Spiralling violence now threatens the post-apartheid country's tourist industry, writes Mary Braid
SOUTH AFRICAN Marilese Holmes, 28, made her fortune selling the chic and fashionable face of Cape Town to the most affluent end of the overseas tourist market.

She did not have to exaggerate the charms of the stunning city at the foot of towering Table Mountain, on Africa's south-western tip; or, indeed, her own attachment to it. According to her younger sister Liezel, Cape Town, a tourist magnet since the fall of apartheid, really was Marilese's "favourite place on earth".

Yesterday Liezel was among the mourners at Marilese's funeral, five bewilderingly painful days after her body was found on a rubbish dump on the fringes of Khayelitsha, a sprawling township on the city's poverty- ridden Cape Flats. Khayelitsha epitomises the other side of Cape Town: the face the tourists never get to see.

The travel executive had been shot execution-style in the back of the head and chin. Little more than an hour before, a council worker had discovered the body of her American companion, Edward Keim, 33, on a nearby beach. He was lying face down, bullet holes in his head, close to his burnt-out BMW. His mouth and nose were stuffed with sand, betraying the brutality of his killers, who had pushed his face in the sand to muffle his cries.

It was a violent end to what appeared to be a blossoming romance between Holmes, a divorcee, and Keim, a Florida businessman she had met during a business trip to the US. He had arrived in her favourite city on New Year's Eve. For four days they enjoyed all that Cape Town and its spectacular surroundings have to offer; the "sunny skies, blue oceans and tonic breezes" that attract the tourists.

The two were last seen alive in the early hours of Monday morning at Cape Town's popular Waterfront complex, a favourite haunt of tourists, 25 miles from Khayelitsha and a world away from the Flats. They had gone to see the film Titanic with a friend.

Brutal murders are, unfortunately, nothing new in South Africa. But the killings of Ms Holmes and Mr Keim - the tour operator and the tourist - has sent a wave of panic through the country's travel industry. That the double murder came just four days after a German tourist, Helmut Wilhelm, 47, was stabbed to death on the crowded promenade at Durban does not help. Nor did reports that drunken revellers refused to help the "white man" as Mr Wilhelm slowly bled to death in front of his two young sons.

The Holmes and Keim killings also threw the spotlight on other Cape Town murders which might otherwise have passed unnoticed. There were at least a dozen in the first week of 1998, over half connected with the endemic gang violence on the Cape Flats, where hundreds of thousands of Coloureds (people of mixed race) were herded under apartheid.

The tourism deaths, and the subsequent exposure of other violent crime, shattered the complacency of those who had thrown up a mental ring-fence around Johannesburg, where crime has helped transform a once-bustling city centre into a no-go area after dark. Violence, they told themselves, was contained there. But the belief that Cape Town and Durban were safe havens has been shaken.

The right-wing Freedom Front was quick to claim that Johannesburg's crime wave was now lapping round the Western Cape, and to demand the restoration of the death penalty. An emotional Craig Bond, managing director of South African American Express, which contracted Ms Holmes to sell South Africa overseas, said her murder could lead tourists to view Cape Town like Rwanda.

Even ANC ministers admit that crime now threatens to nip South Africa's promising tourist industry in the bud. Peter Mokaba, deputy tourism minister, called last week for specialised police units to protect tourists and the introduction of harsher punishments for criminals. He complained that the police were not doing enough, while the police claimed they had too few resources.

And while Mr Mokaba was careful not to suggest a tourist's life was worth more than the average South African's, he pointed out that tourism earned South Africa 30bn rand (pounds 3.7bn) in 1996 - a 20 per cent increase on 1995 and just a fraction of what might yet be realised from a largely unexploited market.

According to officials in Mr Mokaba's department, the repercussions are already being felt. Several groups of Germans have cancelled trips to Durban.

The government realises what is at stake. More than 20 detectives were assigned to the Holmes-Keim killings, and by Wednesday two men were arrested and charged with murder. The following night two other men - allegedly members of the same carjacking gang - were shot dead when they tried to break through a police roadblock, set up after a tip-off.

The two surviving alleged gang members were also charged with the murders of a local couple, Mike and Maggie Knott, both 54. Their car was also hijacked, and their bodies were found near the spot where Holmes and Kiem were killed, a day after the younger couple were discovered. Further charges relate to the abduction of a local pastor and his 10-year-old son. In Durban three teenage boys - said to be street children - have already been charged with Wilhelm's murder.

But the swift arrests, and the announcement last week that Cape Town's police tourist protection unit is being enlarged and reorganised, have brought bitter complaints in some quarters. Irven Kinnes, spokesman for the Western Cape Anti-Crime Forum wanted to know why the same police resources and commitment were not devoted to the gang violence on the Cape Flats, which has claimed hundreds of lives. "Is it because it has happened to white people?" he asks. "Is life more important when the victim is a tourist?"

The activist pointed out that police had yet to arrest anyone for the murder of four people - including a teenage girl - at the house of the notorious local gang leader, Rashied Staggie, on New Year's Eve.

For Mr Kinnes, there is a direct connection between neglect on the Flats and the impact of the resulting violence on Cape Town's tourism. Those who parade the Waterfront, he says, could not be shielded forever from the city's other, uglier face.