US issues GPS safety alert after tourist shot and robbed in Nyanga

07 November 2023 - 12:30
By Kim Swartz
Walter Fischel, a US tourist, was shot in the face and robbed while driving from Cape Town International Airport to Simon’s Town.
Image: Walter Fischel/Facebook Walter Fischel, a US tourist, was shot in the face and robbed while driving from Cape Town International Airport to Simon’s Town.

The US government warned its citizens that taking “shortest and fastest” routes suggested by GPS navigation apps can put them in danger in South Africa.

The safety alert was issued on Saturday, a day after a US tourist was shot in the face and robbed while driving from Cape Town International Airport to Simon’s Town. A GPS device directed him through Nyanga, where he was attacked.

Walter Fischel, 55, a father of three, had just arrived from Thailand and exchanged currency at the airport before departing in a hired car for his destination.

“He rented a car, entered his destination into the GPS, and picked a route that appeared to be the shortest distance to where he had been headed,” reported the Daily Mail.

He did not realise the selected route could be unsafe.

Police spokesperson Capt FC van Wyk said the motive behind the attack was robbery. 

“A case of attempted murder and robbery with a firearm was registered at Mowbray and will be transferred to Nyanga for further investigation,” said Van Wyk.

The Connecticut resident is recovering from surgery in hospital.

“GPS navigation can lead to unsafe routes. Shortcuts through townships may be  the quickest preferred route but can lead to increased risks of crime,” read the US travel advisory.

“If you decide to travel to South Africa: Investigate your route in advance, stay on major highways, avoid shortcuts 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 Rd (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.”

Mayoral spokesperson Lyndon Khan said on Tuesday, in response to queries about routes suggested by GPS navigation apps: “Mayor [Geordin] Hill-Lewis and Cape Town Tourism met with Google Maps on Thursday November 2 to discuss safe route recommendations to and from Cape Town International Airport.

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

A spokesperson for Google Maps told TimesLIVE on Tuesday: “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 judgment.”

Nyanga community policing forum (CPF) chairperson Dumisani Qwebe condemned the attack. “This is the second incident where a tourist has been shot in the community.

“We do not want an environment where Nyanga is portrayed in a negative light,” said Qwebe. 

He said the CPF would meet on Wednesday to work on an integrated plan with police to deal with crime in the community. 

TimesLIVE previously reported on a British surgeon being shot dead after taking a wrong turn into Nyanga, travelling from Cape Town International Airport, while on holiday in the city during a violent taxi strike.