Over the years, South Africa has garnered somewhat of a reputation as a hotbed of violence, disease and death.
While some of the superstitions are partly based on facts, separating the real from the overexaggerated is no easy feat, prompting potential visitors to this African country to seriously contemplate whether they should travel here at all.
Needless to say, provoking danger and tragedy has never done anyone any good and using common sense will get you quite far. So, is it safe to travel to South Africa right now, and what can you do to avoid undue harm?
Regardless of how you approach this topic, one thing is for certain – there’s more crime in South Africa than in average travel destinations. Such is the case with countries where there is a high number of poverty-stricken citizens, and South Africa is no exception to that.
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However, the real question here is what kinds of implications does this have for tourists and what they should expect. The overly broad version often asks: Is South Africa safe? There can be no simple answer to that, and it’s a question to be observed and approached from all sides, which is exactly what we’re going to do here, starting with the elephant in the room.
High crime rates paint a particularly nasty picture about South Africa and whether it’s truly safe for tourists or not.
It’s a difficult topic to discuss as it’s quite multi-faceted, with crimes ranging from simple pickpocketing all the way to rape and murder with so many things in between. From what most of the people hear about this country, you’d think that tourists are disappearing left and right, being mugged or winding up dead all the time. It’s enough to make your skin crawl and wonder why all these people would go to such a violent hellhole where there’s only trouble and nothing besides it. While awful crimes do happen, those towards the more violent spectrum rarely affect the tourists who take care of themselves and act responsibly.
Moreover, many people seem to think that South Africa is rarely visited due to all the crime and that few people opt to go there. This untruthfulness is easily dispelled with one look at Statista website and what their data shows about the topic. The number of tourists has increased by approximately 64% since 2006, with 16.85 million people visiting the country in 2018 and 17.4 million visitors expected in 2019. This is obviously a statement against all the prejudice that has accrued over the years towards South Africa. Despite these ever-increasing numbers of tourists that come through South Africa each year, the harsh reality of elevated levels of violent crime remains. You must take certain precautions in order to remain safe in South Africa with a particular emphasis on how much material well-being you expose.
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How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Staying safe while visiting is of utmost importance, and this goes for any country in the world really. Exposing yourself to unnecessary risk will more often than not lead to unforeseen consequences and maybe even loss of life.
So, how can you avoid becoming a victim of a crime in South Africa? As we’ve already mentioned before, using your common sense is the best weapon you’ve got. Considering the poverty that these people suffer, flashy jewelry and expensive gadgets will literally paint crosshairs on you, marking you as a valuable target. Leave your jewelry at home, there’s no need for such frivolities in a country where certain aspects of the society are desperate for money. The same goes for smartphones, keep them sheathed away and don’t pull them out every second to check on social media or other nonsense. Keeping in mind how inseparable we’ve become from our devices, this bit is easier said than done. However, it will keep pickpockets and muggers off your back and your vacation unspoiled.
In addition to behaving modestly, you’ll also want to make certain that you don’t throw around any high denomination banknotes as that also can’t go unnoticed. Make sure that you have some less valuable bills or change on you when you go shopping.
Now, as far as more violent crimes are concerned, they’re more easily avoided when you make responsible choices. Remain vigilant at all times and don’t ever be lulled into a false sense of security. First of all, avoid areas with high crime incidence. Don’t go to townships even if you’re not alone, and especially don’t go as a part of some sketchy tour group. If it seems suspicious, it most likely is something shady. All major towns have these townships where black people were segregated during apartheid, resulting in poor, crime-infested areas that they are today.
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Besides townships which are located on the outskirts of major cities, there are some places to avoid inside urban areas as well. If you’re visiting Johanessburg, avoid Hillbrow and Bera Districts, along with the Central Business District. Other than that, avoid walking alone, especially at night, as this will single you out as an easy target. City centres are as safe as it gets, much like other crowded areas.
When it comes to your bedding and hotels, always check if you’ve closed the windows before leaving as break-ins are all too common. Having that in mind, it might be a better idea to stay in a hotel in prominent parts of the cities or look for the ones that have security personnel.
Speaking of security personnel, if you really need to use an ATM, make sure it’s either guarded or in a more open area such as shopping centres.
Being Intentionally Targeted
Both the United Kingdom and the US Department of State advise their citizens to be careful as they’re leaving the O. R. Tambo International Airport because apparently, tourists sometimes get targeted as soon as they land. The perpetrator would then follow its target in a car and rob them at gunpoint.
While this may seem far-fetched to some, it also emphasises the importance of remaining vigilant at all times. Even though it looks like a long list of rules to follow, they’re actually more or less reasonable steps to take while travelling. Don’t act like a billionaire, showing off your material goods and no one will even notice you’re there. Again, increasing numbers of tourists show that being just a bit cautious will land an excellent vacation, free of malevolence and crime.
Be careful of the protests. Make sure to inform yourselves properly before arriving in South Africa.
Protests take place quite often and can take the turn for the worse real quick. As people’s revolt against the government often turns violent, cars and other property often get damaged. If there are protests going on, try to avoid them and you’ll be fine.
Unlike the majority of Africa, this country is mostly free of serious diseases that torture the peoples of this lovely continent.
You don’t have to worry about Ebola or the West Nile virus, or even malaria for that matter. However, you’ll still face more than squadrons of mosquitos as their incessant buzzing will remind you. But, if you plan on visiting the northern parts of South Africa, namely places such as Kruger National Park, you should still take malaria pills as a matter of precaution.
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Unfortunately, one-fifth of the entire population is infected with HIV, so if you plan on getting intimate during your stay, better bring a lot of protection.
Again, there’s nothing to worry about if you’re visiting South Africa, as you can even drink the tap water without serious health repercussion. It’s safe, but if you have stomach problems often at home, maybe you should avoid it.
On another note, swimming in South Africa is usually fine, but make sure that there are lifeguards nearby. The reason for that is because of water rips that can be extremely dangerous for those who are not prepared for them and start panicking. Water rips will essentially create a pocket of water where currents are much more powerful and can drag swimmers out in the open waters. They can be easily spotted, so look for the places where the waves seem to be lagging in comparison to the water next to them.
Either way, underwater currents can get even more dangerous than that, which is why you shouldn’t go to remote areas where there are no lifeguards who are trained specifically for these kinds of situations. Also, straying too far for more commonly visited areas can land you in some trouble with criminals, so it’s best to stay where everyone is bathing. After all, it would be a real shame to miss out on the beauty that are South African sandy beaches and pristine waters, perfect for surfing. They can get too cold sometimes, so don’t just rush in there!
Travel advisories also remind newcomers to the country that they should ration the water use as years of lacklustre rains and worsening climate change are affecting the water reserves of the entire country of South Africa. Add illegal transactions involving stealing water from the dams to the mix and you’ve got a crisis on your hands! Be reasonable in your water consumption during your stay.
People drive on the left in South Africa, sometimes causing unplanned stress for visitors who aren’t used to that kind of thing. Even stranger are the differences in the skill level of drivers in cities and rural areas.
Urban Driving: The cities like Cape Town are a much more timid driving environment, save for white minivans that serve as taxis and drive maniacally. The reason for that is they have fixed rates and benefit more from getting you to your destination as quickly and unsafely as possible. Other than that, keep your windows closed and doors locked as you could get carjacked in a matter of seconds.
Non-urban Driving: Take a lot of caution in South Africa if you plan on driving outside of the cities. The driving skill there varies significantly, and you could get hurt badly by careless drivers. If it’s the holiday season, then they also might be drunk which will make the matters even worse.
Don’t feel deterred from coming to this gorgeous country of rich history just because it seems too dangerous. The list of things to consider as you’re exploring the southernmost tip of the African continent might seem too expansive and comprehensive.
The truth be told, there are more issues to be mindful of, than in some European summer travel destinations, but it’s so exotic and breathtakingly beautiful that it’s quite worth all the hassle.
In that name, we have summarised the list in order for you to have all the necessary information in one place.
- Avoid flashing gadgets such as smartphones and cameras.
- Use small amounts of money only.
- Keep the rest of your valuables in a safe repository.
- Avoid using ATMs in unsafe locations.
- Don’t walk around at night by yourself.
- If you plan on renting a car, make sure to drive with windows closed and doors locked.
- Never leave valuables in your car, or at least hide them somewhere inconspicuous.
- Avoid townships, Central Business Districts and otherwise remote areas.
- Be vigilant at all times.
Following these simple steps will keep you protected against most circumstances. Unfortunate events can always happen, so it’s a good idea to get all-encompassing travel insurance before coming to South Africa. You’ll also need this number if anything happens to you:
Emergency Number: 10111
If possible, reach the embassy of your country as soon as possible and they’ll make all the arrangements for you.
Is it safe to travel to South Africa right now? Yes, yes it is.
It is a country with high crime rates and protests that are fairly common, but millions of visitors that come through yearly prove that South Africa can be a journey of a lifetime if only you’re reasonable and responsible in your actions.
Following the steps that we’ve laid out for you here will ensure your good health and satisfaction during your stay in dreamy South Africa.