South Africa has a crime problem, as many other countries do. If you are a responsible and knowledgeable traveller, take some common-sense precautions, and follow some basic safety rules, you will be just fine.
If you are aware of the crime types and major crime locations, you can avoid sticky situations altogether. The most common types of crime you might encounter will be con and scam artists, hustlers, ATM scams, hijackings, pickpockets and muggers. These crimes can easily be avoided if you dodge known crime hotspots and follow a few safety tips.
Crime in South Africa - Emergencies numbers:
Police contact details - dialling 10111 for the police is free from any phone box or landline. Alternatively, dial 112 from a cell phone and your call will be transferred to the suitable emergency service.
Crime in South Africa - Avoid Crime hot spots:
Most crime experienced in South Africa occurs in the townships, near public transport, and in the city centre at night. Avoid visiting townships without a township tour guide. Townships are urban residential areas that often lack basic facilities like water and electricity. There are many township tours available for visitors to experience some of the vibrant experiences that local townships provide. These are fun to visit, but only with a well-known tour guide.
A famous township gathering spot is Mzoli’s, an African braai food restaurant in the Gugulethu Township. Mzoli’s is popular among Cape Town visitors who are keen to experience the authentic African cultural lifestyle. If you decide to visit Mzoli’s, go with someone who has been before, as you definitely don’t want to get lost in the township. These townships are crime-ridden hot spots and should be avoided otherwise, especially at night.
Crime in South Africa - Safety on the street:
Use the same common sense as you would at home. Avoid walking around in any isolated, quiet areas, and don’t walk around alone.
Stick to the 9 - 5 rule. The city centre is abuzz during shop and office hours, and it is mostly safe to walk around during these hours. After hours certain parts of the city become deserted, and it can be dangerous to walk around.
Keep your valuables out of sight when walking around. Laptops, cameras, cell phones and handbags are target items, so flashing these will definitely make you a target. Your bag or wallet can go missing in an instant. Wear your bag’s shoulder strap across your chest, keep your bag close to you, and don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket.
Don’t take out a map. Try to not look lost; this only makes you look vulnerable. If you are lost, rather ask a shop attendant or a policeman.
Hiking up Table Mountain. There have been many muggings on Table Mountain and Lionshead. It is a good idea to make sure that other people are around, or take a big dog and pepper spray with you.
Crime in South Africa - Travel:
Public transport should be used with care. Although public transport in South Africa has improved since the 2010 Soccer World Cup, one must still be careful. When travelling between Cape Town and Fish Hoek, Metrorail train service is safest during peak hours (7:00-8:30 and 15:00-17:00) when people are going to and from work and school. Make sure you never get into an empty carriage, and keep all your valuables hidden.
The My City Bus is a safe and affordable way to travel through the cities, but do not wait for the bus in a deserted area. Local minibus taxis should be avoided as the drivers are known to be reckless and unlicensed.
Invest in a good car. Although cheap cars like the Volkswagen Beatle are fun, they are anything but reliable or safe. These little cars are known to break down and roll down hills when parked. Rather spend a little more money to avoid breaking down, especially at night.
If your car fails you or you run out of petrol, nobody is faster than the tow truck companies. Keep the phone number of a big tow truck company, Automobile Association and the police saved in your phone for emergencies. This can come in handy if your car breaks down in the middle of the night in a dangerous area like on the N2 or N7 roads.
Hijackings are a big issue in South Africa. Always keep your car doors locked. When you have stopped at a traffic light, be constantly aware of your surroundings. Some people even go as far as to leave a space between their car and the car in front when stopping at traffic lights to be able to easily escape a hijacking attempt.
Don’t stop for anyone. Don’t pick up hitchhikers, don’t stop for an accident, and don’t stop for people having car issues. Rather call the police and let them handle the emergency.
Venders and beggars at traffic lights are common, but make sure to keep your windows up and valuables out of reach. These beggars and vendors are known to reach in and grab cell phones and bags before the victim even realises what has happened.
Keep your valuables in the boot. Don’t leave valuables in plain view when parked at the mall or on the street; this is just an extra incentive to break into your car.
Park underground or in a paid parking area if it is an option. In these parking areas your car is looked after by security. Parking on the streets is common, and often the only option in the busy cities. When parking at night, choose well-lit and busy parking areas. There is usually a parking attendant to look after your car for a small fee of R5 - R10. Be aware of your surroundings when getting into your car at night.
Crime in South Africa - Living:
When looking for a home, opt for off-street, secure parking. People have been attacked when arriving and leaving home, especially when parked on the street, so be careful.
A security estate, safe area and a home equipped with an electric fence, alarm or movement sensor is a great investment, and will help you sleep soundly at night. There are some lovely security estates in Cape Town that enjoy phenomenal views as they border the natural forest and the slopes of Table Mountain. Some of the security estates in Johannesburg are so big that there are shops, community halls, kindergartens and full-on gyms inside. 24-hour security, camera surveillance, and gated entrances ensure that children can skateboard or cycle around between houses, visit their friends, and do everything they would be able to do when growing up overseas.
Get a dog. A dog can be your best friend when it comes to security. Not only do dogs act as an extra alarm to notify you of intruders, it’s also known that many people are terrified of dogs.
Crime in South Africa - Fraud:
Be streetwise and cautious before making a big transaction or purchase. Ask a South African friend or consult a professional before handing over your bank details. Fraud can set you back a few thousand Rand and this happens when you buy a car, hire a car, or take out a medical or insurance policy. For more information regarding avoiding crime when buying a car in South Africa, click here.
When using an ATM rather use one located inside a busy mall or bank. Look around for any suspicious activity before withdrawing money, and do not allow someone to assist you while using an ATM.
Crime in South Africa - What to do if you are a victim of crime:
If you are a victim of crime in South Africa, you will need to obtain a police report. Insurance companies, travel agencies and embassies will require a police report before they replace your valuables, passports and tickets. The police can, at times, be a bit difficult to deal with because of their busy schedules. When visiting the police station be patient, polite and friendly, and agree to a fee if one is requested.
If, in the worst possible circumstance, you are held up with a weapon, you should never resist. Many people are hurt because they do not cooperate. Rather hand over whatever is demanded.
Yes, South Africa has crime, but it does not hinder our lives. After a while being careful becomes second nature. We are streetwise and we take precautions. We lock our doors, are constantly aware of our surroundings, and we avoid dodgy areas; but none of these precautions stop us from experiencing the beauty of South Africa.
Contact us if you are thinking about relocating to South Africa, and would like to know more about the Crime in South Africa.