Tourists run the gauntlet in South Africa: The murder of two British women comes amid a tide of violence, writes John Carlin

THE MURDER of two foreign tourists received only passing mention in the South African media yesterday. Had the victims not been British, female and white, the incident would have gone largely unnoticed by a wider public whose capacity for outrage time has dulled.

The statistics show why. Officially, 33 times more people are murdered each year in South Africa than in Britain, a country with about twice the population. In 1990 the British police reported 669 cases of homicide, which includes murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Last month the South African police reported that this year's murder rate was running at an average of 60 a day. Most victims are black but whites, too, have become largely immune to news that one of their kind has been shot or stabbed to death.

The police, however, always respond with more vigour to the deaths of whites. Because of this, because of the international dimension and because of the feared impact on the tourist trade, they announced yesterday that they had launched a big investigation into the killing of the two British women. Fifty officers have been sent to patrol the area in north Natal where Elizabeth Over and Julie Godwin, both 30, were murdered on Monday. But by yesterday evening no clue to the identity of the killers had been found.

Ms Over, who was engaged to a Durban man and Mrs Godwin, whose husband and young child were due to join her on holiday on Friday, were last seen on an otherwise deserted Indian Ocean beach in Sodwana Bay at 6pm on Monday. It was the scene of another murder two months ago.

Six hours later one of the bodies was discovered about four and a half miles north, washed up on the seashore. Two hours later the next was found. Both women were naked and their bodies were covered in wounds and bruises. Police said they had obviously put up a struggle before being murdered and thrown into the sea. The evidence for their conclusions was that blood stains had been found on their station-wagon, parked 750 yards behind the sand dunes, and on surrounding bushes. A post- mortem examination is expected today or tomorrow, to establish whether they had been murdered before being dumped in the sea and, a possibility the police did not rule out, whether they had been raped.

The Foreign Office in London said it saw no need to revise advice that 'generally, there are no dangers' to people travelling to South Africa. The Foreign Office does urge, however, that care should be taken 'after dark and in city centres at all times'. Township visits are not recommended alone.

But South Africa, which received 143,511 British visitors last year, is an increasingly dangerous place. Two of the four white people shot during a wine-tasting session at a golf club on Saturday were British citizens - David and Gillian Davies, both veterinary surgeons living in South Africa.

Two elderly British tourists were lucky to escape with their lives two weeks ago. John Shipster and his wife Corrie, both in their seventies, were staying with a couple, distant relatives, at a farmhouse in central Natal. At 9.30pm on 19 November, four men with knives burst into the house, seized a shotgun owned by the host and, before running off with a car and household goods, spent two and a half hours terrorising their victims. Knives were held to the women's throats, death-threats were issued and the two men were beaten with clubs. Mr Shipster suffered a broken collar bone.

The place where the Shipsters chose to spend part of their holidays was far from the beaten tourist track. The best advice to visitors is probably to remain on that track: the crowded Cape Town and Durban beaches and the game parks. The lions and leopards of the Kruger Park hold fewer terrors than empty beaches, isolated rural retreats and the centre of Johannesburg, where diplomats and United Nations observers have been among the muggers' prey in recent weeks.

(Photographs omitted)

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