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If you're planning to travel to South Africa, you should take the threat of crime seriously and be alert at all times.
Recent years have seen a steady increase in serious crime in South Africa, both violent and non-violent in nature. Here are some of the more common types of crime to look out for during your stay. Among the more violent crimes:
Non-violent crimes common to the area include minor theft, fraud, and scams.
In September 2019, riots broke out in Johannesburg. Several people were killed, and the riots were allegedly xenophobic in nature, targeting foreign nationals from the rest of Africa. These types of events may happen again, so be extra careful if you are traveling to South Africa while riots are taking place. Here are a few tips on what to do if you are traveling in a country experiencing civil unrest.
One popular scam involves criminals posing as "tourist police" who rob visitors and extort money from them. They'll often stop tourist buses or tourists at the airport under the guise of checking identification and searching luggage. There is no such division of police as "tourist police" in South Africa, so don't let them examine your bag, and don't be afraid to ask for identification. However, if the fake police are armed, it's best to cooperate.
Finally, be on the lookout for the street beggars known as "strollers". These petty thieves can be anyone from children to junkies, and they will attempt to distract and then rob you while you're not paying attention. Not all beggars have bad intentions, but you should keep valuables well concealed and stay aware of your surroundings at all times.
Credit card fraud is on the rise in South Africa. To keep from falling victim, never accept help from a stranger at an ATM, be discreet when entering your PIN, and avoid ATMs that look damaged or tampered with (as well as other ATMs nearby). If the ATM retains your card, contact your bank and block your card immediately.
Perhaps more important than knowing the type of crimes committed in South Africa is knowing the areas where they're more likely to occur – that way, you can steer clear of them. The general rule of thumb is that crime increases when the sun goes down, particularly in the major cities.
Townships in general experience a higher crime rate than other areas, and while they're certainly not off-limits, it's recommended that they only be explored as a part of an organized tour group. Additionally, day or night, always avoid picnic areas or beaches that appear to be isolated.
Not all suburbs in Johannesburg are to be completely avoided, though caution should be taken at night, especially in the city center. Muggings are a common occurance at night, so it's best not to be wandering the streets or walk from one place to another across town.
Joubert Park, Hillbrow, and Berea are hot spots for criminal activity and best avoided. However, other areas of Johannesburg, such as Maboneng, Newtown, and Soweto, have undergone a revitalization, and crime has been noticeably reduced.
Cape Flats sees a large proportion of the crime in Cape Town, and gang violence has been on the rise. Salt River, Seapoint, Mowbray, and Observatory also tend to see more criminal activity than other areas. If you're out at night, stick to the more crowded, well-lit locations, and don't walk around by yourself.
Table Mountain is a favorite destination for hikers and outdoor adventurers. What many people don't realize, however, is that there have been multiple attacks on the trails. You're advised to avoid (or at least be extra vigilant in) the more deserted areas of the park, particularly during early morning hours and shortly before the park closes. Apply the safety-in-numbers theory, stay to the more popular trails, and stick with a group.
Be cautious while traveling in the city center, or better yet, avoid it altogether. Petty crimes such as pickpocketing and muggings are still a problem along the beachfront, but have declined since the area's redevelopment. Stay street smart by remaining vigilant and sticking to well-lit areas at night.
As with many destinations, public transport facilities are often the scene of unwelcome criminal activity.
Johannesburg and Cape Town airports have experienced frequent luggage theft and pilferage. Of course, being a smart traveler, you'd never place items of value in your checked luggage, right? If you have to, consider using a service that will wrap your baggage in plastic to keep it from being tampered with.
Criminals have also been known to lay in wait outside the Johannesburg airport, then follow unsuspecting tourists to their rental home or hotel and rob them. Pay close attention to your surroundings at all times, and whatever you do, don't accept a ride from the airport to wherever you are staying, unless it's from a reputable company.
Local commuter rails and metro trains have also been the locations of several assaults and robberies. Trains that travel between Johannesburg and Pretoria are especially risky, as are the commuter trains in Cape Town.
If you plan to take the train in Cape Town, always travel in first class, during the day, and in a cabin with people. Avoid traveling to Cape Flats.
When traveling by train, use common sense and always remain alert. Similarly, if you plan to do any shopping at local malls, be aware of your surroundings as armed robberies are on the rise in those types of places.
The 2008 FIFA World Cup left behind a modern train and bus system in Johannesburg. The high-speed Gautrain connects the northern suburbs with the city center as well as with Pretoria. The train itself has a good reputation for safety, but robberies and assaults have been known to happen around the station. The Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transit system is another safe bus network that currently runs between Johannesburg's city center and surrounds, including Soweto.
After reading this, you may question whether it's worth it to travel to South Africa. Rest assured, there are plenty of safe areas to visit with enough beauty, friendly people, and adventure to go around. As long as you avoid unsavory areas, use common sense, and exercise appropriate travel safety measures, you should experience South Africa without any incidents.
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