It is ironic that the Valentine’s Day shooting of model Reeva Steenkamp by her boyfriend and Olympic and Paralympic hero Oscar Pistorius should have happened so close to the Academy Awards’ Oscar presentations, for which M-Net had contracted Pistorius as its Oscar presentation broadcast marketing icon. Thankfully, South Africa received fame at the Oscars, for the Documentary ‘Searching for Sugar Man’, which was largely filmed in Cape Town, and tells the story of Capetonian Sugar Segerman’s search for forgotten American singer Rodriguez, being wonderful free marketing for our city to all who have seen the movie. The question that the Pistorius case raises is what damage it is doing to tourism to South Africa generally, and to Cape Town specifically, with the Oscar Pistorius story making world headlines, in such leading publications as Bunte and TIME.
Bunte is one of Germany’s largest cirulation magazines, with a readership of 4 million, and featured the Pistorius story on the front cover of the 21 February issue. The front cover caption ‘murder due to jealousy’ links to the article in the magazine, which names TV series ‘Tropika Island of Treasure’ co-star and singer Mario Oglo as the main focus of Pistorius’ jealousy. It quotes extensively from the City Press reporting, which subsequently was found to be sensationalist and inaccurate, relating the (inaccurate) cricket bat attack on the victim. The magazine sensationally claims that the couple were the ‘Beckhams of South Africa’, and that hardly a society event was not attended by the glamour couple – yet the couple had only been dating for three months, and were first seen at an event in November last year. Crime statistics are quoted as 17000 break-ins per year, implying that wealthy South Africans have to barricade themselves in security villages like Silver Woods in Pretoria, in which Pistorius lived. Pistorius’ Olympics performance is highlighted, and one senses that the magazine cannot come to terms with the sporting hero and the tragic occurrence on the fatal Valentine’s Day. Parallels are drawn to the OJ Simpson case, and the defence team is likened to a ‘marketing campaign‘. Overall, the German Bunte reader should be unlikely to cancel his or her plans to come on holiday to the Cape, a relief as Germany appears to be the largest source of tourism to the Cape in this summer season. Fortunately not one of our German guests have spontaneously raised the issue with us in the past two weeks.
TIME has the world’s largest weekly magazine circulation, with 25 million readers, of which 20 million live in the USA, according to Wikipedia. Its latest issue tells the story of Pistorius’ rise to sporting fame, and his fall since Valentine’s Day, not too dissimilar to any other reporting of the tragic events. What is damaging however is that four paragraphs of the article are dedicated to Cape Town (and the Western Cape), its tourism appeal sounding positive, but in the context of the tragic event it is severely damaging to our city:
‘And from New Year’s Day to Jan. 7 she posted regularly from a vacation she was taking in and around the city where she was born, Cape Town, with a few friends and the man she called “my boo,” who on Twitter goes by @OscarPistorius. On Jan. 3 she posted a picture of the sunrise taken from the balcony of the $680-a-night presidential suite at a spa hotel in Hermanus, 90 minutes southeast of Cape Town. Later that day she tweeted, “The chauffeurs in Cape Town hey. Nice!” and attached a picture of Pistorius driving an Aston Martin. On Jan. 4, name-checking Pistorius, her best friend, a private banker and a luxury-car importer who was sourcing a McLaren sports car for Pistorius, she tweeted about a lunch the five were sharing at Cape Town’s newest hip hangout. “Shimmy Beach Club!” she wrote. “Tooooo much food!!! Amazing holiday :)”‘
This is followed by Cape Town’s ‘dark side’, and this is when the article becomes really damaging for Cape Town:
‘To understand pistorius (sic) and Steenkamp, to understand South Africa, it helps to know the place where the couple chose to spend their holiday. Cape Town has arguably the most beautiful geographical feature of any city in the world: Table Mountain, a kilometer-high, almost perfectly flat block of 300 million-year-old sandstone and granite that changes from gray to blue to black in the golden light that bathes the bottom of the world. From Table Mountain, the city radiates out in easy scatterings across the olive, woody slopes as they plunge into the sea. Its central neighborhoods are a sybarite’s paradise of open-fronted cafés and pioneering gastronomy, forest walks and vineyards. Commuters strap surfboards to their cars to catch a wave on the way home. The business of the place is media: fashion magazines, art studios, p.r., advertising, movies and TV. Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy just wrapped the new Mad Max movie. Action-movie director Michael Bay is shooting Black Sails, a TV prequel to Treasure Island.
But while Cape Town’s center accounts for half its footprint, it is home to only a fraction of its population. About 2 million of Cape Town’s 3.5 million people live to the east in tin and wood shacks and social housing built on the collection of estuary dunes and baking sand flats called the Cape Flats. Most of those Capetonians are black. Class in Cape Town is demarcated by altitude: the farther you are from the mountain, the lower, poorer and blacker you are. Cape Town’s beautiful, affluent center is merely the salubrious end of the wide spectrum that describes South Africa’s culture and its defining national trait: aside from the Seychelles, the Comoros Islands and Namibia, South Africa is the most inequitable country on earth.
This stark gradation helps explain South Africa’s raging violent crime (and why, contrary to legend, Cape Town actually has a higher murder rate than Johannesburg)’.
The balance of the five page article is focused on our country’s ‘violent crime‘, and traces this back to the Battle of Blood River, the Boers building a laager to protect themselves against the Zulus. Similarly whites live in security estates, in modern day laagers, the article relates. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Rainbow Nation barely exists, despite our country being the benchmark for ‘racial reconciliation’, and ultimately still ‘South Africans live apart’, the article concludes. What makes for fascinating reading is the close to 1000 comments to the article, which is attacked by many loyal South Africans for factual inaccuracy, and supported by a handful of what could be ex-South Africans. Very few international readers appear to have commented.
Gratifying to find is the link by HuffPost Lifestyle UK, which evaluates the media frenzy relating to the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing, introducing the article as follows:‘…could be forgiven for thinking that South Africa is the new Wild West, full of gun-toting, trigger-happy outlaws’. Its writer Amanda Willard defends our country, having visited ten times already, puts crime into context, shares that tourism is growing, and recommends that tourists continue visiting South Africa: ‘So don’t be put off travelling to this incredible destination and don’t be fooled by the media reports. The bark of the newshound is worse than its bite‘.
SA Tourism, Wesgro, and Cape Town Tourism have a challenging task in communicating that what was a crime involving a couple in a private home is not a reflection of crime in South Africa. It also needs to highlight that tourists visiting South Africa generally, and Cape Town specifically, will be safe. The problem is that neither Cape Town Tourism nor Wesgro are doing any marketing at all, let alone damage control to address this tragedy which has keen international interest, a saga that will be guaranteed to fill news headlines for months to come! Mary Tebje, Cape Town Tourism’s communications representative in the UK, has written to Southern African Tourism Update, calling for an objective and honest response to South Africa’s new status as a gun-toting country, which may reinforce what many potential tourists to our country are already thinking, and will deter them even more from coming on holiday. Our current tourists will be our best spokespersons, in relating that their holidays were safe and most enjoyable!
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage