US Embassy Warns of Terror Threat in South Africa's Richest Shopping District
By Kate Bartlett October 27, 2022
The U.S. Embassy in South Africa has issued a rare warning of a possible terror attack this coming weekend in Sandton, an upmarket business district of Johannesburg sometimes dubbed "Africa's richest square mile." South Africa's president has criticized the U.S. for putting out the alert and causing "panic" without first consulting the government.
The Johannesburg neighborhood of Sandton is one of the wealthiest areas in Africa, home to luxury boutiques, upmarket restaurants and major international corporations.
So it was a shock to many South Africans when the U.S. Embassy issued an alert Wednesday saying "The U.S. government has received information that terrorists may be planning to conduct an attack targeting large gatherings of people at an unspecified location in the greater Sandton area."
The embassy did not give any detail as to who's believed to be behind the threat or the exact target or expected method of attack. It advised its staff to avoid the area over the weekend, with the attack believed to be planned for Saturday.
At Sandton City, a mall directly across from the U.S. Consulate, security was beefed up Thursday, with armed guards stationed at the shopping center's entrance.
Asked if she was alarmed by the terror warning, shopper Stella Sebalo said she was very concerned because such threats are extremely unusual in South Africa.
"It's a first in South Africa, hence it was like 'what?' It's a first so I'm really hoping it's just a threat and nothing more," she said.
Friedrich Van Zyl, a businessman who's been attending a work conference in Sandton this week, said since hearing of the warning other attendees were staying away.
"At this moment a lot of our colleagues and friends have not come to Sandton," he said.
Johannesburg's gay pride event is set to take place in Sandton this weekend, with some speculation in local media that it could be a target.
Asked at a press conference Thursday about the terror alert, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa criticized the U.S. for having issued it without first having a discussion with the government, calling it "unfortunate."
"Any form of alert will come from the government of the republic of South Africa and it is unfortunate that another government should issue such a threat as to send panic amongst our people," he said.
However, Ramaphosa said the government and its agencies were looking closely at the U.S. warning.
U.S. Embassy spokesman David Feldmann told VOA he didn't have anything to add to what was already in the alert.
Many of the South Africans VOA spoke to at the mall expressed trepidation at the threat and said they'd be staying away from Sandton this weekend.
But one shopper, Preshaan Salikram, joked with trademark South African black humor that given Johannesburg's high rate of violent crime, it was the terrorists who should be worried.
"No I'm not worried about it at all. This is South Africa, we terrorize terrorists here...They'll probably get robbed before they get to us," said Salikram.
Unlike other African countries fighting Islamist militant groups, including neighboring Mozambique, South Africa is at peace and threats like this are rare.
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