Google Maps may have directed US tourist straight into dangerous township

Walter Fischel was shot in the face when his rented GPS directed him through Nyanga as he made his way to Simon’s Town. Picture: Facebook

Walter Fischel was shot in the face when his rented GPS directed him through Nyanga as he made his way to Simon’s Town. Picture: Facebook

Published Nov 12, 2023


Google Maps Maps apparently directed an American tourist through one of the country’s most dangerous townships as he tried to drive from the airport to Simon’s Town, an incident that could threaten Cape Town’s tourist industry off the cliff.

American tourist Walter Fischel was shot in the face in Nyanga soon after landing at the Cape Town International Airport last Friday, at 2pm.

The navigation system in his rented car directed him to go through the township.

Mayoral committee (Mayco) member for urban mobility Rob Quintas said mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and Cape Town Tourism met Google Maps representatives recently to discuss safe route recommendations to and from the airport.

“Fruitful discussions were held and the work will now be taken forward by Google technicians and Cape Town traffic and tourism authorities.”

Safety and Security Mayco member JP Smith said they conducted patrols across the metropole, as resources allowed.

“Unfortunately, static deployments are not always possible. The SAPS is the primary agency tasked with crime prevention – the City’s enforcement agencies act in support of SAPS.”

Days after the attack on Fischel, an elderly German couple stopped along Baden Powell Drive, near Wolfgat, to take photographs of the scenery.

Police spokesperson FC van Wyk said the man remained in the vehicle and napped while his wife got out, taking the camera. Two unknown men approached them.

“The one suspect went to the vehicle and after knocking on the car window, opened the driver’s door and grabbed the GPS, which was plugged in on the front seat. The suspect struck the victim, and showed a panga in his hand when he tried to resist him,” Van Wyk said.

“The second suspect grabbed the female victim’s camera and forced her down on to the ground. The victim then gave the suspect cash in an attempt to get him to leave her alone.”

Van Wyk said when passers-by approached, the suspects ran off.

“A chase ensued and the suspects were arrested and the stolen items recovered, along with the weapons used. One of the passers-by was Colonel Dirk Rademan, Kleinvlei SAPS station commander.”

The suspects, aged 30 and 34, face charges of armed robbery and possession of an unlicensed firearm, and were expected to appear in the Mitchells Plain Magistrate’s Court once charged.

At the time of this incident, Fischel was recovering in hospital in Mowbray.

He said he was not warned of any dangerous areas in Cape Town on his arrival.

“I put my address in Simon’s Town into the GPS, inspected the vehicle and proceeded down the fastest route and ended up at a taxi area in Nyanga. I was stopped among many other vehicles waiting to queue when I was shot in the face with no warning at all.

“One suspect reached in to open the door and I started to fight. I tried to grab the gun. I noticed two to three others entering car from other side. They took money from my pockets, my passport and wallet.”

Fischel said he got out of the vehicle and walked away, but turned around to retrieve his bag from the boot.

“I returned to the vehicle while they were starting to drive off. I spat out my teeth and the bullet, opened the boot and grabbed my bag and they took it from me. They then drove off.”

He told the Weekend Argus that he went to seek help but no one wanted to get involved. Eventually, two good samaritans came to his aid.

“Two nice ladies stopped while I was running with a bullet wound to my face. They drove me to Nyanga police station and to Mitchells Plain, where I was stabilised and transferred to Rondebosch Medical Clinic.”

Fischel said he had been a victim of crime before.

“I have spent many years outside of my home country and been a victim of scams, robberies and hijackings.

“South Africa can be beautiful … these hijackings and robberies of people must stop or this place will implode. I can’t believe South Africans take these occurrences so lightly. This area should be shut down.”

The US travel advisory issued a warning to tourists last Saturday.

“If you decide to travel to South Africa, investigate your route in advance, stay on major highways, avoid short cuts through townships, and avoid reliance on GPS navigation apps. When driving on city roads, the shortest and fastest route may not be the safest.

“For example, the safest approach to return a rental car to Cape Town International Airport is to take the N2 highway and follow signs to Airport Approach Road (exit 16).

Alternatively, request the rental car company to collect your vehicle and subsequently arrange an airport transfer from established taxi companies or established ride-sharing services to reach the airport.”

Google Maps told the Weekend Argus: “We take a wide range of factors into account to deliver the best driving route, including road size, directness, estimated travel time, and fuel efficiency. We take driver safety very seriously and encourage drivers to follow local laws, stay attentive, and use their best judgement.”

Van Wyk said a case of attempted murder and robbery with a firearm was registered at Mowbray.

The mayor said it was crucial that the City looked after visitors.

“The incident in Nyanga is deeply regrettable, we take that very personally because we know that it’s incredibly sad for that tourist who was injured. The message it sends out to the people who might be considering coming into our country is not a positive one.

“We want people to come here and book tickets here knowing they’re going to come here for holidays and know that they will be safe.

“Every single incident harms our country’s image, we can’t afford it when we have hundreds of thousands of people depending on this industry.

“Hopefully the deployment of the 80 law enforcement officers (for patrolling of tourism routes) and SANParks, along with the SAPS, will keep tourists safe.”

Anyone with any information about the shooting can contact Crime Stop on 08600 10111.

Weekend Argus