There is much about South Africa that is, to a degree, misunderstood. In fact, there is far more going for it that many give it credit for. Contrary to what some might think, it isn’t all about an unsuccessful World Cup or rumours of Ebola. It’s also vast and diverse, covering some 471,000 square miles and with a 53 million population and 11 official languages.
Where the reputation comes from
That isn’t to say that there aren’t genuine concerns that you should be aware of. Even the locals warn tourists that violent crime and muggings are a huge issue and on the rise. According to an article from the BBC, albeit from 2010, South Africa ranks ninth in the world when it comes to violent crime. Another study, this time by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime from 2012, South Africa had an annual intentional murder rate of 30 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. While that figure may seem alarming, it’s actually lower than Belize (440), Detroit (54), and Honduras (92). Further, that number has decreases since the end of apartheid, and in the five safest neighbourhoods in Cape Town, no murders have been recorded at all.
These are the neighbourhoods that tend to attract tourists. It isn’t a war zone. The majority of violent crimes occur between those who are familiar with each other in dangerous neighbourhoods that don’t tend to attract tourists. Tourists tend to be targeted for petty crime over other crimes. The history of the country- forced racial segregation, the abolishment of apartheid, and the move towards reconciliation by Nelson Mandela provides some context and understanding of where South Africa lies today. Though still not without its racial issues, the country isn’t as dangerous and as scary as many still perceive it to be.
You would be wise to take more precautions that you would do in the likes of Germany or Southeast Asia, but the dangers aren’t really so different than the larger cities in Europe or the U.S. While a large party of strung safe means adhering to the common sense rules you would back home and just following your nose, here are some tips to increase the likelihood of a hassle-free trip to South Africa.
Know where to avoid
While the townships experience higher crime rates, these are settlements formed during apartheid for the purpose of forced racial segregation. Staying safe, however, doesn’t mean avoiding them entirely. Some of your most treasured holiday memories could well be formed here.
These townships are friendly. At the same time, you’d be well advised to restrict your visits here to during the day here and with a guide who lives here and understands the area. You can arrange this through your guesthouse or by asking the tourism board. For example, Soweto in Johannesburg offers everything from bus tours to biking and as it’s a profitable venture for them, they’re only too happy to welcome tourists.