure tourists were safe.
“We encourage people from all over the world to visit South Africa and we tell them that it’s safe. But we need to live up to that promise.”
Sisulu noted that she had been criticised for all the attention which she and her government were giving to this one murder of a foreign tourist when so many South Africans were being murdered every day.
But she insisted that as tourism minister it was her duty to protect the tourism industry, which contributed 3.7% to GDP, while it was Police Minister Bheki Cele’s responsibility to deal with crime more generally.
Sisulu said she and other relevant ministers were taking measures to ensure that the incident was not repeated. She mentioned specifically that either the road to Numbi Gate would be improved or a new route to the gate would be introduced. She said locals had built humps in the road to slow down traffic, which had enabled the killer and his accomplices to block the German tourists’ car.
Sisulu also revealed that Schnarr’s widow was upset by the way the German media had reported the incident. They had named her husband as the victim before she had had a chance to inform their children in Germany. This had aggravated their trauma, Sisulu said.
And Sisulu said Schnarr’s widow had also complained about how German media had described the events leading to the shooting of her husband. It seemed she was objecting to the fact that the media reported that when the assailants had blocked the car with their own vehicle and one had approached the driver’s window, her husband had locked the car doors and this had provoked the man to fire the fatal shot.
Instead, Schnarr’s widow said in a statement read out at the press conference, the car doors had locked automatically before the incident. And that it was in fact just when her husband unlocked his door that the fatal shot was fired.
Schnarr then slumped to the left with his foot on the accelerator and the car reversed for about 100m before crashing into a wall and a water tank. She said the assailants followed the car with the intention of carrying out their crime and it was only when the owner of the water tank into which the car crashed emerged from his house that the assailants fled.