10 Tips For Safer Travel In South Africa
Using the word ‘Safe’ is unfortunately not easily done when it comes to travel tips on South Africa. The rainbow nation has trodden an uneasy path that seems to be overlooked in big screen portrayals of the country since the break from apartheid. South Africa is a place where all residents, regardless of color or creed, are on edge when it comes to crime. This article is about making travel a safer experience, rather than any misleading notion that time here is not without substantial risks.
While crime statistics have improved over the past decade (though again rising slightly in 2009), South Africa still retains one of the world’s highest crime rates. It’s not simply the amount of crime that’s the worry, but the percentage of that crime that is violent in nature. In a recent address to parliament, South African President Jacob Zuma stated that South Africa has a greater problem with violent crime than any other country in the world (a statement made in the year South Africa is hosting the world cup). Traveling this country is an amazing experience but a journey that must be undertaken with caution.
The following tips are well worth considering if you plan to travel in South Africa.
10. Safety starts as soon as you get of the plane. The main gateway to the country, Johannesburg’s international airport, is not a particularly safe place. Thieves and other lowlifes stalk the arrivals area looking for anything like something to steal. Be highly aware of your possessions and try to leave as swiftly as possible. Having transfers arranged beforehand can be a good idea.
9. Rental cars. Renting a car is probably the safest way to get around the country outside an organized tour. Despite this everybody has heard the car jacking stories (there are currently over 250 police in Joberg dedicated to car jackings alone). Precautions have to be taken. DO NOT drive at night. Leave a gap of an inch or so on your drivers side window (which helps prevent the window shattering). Keep all the doors locked at all time (central locking is not a luxury here). Be as vigilant as possible at street corners and traffic lights as this is where car jackings often occur.
8. Travelling in a group is no guarantee of safety. While travelling in big numbers certainly helps, don’t assume you or your group will not be targeted. Always be aware of what’s going on and don’t stray too much from the pack.
7. Hotels. Theft of valuables from your hotel or hostel is very common (as in other parts of the world). Try not to take much to South Africa that you would not be too distraught to lose, and keep valuables safely hidden.
6. Avoid travelling alone. Don’t wander off down quiet side streets, avoid deserted beaches and dark areas at all times and at all costs.
5. Don’t read the newspapers. After a few months in the country I had to stop reading the local and national papers; it started to freak me out. Crimes that would be front page at home barely rate a mention, and the ones that are featured are pretty horrendous.
4. Local knowledge. Advice from hotel operators and other locals in invaluable as from street to street the safety situation can be quite different. Always keep an ear for local advice.
3. Try to avoid public transport. There’s a decent network of backpacker buses and renting a car is cheap and a safer way to go. The mini buses can be dodgy, with little to no safety standards (and maybe driven on behalf of local gangs). You might meet more of the locals on the bus but maybe this is better done in the pub.
2. If you plan to surf or swim at the ocean beaches be aware that South Africa is home to a healthy and hungry population of great white sharks. Signs will be up at certain times of year advising against swimming or surfing at some beaches due to the ‘sardine run’, a time when great whites are especially active. Be aware!
1. Be alert but not alarmed. While all this might sound off putting South Africa is still a great and memorable place to visit. Time spent here can be a great experience, as long as you keep your wits about you.