South Africa accuses Australia of tarnishing tourism and their country

The South African government has accused Australia of “tarnishing” the country’s reputation after Canberra refused to change its Smartraveller advice about the country — the latest incident in a diplomatic spat between the two nations.

In a statement issued this week by International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s department, the government took “strong exception” to an advisory to potential Aussie travellers to South Africa published on DFAT’s Smartraveller website.

“The South African government takes strong exception to the Travel Advisory issued by the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, which contains misleading information about South Africa in general and, in particular, about the experiences of foreign tourists visiting South Africa.”

“The travel advisory has the potential not only to deter Australians from visiting South Africa, but also to tarnish our country’s image,” the statement read.

The department said South African officials had lobbied DFAT to change the advice without success.

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“Officials from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation have in the past requested, without success, that the advisory be amended to reflect the situation in South Africa as it relates to the true experiences of foreign tourists.”

“The decision to escalate the matter follows these unsuccessful attempts and indicates the seriousness with which the South African government values the contribution of the tourism sector to the economy.”

The advice — which warns travellers to exercise a “high degree of caution” in travelling to South Africa was last updated on January 30 to include information about the drought in Cape Town.

It also warns of the risk of “murders, rape, muggings, robbery, smash and grabs, and other forms of theft often involving weapons and violence”, but it is unclear when this information was first added.

Asked about the criticism, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman defended the government’s advice and said the risk level for South Africa is set at level two of four – “the same level as other major Australian tourist destinations”.

“The language referencing safety and security risks in the South Africa travel advice is consistent with the language we use for many other countries,” the spokeswoman said.

DFAT did not deny it had rejected requests to change the travel advisory.

“Smartraveller advice is based on an objective assessment of the risks facing Australians overseas, and drawn from a range of sources. It is not influenced by political, commercial or diplomatic considerations.”

The department said Ms Sisulu will raise the complaint with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Last month remarks by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on the decision by the National Assembly to allow the expropriation of land without compensation led to serious diplomatic tension.

Mr Dutton said white farmers affected “deserve special attention” and some MPs have been pushing for them to have access to humanitarian visas. But Ms Bishop said Australia had a “non-discriminatory” refugee policy.

South Africa issued Australian High Commissioner in South Africa Adam McCarthy with a diplomatic démarche in response.

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