From the DRIVER’S SEAT
I love Africa so damn much. One of my favourite places to visit on the continent is Lake Malawi. In particular, a spot in southern Malawi that goes by the name of Cape Maclear. It is a spot that has really stolen my heart. The village’s proper name is actually Chembe, and it’s in the Mangochi region of Malawi. The water in the lake there is fishbowl clear. The beaches are clean and the golden sand fine between one’s toes. There is an island a few hundred metres from the shore that provides incredible snorkeling, with schools of hundreds of colourful freshwater fish everywhere you look. The only thing more impressive than the fish is the distinctive sound of the many fish eagles that have made their home in the rocky crags of the island. And that is why I am incensed, outraged, and just plain pissed off at the tiny minority of criminals that continue to damage our continent’s tourism industry.
Malawi relies greatly on tourism to bolster its economy. The usually broad smiles on the affable locals’ faces belies their life of hardship. Poor as some folk are that live there, they are quick to return a friendly wave as we drive past. During my visits over the years I have never felt threatened by crime or bandits. We have had nothing stolen off our vehicles – not to say this doesn’t happen, it just hasn’t happened to us. The soft and friendly nature of the Malawian people is at stark odds with the senseless and vicious attack on a South African overlander this June. The victim was camping with friends in a reserve at Karonga in the northern border district of Malawi. Hearing a scream, he exited his tent to help a woman who had awoken to find herself accosted by several bandits in her tent. The South African traveller was shot dead. Locals are convinced that the gang that robbed the man of $200 are criminals that had crossed the border from Tanzania, but no one really knows. The police are still investigating. An incident like this, as horrific as it is for the family involved, is horrific for Malawian locals too, who will lose tens of thousands of tourism dollars and be forced even further below the poverty line.
While back home in South Africa we don’t need violent crime to keep tourists away. No sir, here we have our very own Department of Home Affairs to do that. Their ridiculous new immigration requirements have already impacted tourism numbers. What’s more, no one at Home Affairs or border control quite seems to know what is going on. In some countries, they don’t even have an ‘unabridged’ birth certificate, making tourism travel here impossible. One can only hope that common sense will prevail soon.