The eyes of the world turn to Nelson Mandela Bay in April each year when the metro hosts the Ironman triathlon.
Normally the city’s heart swells with pride, but this year before the event even has started, it is clouded with shame.
Top Belgian athlete Frederik Van Lierde was mugged and robbed as he was cycling on Victoria Drive as part of his training for this weekend’s Ironman, on Sunday April 2.
What makes this more shocking is that just hours earlier another cyclist, Leon Killian, also was mugged on the same stretch of road.
Both attacks were in broad daylight.
It is understandable that the attack on an international champion such as Van Lierde is headline news as he is one of the favourites to win the race. However, the fact that there were two assaults in one day makes it hard to brush off as an isolated incident.
The Herald regularly reports on cars being stoned, bicycles stolen and other ugly and dangerous incidents on Victoria Drive and this has been going on for far too long. Victoria Drive is a major route from the city to the coast, linking Walmer with Schoenmakerskop, and it is inconceivable that it is a “no-go” area.
Promises of visible metro policing on Ironman routes during training times are a start, but they are definitely not enough. Are our own citizens not just as important as our high-profile visitors?
The municipality was willing to invest in road improvements for the safety of Ironman cyclists. However, it is clear that far more investment is needed to safeguard those roads.
Already the attack has raised (understandable) fears that cast a shadow on the metro hosting the Ironman World Championships next year. If athletes cannot train in safety, why would they visit?
The attacks also reinforce the perception of South Africa as a crime hotspot and will make other sporting codes less willing to bring their big budget events to the city.
Instead of being a watersport mecca and athletes’ paradise, Nelson Mandela Bay will lose its “Friendly City” reputation.
While we wish both Van Lierde and Killian a speedy recovery, we earnestly appeal to the authorities to put stronger measures in place to ensure the safety of all road users.