At the Business Meeting of the Meteoritical Society, on the occasion of its 61st Annual Meeting in Dublin, Ireland, in July 1998, Uwe Reimold, on behalf of the Organizing Committee of MetSoc '99, addressed the security situation in Johannesburg and the measures taken for MetSoc '99 to ensure personal safety for all participants. Since then, only a single enquiry regarding this issue - specifically the advisability of travelling on one's own through South Africa by rental car, has been received by the Committee - from a European member of the Society.

However, it has been brought to our attention recently that there are some members of the Society that are still concerned about the safety issue, possibly because they took notice of a Consular Information Sheet issued by the US State Department on 15 October 1998, or a similar source of information. We would like to take the opportunity to discuss this information in the context of our arrangements for MetSoc '99.

The 15 October 1998 Consular Information Sheet provides factual information and generally good travel advice. In contrast, it must be born in mind that the majority of media reports on South Africa in recent months have concentrated on negative news (bad news makes good news!) and has been sensationalized.

In contrast to the concerns that some might have about travel to and in South Africa, the recently released report by the World Tourism Organization lists South Africa as one of the world's top tourist destinations - currently at the No. 25 spot in the world (Ireland is ranked No. 24), which represents a major jump since the last release - by 30 places, from place 55! Tourist arrivals in South Africa are estimated to have been up by 10% in 1998 from the 1997 figures, with more than 6 million visitors having been counted.

Many of these visitors will have come to attend international conferences. Considering the Earth Sciences alone, a host of large conferences were held in SA in 1998, including the Platinum Symposium, International Kimberlite Conference, Gondwana Symposium, International Volcanological Congress, International Conference on Nuclear Methods and Applications, the Dual Archeological/Anthropological Congress, and a large Archeological Congress in January 1999. Another huge conference in South Africa in 1999 will bring together the world's Quaternary geologists in August (Int. Union for Quaternary Res.). To our knowledge, only a handful of congress attendants have had negative experiences (pickpocketing/mugging) in the past 5 years. This kind of affliction unfortunately is not restricted to South Africa's cities, but is a worldwide phenomenon. All major cities have areas which visitors should avoid.

Regarding major crime, simple and common sense precautions must be taken. Do not walk  - especially alone or at dark - through those parts of Johannesburg that are not earmarked as safe. While you might want to enjoy the nightlife and restaurants of Johannesburg at night, this is preferably done in groups. Such outings should be confined to Johannesburg Northern Suburbs (details will be provided in the next months on this website and as part of the conference registration package). Should someone, however, decide to enter economically depressed areas, such as downtown Johannesburg and satellite townships (such as Soweto) on his/her own volition, the risk of mugging will be there!

The Central Business District of Johannesburg is an unsafe destination for the overtly tourist visitor, bedecked with camera equipment, conference badges and bags, and tourist maps. The Organizing Committee has designed and arranged a program that allows all participants in MetSoc '99 to visit the important tourist and historical sites in and around Johannesburg, as part of official tourist groups. The University of the Witwatersrand, the conference venue, lies at the outskirts of the CBD, but relatively close to the suburbs of Melville, Rosebank, and Sandton, where you may want to visit shops, restaurants, or fleamarkets, etc.

Besides these offers and safe opportunities to see much of the African charm and historical aspects of Gauteng Province, both conference-appointed hotels provide courtesy desks where numerous other tours and visits can be arranged by expert staff. It is also recommended to draw on these facilities for taxi service. The conference registration desk will be manned from 11-16 July, and our staff and helpers will provide you with personalized assistance.

That the Organizing Committee is doing everything in its powers to make your visit to Johannesburg a satisfying and safe one, is obvious from this list:

1. Upon arrival at Johannesburg International Airport, you will be personally collected by an appointed transport operator and brought to your accommodation. This service, of course, also applies upon your departure for the airport. It is covered by the registration fee. Like in any other populous city or busy airport, you may not want to risk theft; take care of your essential/valuable belongings (passports, money-purses, camera-bag, etc.) and watch your baggage.

2. All transport between hotels and university campus will be provided as part of the registration fee. Six minivans will be on standby for the duration of the conference, should you wish to leave the campus during the day (e.g., to return to the hotel). While the distance to the Holiday Inn Hotel is not great, one would walk along a very busy road, which would also have to be crossed twice. Because of this and for those who may choose the other conference hotel, which is located somewhat further, the special effort has been made to provide a shuttle service.

3. All tours on offer as part of the conference program have been arranged in conjunction with a well reputed tour operator. Expert, professional guides will accompany you.

4. Our field trip guides have many years of experience in their respective areas, and we are convinced that you will have unique field experiences, without having to worry about anything, least of all your safety.

5. The conference program is so extensive, that only one or two evenings remain for your personal planning. For these times, we will advise you of safe opportunities - in the Final Announcement to be released at the end of May, upon registration, and throughout the conference week at the registration desk.

6. The Organizing Committee can be contacted by fax and e-mail with any questions you may have. Please do not hesitate to tell us about your plans, and we will advise you of the safest and most appropriate travel means.

7. We endorse the State Department's recommendation not to travel by public transport (buses/trains), and advise to utilize accredited taxi companies for travel within Johannesburg, air travel between major cities, and rental car agencies for regional travel. Restaurant staff will assist taxi travellers for return trips to their hotels.

Had we been seriously concerned about personal safety of delegates, we would not have bid to stage the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Meteoritical Society in Johannesburg. Please talk to your friends and colleagues, who might have been in South Africa before and who could give you first-hand advice. But do not hesitate to contact us, so that we can personally address your specific concerns. The response to the First Conference Announcement was very encouraging, and first registrations have been coming in. We look forward to seeing you in Johannesburg and to provide you with a unique African, and scientifically and socially rewarding, conference!

Uwe Reimold will shortly attend the 30th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston and invites you to approach him with your questions. Contact the Organizing Committee at Fax No. +27 11 339 1697 or by e-mail at [email protected] or [email protected].

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