CAPE TOWN –  With International Tourism Day being observed across the globe on Wednesday, the local industry suffered a major blow when 36 Dutch tourists abandoned their holiday and left the country on Tuesday after being robbed at gunpoint.

The tourists were supposed to be exploring the country for 22 days but had to cut their trip short after they were attacked on their way from OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday.

According to Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, the tourists were stopped on their way from the airport by criminals masquerading as police officers.

Mbalula went to visit the tourists at the lodge they were booked into at Fourways on Tuesday, before they left the country. After meeting with him, the group was escorted to the airport by the police.

Mbalula said the tour party, which included Dutch police officers, was stopped by six criminals, one of whom was wearing an SAPS uniform.

He said two of the tourists were injured in the attack and valuables worth an undisclosed amount of money were stolen.

Tourism Minister Tokozile Xasa said she hoped the attack would not have a negative impact on local tourism.

“Tourism is a critical sector and tourists come here and leave money that is used to sustain jobs. We hope they find time in the future to come back and enjoy our beautiful country,” Xasa said.

Mbalula stressed that the criminals would be tracked down.

“As much as they (the tourists) wanted to stay on, they were faced with a hostage-like situation by criminals who don’t want to respect the authority of the state. They undermine South Africa as a travel destination.

“If criminals can attack tourists who are here to spend money, that is not okay.”

He said some of the tourists promised to return after a year.

“They don’t believe South Africa is as bad as these criminals make it. Those criminals tormented those innocent people,” he said.

Mbalula said the attack was an unfortunate incident and top detectives had been assembled to trace the criminals.

Kingdom of the Netherlands ambassador Marisa Gerards said the tourists understood that crime was not a reflection of South Africa but had to go home because their families were worried.

“There are newspapers abroad that are running with the story and you can understand that their families were traumatised.”

This incident caused a major row in the Netherlands, where the biggest newspaper in the country, Binnenland, reported as its front-page lead story that the tourists “received the shock of their lives” when they were robbed.

One of the tourists quoted in the story, identified only as PBakker, said the alleged thugs had weapons during the robbery, when there were roughly 70 passengers on board.

Bakker confirmed in the story that the tourists were indeed assaulted by the robbers.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said they were “extremely concerned” at suspected criminals using SAPS uniforms to conduct crime.

“Therefore, we have assigned this investigation to a group of seasoned detectives from our national investigation unit,” Naidoo said.

Asked what other actions the police have adopted to curb what is possibly a spate of airport followings and robberies, Naidoo said: “We have put in a revised strategy and, since July 25, this has been the first incident reported.”

He added: “Since this robbery (on Sunday), we have enhanced our capacity and capabilities in strategically identified areas.”

Naidoo said no arrests had been made, and he appealed to the public to inform the police by dialling 08600 10111 should anyone have any information that could lead to members of the gang being arrested.

The Star/Iol

PHOTO:Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula


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