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Pretoria outraged by UK’s travel terror warning, but Britain says advisory posted in 2022

Pretoria outraged by UK’s travel terror warning, but Britain says advisory posted in 2022
Illustrative image. (Photo: iStock) | A South African flag. (Photo: EPA / Nic Bothma)

Department of International Relations and Cooperation Director-General Zane Dangor expressed outrage over a UK terror warning for South Africa, but the UK says it’s been in place since 2022 when the US warned of a possible attack in Sandton.

The South African government has reportedly expressed outrage about a travel warning issued by Britain to its citizens that “terrorists are very likely to carry out attacks in South Africa”.

But the UK says the warning has been on its website since 2022. It is not clear why a furore has erupted now.  

The advisory on the website of the British High Commission in Pretoria adds that: “The main threat is from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist groups, including Daesh, and who may carry out ‘lone actor’ attacks.

“Attacks could be indiscriminate and could target public spaces and places visited by foreigners, such as: tourist sites; shopping centres; high-profile events; crowded places.”

Zane Dangor, the Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), has been quoted by News24 as complaining about the terror warning, which the report said was updated on 4 January. 

“Where does this credible threat come from?” he is reported as saying.

“They still have not given us a proper explanation. There is no evidence why we would be a target for a terror attack, and we are saying if you have credible information, give it to us, which they have not done.”

Daily Maverick asked Dangor and Dirco to confirm and comment, but neither responded. 

The UK’s current travel advisory, which covers a wide range of issues, from crime to power cuts, was updated on 4 January regarding passport validity, and according to sources the most recent update on terrorist groups was added in December 2023.

A UK source said: “There is no new update or alert. With the exception of language on tensions in the Middle East added in December last year, we have had similar language on terrorism in our travel advice for well over a year.

“Our travel advice is about providing the best advice we can to British nationals so they can visit South Africa with confidence — it is not about geopolitics.”

The British High Commission told Daily Maverick: “The [Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office] constantly reviews the threat to British nationals from international terrorism.”

The UK’s terror alert was first posted in 2022 after the US embassy in October that year posted a similar warning to its citizens that there could be a terror attack in Sandton. Those warnings also provoked a strong negative response from Pretoria. SowetanLive reported on the UK’s warning at the time. 

The new language in the UK advisory, on tensions in the Middle East, states that: “The current conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories has led to heightened tensions around the world.

“Terrorist groups, such as [al-Qaeda] and Daesh, have called on their supporters to carry out terrorist attacks in response to the conflict. The conflict could also motivate individuals to carry out attacks. 

“Terrorist attacks could target Jewish or Muslim communities, or the interests of Israel and its allies. Attacks could also be indiscriminate and occur without warning.”

It is understood this updated warning was posted widely on British embassy websites around the world and did not refer specifically to South Africa. 

Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation Zane Dangor. (Photo: Katlholo Maifadi / Dirco)

Attack unlikely

Jasmine Opperman, an expert on extremism in Africa, said the first thing to understand about this controversy was that the UK and other countries had a legal obligation to warn their citizens of any danger to cover themselves from any comeback if there should be an attack. 

She added that, given the threat of terror attacks in Europe, including lone wolf attacks, “One can understand the concerns by Western governments.”

She said she did not believe the warning was an attempt by the UK to discredit South Africa because of differences over foreign policy positions on the Russia-Ukraine war or the Israel-Hamas war, as some commentators have suggested. 

She said that extremism was not unfamiliar to South Africa, “What is unfamiliar is an organised attack like we saw in Russia,” she added, referring to the terror attack on the Crocus City Hall in Moscow last month in which more than 133 people died. The Isis affiliate Isis-K, based in central Asia, claimed responsibility. 

Opperman said she did not think that such a major attack was likely or that South Africa’s recent foreign policy positions and actions had increased the chances of such an attack. 

The Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a group, in northern Mozambique, which is affiliated to the Islamic State, had warned that it would retaliate in South Africa if Pretoria deployed troops to fight it — which SA did in July 2021, as part of a SADC regional force. 

Opperman noted that concerns had also been raised that there could be retaliation against South Africa for deploying troops last December to fight armed rebel groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

One of the armed groups in the DRC, the Allied Democratic Forces, is also affiliated with Isis. But Opperman noted that there had been no attack by the Islamic State after these deployments and she did not think there was an increased probability of a major organised attack. 

She said red flags remained about the danger of South Africans being recruited by extremist groups and of South Africa providing a safe haven for them. There was always the danger of a lone wolf attack, though predicting and preventing such an attack would be extremely difficult.  

Opperman added that the threat of a right-wing attack should not be overlooked, especially before the elections. 

Similar warning in Kenya

Willem Els, a security expert at the Institute for Security Studies, agreed that the UK terror alert was directed only at warning its own citizens and not at Pretoria. 

He said he believed the warning was escalated after the terror attack in Moscow last month when Isis-K became very active on its media platforms, threatening attacks on big gatherings like soccer matches and trying to incite lone wolf attacks. 

He said that on 29 March, the UK had posted a similar travel alert on the website of its High Commission in Kenya. 

This travel advisory is not dated but, like the South African one, it warns that “terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Kenya”.

But it goes further than the SA warning, saying: “Be aware there is a heightened threat of terrorism across Kenya. Attacks could target Westerners, including British nationals. These could occur at any time including religious events, public holidays or celebrations. Attacks are indiscriminate and could occur in places frequented by foreigners, including tourists, such as, but not limited to: hotels; bars; restaurants; nightclubs; sporting events; supermarkets; shopping centres; beaches; safari parks; commercial and government buildings; places of worship.”

Unlike South Africa, Kenya is not perceived as a country that may have antagonised the UK or the West with its stance on the Russia-Ukraine or Israel-Hamas wars. DM

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  • Peter Doble says:

    The total irony of this Pretorian outburst is that there are so many ways of meeting an early demise in South Africa that a “lone wolf terrorist” barely ranks in the top 20.

    • Vic Mash says:

      There has never been any terror attacking this country since the demise of your legacy which is apartheid, but there has been many fake warnings from your home, not surprised you blame my country for feeling this way.

      • Tony Gomes says:

        There have been numerous, possibly dozens, of incidents of domestic and international terrorism in SA since 1994. Not sure why you don’t know about this. But certain forms of radical Islam inspired terrorism are rare and unlikely, simply because the ANC is closely aligned with some if these radical players. Nonetheless, not all radicals have the same opinions, for instance the Sunni/Shia split, so even so we are still not safe.

      • Rod H MacLeod says:

        Ah Vic, you already forget/ignore the murder of 3 Coptic monks in Johannesburg last month … no robbery, just more of the persecution this Egyptian religious sect suffers at the hands of Islamic terror.

    • Is there hope South Africa? says:

      Totally agree with you Peter. A very special friend of ours has recently been murdered and it had nothing to do with terrorism. Crime in South Africa is terrible.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Are you aware of the (almost daily!) slaughter of Americans by Americans … in the name of the ‘right to bear arms’ ? It is only when someone is killed by a ‘non-American’ … that it becomes ‘terrorism’ ! What a wonderful ‘label’ … and method of demonisation of the ‘other’ … but not the ‘local’ !

        • Is there hope South Africa? says:

          I am aware of this as well as the horrific school shootings in the USA. But I have no idea what your comment is trying to achieve. Whether someone dies by terrorism or by local crime, it is devastating to the families concerned.
          Here, the discussion is about South Africa, not America. And crimes other than terrorism (as pointed out by Peter) are much more prevalent. In other words you are more likely to die by violent crime in South Africa than by terrorism. So maybe tourists should be more aware of that.

  • Cachunk Cachunk says:

    And our anc “leaders” once again shout to the World, “look how utterly stupid and incompetent we are!”

    • Vic Mash says:

      I am no fan of the ANC but i fail to understand how fake terror attacks has to do with them. Your western countries are undermining every country except western countries. What are you all doing here then? just go home and be safe

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        You singularly and spectacularly failed to read and/or understand the article: it was a routine travel warning put out by the UK government ages ago that Dangor the Cold War fanatic is now using for his overt political agenda to completely sever ties with Western countries. He is a liability to our international standing and the most credible threat to our economic prosperity in South Africa today. A 50s luddite with an axe to grind who wouldn’t give a damn if our economy collapsed because of his mindless obsession with discredited 70 year old politics. I honestly hope he’s fired on the 30th of May and someone who has their reading of global affairs rooted in the 21st century is put in his place.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The terrorist attack risk inside UK must be several times higher than in SA. Does the UK foreign office warn foreigners about the risks in UK too?

    Same applies to many countries. If you travel overseas nowadays you encounter body armor automatic rifle security all over public spaces.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Pertinent observation. According to the logic you unpack … Israel must be ‘safest’ country on the globe !

    • Dietmar Horn says:

      Such travel advice from governments is a service to their own citizens when traveling abroad. It is also about liability claims against travel insurance companies and against the government itself, for example in the event of necessary repatriations in the event of a crisis. For South Africa, it is up to DIRCO to what extent it offers such services to South African citizens (I don’t know, I haven’t needed such a service yet). Whatever such a classification turns out to be, I don’t think the UK and EU will paranoidly view it as an attack.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      The UK Foreign Office looks at foreign affairs as the name suggests. The SA government would be fully within its rights to post travel warnings about possible terror attacks in the UK and any number of countries where these are a reality, including the US, France, much of Western Europe, Israel, Russia, the Middle East, eastern Africa, Mozambique, India, Pakistan and other places. I’ve no idea if they do or not, but it’s childish and displaying a complete lack, wilfully on Dangor’s part, of understanding of how these things work in the international system.

  • Denise Smit says:

    And the rumours of SA hosting Hamas the terrorist organisation does not make things better. So far quite a large number of tourists have been killed or came in dangerous situations in SA. Though not terrorism acts it is necessary in SA to have constant thought of dangers around you. Pretoria itself is a dangerous City, the same Johannesburg, Durban, anywhere near the Kruger National Park and some places in Cape Town. It is a good thing to warn tourists to be vigilant

  • Tom Penfold says:

    Its very odd – I remember when this warning initially came out and it would have been a few years ago. And the UK government is just awful at updating advise – the ANC have uncovered British laziness only I think

  • Geoff Coles says:

    The terrorist prefers the fleshpots of Europe, UK included,where their subsidised living comes from Governments that have lost credibility.

  • Rae Earl says:

    Dangor is out of line and, in true ANC alertness to any situation, reacts to 2 year old information as if it only appeared now. Time to wake up Mr. Dangor. And in case you haven’t noticed, your totally useless Minister of Police and his inept SAPS have enabled criminals to do as they like. Over 80 murders a day is indeed good reason for the UK Government to warn its citizens that SA is not a safe destination. A new government is urgently needed to ensure our country survives 30 years of failing ANC rule.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Childish but predictable outburst from an odious individual! One can only hope that this useless and degenerate cabal heading our duplicitous foreign policy gets dump after the elections. Dangor, Pandor, Cyril etc. – arch-hypocrites, liars and misfits who only selectively condemn what suits their narrow and nefarious interests and who are totally at odds with our freedom, values, human rights and our Constitution.

  • Justin Dent says:

    ANC are practically on a first name basis with all major terrorists. To the world we are a practically a terrorist state and will be treated as such.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      You mean like the ‘west’ (10% of world population) has always done, under the false pretext of being the ‘international’ community ? Hubris and lying (with a straight face) through their front teeth, seems to come naturally to the colonialist mindset …. and their many acolytes !

  • Bob Dubery says:

    That’s that US ambassador with the motor mouth. This attack he warned about never happened, and there’s also nothing to support his claim that South Africa was shipping munitions to Russia. He needs his bow tie tweaked.

  • The real Ellon Must says:

    SA is actively involved in the DRC conflict, as well as not so silently supporting anti Israeli groups. Yes, the hated “Terror” groups. Now the current government is upset that foreign countries say that those self same terror groups pose a threat to their citizens traveling to SA? Are we to assume that the violent pro Palestine rallies in SA as seen on international news is a myth? Or just not violent enough to have to alert incoming tourists too?

  • Kevin Schaafsma says:

    The SA government should tell the UK that there won’t be a terrorist attack in SA because SA is friends with all the terrorists.

  • Richard Blake says:

    South Africas borders are non existent. Thousands of people casually walk over our borders every day carrying firearms and explosives. The ANC government does not even know how many illegal aliens are in the country. So it really should not surprise the government that Britain and other countries are cautioning tourists traveling to South Africa.

  • Andre Swart says:

    Naledi Pandor vis vir gratis publisiteit vòòr die verkiesing!

    Daarom paradeer sy en haar kapaas op die wêreld verhoë.

    Plaas daarvan dat sy die buurlande laat BETAAL vir al hul burgers wat parasiteer op die SA hospitale, skole en SASSA geld.

    Die ‘terroriste’ waarteen gewaarsku word …?

    Almal wéét!!!

  • Anil Maharaj says:

    The DG is as useless as his political masters. How can such a high-ranking official be so ill-informed?
    Perhaps it’s his way of electioneering

  • sapientem victor says:

    A tip from the Bible: Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

  • Frank Fettig says:

    The ANC has been terrorizing SA for 30 years and it was never worth a headline…

  • Pet Bug says:

    That’s the first thing I noticed: frigging two years behind the curve mate.
    I mean like seriously… now, in 2024, they realize we’re been on the terror list since 2022… wakey wakey Hamas supporter.

  • dexter m says:

    Since 2022 the number of UK citizens visiting SA has increased yearly. Is anyone besides politicians paying attention to this advisory .
    Does this advisory impact the travel insurance of a UK tourist ?

  • Skinyela Skinyela says:

    “Opperman added that the threat of a right-wing attack should not be overlooked, especially before the elections.”

    Last time I heard of any right-wing fringe groups was during the Era(at different times) of AWB and Boeremag.

    What would the right-wingers possibly gain from that, because the hope of inciting a race war and inspiring all white people to take up arms against the state were shattered by the 1999 elections.

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    Classic DIRCO “response”. Outrage and a proper little tantrum. Has Zangor not noted the significant of foreigners murdered whilst visiting SA in recent years? What would DIRCO and our “Intelligence Agencies” do if given relevant terror strike information by any country? Look no further than the anarchy in July a few years ago. They are CLUELESS!!!

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