Katutura Not Safe for Tourists ?

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Is Katutura a safe place for tourists or not? This question came under the spotlight during a stakeholders’ consultative meeting under the theme “Crime Against Tourists in Windhoek” recently. It appears Katutura that once used to be a tourist attraction because of its cultural richness, history and diversity, is somehow turning into an insecure place for visitors. With muggings, bribery and overcharging of tourists, tour guides are becoming less and less keen to take visitors to that part of the city. Face-to-face guided cultural tours of Katutura give visitors the opportunity to learn about the history, development and people of Katutura. The sprawling suburb on Windhoek’s northern outskirts, some 10 kilometres from the Central Business District (CBD), was established in the 1950’s as a result of South Africa’s apartheid policy of divide and rule. Today, Katutura is a densely populated suburb where people from different cultures live side by side. From iron shacks to up-market houses, it is a diverse, lively and historical township. Places such as the Old Katutura Cemetery, Augustineum School, the Single Quarters where the contract workers used to live, the open markets, shebeens and cuca shops are some of the tourist sites. However, the question being asked is whether in actual fact it is safe for tourists to visit Katutura with incidents of overcharging, bribery and pick-pocketing. Recently, a bag of a tourist was stolen out of a vehicle after a culprit smashed the window of a parked vehicle near the Single Quarters Market. All valuables were lost. Last week, a tourist from Holland was threatened with jail after a disagreement with a taxi driver for overcharging him 100 Euros (approximately N$1 000) for taxi fare from Hosea Kutako International Airport to the capital. The visitor was threatened with jail at the police station unless he paid 100 Euros. He was forced to pay the money to avoid discomfort. In view of this situation, city councillors, City Police officials, partners from the tourism sector, the Namibian Police, the Namibia Airports Company and the Namibia Bus and Taxi Association met last week Wednesday to amongst other issues talk about the security of tourists in the city and Katutura in particular. “Tourists don’t feel safe in Katutura, so they don’t go there anymore. This has been coming on for a long time and many tourists are refusing to go there,” said one local tour guide operator. Concern was also raised that the community of Katutura does not help tourists when confronted with crime. “They are not at least involved or interested in doing anything about it. We need to tackle the root causes of crime,” said Rainer Iben, a tour guide of Okarusuvo Guest Farm. However, City Councillor Werner Claasen noted that Katutura residents are themselves scared to report crime since they will be the ones to be attacked by the criminals after reporting crime. Hence, they prefer to keep quiet. “You will be targeted or even killed if you report crime. Therefore, visible community policing must be encouraged, but this is a long term process,” argued Claasen. To address this problem, it was recommended that for self-drive tours “routes be clearly set to avoid tourists going to risky parts of the area,” and tour operators must also caution tourists about the rest places on national roads that can sometimes not be safe. The City Police and the Namibian Police consider crime against tourists a special case. Such cases have to be processed immediately. It was suggested that tourism stakeholders and different police stations provide monthly reports to the police about crimes committed against tourists. Another recommendation was for police officials to accompany tourists to Katutura whenever they go out on excursions. However, suggestions were made that such police officers be in ordinary civilian clothing as tourists, like for instance those from Germany, dislike the notion of being under police supervision and would like to “feel free”. While some tour operators are no longer keen to take tourists to Katutura, upcoming ones have a different view. They argue that it should be remembered that every dollar spent by a tourist could feed three to four people in a family. Disagreeing with the notion that Katutura is unsafe for tourists, Manfred !Gaeb of the Corporate Communications and Tourism Division of the Windhoek Municipality said he had not experienced any incidents of crime against tourists during cultural tours in Katutura. “I did not receive any complaints that people are not willing to go to Katutura or some tour guides are not willing to do that,” said !Gaeb. According to the latest tourism directory of 2007 entitled “Namibia Holiday and Travel”, tour operators like Rebekka Hidulika of Wonderzone Tours are doing exceptionally well with tourists visiting Katutura. “Rebekka is confident that her tours give a special insight not only into what the city and its people look like but also who the people are that make up this melting pot of cultures,” reads the directory. Deputy Mayor of the City of Windhoek, Councillor Elaine Trepper, encouraged tour operators not to be scared of Katutura, but to look at their business as a way of helping previously disadvantaged communities. “Let the police accompany the tourists, it will help curb crime. We have to make sure that they are safe. If one negative incident happens, then the tourism figures will go down. Education must be done on both sides.” She advised that safety tip brochures be given to tourists at all hotels, shops, airport immigration points and businesses. This was the last consultative meeting on “Crime Against Tourists” to be held this year by the City of Windhoek’s Tourism Division.