Calls are mounting to close the Numbi Gate into South African National Parks’ (SANParks) Kruger National Park (KNP) after a tourist was killed on Monday.
The failure to ignore previous incidents and growing warnings of problems near Numbi Gate in the southwest of KNP has resulted in the death of German tourist Joerg Schnarr, who was shot and killed during an apparent botched hijacking. His wife and a couple they were with survived.
“Why is Numbi Gate still open?” asked Simone Swiel on SANParks’ Kruger Facebook page. “Why is there no warning on the SANParks website? How many more tourists are going to be robbed and possibly killed as happened [on Monday]?”
Taryn Keys said the incident was “absolutely shocking”. “So much for the road to Numbi Gate being patrolled. I agree that gate should be closed,” Keys wrote on the page.
Liezl de Jongh claimed even “the locals are demanding it should be closed”, while Rynhardt Ferreira called the failure to close the gate “disgusting”.
“That gate should have been closed ages ago until a solid plan to keep it safe has been drawn up,” Ferreira said.
“All funding to the community in that area should also be stopped.”
Moderators on the page had a busy day closing discussions almost as soon as they opened.
SANParks spokesperson Ike Phaahla said tourists had been advised to plan their trips carefully, to only make stops at designated areas, such as garages and service stations, to try to travel in convoys and where possible, use alternative gates.
“Paul Kruger and Phabeni gates are fully operational, signposted and can be used as a gateway to other lodges around the KNP,” Phaahla said.
He said SANParks was not considering closing Numbi Gate.
A tour guide in Mpumalanga, Edward Themba, said: “Police know about how dangerous that Numbi road is. That is not the first incident this year and tourists are always the main target. I don’t even use that gate any more.”
Themba said the news was bad for the industry. By rote, the incident was widely condemned.
Lieutenant-General Semakaleng Manamela, provincial commissioner of the South African Police Service in Mpumalanga, said: “This is really cruel and uncalled for,” while Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said she was “saddened by the news”.
Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy condemned the murder. South African Tourism and the Tourism Business Council of South Africa said in a statement the sector was “devastated” by the news, while Federated Hospitality Association of South Africa national chair Rosemary Anderson said they “were shaken to the core”.
Julian Rademeyer, a director at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, said on Twitter that Sisulu’s statement was yet another “of heartfelt condolences” and promises to “engage the security cluster”.
“This is not a new problem,” Rademeyer said.
“It has been worsening for a very long time in the absence of the state and law enforcement. A murder like this was tragically inevitable.”
The area has been a crime hot spot for decades, with travelnews.co.za noting back in 2000 that suspects had been arrested in two hijacking incidents against tourists travelling between Hazyview and White River to the Numbi Gate.
“Director of the KNP David Mabunda told [travelnews.co.za] that the park strongly advises tourists not to use the Numbi Gate entrance, but rather to travel the R40 from White River to the more commonly used main Paul Kruger Gate entrance,” the site reported.
There have been a number of incidents this year. In April, two German tourists were robbed, while in May, another four tourists were attacked. In January, a bungled hijacking saw Melani de Beer, 39, and her two children ending their holiday by driving for their lives after exiting the KNP via the Numbi Gate.
Reacting to the incident on the SANParks Kruger Facebook page, Giuseppe “Beppe” Quarta said his skin was “crawling: no one had warned us of the danger of the Numbi Gate, and we asked around to know the best way to enter the KNP”.
“After sleeping in a B&B [bed-and-breakfast], early in the morning we left Hazyview towards Numbi Gate, the closest,” Quarta said.
“We took the wrong road, the directions are very badly indicated, and we found ourselves in a maze of unlawful buildings, inhabited by very poor and apparently hostile people.”
Quarta said some South African friends had informed them of the “great risk” they took. “I find it really unjustifiable and serious that no one warned us before of the great danger.
“Someone told us that the gate was controlled by armed guards, but the recent tragedy means that it is not enough. “[Numbi Gate] should be closed,” he said.