"Don't go to South Africa with a Z9"


► Facebook post

"I would not take an expensive camera to South Africa. Crime is off the scale. You are not even safe in large groups. If you are a tourist, the criminals announce your arrival at the airport and vector armed robbers to your location afterwards. Carjacking is epidemic. I'd take a cheap camera to that location if I were you--or better yet, not go there in the first place."


► My response

I'd take this equipment with me into active warzones to countries like Somalia or Syria or even North Korea if I have to, J. While I do appreciate the warning (and trust me, I do), I know the situation and I've seen my fair share of dangerous situations from the good old pre pandemic days.

I'm internationally active as a photographer and travelling to non-standard places is something I'm all too familiar with and not very much a stranger to. I actually have friends in SA and people I know in photography that are doing their jobs in the national parks, townships and villages across the country with equipment as expensive or even more expensive as mine. I won't say that nothing bad will ever happen, but in my experience, whether it's in Eastern Europe, Russia or a slum in Sri Lanka: my life is most important to me, but fear is the killer of dreams. And I am not going to let fear keep me from travelling somewhere. Ever.

Allow me to elaborate as to why: Only three years ago I went to Belarus and after a day in town my friends and I decided to hit the bars and clubs straightaway, without dropping off our stuff at the hotel first since it would've meant a rather big detour and we were hungry and thirsty. I ended up partying and drinking with my (back then) D500 in the lively clubbing scene of Minsk from dawn till dusk, putting my camera down on the bar between the crowds everywhere, not speaking a single word of Belarusian at that time. And yes, that camera and lens drew a lot attention, but not in a bad way I can tell you and it's not like we're were doing shots of water either the entire night.

The fact is that I wasn't spasmodically trying to hide that camera. I didn't actively show it off either but people even mistook me for the official party photographer in almost all venues we went to. It opened doors. Literally, free entrance, shots on the house for me and my friends. I acted and I actually felt like I belonged. What I'm saying is that advantage can be taken from you anywhere. Walk around like a tourist: get caught and be prey. Walk around like you belong, leaving that frightened attitude at home always opens doors in my experience. And that goes for all around the world. No exceptions. That's why I never walk around like a tourist. My equipment got me into places normal tourist could not on more than one occasion.

In my experience it might also have to do with attitude. People from certain nationalities or with certain skin colour often are either more prone to be a target in other places. As a white American, your risk is overall higher in the rest of the world in general. As a black person from Africa travelling to Europe, you will probably be met with the occasional foul look as being mistaken for an immigrant. In my case I'm European from Sri Lankan origin. I'm mistaken for being Indian, but I'm Dutch, well-educated, at home on this entire planet and speaking my fair share of languages, being fluent in at least 4. I'm always curious to learn more and always willing to learn about the places I visit in advance. That is not optional for me, that's compulsory. What I found to be true is that having at least some cultural and historical knowledge of a place, knowing one's languages and using one's wit and plain old common sense gets one a long way on this planet. Luckily I do speak my languages and I'm raised to have a careful but also an inquisitive nature and... an open mind. That has saved me in a lot of situations all around the world. Don't mistake my kindness for nativity because I am most certainly not.

I've seen lots of tourists acting indeed... like tourists, being helpless and an easy prey abroad, due to not speaking the language or not having cultural or even general knowledge of the places they're visiting... Forgive me for saying, but I always chuckle when I see American tourists out and about roaming the world. Seeing them out of their country is something special in itself. Americans are often truly naive and indeed, easy prey most of the time, walking more easily into tourist traps or even dangerous situations that could have been easily avoided if they would've spoken the language or were to have a little bit more knowledge of the places they visit in general.

I'm not saying that I'm invincible but trust me when I say this: I feel safer with my expensive equipment amidst an entire group of third world dirt poor begging children in an Asian or African country, than in my own Western European country of The Netherlands in a city like Amsterdam. But then again, while I do appreciate the warning, I don't feel particularly unsafe anywhere easily. It often has to do with attitude. You don't have to be aggressive of carry guns or excessive protection, but most of the time it's because people don't know a situation and act out of fear... act like prey and you will end up being prey, is often what I see happening around me when I'm abroad.

As for SA... I'm Dutch. But I'm not white. I blend in more easily and.. Afrikaans is really similar to Dutch, which is my native language. Having expensive equipment is, well, equipment. I don't handle not with care, but it's tools. Stuff. Replaceable in the end. My life and health are always more important to me than any piece of material can ever be. No, I don't go out looking for danger on this planet, but things come as they are. If things go South, they will anyway and if they're not: also okay. Does that mean we better not do things? Out of fear? Not in my book.

In the end we come to regret the things we didn't do in life a lot more than the things we did do.. Shooting in Kruger Park is one of them but rest assured, I'll read up on it thoroughly beforehand and I take this warning into consideration as well. 

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