Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Is South Africa Safe?

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Is South Africa safe?  Especially for women traveling alone?

That was a question that I had often wondered, that I continued to ponder while traveling, and that I mused long after returning home.

South Africa does not have a good reputation when it comes to safety.  Much of this is overblown, or based on false pretenses.  Then again, its reputation didn’t come entirely out of nowhere.  South Africa still has problems with crime, including violent crime.

The truth?  South Africa can absolutely be safe.  But you need to take precautions that you wouldn’t take elsewhere.

Know the Context

When many people think of South Africa, they think of the final years of apartheid — riots in the streets, violence on every corner, white flight, and how South Africa was on the news every night.

But you have to remember that this was 20 years ago.  Quite a lot has happened in the past 20 years, and the country has made incredible strides since then.

In fact, I don’t think that any country has improved so much in such a short time as South Africa has.  South Africa is now one of the emerging economic powers of the world, and race relations, though far from perfect, have improved significantly.  Same-sex marriage is legal.  Before apartheid ended, South Africa guidebooks were blacklisted in the United States — whereas in 2011, 300,000 Americans visited South Africa.

Still, turmoil casts a long shadow.  Some of my friends and family were worried about me traveling to the Balkans and Cambodia, associating them with their conflicts during the 90s.  In reality, these have been very safe destinations for quite some time.

While that may be, South Africa isn’t as safe as the Balkans, and it definitely isn’t as safe as Cambodia.  Traveling in South Africa requires more diligence.

Traveling Solo in South Africa

As much as I enjoyed every minute of my Visit South Africa blog trip, I know that we were in a bit of a bubble, staying at luxury properties and having escorts every step of the way.  That’s one of the reasons why I decided to extend my time in South Africa — to get an idea of how it was as a destination to travel on my own.

Soon after touching down in Johannesburg, I was delighted to learn that a friend of mine from college, Mark, recently moved to Cape Town to be with his South African fiancée, Charmain.  We made plans to grab dinner the first night I had free.

It was a wonderful night on the waterfront — warm breezes carried over the notes from a live band performing Toto’s “Africa,” and we gabbed about our post-college twenty-something lives.  Then I asked Charmain about safety for women in South Africa.  Was it as bad as people said?

Charmain grew up in Johannesburg and had quite a few stories to tell.  Carjacking, she informed me, is still a serious problem in Johannesburg.  It’s mostly confined to certain neighborhoods, and carjacking hotspots have signs alerting drivers.

That said, Charmain never stops at red lights when driving at night in Johannesburg.  She’s not alone — many South Africans do this in Cape Town and Durban as well.

That night, I was a guest of the excellent Lawhill Luxury Apartments, about an eight-minute well-traversed walk from the waterfront.  If I were in Vienna or New York, I’d happily walk a distance like that on my own at night.  But this was Cape Town, and Mark and Charmain said it would be a good idea for them to walk me back.

I was glad they did.  On the walk back, we passed a few panhandlers asking for change.  Nothing unusual there.  But then they started following us, getting up in our faces and yelling, asking us why we didn’t give them money.  This happened multiple times and I’m so glad I didn’t have to face that on my own.

A few days later, I spent a few hours chatting with my South African seatmate on a long bus ride.  He was a teacher in a colored township outside Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route.  (FYI — “colored” means mixed race in South Africa, and it’s not a derogatory term.)

Traveling the length of South Africa on your own can be very safe, he told me.  It’s not like there are people with knives around every corner.  The buses are safe.  (We were on the very comfortable InterCape bus line, which was interesting in that it was a Christian bus line with onboard prayer.)  Day driving is very safe, he added.

Above all, he told me, don’t put yourself in isolating situations.  If you’re traveling solo, stick to places where there are lots of people.  He knew a girl who went to a beach alone and was raped.

That really scared me.

Safety Tips for Travel in South Africa

1) Stay at places with security.  This could mean doormen, keycard entry, and walls, gates, and/or fences.

2) Learn about the local dangers in every destination you visit.  Take the time to talk to your hotel or guesthouse staff when you arrive and find out about what actions and places to avoid.

3) Don’t put yourself in isolating situations.  In Croatia or Vietnam, I wouldn’t hesitate to hang out on a mostly deserted beach where there were three or four other people around, some distance away.  But I wouldn’t do that in South Africa.

4) Don’t drive in cities at night.  Take taxis.  Taxi drivers know how to avoid carjacking hotspots and are rarely carjacked.

5) If you visit a township (and you should), go with a guide.  Some townships can be dangerous, but your guide will know which parts are safe.  You’ll get much more out of the visit, too.

6) If you go on safari, listen to your guide.  Don’t ever get out of your vehicle unless you have explicit permission to do so.  Don’t stand up, either.  (“Kate, sit down,” was something I heard again and again on our game drives.)

7) If you’re connecting flights in Johannesburg, wrap your bag.  I’ve never used the airport bag wrapping machine, but I did for the first time in South Africa.  Johannesburg is a bit of a hotspot for luggage robbery.  And as always, you shouldn’t put anything valuable in your checked bags.

Most importantly: don’t let safety concerns keep you away from South Africa.

South Africa is an absolutely wonderful, stunningly beautiful, incredibly fascinating country.  If I had let fear get the best of me, I would have missed out on such a wonderful destination.  I had a great time because I did research and made myself aware of the dangers in advance, and did my best to avoid them.

I felt perfectly safe watching a cheetah feast on an impala in Kruger National Park.  I felt safe hanging out in Johannesburg’s roughest township.  I felt safe on top of Table Mountain, crossing the country on the Blue Train, hanging out with penguins at Boulders Beach.

When traveling solo, I felt safe on the buses, safe in the taxis, and safe in all four places I stayed on my own (Lawhill Luxury Apartments in Cape Town, Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town, Phantom Forest Eco Reserve in Knysna and Atlantic Point Backpackers Hostel in Cape Town) because they had excellent security.

So is South Africa safe?  It’s as safe as you make it.  Take time to familiarize yourself with the precautions and you’ll have an amazing time.

Many thanks to Visit South Africa for hosting my stay in South Africa and Samsung for hosting my solo trip extension.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

Comments

69 Responses to “Is South Africa Safe?”
  1. Michelle says:

    Thanks for this post. We want to go to South Africa for our honeymoon.

    • Mark Delaney says:

      No South Africa is not safe for a woman travelling alone. Even if white western women are use to feeling entitled to go where they like and feel invulnerable because they can afford to stay in the wealthy places and travel on expensive trains etc it is irresponsible to put up posts telling women it is safe to travel alone in SA .
      From Wiki “According to the report by the United Nations Office on Crimes and Drugs for the period 1998–2000, South Africa was ranked first for rapes per capita.[2] In 1998, one in three of the 4,000 women questioned in Johannesburg was raped, according to Community Information, Empowerment and Transparency (CIET) Africa.[3] While women’s groups in South Africa estimate that a woman is raped every 26 seconds, the South African police estimates that a woman is raped every 36 seconds.[4]

      More than 25% of a sample of 1,738 South African men from the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces admitted to raping someone when anonymously questioned; of these, nearly half said they had raped more than one person, according to a non-peer reviewed policy brief issued by the Medical Research Council (MRC).[5] Several news publications wrongly extrapolated these results to the rest of the South African population, given reported rape prevalence several times higher in the two provinces in question than i.e. in Mpumalanga or Northern Province.[6][7] Nearly three out of four men who admitted rape stated they had first forced a woman or girl into sex before the age of 20, and nearly one in ten admitted doing so before the age of 10.[5] A survey from the comprehensive study “Rape in South Africa” from 2000 indicated that 2,1% of women aged 16 years or more across population groups reported that they had been sexually abused at least once between the beginning of 1993 and March 1998, results which seem to stark conflict the MRC survey results. Similarly “The South African demographic and health survey of 1998″ gave results of rape prevalence at 4,0% all women aged between 15 and 49 years in the sampled households (a survey also performed by the Medical Research Council and Department of Health).[8] So far no attempts have been made to address these large statistical disparities.”

      • Well, if it’s on Wikipedia, it MUST be true.

        Here’s another factoid for you, Mark: one in four American college women are raped. Should women just avoid college altogether?

        Source: http://www.oneinfourusa.org/statistics.php

        • steve says:

          Kate
          nother liberal speaking lies. Your source reads 15% admitted to rape and 12% attempted rape. Attempted rape is not rape. What about murders and poverty, aids, disease and all the other wonderful things about south africa.

      • Marno says:

        Dear Mark.

        You have to understand that it’s all relative.

        If you’re gonna hang out in bad areas then yes, bad things will happen.

        You especially have to understand the demographics of SA before taking the statistics to heart.

        S.A is MOSTLY a great place, but South Africans have learnt to grow eyes in the back of their heads in areas they are not comfortable with.

        I’t not living in fear, it’s just being vigilant and being smart and logical when it comes to the time and place you are visiting/travelling to/from.

        Hope you enjoy S.A :)

  2. Laryssa says:

    Appreciate this post, Kate.

    I was skeptical about Johannesburg even after reading your review, because I knew I couldn’t afford to stay in the luxurious parts. (At least, not in the foreseeable future!)

    Thank you!

    • Thanks! Keep in mind that “budget” doesn’t necessarily mean “unsafe.” I stayed in a hostel in Cape Town that had a few levels of security, and it cost around $11 a night.

      • Sofie says:

        I’m guessing they’re well aware of the theft risques for tourists, so that even low budget places take precautions. Can’t imagine it wouldn’t harm them if several travelers would spread the word that they got robbed in a certain hostel.

  3. Haha… I had to giggle at “i felt safe… crossing the country on the Blue Train” — I surely would hope so, it’s only one of the most expensive train rides in the world, and kings and presidents have been known to take it! That being said, I do understand what you mean. South Africa is a truly amazing place and definitely worth a look around. I only made it to Cape Town and up the Western Cape into Namibia, but it intrigued me enough that I’m hoping to get back later this year :)

    Great tips for those who haven’t been… and even for those of us who have any may need a bit of a reminder :)

  4. Amanda says:

    I like that you ended with “It’s as safe as you make it.” This is true of ALL destinations – even ones that are traditionally considered “safe.”

    It’s good that you stuck around a bit after your press trip to experience the country solo. That’s definitely the downside of sponsored travel – you tend to be in that looked-after bubble a lot of the time! It was really good to read your honest impressions of South Africa as a solo destination – thanks for writing this!

  5. Sebastian @ Off-The-Path.com says:

    Great post. I think the last part is the most important, safety concerns shouldn’t keep people away from such countries unless the news or the department of foreign affairs explicitly tell you to not travel there!

    • Still, though, keep in mind that a country will land on the US State Department’s travel advisory list even if a tiny portion is the only part affected. The Philippines are on the list, when the affected area is only the Sulu Archipelago, where NOBODY would ordinarily go!

  6. Ash says:

    I don’t see how you cAn call yourself a solo traveller, you never seem to go anywhere alone

    • I’d read a bit more of the site, Ash. :-) A lot of people think that if you travel alone, you need to be 100% alone. Not true. I meet up with people I know, I make friends in new places, I join groups of people for periods of time — and that doesn’t make me any less of a solo traveler. Many of my sponsored trips are group trips, but I still travel primarily alone.

  7. My husband got mugged, pretty close to the apartments you stayed at. Our car got broken into and somebody tried to steal my debit card while I was in a “secure” bank. All of that in a month in Cape Town. No wonder why everybody lives behind gates and bars. Not worse than Pretoria or Durban. Ever since then, we avoid cities in South Africa, we just land and get the hell of there.

    • Melanie says:

      Pity! You were very unlucky. Some people just seem to “attract” criminals. I don’t know what it is. In 6 years in CT I haven’t had a single personal experience with crime. I even walk my dog after dark in my area (alone) and feel very safe. But there are if course places I would never go and things I would never do here. But that goes for most other places in the world, too.

      • Joey says:

        Hello there, I am from the UK. I have been offered a project at South Africa and yet to agree on the details. Is it safe to work there? what do i need to take into consideration? what should I ask for to ensure that it is worth it and not making the money and put it on security and safe expensive hotels? Your feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

        • Marie says:

          Hi Joey,
          I am a born and bred South African who has recently entered the workforce after varsity. I am living in Jhb (crime central apparently) and work in Pretoria (in the CBD). I don’t know if I am one of those lucky people crime seems to avoid but I haven’t had any problems in the four months I have been living here. You just need to be sensible, which isn’t very hard. Basically, don’t drive through ‘dodgy areas’ after dark (it depends on where you are going to know where those places are), when walking make sure your bag isn’t wide open, be aware of your surroundings. That’s all it really takes, in my 25 years of experience…and I have travelled to overseas places, I love to travel, especially as it always makes me appreciate home that much more :)

          • Aggie says:

            Hi Marie – I’ve been living in Souh Africa for over six years (in Johannesburg). Like you, never had problems.
            You need precautions – just like Kate wrote, but South Africa can be a livable place.

        • Cheryl says:

          Hi Joey,

          I was born in Cape Town, also lived and worked in Johannesburg and saw my first ever mugging in Munich, Germany. I see you posted this in April already, and really hope you grabbed the opportunity to come and work here in South Africa – you’ll love it! :)

          Cheryl

  8. George says:

    Great Post, I think you are right, cities are as safe as you make then. Noone ever questions “Is London safe?” or “Is Paris safe?” and I would say that these are the 2 cities I’ve felt the most threatened in. I guess it’s a matter of perspective

    • Two cities where I feel like I have to be constantly on my guard are Barcelona and Paris (as much as I love the latter). I did have my guard fairly up when I was in South Africa as well.

  9. I’ve had the good fortune to make six trips to South Africa – all while on business. It is safe. From Cape Town to Kruger, Pretoria to Upington and points in between. I’m looking forward to taking my parents and brother there this December and watching them experience the country for the first time!

  10. Gaelyn says:

    It’s safe. Last time I solo traveled for a month in a rental car from Joburg to Kruger and Durban to CT camping and B&Bs. I follow my instincts and know better than to wander alone after dark in most places. I’d be more “afraid” in LA. This gorgeous and diverse country called me back. I leave Friday for another 6-week solo journey there.

    • giuseppe says:

      Hi Gaelyn,
      May be you did also the route I have in mind to do and therefore you might have a reply to my question.
      I planned a visit to S.A. next January and my schedule foresee also the trip from JOHENNESBURG to PORT ELISABETH by car. I never been in S.A. before and therefore the informations I gathered might be wrong or incomplete. I will travel with my wife and I would like to know if the route is safe like most of S.A. routes as it appears also from your post. If a car accident/breakage occur is it easy to get professional assistance ? gasoline is availabble all the route along at good intervals ? and finally is it a road where criminality actvities have been registered ? ( I mean not the one you might find almost everywhere in the world but a real danger).

      in the website of http://www.southafricalogue.com/travel-tips/getting-between-johannesburg-and-bloemfontein.html I found this not encouraging paragraph :

      >>South Africa is a high crime region, and the main N1 highways can be very dangerous if you are stalled or broken down. Carry a cell phone and ensure that you have rescue cover in the car hire policy

      I thank you beforehand for your kind advise.

      • Aggie says:

        Giuseppe – sorry for budging in, but I thought I can answer your question…
        I have been living in SA more more than 6 years and had no bad experience so far.
        I traveled quite extensively around SA. Alone, with a female friend and also with family.
        What you read about N1 can relate to desolated place any other route.
        South Africa is a big country. There are plenty desolated areas in between towns and cities – you cannot avoid them all.
        Yes – in CAN be dangerous, especially, if you travel by night.
        But N1 is no more dangerous than any other highway.
        There are enough filling stations in SA to keep you going on highways, although some of them can be far from each other.
        Don’t wait till tank is almost empty – when on the road, fill up when you get to less than half tank. Do not allow yourself to run out of petrol.
        Road assistance is quite good and they will make effort to ensure they get to you fast.
        Make sure you have their number handy. Same with insurance, if you happen to have accident.
        If you blow tyre during the day – change it. It only takes 15 minutes and most likely nothing will happen to you. People will probably stop to help you – do not panic, if someone does, accept the help, in a group you will be less vulnerable (SA criminals are not known for oferring help prior to robbing their victims, so unlikely to get you tricked this way).
        If you blow tyre at night check where is nearest petrol station. If not too far drive very slowly to get there.
        Try not to drive extensively at night – plan your rip so that you get to your destination before dark.
        If you do have to drive at night – minimise the distance and know where you are going.
        Rent GPS with your car, but also have map.
        Try to memorise your indended route and towns along the way – not completely, but have idea where you are going.

        Enjoy your trip – in SA you need to be aware and alert, but not paranoid!

  11. South Africa is on my “dream destinations list” and I am in agreement that the trip is worth the risk. Thank you for such an honest look at this country.

  12. Melanie says:

    You made good points! Good advice. At least here in Cape Town you’ll never muss the “edge” that you missed in Chiang Mai. :P

  13. Thanks for the tips, Kate! Obviously I’m not a solo female traveller, although some of my more sassily mean friends would beg to differ. I’ll be in Johannesburg for a few days later this year (I’ll save $$$ on airfare if I fly out of there, rather than Mozambique) and safety did cross my mind. I’ve heard of carjackings being a major problem so I shall stick to taxis for sure and educate myself on the dodgy areas.

  14. phumi says:

    It breaks my heart to read this but unfortunately its true. You have to be a lot more cautious than a lot of other places in the world. But you are also right in saying that people would be missing out if they didn’t make the trip. South Africa will pleasantly surprise you. Glad you had a good time..

  15. Melanie says:

    I would like to add that I advise people to act firm, but polite and with respect toward beggars, sellers, etc.
    It is insulting and degrading when people completely ignore them, pretending they are not there, viewing them as a mere disturbance of their comfortable life or holiday. In SA is it easy to forget that one is NOT in a first world country. But you are and it is the (now) disadvantaged that this country originally belonged to. So it is not right to enjoy the facade of the Waterfront, vineyards etc. and then see any poor person as disrupting the holiday bliss.

    So be polite, but firm, say “No, thank you.” Or “Sorry, I’m not carrying any cash on me.” And try to avoid that haunted look that especially some travelers tend to get. Some people may even feel provoked by it and react by harassing a person more than they would otherwise.
    I like to compliment on crafts and regretfully say that I haven’t got cash on me. “Maybe next time…”

  16. When I was in SA, I went on a couple of dates with a guy there. He would never stop at red lights at night. Freaked me out! He also had a gun in his car. But honestly, I never ever felt unsafe there once.

  17. What a fantastic post – thank you so much for sharing your insight and experiences of traveling in South Africa!

    Kate xo petite-adventures.blogspot.ca

  18. Robert says:

    Kate,

    What’s internet connectivity like in South Africa nowadays? When we were there four years ago several of the guesthouses we stayed, particularly up around Durban claimed to have in-room wifi, but actually connection was very difficult to impossible. They also seemed to have very low (by European/US standards) monthly data allowances – we blew one guesthouse’s monthly limit just in one night of two of us surfing – this was before we realised this was an issue and the guesthouse owners got very annoyed with us.

    Perhaps because data travels by cable the length of Africa, we found internet connectivity much worse in South Africa than in most other places we’ve travelled to recently.

    • Hi, Robert –

      The internet was unlimited and excellent in most hotels where I stayed. However, I did notice that a lot of cafes and restaurants with wifi, and a few hotels, only allowed you a certain amount — 50 MB. One cafe was 20 MB — I blew through that in two minutes! So I think things will have improved since then, particularly on the luxury end.

  19. Amy says:

    I’m from SA, living in Thailand and it’s refreshing to feel safe in Thailand. Nothing bad ever happened to me in SA but often when I was working in Johannesburg, walking to my car or driving at night, you do feel a little scared. You need to be aware constantly. Don’t look like a ‘tourist’, don’t keep all your money on you, don’t trust anyone, and don’t show too much skin as a solo female traveler. Some people still have this idea that if you wear a mini you are asking to be raped which is completely ridiculous. Cape Town is thee most amazing place, I lived there for 6 months and it’s a lot safer but as Kate says, hang around in places with lots of people, don’t get too drunk and go walking alone and be aware of drinks being spiked. Try not to find yourself alone in dodgy areas.

  20. Karolyn Wojtowicz says:

    I lived in Pietermaritzburg for a semester of studying abroad as an undergraduate student. During the entire time there, I walked around a few times on my own but really only traveled “on my own” through a hostel excursion one day. Some of my friends were concerned for me but since it was a company that we had just taken an excursion through, I felt comfortable – plus, I had a cell phone and really wanted to see that part of the world (penguins on a beach and the southwestern most point of the continent). South Africa can be viewed as a dangerous place however, if people are smart, don’t carry a lot of money, travel with reliable companies, etc. it can be a wonderful place to explore!

  21. ~MoonStar~ says:

    Great blogpost.. I love SA.. I always wanted to go there.. And finally last year I did.. And I look forward to going back this year :D

    I can recommend to travel as volunteer.. For people who want an awesome experience.
    You get to hear about the daily day culture.. and learn loads of new stuff.. + you have days off where you can experience the places.

    I travelled solo as a young female, in beginning of 20.
    I went down some days before and found a B/B in Port Elisabeth. Where the service was great.. They helped me out with everything I needed to know.. And loads of places have shuttle from airport :)
    Also if you travel as volunteer, they pick you up at airport.. You meet grat people.. and yeah as mentioned before.. Really great experience.. In out weekend we travelled the Garden Rout with a “firm” called Freewalkers :) Which I can also recommend :)
    It was a great trip.. and I never felt unsafe..
    Though you have to think about where you go etc.. It`s as safe as you make it ;)

    And definitly wrap your bags when flying.. I did not know.. But got told by locals to do it.. Coz they could open your bags and put drugs in them.. If you don`t do it..
    Luckily nothing happend :)

    Great blog btw… Must be so cool.. Living of travelling :D
    Will definitly start following you..

    My next trip is going to New York..
    And everyone is looking weird at me when I tell them I travel alone..
    But it`s kind of the best way.. Then you can do whatever you want ;) win win :P

  22. Robert says:

    Great Article! I can’t wait to visit South Africa.

  23. krenz says:

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  24. Thanks you very much for these tips! Leaving in 2 weeks for one month of traveling in SA and me and my hubby are a bit concerned about safety. But good to know we should stick to driving during day time, taking taxis in the evening, and avoiding deserted areas. Just something important to keep in mind. Can’t wait to discover beautiful SA!

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  26. Jessica says:

    Hi Kate!
    I was really glad to stumble upon your site! I am headed to South Africa in January from the states on a three-week solo adventure. I fly into Cape Town and I would like to see the coastlines of both the Western and Eastern Capes. I would also love to do some hiking if possible. Do you have any specific advice on destinations and accomodations? I am a budget traveler and will be looking for cool and eclectic hostels. Also, would it be a good idea to rent a car? I have to admit I am nervous about driving on both the opposite side of the car and of the road! Thanks for any tips. I am extremely excited for this adventure!

  27. magda taylor says:

    I like the way you say …it can be safe Hahaha! Be cautios…it means its not safe not even in a group of youngstes! And let me telling you its defnitly not overblown!!! To travel there and with a guide aswell its like goinig underground in one of the mines….they would not take you to the bad and unsafe places They will show you the best and the safest. I know ive been living there all my life!

  28. Vicki says:

    My husband and I travelled to SA end 2012. We are in our 50′s. We went on the Premier train, went on safari and hired a car…I danced with some street people in Cape Town.

    We were asked for money in Jo’burg, Cape Town and Durban, but we either gave some change or replied that we had already given our change away. My husband also gave away a bottle of Cola, to someone who asked for money along the beach front in Durban.

    I think a big part of the economy relies on security. Politically, it seems that security (both illegal and legal) is part of the GDP.

    We took a wrong turn in Ladysmith and ended up in an area that many South Africans may say was unsafe, but people went out of their way to direct us to the correct road.

    It is a beautiful country and the people are lovely. And we hope to go back.

  29. Johan says:

    Yes – SA is safe. Love reading all the comments about my Country – positive and negative! Yes, here is crime, and yes, it is sometimes high – but in which Country is no crime? I am going to Cambodia in two weeks time, and the same warnings given about Cambodia, is applicable to SA.( and elsewhere in the world ) Does this make a Country100% unsafe for travel? Use common sense, be alert at all times, but still enjoy your surroundings. SA is a big and beautiful Country, with friendly people. If it was that unsafe, why am I still here?
    Come and visit SA, and see for yourself – you will be welcomed with open arms and will definitely return to SUNNY SA!!

  30. Dalene Ingham-Brown says:

    I completely agree with your article Kate. South Africa is most definitely a safe country to travel in as a solo female traveller. I just got back from a month-long backpacking trip along South Africa’s coast. I used public transport, the BazBus and shuttles to get around. I stayed in backpackers that were recommended in the Coast to Coast backpackers guide. I spoke to locals about the must-do’s and don’t-do’s. I had the most epic adventure and met loads of other solo female travellers along the way.

  31. Lisa says:

    I have been tied up and held by knife at 3 am by two men. My mom was held up by gunpoint at a friend’s house. I have been mugged and hit in the face by a mugger. My mom’s car has been stolen twice. I know numerous people who have been hijacked. My nanny was raped and murdered. Please don’t say it’s a case of being vigilant. None of these things happened because we didn’t take precautions. You are never truly safe here. Don’t mean to put a damper on your post.

  32. Jonelle says:

    Thanks for the lovely article. I’m a South African woman – it’s perfectly fine to travel alone here (I have here and all over the world) but you do need to be aware of certain things… I think you’ve addressed them really well :) I’ve only ever had one bad thing happen to me in South Africa and it was because I didn’t trust my gut feeling… so do if it feels wrong, it probably is. and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t walk around with your giant camera or phone on show .. no matter where you are!

  33. Arlene Nicole says:

    Hello Kate,

    I’ve come across your blog few months back when I was searching for information about South Africa and it’s safety.

    You’re website is very informative and makes me so excited for the coming trip in July. Me and my boyfriend were planning to skip Johannesburg, but after reading the article here, we’ve decided to go for it.

    Our planned route will Johannesburg-Pretoria-Durban-Port Elizabeth-Garden Route-Cape Town. I’ve also took note of the places you visited and will make sure to include them in the itinerary.

  34. V J says:

    I am Interested in studying in SA.However, my cousin has told me of some incidents that restrains me from considering such an option. I would like some advice on this as well as information on the least crime occurring areas and best places for studying technical courses like an engineering degree for instance. Thank you

  35. Anon says:

    Sorry but this article is misleading. SA is not safe. My mother was murdered there and I have lost many family and acquaintances to crime. You obviously have not had any bad experiences yourself but that does not mean it’s safe. I lived in Durban and could not drive anywhere without the fear of being hijacked – day or night. Every person living in my street has experienced crime. I personally know at least 10 people who have been hijacked or had guns held at their head, or lost their lives.

  36. Mrs. Muir says:

    I’m moving back to South Africa after living 4 years abroad, traveling. I’m excited to go home, but more concerned about the negativity from some South Africans there. Reading Mark Delaney’s post is typical of what you need to deal with from other “white” South Africans. Constantly moaning about everything that doesn’t go their way. It’s exhausting.

    I’m used now to a more positive outlook and find it sad, that people like that still troll blogs / comments that are positive towards my beautiful country.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post and it made me even more excited to return. I just need to seer clear from the Mark Delaney’s in our society.

    • Marie says:

      I think there is always going to be some negativity about SA. It comes from both sides of the racial lines and there are some people who only know how to be negative. I think Nelson Mandela’s passing is the best example of how great SA is. There was all sorts of ridiculous speculation that it would lead to increased violence and civil war, when the only thing of note to happen was the booing of Jacob Zuma at the memorial which, in my opinion, as I am not a Zuma fan, was somewhat entertaining, even if maybe the wrong place and time. I visited Mandela’s house twice during the official week of mourning as well as other areas like Mandela square and it was beautiful, peaceful, a nation in harmony. And for the paranoid, I went to Mandela’s house alone, with a handbag and a pretty expensive camera, there were so many cars I had to walk about a kilometer to get there and then back to my car – I didn’t feel unsafe once, I was not hassled or harassed and people from all across our social spectrum were in the area. SA really is as safe or unsafe as you make it. I have now been in Jhb for 19 months. And I don’t have an incident to report, I have had pick pocketing incidents in London and Paris before, but not in my own lovely SA.

      And as for Anon’s comment on the 6th July, that is either a serious exaggeration or they are the unluckiest person who knows the rest of the unluckiest people in SA. Also Durban has had a gang problem for several years now, it isn’t a representation of the whole country. Aren’t there areas of New York with gangs which people avoid because of those gangs? And thats a top tourist destination and 1st world country…

      VJ, there are fantastic and safe universities in SA, there are incidents of course, as at all universities, again its as safe as you make it, don’t walk alone at night, don’t flash expensive gadgets around, just be sensible and you should be fine. In terms of a good place for engineering courses, I didn’t study engineering so I don’t really know, but look at universities like Wits or UCT or technical colleges in SA, just use Google and you should be able to find plenty of information :)

      So Mrs Muir welcome home! There are still plenty of positive people in SA, Mark Delaney excluded of course…And to all potential tourists, I think the SA tourism stats speak for themselves, they spiked as expected during 2010 for the Fifa World Cup, and they haven’t dropped significantly since :)

  37. Don says:

    I lived in South Africa for almost 30 years and have travelled extensively around the world for work and leisure. I think Kate’s assessment is pretty balanced and accurate. I believe South Africa to be one of the most special countries in the world. Nowhere have I ever experienced such diversity in geographic or cultural terms and I would say that South Africa is a must-do on any traveller’s bucket list. As Kate says, go knowing that you need to be alert. Listen to your guides, hotel staff and locals and, if in any doubt, always ask if somewhere or something is safe. You will be richly rewarded.

  38. Roy says:

    I use to visit n South Africa very often for business, It’s always better to hire the service of a good security provider to organize you a safe visit (armed escort, car, driver) . two companies that i can highly recommend on is : G4S and Magen Security.

  39. I have my first ever trip to South Africa coming up, and I will admit…I’m a little nervous for my short time as a solo-traveler in Cape Town. It’s actually very frustrating to me. I most want to hike while I’m there, and with the amount of violent crime that has occurred along hiking trails, they say to hike in groups of 4 or more! Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone in Cape Town, so I’m not sure how I’ll go about finding 3 friends to hike with! I’ve decided to stay in a hostel in one of the largest dorm rooms just so that I’ll have more opportunities to try to find some friends to explore the city with me.

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