Crime, like anywhere else in the world, can be a problem, but you really need not do much more than take all the usual sensible precautions. Know where you're going before you set off, particularly at night, watch your possessions, don't walk alone in dodgy areas, and lock your doors at night. Much like anywhere else. And, like anywhere else in the world, there are some areas of major cities that are dodgier than others. It is easy to avoid these and still have a good time. Check with the locals who will quickly point those areas out to you.
When walking through areas that are considered risky, avoid wearing visible jewelery or carrying cameras and bags over your shoulder. Keep cell phones (mobile phones) and wallets tucked away where no one can see them. Check beforehand that the areas you plan to visit are safe by asking hotel management or police. It is not advisable to use local commuter and metro trains as attacks on foreigners have occurred. However, when the need arises to use them, do not openly display expensive jewelery, camera equipment or other valuables.
Other sensible advice is not to hitchhike or accept or carry items for strangers. Our airport security is quite strict, so to avoid delays in checking in, remove all sharp objects (even nail files, scissors and hairclips) from your hand luggage.
The new government inherited, amongst other things, a high rate of unemployment from the previous one. This has led to opportunistic petty theft and sometimes more serious crimes such as housebreaking and car theft that could turn violent if resisted. It is not a problem unique to South Africa. Therefore, the precautions are universal. However, here are the most important ones again.
- In unfamiliar metropolitan areas stay in well-lit areas where there are a lot of other people around you.
- It is unwise to wear expensive jewelery when on holiday or to leave cameras and videos unattended.
- Care must be taken when you leave a bank. You should put the money in your wallet/purse before leaving the bank and not walk out with it in you hand.
- When using Automatic Teller Machines outside the banks, especially at night, please look out for persons loitering in the vicinity and if so rather use another machine. They are generally well distributed in cities and around shopping areas.
- It is good practice to stow all your belongings in your vehicle out of sight in the luggage area of the vehicle.
- It is also good practice to keep your vehicle doors locked when traveling or parked.
- South Africans generally do not offer hitchhikers a lift.
- If the need arises, ask for directions at shops, filling stations and police officers on duty.
- We suggest that you do not give money to the so-called 'street children' (children who ran away from home and are living on the city streets). It only compounds their problem as they buy drugs and alcohol rather than the intended food. There are facilities available where they can be put up and fed for free.
- In rural areas only go on small sand roads when your operator suggested this. There is a maze of these little access roads in some rural areas and you may find yourself completely lost and not being able to speak the local language to get directions. It is always good practice to keep to the operator's recommended route.
- Remember the vast majority of South Africans are well disposed and friendly, and will be more than happy to assist you.
Those who choose to drive private cars, either borrowed or hired, should be aware that car hijackings do occur, although precautions can be taken to avoid this. Drivers should always be on the alert when they come to a halt at traffic lights or stop streets, as well as when they are arriving at or leaving premises. Doors should be locked at all times, and while the temptation is to keep windows open in sunny weather, they should be kept closed in crowded areas. Plan your travel route beforehand. Make sure that you do not leave valuables in clear view of people on the side of the road. Articles such as cellular phones and handbags left on seats are favoured targets of 'smash'n'grab' (smash a car window while you are waiting at a red traffic light and grab valuables on the seats) thieves.
When parking at night choose well-lit or security-patrolled parking areas. Street security guards will usually ask whether they can watch over your car and in return they should be paid a small fee – anything from two Rand upwards.
ATMs and con artists
Watch out for con artists. A favoured target is the automated teller machine (ATM). Under no circumstances allow a stranger to assist you in your transactions. Should your card become stuck in the ATM, enter your PIN three times whereupon the machine will retain your card. You can then approach the bank to release it, or call the help line number that can usually be found at ATMs for assistance.
Beware, too, of confidence tricksters who try and persuade you to invest in their schemes, requiring you to disclose confidential banking details.