THE international observers flooding into South Africa for the April elections are probably under the impression, upon arrival, that the greatest danger to their safety lurks in places like Katlehong, a violent township just outside Johannesburg, and the Zulu killing fields of Natal province.
Wrong. Far more dangerous is the morning walk to work from Johannesburg's downtown Holiday Inn to the Carlton Tower, the building where the UN, the Commonwealth, the EU and OAU have their offices.
In the last week 11 UN observers have been mugged in central Johannesburg, including a group of five Chinese on Friday. The total of UN people mugged, at gunpoint in most cases, is in the high 20s.
Two Commonwealth observers have also been held up. One of them is Chief Inspector Sue Best of the Metropolitan Police. An expert on crowd control in general and football hooliganism in particular, Chief Inspector Best had no response to a group of armed youths who surrounded her on a Johannesburg street and communicated the plain message that failure to hand over her money would mean the end of her life. Wisely, she handed over her wallet.
Spokesmen for international organisations have tried to be diplomatic, stressing that the situation has 'not reached alarming proportions yet'. However, only a small fraction of the expected 2,500 monitors have arrived. And word appears to have spread among Johannesburg's criminal classes that UN personnel et al are a source of rich pickings.