Is South Africa safe?
That’s one of the first questions overseas travellers ask when talking about a holiday to South Africa.
Let’s not sugar-coat it! South Africa is exciting, dynamic and vibrant but it’s also has rampant socio-economic problems which goes together with high crime.
Corruption is at the root of many of the problems that impact on safety in the country and the wellbeing of its people. Corruption tragically robs the people of South Africa with the revenue and resources needed to uplift its people, create jobs, improve infrastructure and build the nation.
At the heart of it is South Africa suffers from extreme inequality; from desperately poor communities surviving on a barely-living wage and high unemployment in rural areas, to extremely wealthy belts in pockets of South Africa that are untouched by the plight of poverty.
On a trip to South Africa, you might find yourself on a modern four-lane highway, or on a pot-holed country road. You’ll walk through buildings that glisten with marble and glass features, and an hour later find yourself in a grubby building that hasn’t seen a fresh coat of paint for decades.
From plush five-star hotels and state-of-the-art airports and shopping malls to dusty villages and crowded street markets; you’ll come across people from all walks of life.
It’s why South Africa is affectionately known as the Rainbow Nation.
We talk about the “haves” and the “have nots”. A few million more “have nots” make up the country and that’s where the problem comes in – like any third-world country in Africa. Crime in South Africa ranges from petty theft and tourist scams to violent murders and rape.
The likelihood of an overseas tourist being a victim of a violent crime in South Africa is low. Foreigners visiting our shores very rarely find themselves in high-crime areas and, unless you’re travelling around South Africa on the cheap; you’ll stay in upmarket accommodation in decent areas with every safety precaution needed to keep you safe.
South Africa is safe if you are sensible. Don’t be naïve – you are planning a holiday to a third-world country even though on first impression it looks first-world.
Do your homework and come prepared.
Make safety a priority so you don’t put yourself and family in a threatening position.
Stay alert and follow our safety tips for a holiday of a lifetime in South Africa. From lazy beach days and swimming in the sea, to exciting safari tours and long road trips… keep safe in South Africa.
TOP 10 TIPS TO KEEP SAFE IN SOUTH AFRICA
- Make safety a priority
Don’t skimp on safety. The exchange rate is extremely favourable for overseas tourists visiting South Africa. Splash out for the sake of your safety and your family. Spend extra money to stay in decent hotels in upmarket areas in South Africa where safety precautions are taken seriously.Go for the tried-and-tested accommodation options like the larger hotel and resort groups.Or guest houses and lodges that have been operating for several years. These will have been well reviewed online and you’ll pick up if there are any problems. They also roll out the same formula to keep guests happy and safe. That’s not the exotic option but the safe choice if you’re visiting South Africa for the first time.Choose transport options that are safe and reliable. You can’t arrive in South Africa without a plan on who will collect you, what car you can rent or what bus shuttle you can take. Johannesburg and Cape Town are geared for international tourists and you have a few options like shared minibuses or shuttle buses that run between the airports and the city, and Uber operates in these cities.But for the rest of South Africa; you can’t hop on any bus or whistle for a yellow taxi.The AIDS epidemic is alive and serious in South Africa. If you have a penchant for prostitutes or are careless about who you sleep with on holiday, you could find yourself in deep trouble with a life-threatening disease.
There are also tropical diseases to worry about on a trip to South Africa and the one you should know about is malaria. Find out if the area you plan to visit is a malaria area and what precautions you need to take. Speak to your doctor and find out more about health risks in South Africa.The rise in farm murders has made international headlines recently, and many are politically motivated. The attacks are often brutal and deadly. They do not affect international tourists but visitors are warned to choose their accommodation carefully. Check news sights online for farming communities affected by violent crime and avoid staying in remote farm guest houses in these areas.
- Do a lot of research before you arrive
You can’t “wing it” in a third-world country. Keep reminding yourself things work differently in Africa. That’s what makes it exciting, but also pretty scary!Thoroughly research the towns and attractions you’d like to visit and find out everything you need to know before you leave home. Check booking sites like TripAdvisor and read the reviews carefully. Look for complaints that occur often and are safety concerns. There is usually a pattern to the type of complaints posted.Ask family or friends who have traveled to South Africa for suggestions and recommendations. First-hand experience always beats online guesswork.A major domestic issue in South Africa is protest action and unrest; this problem usually raises its ugly head in the lead up to elections or during wage negotiations. They can get violent and the police are called in.South Africa also has its ganglands and drug lords. This all happens far from the tourist beat and in isolated pockets of poverty and inner-city decay. Speak to your travel agent or tour operator and make sure those high-risk crime zones aren’t on your itinerary.Follow online news sites and watch out for problems brewing that might erupt while you’re visiting South Africa.Read up on tourist scams in South Africa and how you can avoid falling victim to a crime. Don’t be naïve; our thieves are tuned into global scams and are very clever!
- Keep safety in mind when booking flights
Plan to arrive in South Africa in the daytime. That gives you enough daylight hours to get safely to your hotel to book in, and to check out your surroundings before it gets dark. Pay more for a flight that arrives in South Africa at a decent time and give yourself ample time on your first day in case a problem crops up.
- Research transport options before arriving in South Africa
Only the major cities in South Africa have the Uber service and quality taxi options. These include Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.Public transport in South Africa is not recommended for international tourists. This includes the local bus service and commuter taxis.
- Come prepared for your medical needs
South Africa has excellent healthcare facilities in its major towns and cities. There are also several high-end pharmacy chains that have in-house medical rooms, trained nursing sisters and travel clinics.You don’t have to worry about medical and pharmaceutical assistance in the major tourist destinations but be warned; quality of healthcare and medical facilities in the rural areas have declined in recent years.Visit a travel clinic or consult your doctor at home for medical advice on vaccinations needed and tropical diseases such as malaria. Arrive in South Africa with any medicine you need and prophylactics for tropical diseases such as malaria.Check with your travel agent or online regarding what vaccinations you need for South Africa, and what health risks there are in the areas you plan to visit.Visit: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/south-africa
- Take out medical travel insurance
Make your health and welfare a priority on a trip to South Africa. Make sure you have travel insurance to cover any medical emergency on your holiday.
The major private hospitals will not admit you for a serious medical emergency if you cannot produce proof that you are covered by travel/medical insurance.It’ll also put a huge dent in your finances if you must be medi-vacced out of a remote area to a city hospital. This applies particularly if your plan to do a safari tour or adrenalin-junky activities like sky-diving, scuba diving and paragliding.
- Leave your jewelry at home
Do not bring your expensive and flashy jewelry to South Africa. Leave it at home in your safe. Ladies, bring costume jewelry for the evenings if you’d like to doll up your outfit; leave the expensive stuff at home.Men, buy an inexpensive watch at the duty-free shop on your way to South Africa. Leave your expensive watch at home. If it gets lost or stolen, it’s not a big deal.
- Don’t flash cash
Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on you in South Africa or hauling out wads of R200 notes at a restaurant. Credit cards are best because cash catches the eye of thieves.Travel with a holiday banking card; preferably a travel credit card. Set up a separate holiday account and use a credit or debit card linked to this account. If your banking card is stolen or cloned; you don’t want the thief to have access to unlimited funds in your primary bank account. Transfer an amount each evening into your holiday banking card; enough for what you think you will need the next day.For accommodation and car rentals, pay online (EFT). Card cloning at hotels and restaurants is a worldwide scam; reduce the number of times you pay by card at an establishment.
- Bring certified copies of all important travel documents
This includes certified copies of your passports, birth certificates for minors and banking cards. Keep these copies in a second small day bag, like a sling bag.Do not keep them in your backpack and never put them in your luggage that goes into the plane hold. We recommend buying a slimline travel bag (like a man bag or moon bag) that you can put over your shoulder and under a jacket. Keep it close to your stomach.Remember to leave certified copies at home with a family member or friend.
- Beware of tourist scams
Our thieves are up to speed with international scams and are just as clever as their European counterparts. This includes everything from card cloning or skimming to online banking fraud.Do your research before leaving home. What are criminals up to now? Card cloning, ATM scams, pick-pocketing… what is new on the street? Take the necessary precautions so you don’t become a victim of a tourist scam.
Don’t trust people too quickly. Keep your wits about you; even if it’s a friendly waiter at a restaurant or a super helpful receptionist at a hotel. They may be genuine, or they could be part of a scam operation.Be careful about how much you drink on a night out on the town! If you are very tipsy or very drunk, you are vulnerable. Your senses are dulled and you make poor decisions. You risk being followed home, falling victim to a crime and being seriously hurt.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR SOUTH AFRICA
Make safety a priority for an enjoyable holiday in South Africa. Do your research, plan ahead and follow these valuable travel tips of a drama-free trip.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
Choose your dates carefully
Don’t book a holiday to South Africa in the peak tourism seasons, unless you’re visiting family.
Durban and Cape Town suffer from tourism overcrowding in the very busy holiday periods. The traffic is hectic, restaurants are overbooked, and accommodation is scarce and more expensive in the peak season.
Holiday destinations in South Africa get very busy over public holiday weekends and during school holidays. Locals take advantage of the public holidays to extend the number of days leave they can take and flock in their droves to holiday hotspots.
If possible, avoid booking a holiday to South Africa at these busy periods
- December/January: Christmas/New Year/end of year
- March/April: Easter/summer school holiday
- July: winter school holiday
- August/September: spring school holiday
Pre-book your accommodation
Don’t leave it to chance that you’ll find a decent room in a decent hotel in a decent location. Book ahead – at the very least, for the first two nights of your holiday in South Africa.
Remember, this is not Europe. You can’t pop into a B&B or guest house and ask if they have a free room. Well, you can but the chances are that the decent places are full – particularly if you’re in South Africa during the peak holiday season.
While you are at it, book in advance for a special restaurant you’d like to try. South Africa has excellent restaurants run by award-winning chefs. In the very busy holiday periods, like Christmas and New Year, these restaurants usually book up months ahead.
Check your passport is valid
Make sure your passport is valid and has not expired.
Important! Your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months after you leave South Africa and must have at least two blank pages in it. Authorities are very strict about this and you will have a problem at the airport if you make a mistake.
Give yourself enough time before leaving for your holiday to apply for a new passport if necessary. Don’t leave it until the last moment.
Check visa requirements
Check online for visa and entry requirements for South Africa. For more information, visit: http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/applying-for-sa-visa
Get the documents you need if travelling to South Africa with children
South Africa has introduced stringent requirements for children entering South Africa. For more information, visit: http://www.home-affairs.gov.za/index.php/civic-services/traveling-with-children
Do this well in advance as you’ll be denied access into South Africa if you don’t have the right documents. This is important if you are divorced or widowed.
Parents travelling with children who are 18 years and younger must produce a full unabridged birth certificate for each child. Please note! Their full unabridged certificate – not their short, abridged certificate. The full unabridged birth certificate must list the child’s details and both parent’s details.
Supporting documents for minors are not required if you are in transit through a South African International Airport. If you go through immigration, you will need to present the relevant documents for your children.
There are other requirements if a child is travelling with only one parent or is travelling without a biological parent, is unaccompanied or travelling in a school tour group. Check online for consent forms needed, otherwise the child will not be allowed to enter South Africa.
Take out medical travel insurance
This is a priority. Don’t skimp on this as a medical emergency in South Africa will cost you a fortune. State-funded hospitals are not recommended because the quality of care and hygiene at the public hospitals cannot be guaranteed. Only seek medical attention at one of the large reputable private hospitals in South Africa, such as a Medi-Clinic or Life Hospital in the major towns and cities.
Take out full, comprehensive medical travel insurance for your whole family. This must include hospitalisation and medical repatriation. If you are involved in a horrible accident in a rural area, they may need to be taken to a city hospital by helicopter.
Make sure your medical travel insurance covers both pre-existing conditions and any high-risk activities you would like to do, including scuba diving, paragliding and skydiving.
Get vaccinated if required
Speak to your doctor or someone at a travel clinic for information on any vaccinations you need for a trip to South Africa, and what health risks you must know about for the area you will be visiting.
For more information, visit: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/south-africa
Take malaria tablets if you are going to a malaria area
This is not negotiable. Malaria can be deadly and must be taken seriously. Firstly, find out from your local travel clinic or online if you will be travelling to or through a malaria area.
Most foreign tourists arrive in South Africa at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg or the Cape Town International Airport. Both these cities are malaria-free, so you have time to get and start taking anti-malaria tablets if you are not going on safari straightaway.
However, if you are going straight from the airport to a game reserve in a malaria area, you need to start taking your malaria tablets before you arrive in South Africa, as per the instructions. Get the right advise!
Either buy malaria tablets before you leave home or buy them is South Africa at a travel clinic located in one of the large pharmacies in Johannesburg and Cape Town. It all depends on your travel itinerary.
Buy what you need for your medical needs
Ask your doctor to write out a prescription for any chronic medication you are taking in case you run out of tablets on your trip. Your doctor also needs to provide you with a signed medical certificate which you may have to show to Customs officials if they question why you have scheduled drugs in your bag.
Get a medical alert bracelet if you don’t have one, if you are highly allergic to something or suffer from a medical condition like diabetes. The bracelet will speak for you if you are very ill and can’t let people know what is wrong.
Make sure your children’s immunisations are up-to-date. This includes measles, tetanus and polio vaccinations.
Visit your dentist and fix any niggling problems before you leave home. You will battle to find a decent dentist in remote areas in South Africa, and you don’t want your holiday ruined by chronic toothache.
It is not necessary to arrive in South Africa with a bulging first-aid bag. The large pharmacies are well-equipped, and you can get everything you need when you arrive in South Africa.
If you are going on a safari tour as soon as you arrive in South Africa, bring a basic first-aid kit and you can get the rest at shops in the national parks.
If you are travelling to South Africa in the summer months and will be swimming in pools and the sea, ask your doctor for prescription drops for earache. Kids often get ear infections and bad earache after hours in a pool or the sea, and this could end up with a trip to hospital.
Buy an anti-fungal ointment for the plane trip – in South Africa we use Bactroban. Smear a generous blob around the inside of your nose to stop nasty germs getting up there and into your throat. Most holiday colds and flus are picked up on the long-haul flights.
Buy good quality insect repellent as soon as you arrive in South Africa. Johannesburg is not a malaria area, but mosquitos come out at night to bite you when you are sitting in summer clothes outside. There’s nothing worse than walking around with open sores on your legs from scratching like crazy.
You’ll need a mosquito spray for your room if your hotel doesn’t have mosquito nets. A tiny mosquito can drive you nuts in the middle of the night.
Either buy insect repellent and sunscreen lotion before you leave home or buy it as soon as you arrive in South Africa. Also pack a soothing lotion for sunburn. This is important if you are in South Africa during the summer season, but also applies to the winter months.
Buy the right gear
Purchase a light daypack and a second travel bag that is light and slimline. This can be used for your important travel documents and chronic medication. It should be suitable to wear over your shoulder and under a jacket. Think man purse with a long strap.
Pack a travel umbrella for rainy days and a light windproof jacket. When the wind blows on a hot summer’s day, you don’t want to wear a heavy, thick winter jacket. You end up taking it off during the day and that’s a nuisance to carry around.
Buy cable ties or extra padlocks for your luggage. This is needed for the flight over to South Africa and recommended if you are leaving valuables behind in your hotel and there isn’t a safe in your room. Remember to take a pair of small scissors with you if you are using cable ties. Put the spare key for your locks in a separate bag.
Preferably purchase luggage made from rigid plastic that can’t be cut and opened by thieves handling luggage at airports. Use a padlock to secure your luggage.
Please do not wrap your suitcase in reams of plastic. There is too much plastic in this world and South Africa doesn’t want all that plastic.
Invest in a good pair of walking shoes, or takkies as we call them in South Africa. Don’t start your holiday off on the wrong footing with blisters! Also pack a pair of closed shoes for the evening if you are on safari in a malaria area.
Plan your wardrobe and pack light. The exchange rate is so favourable for foreigners in South Africa, you’ll definitely buy new clothes on your holiday and need that extra space in your suitcase.
Leave important information with family or friends
Give a copy of your itinerary to a close friend or family before leaving for your holiday in South Africa. This should include contact numbers for your accommodation and tour operators you are using while in South Africa.
Leave them with certified copies of all your travel documents which can be couriered to you in South Africa if your passport, banking cards and travel insurance documents are lost.
Scan and save a certified copy of your important travel documents which you can print out if needed.
Arrive in South Africa with some cash
You’ll need some cash for when you arrive in South Africa. Almost nobody accepts US dollars in this country and a number of small convenience shops don’t have card machines.
Check with your tour operator or the shuttle company if you are required to pay cash upfront for transfers. Some shuttle operators insist on cash payments while some allow you to do an electronic payment in advance.
There are ATM facilities in all the major airports and you can withdraw South African Rand on arrival. It’s safe to do so inside the airport, but don’t withdraw large amounts.
Leave your laptop at home
Set up your cell phone so you can receive and send emails from your phone and also to do bank transfers. Arriving at the airport with a large, noticeable laptop is asking for trouble. You could be followed to your hotel and robbed.
It’s also a hassle to find a safe place to keep your laptop during your holiday, so unless you cannot live without it – leave it at home.
Read up on road rules
We drive on the left side of the road in South Africa. Please don’t get confused because you’ll cause a serious accident, possibly a fatal head-on collision, if you make a mistake.
You don’t want to be stopped by a corrupt traffic cop. This is a problem in South Africa and it’s not a pleasant experience being harassed and threatened by a dodgy cop on the side of a highway. Avoid this happening by obeying the road rules and sticking to speed limits.
Don’t drink and drive, and drive with caution on our roads. South Africa has a high number of car accidents during the busy holiday season because of reckless and drunk driving. Avoid driving at night if possible.
Pre-arrange safe and reliable transport options
Uber only operates in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. Do not bank on using Uber in the small towns and cities. Plan ahead and book transport that is safe and reliable.
The leading tour operators in South Africa own luxury car and minibus models with air-conditioning. Mashalas Travel can arrange your Pick up from the airport to the hotel or chauffer you around according to your instruction of places you would like to go either during the day or at night.
The Gautrain is a state-of-the art commuter rail system which links Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport. The high-speed train takes you from the airport to central stations in the two city centres but from there you need transport to your hotel or guest lodge.
Avoid using Uber at night in the big cities as there have been isolated attacks on travellers by rogue elements. Most upmarket establishments accommodate guests who don’t have their own transport in South Africa. There’s often a hotel bus and driver available 24/7.
Cape Town and Johannesburg are geared for international tourists and businessmen and there are lots of different options for safe and reliable transport. This isn’t the case in the smaller towns and rural areas. Opt for a reliable tour operator who offers a personalised service, where you can pick and choose where you want to go and what you want to do.
Plan your holiday wardrobe
Pack what you need for seasonal weather. South Africa is not all sunshine and sweltering hot days. It gets bitterly cold at night in the middle of winter in in most provinces, and you get heavy thunderstorms in the Highveld which experiences summer rainfall.
Pack layers of clothing. You don’t need a thick, bulky jacket for a European snow storm; bring a lighter, weatherproof jacket and wear layers of long sleeve shirts and cardigans under it.
Bring warm scarves and beanies if you’re going on a safari tour. It gets nippy on the back of an open vehicle early morning and evening game drives.
Bring lots of socks – thick and thin, so you always have dry and warm feet if it gets wet and cold.
Don’t worry if you bring the wrong clothes – that means you can go shopping at the fantastic shopping malls in South Africa.
Pack what you need for a safari
Buy spare batteries and a memory card before you leave home or buy them at one of the large shopping centres when you arrive in South Africa.
The convenience shops in Kruger National Park and other game reserves are very expensive and a bit of a tourist trap. They also might not stock what you need for your camera and mobile devices.
Don’t forget to pack an international travel plug. South Africa uses a three-prong round plug. Bring an extra charger for your devices in case you leave yours behind in your hotel room.
You don’t need heavy, rugged hiking boots for a safari unless you plan to do a walking trail in the Kruger Park. Pack a sturdy pair of walking shoes (sneakers) that are comfortable and waterproof, if you are worried about space in your luggage.
ON HOLIDAY IN SOUTH AFRICA
Take the necessary precautions to keep safe in South Africa. The country has a high crime rate, with violent crime in certain communities and locations. You are safe if you keep to the beaten tourist path and don’t venture into high risk areas.
Don’t be scammed
Tourist scams from around the world are alive and happening in South Africa. Know what thieves get up to and stay alert.
Don’t get sick
Only drink bottled water or store-bought cooldrinks. The bottle seal must not be broken. Water in the big cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town is safe to drink but avoid drinking tap water in the rural areas.
Mosquitos and biting insects are most active in the late afternoons and early evenings. Cover up with long sleeve shirts and pants, and wear socks and shoes. Spray yourself and your room with insect repellent, and always sleep under a mosquito net if you are in a malaria area.
Never go out in the day without sunscreen even if it is a cloudy, overcast day. The South African sun will burn you badly if you are not used to our harsh sun, and bad sunburn can lead to sunstroke. If you think you have sunstroke, drink as much water as you can to re-hydrate and go to your closest hospital for treatment.
Take care of your important documents
Carry your important documents like passports and identity documents, and any chronic medication in a separate bag to your day pack. Buy yourself a small, handy travel bag that goes over your shoulder and can be kept under your jacket when travelling. Keep it close to you at all times, preferably close to your stomach.
Do not put important travel documents and chronic medication in your luggage. If your bag goes missing at the airport or is stolen, you’ll be in a lot of trouble.
Practice safe sex
South Africa is plagued by the AIDS epidemic. Use protection and practice safe sex. If you have a penchant for prostitutes or are prone to picking up strangers in bars and pubs, be very careful.
Aids is life-threatening, and it is critical that you take the necessary precautions. Don’t take dangerous risks with your life for the sake of a casual fling with a stranger.
Book a tour
If you’re keen to explore areas that are off the beaten tourist track, book a day tour with a leading tour operator like Mashalas Travel
Day tours to Soweto and the inner city of Johannesburg and Pretoria are very interesting. These heritage attractions are rich in history and fascinating, but don’t go there on your own. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb as a foreign tourist and may become a victim of crime if you’re not careful.
Don’t Have Time to do all at once?
Book the combination of Johannesburg Pretoria and Apartheid Museum with Soweto
Have the best of what the Province can offer during your Business trip or tight schedule holiday. You can also enjoy the best of 3Provinces in the 5days Johannesburg Pretoria and Kruger National Park tour, where you will get the best history, heritage and wildlife adventure.
BACK HOME FROM SOUTH AFRICA
Take malaria symptoms seriously
If you have been to a malaria area, go to hospital and request a malaria test if you experience any of the following symptoms within ten days of getting home:
- flu-like symptoms and general feeling of being unwell
- mild fever
- aches and pains
- sweats and chills
These symptoms will quickly worsen if you do have malaria: severe chills, high fever and heavy sweating. Seek medical attention immediately. Tell your doctor you have been to a malaria area and insist on a malaria blood test.
The sooner you receive treatment if you have malaria, the better the outcome. Malaria can be deadly and all symptoms, no matter how mild, must be taken very seriously if you have been to a malaria area in South Africa.
The malaria bug can remain dormant in your body for a few months. If you experience any of the above symptoms up to six months from the start of your holiday to South Africa, see your doctor immediately for a malaria blood test.
Report any irregular transactions on your bank statements to your bank immediately. Monitor your banking statements in the weeks after you return home in case you have fallen victim of card cloning and card fraud in South Africa.
If you have, contact your bank immediately. Please also report the incident to the hotel or restaurant you suspect the crime was committed so management is made aware of any criminal elements in their establishment.
For more information on card fraud and banking scams in South Africa, visit: http://www.banking.org.za/consumer-information/bank-crime/card-fraud
Write a review
If you’ve had a fantastic holiday, enjoyed the hotels you’ve stayed in and picked up interesting travel tips; write a review on sites like TripAdvisor. South Africa relies heavily on tourism to keep businesses busy and people employed. All positive feedback is welcomed and good PR for South Africa.
If you have experienced poor service, shoddy accommodation and dodgy operators; write a review. Firstly, it’s important for hotels and restaurants to get this feedback so they can improve what the offer and deliver to foreign customers. And secondly, the threat of poor reviews keeps establishments on their toes.
Tell people about South Africa
Spread the word and tell your family and friends about your exciting holiday to South Africa. Tourism boosts our economy which in turn creates employment and puts food on the table for many local South Africans who in some way or the other are part of the tourism scene. One tourist on South Africa’s shores can make a positive impact on the lives of many people in South Africans.
South Africa is a beautiful country and should be a place travellers have on their bucket lists. Don’t limit yourself to the highlights of South Africa like the Cape, Garden Route and the Kruger National Park. South Africa is a land of vast contrasts and extraordinary scenery – don’t miss out on seeing the rest of South Africa because you’ll miss out of discovering all the colours of our Rainbow Nation.
WANT TO SEE MORE OF SOUTH AFRICA?
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF CRIME
In South Africa, this number is the equivalent to the 911 emergency line in America.
This service is available 24 hours a day to any person who wants to report criminals and their activities by telephone by providing information that may assist the police in the prevention and/or investigation of crime. The caller may choose to remain anonymous.
Report a missing person immediately
There is no waiting period in South Africa.
Visit your nearest Police Station
SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE SERVICES
The South African Police Service (SAPS) is committed to creating a safe and secure environment for all the people in South Africa. Your feedback is welcome and important to SAPS. You can contribute towards the enhancement and development of the South African Police Service.
For emergencies or to report a crime, call 10111 or contact your nearest Police Station.
If you know of any criminal activities or want to report a crime anonymously, you can contact Crime Stop – 08600 10111.
South Africa has a high crime rate, but the risk of violent crime is generally low for foreign tourists. Security is a priority for all hotels, resorts and major attractions in South Africa so stay on the tourist path and don’t do something that puts you or your families lives at risk.
You will see the effect of crime on everyday life in South Africa. There are high walls around houses with razor wire and electric fencing, people live in gated communities in more affluent areas and many streets are closed off with restricted access to non-residents.
Crime creates jobs in South Africa, with many people making a living working as security guards or for private security companies. Private armed security forces are well established, and you’ll see their vehicles patrolling the streets day and night. And you’ll see security guards on foot patrol.
These security precautions make South Africa safer for international tourists but you need to make safety a priority for you and your family wherever you go in South Africa. Don’t do something that puts your safety at risk – use your head to keep safe in South Africa.
Like any third-world country or popular world destination, you need to worry about petty crime, credit card fraud, muggings and general theft.
This ranges from pick-pocketing to stealing cash or valuables from out of your suitcase in a hotel or car.
Use a handbag or daypack that zips up properly and be vigilante in crowded street market. Keep your valuables safe by anticipating a problem; like dishonest staff in a hotel and opportunists in shopping centres.
Credit card skimming
Credit card crime is rife in South Africa and card skimming (or cloning) is a growing problem in the busy tourist destinations in South Africa. Thieves work in crime syndicates which have become more sophisticated over the years.
Card skimming is when a fraudster captures card data on a device that looks like a legitimate point-of-sale machine or ATM transaction.
- never let your card out of sight – insist that a transaction happens in front of you
- always cover the PIN pad when entering your PIN number
- only use an ATM inside a bank
- check the ATM card slot carefully before putting your card in
Smash and grabs
A “smash and grab” is not life-threatening but it can be very traumatic and inconvenient. This happens when someone standing close to your car window smashes the glass and grabs what is on your passenger seat.
- never leave any valuables in your car while you are at a restaurant or shopping
- put suitcases, laptops and music systems in the trunk/boot of your car
- keep your handbag or daypack close to you while in the car – do not put it on the passenger seat in open view
Street muggings happen at night time, rarely during the day. Don’t walk around after dark in South Africa. Don’t risk it – Contact Mashalas Travel for a Transfer/take an Ubber even it your hotel or the restaurant is a short walk away.
If you are out at night, never walk on your own. Walk in a group, and only walk in streets that are well-lit and busy.
Spiking a drink is when someone puts a substance in a person’s drink without their knowledge that can severely impair their senses. This can be anything from a tranquiliser to liquid ecstasy and is linked to crimes of sexual assault and robbery.
Drink spiking is a world-wide problem and on the rise in South Africa. It happens at nightclubs, parties, pubs, restaurants and private homes.
Party with trusted friends, buy your own drinks and insist that the barman pours your drink in front of you. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, and never let your drink out of your sight.
If you suspect your drink has been spiked, tell someone immediately and get help.
If your drink has been spiked, immediately report it management or your host.
Car jackings are a problem, particularly in affluent areas. In South Africa, we call it hijacking. Most incidences take place in the driveway of a residential area or at intersections or traffic lights. In the most extreme case, hijackers will force a vehicle off the road or they might pose as traffic officers.
Be alert to suspicious behaviour. Be vigilante if you have hired a car and avoid vulnerable places or dangerous situations.
Never pull off the road if someone waves you down, even if it looks like a traffic officer. Traffic road blocks in South Africa are organised and run professionally. Traffic officers that look random and like they’re operating alone may be bogus and part of a criminal syndicate.
If you think you are being pulled over by a bogus traffic officer, put your hazards on, slow right down and indicate that you will drive to the nearest petrol station or public area.
Africa is well-known for corruption and you may experience it at a mildly annoying level or at a more serious level. You won’t have any major problem with corruption if you visit the well-known tourist destinations in South Africa.
If you rent a car and travel around South Africa by road, you may meet up with a dodgy, corrupt traffic cop. They can ruin your day so obey our road rules and keep to the speed limits.
Common complaints of corrupt traffic officers include
- bribes are solicited from drivers whether they have contravened the law or not;
- if a person refuses to pay a bribe, the officer usually lowers the amount requested;
- if the driver still resists paying a bribe he or she is (a) given a fine, if the law has been broken; (b) allowed to leave without paying the bribe; (c) given a fine in which the officer has fabricated allegations;
- when drivers say they do not have any cash on them, they are asked to go to the nearest ATM and withdraw the money.
Traffic officers by law are not allowed to take money from drivers for any traffic violations. Do not offer or pay a bribe. Bribery is a crime in South Africa.
Know your rights
If stopped by the police or a traffic officer, you can ask to see the officer’s appointment card, which includes the officer’s photo, name, rank, force and station according to Section 334 (2) (a) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.
If a police officer refuses to identify him/herself, you do not have to show your driver’s license.
If you don’t have your driver’s license or ID, a police officer may detain you for 12 hours to ascertain your identity.
A male police officer is not allowed to search a woman, but he can ask you to empty your pockets and bag.
You are not obliged to pay fines on the spot. Never had over cash to pay a fine. However, if there is a warrant of arrest against you, then you can be detained until the fines are paid.
If you are pulled over for drunk driving, a police officer must take you to the police station to open a docket before you are taken to a clinic for a blood test. A blood test must be done within two hours.
A police officer may not verbally abuse or intimidate you or anyone else. Get the details of any officer who has treated you unjustly.
Report corruption or bad behaviour by police or traffic officers to Corruption Watch
SMS 45142, charged at R1 per SMS
crime line: 32211 or Justice Project: 081 208 6682 (24/7 service)
Armed robberies happen in South Africa; they are traumatic even if there is not violence involved. The likelihood of you being robbed at gunpoint at a popular hotel or resort is so low, you don’t have to worry. But if you have chosen to stay somewhere that doesn’t have good security or is in a bad location, even remote like a cottage in the country – you are at risk.
In the old days, robbers broke into houses and stole stuff when no-one in the house. Robbers now want you to be in the house, so they can get you to open a safe and hand over PIN numbers for phones and bank cards.
If you are a victim of an armed robbery in a private home, guest lodge or B&B; this is what you must do so you don’t aggravate the robbers and make the situation worse:
- stay calm and encourage your children and partner to remain calm
- don’t make any sudden movements or noise – do not scream or shout for help
- keep your hands visible but not waving above your head
- do not look the robbers directly in the eye –- keep your eyes downcast
- show a willingness to cooperate and let them take what they want
- do not go for the panic button or alarm system – it’s more dangerous for a security guard to rush into the house with you and your family in the middle
Everything they steal is replaceable, but you cannot replace a life. Everyone must keep calm, let them take what they want and go.
The robbers may be nervous and hyped up on adrenalin, this makes them trigger happy. Don’t do anything to alarm or spook them. Stay calm!
South Africa has a volatile political environment and things flair up periodically. This could be anything from wage strikes to mass action to protest poor service delivery and bad governance.
Avoid areas affected by protest action as they often get violent – with rock throwing and burning cars. If you are travelling with a tour operator, they will know which areas to stay away from. Otherwise, your hotel receptionist or guest lodge owner will warn you of problem areas.
Read online news sites and make sure you know if trouble is brewing in the area you are visiting or plan to visit.
HEALTH RISKS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Vaccinations for South Africa
There are no compulsory vaccinations for South Africa required for travellers from Western Europe.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if you have travelled from or through endemic zones in Africa and the Americas.
Travellers on scheduled airlines whose flight have originated outside the areas regarded as infected are not required to possess a certificate. If the flight originated form within a yellow fever endemic area, a certificate is required.
Speak to your doctor or a consultant at a travel clinic for more general information and vaccination cover for the following:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
Hepatitis A and Typhoid: This vaccination is recommended as a general precaution. You can get both from contaminated food or water, and they can occur even though you are staying in an upmarket resort.
Yellow fever: There is no risk of yellow fever in South Africa. The government of South Africa requires proof of a yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.
High risk in malaria areas
Take malaria seriously. It is the highest risk you face if visiting a malaria area. Take anti-malaria tablets – don’t listen to people who say they aren’t necessary or they mask the symptoms of malaria.
It is vitally important that you don’t put yourself and family at risk of dying from cerebral malaria.
Find out from your travel agent or travel clinic if you will be visiting a malaria area. The Cape and Gauteng are not malaria areas, so you are safe arriving at OR Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport.
If you are travelling straight to a malaria area, for example the Kruger National Park. – start taking your anti-malaria tablets before you leave home, as per instruction from your doctor.
If you experience any of the following symptoms within 10 days of arriving in a malaria area, go to hospital for a blood test:
- feverish temperature
- chills, night sweats and violent shivering
- pain in the abdomen or muscles
- very bad headache
- diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- generally feeling unwell with fatigue, fast heart rate and dizziness
- yellow or sickly pallor
Malaria is not a contagious disease. It does not spread from person to person like the flu, and it cannot be sexually transmitted. You can only get malaria from a bite by a malaria-carrying mosquito. This is the nophilly mosquito; it is spread by females only who bite at night – commonly between dusk and dawn.
If a nophilly mosquito bites a person infected with malaria, it will infect the next person it bites. This is how the nophilly spreads malaria and puts people living near in rural villages at risk.
Once bitten, the parasite enters the bloodstream and travels to the liver. The infection develops n the liver before re-entering the bloodstream and invading the red blood cells.
The parasites grow and multiply in the red blood cells. At regular intervals, the infected blood cells burst, releasing more parasites into the blood. Infected blood cells usually burst every 48-72 hours. Each time they burst, you’ll have a bout of fever, chills and sweating.
If malaria is not treated quickly, the disease can become life-threatening – elevating to cerebral malaria which kills you.
Take malaria seriously. It kills!
Low to zero risk
Practice safe sex in South Africa. Your life depends on it.
HIV/AIDS is a major health concern in South Africa. The country is believed to have more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world. The other top five countries with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence are all neighbours of South Africa.
In 2007, an estimated 5.7 million South Africans had HIV/AIDS which represents just under 12% of the population. In the adult population, the rate is 18.5%
Take HIV/AIDS seriously and practice safe sex.
Low to zero risk
The chances you will come across a rabid dog or wild animal infected with rabies is extremely rare as a foreign tourist, but it is something to be aware of.
Never pat or pick up a strange dog, particularly if it is showing rabid signs – like snarling, panting and frothing at the mouth.
Rabies is a fatal virus that causes viral encephalitis (brain inflammation). It occurs in wild and domestic mammals and can only be caught if you are bitten by an animal infected with the rabies virus. Once the virus enters the body, it enters peripheral nerves and is carried towards the brain. The virus multiplies in the brain, causing brain dysfunction and eventually death. Rabies is life threatening and very few people survive.
Animals in the wild that may carry the rabies virus include:
- bat-eared fox (North-Western Cape)
- black-backed jackal (northern province)
- yellow mongoose (Highveld and Karoo)
These animals very rarely encounter humans. Bats are a very rare source of human rabies in South Africa, so be careful if you’ve come to the country to hike in the mountains and do cave explorations.
The risk is stray dogs and cats living on the outskirts of rural villages, or in forests and wild areas. The danger sign is the following: “when a wild animal becomes tame or a tame animal becomes wild”.
In other words, when a wild animal appears to have lost its fear of humans and is unusually approachable. Or when a tame and docile animal becomes aggressive without provocation. Rabies is a possibility.
Physical signs include excessive drooling (saliva) and partial paralysis.
The saliva of a rabid animal has high concentrations of the virus. You can catch rabies by being licked by a rabies carrier, not only bitten.
The virus can only enter your blood stream through a scratch or broken skin, or through skin that is wet and thin like the eye, mouth or genitals. The virus cannot pass through unbroken healthy skin.
Watch your children carefully. Don’t let them pat or pet an animal that does not belong to the owners of a guest house or lodge and looks like a stray.
There are pockets of high risk areas for the hepatitis virus but generally foreign tourists risk of contracting hepatitis in South Africa is very low. Take the necessary precautions to avoid contracting the three strains.
The risk is higher for people eating out in establishments where personal hygiene (food prep) and sanitation is poor.
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver cells. As the body’s immune system tries to fight the virus, the response by the immune system causes liver cell damage and inflammation. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food and water, and generally occurs sporadically as an epidemic.
Hepatitis A doesn’t cause chronic liver failure like Hepatitis B and C, but it can still cause acute liver failure if left untreated which is often fatal. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and include fever, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and jaundice (yellow skin).
Hepatitis B and C
Low to zero risk
Follow the precautions required to avoid contracting Hepatitis B and C. You are only at risk if you are irresponsible about who you have sex with and other high-risk activities like getting a tattoo.
Hepatitis B and C are infectious diseases that affect the liver. Most people have no symptoms, and the disease silently progresses in people that don’t know they are infected. Those who do develop symptoms experience fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and jaundice skin and eyes.
Both strains are contracted through sexual contact, sharing contaminated needles, and unsterilised tattoo and piercing equipment. The virus is not air-borne, it can only be contracted through blood-to-blood transmission.
Hepatitis B and C are life-threatening, particularly for people living with HIV/AIDS who already have a compromised immune system. Anti-viral medication is used to treat Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
Low to zero risk
It is very unusual for a foreign guest in South Africa to contract cholera. Take the basic precautions with food and water and maintain a good standard of hygiene.
Cholera outbreaks occur periodically in South Africa in areas where water supplies, sanitation, food safety and hygiene practices are very poor. Watch online news sights for notifications, but outbreaks are rare and generally isolated to areas well away from popular tourist destinations.
Cholera is a bacterial infection which is mostly transmitted through drink water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria. Overpopulated and impoverished communities with poor sanitation are most at risk of experiencing cholera outbreaks.
Low to zero risk
It is very unusual for a foreign guest in South Africa to contract typhoid. Take the basic precautions with food and water and maintain a good standard of hygiene.
Typhoid is endemic within South Africa and sporadic cases are reported in all provinces every year. These occur as clusters or outbreaks and are generally isolated to areas where water quality and sanitation are poor.
Typhoid is a systemic illness caused by a bacterial infection. It was once a “feared” illness but there are now very effective antibiotics for treatment. It is still however regarded as a notifiable condition in South Africa, because isolated cases have the potential to become epidemic.
Low to zero risk
Most foreign tourists do not go into areas where the risk of contracting diphtheria is high. It is only a high risk if you are mixing with locals living in impoverished, overcrowded living conditions (like shanty towns).
Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of the throat and nose. Although it spreads easily from one person to another, diphtheria can be prevented through a vaccination. Children from Western countries are vaccinated against diphtheria at a young age.
You may also get diphtheria if you’re around an infected person when they sneeze, cough or blow their nose. People risk of contracting it are those that are not up to date on their vaccinations, have an immune-system disorder such as AIDS or live in unsanitary or crowded conditions like shanty towns.
Consult a doctor immediately if you think you have diphtheria. If left untreated, it can cause severe damage to your kidneys, nervous system and heart. It can be fatal.
Children should be vaccinated against tetanus. If cut badly, burnt or wounded – visit a local clinic to have the wound treated and receive a tetanus shot.
Tetanus is spread when cuts, burns and wounds are contaminated with tetanus spores. The bacteria are found in spores living in soil, dust and some animal feces.
The bacteria enter the body through a wound, like a deep scratch or cut. They move deep within the body and become active; they survive in places with very little oxygen. The bacteria produce a toxin that attacks the ends of nerves on the spinal cord and where nerves meet muscles.
Tetanus used to be called “lock jaw” because it causes painful muscle contractions, particularly in the jaw and neck. In interferes with your ability to breathe, eventually causing death.
Symptoms include fever, high blood pressure and sweating; followed by muscle spasms, facial muscle spasms and stiff muscles.
HEALTHCARE IN SOUTH AFRICA
State hospitals in South Africa are chronically underfunded and understaffed. They serve the majority of the population, with the wealthiest 20% of the population using private healthcare establishments.
Half the population lives in rural areas, but only 3% of newly-qualified doctors take jobs there. All medical training takes place in the public sector but 70% of doctors go into the private sector.
Mediclinic is the leading private hospital group, and the sixth largest in the world. It has hospitals and clinics in South Africa, Namibia, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
Life Hospitals is the second biggest private hospital group in South Africa.
Care and treatment at a private hospital in South Africa is expensive. For a medical emergency that needs surgery and hospitalisation, the private hospitals will not admit you without authorization from the person’s medical aid company or without a large deposit (it can be in the region of R30 000).
Travel medical insurance is a not negotiable. You need to have adequate medical cover for a visit to South Africa.
All drugs are illegal in South Africa.
The drug industry in South Africa has boomed in the last 20 years and the industry is run by large drug syndicates and drug lords.
The problem with drugs in South Africa that drug dealers use a variety of substances to “cut drugs” and these are more harmful than the drug itself.
Avoid buying drugs off the street in South Africa. Your life will be in danger!
Take extra care to avoid having your drink spiked with an illegal substance.