Stay safe in South Africa
South Africa rarely experiences earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, terrorist incidents or infectious diseases (except HIV).
It is however one of the countries with the highest rates of violent crime in the world. However, if you are vigilant and use common sense, you should have a safe and enjoyable trip, just as hundreds of thousands of other people have every year. The key is to know and follow general safety precautions: Never walk around deserted areas at night or advertise the possession of money or expensive accessories.
Do not accept offers from friendly strangers. Don’t carry a fanny pack with all your valuables; instead, consider a concealed money belt that you wear under your shirt. Leave passports and other valuables in a safe or other secure place, although most banks and bureaux de change will require your passport to exchange foreign funds into rands. Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk in deserted places at night. Conceal the fact that you are a tourist: Hide your camera and binoculars. Do not leave your valuables in plain sight when you are driving, as “smash and grab” robberies sometimes occur at intersections. Know where to go so you don’t get lost or need a map: This will help you avoid signs.
If you carry bags, try to hook them under a table or chair leg when you sit down as this will prevent them from being snatched.
Visiting the townships is possible, but do not do it alone unless you really know where you are going. While some towns are quite safe, there are also some very dangerous places. Go with an experienced guide. Some tour operators offer guided visits to the townships, which are absolutely safe.
Walking in the evening or going to venues after dark can be very risky. It is simply not part of the culture there as it is in Europe, North America or Australia. It is best to take a taxi (a metered taxi, not a minibus taxi) or a private vehicle for an “evening walk”. The same goes for taking hitchhikers or offering help if your car breaks down. If someone looks like they are in trouble on the street, it is best to ignore them as they may be a scam. Keep driving until you see a police station and tell them what you saw.
If you are driving in South Africa and a police officer stops you to check your licence and you show them your foreign licence, they may come out with some rude comments. If your licence is in English, or you have an international driving permit, there is nothing they can do. Stand firm and state this fact – be polite, courteous and do not pay money (bribes).
Be especially careful when driving at night. Unlike in Europe and North America, large parts of South African roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit or often not lit at all. This also applies to highways. Be especially careful as wildlife and people often walk in the middle of the road in smaller towns (not in cities like Pretoria, Johannesburg or Cape Town). You also need to be extra careful when driving in South Africa as there is a risk of car theft.
O.R. Tambo International Airport Security Alert
Airport operators occasionally steal valuable items such as iPods, laptops, digital cameras, mobile phones and jewellery when scanning passengers’ checked baggage. They take advantage of the scanning machine to identify and steal valuable items. These incidents occur and the stolen items include everything from electronic devices to designer perfumes.
Place all valuables in your hand luggage and remember that more than 100 ml of lotion and other liquids are not allowed in your hand luggage. When checking in at O.R. Tambo, the check-in attendant will remind you not to put any valuables in your luggage. There is a service at the airport that will wrap your luggage in cling film, while others will wire the zips to prevent easy access to the contents of your luggage.
Important telephone numbers
- The National Tourism Information – Safety Line, 083 123 2345. Operated by South African Tourism edit.
- TheNationalInstituteforSea Rescue, +27 21 434-4011, 082 380 3800 (after hours). A voluntary organisation with rescue stations on the coast and larger inland waters
From a fixed line
- 107 – Emergency call (in Cape Town, from landlines only)
- 10111 – Police
- 10177 – Ambulance
From a mobile phone
- 112-All emergencies
International calls at local rate
- Step 1: Dial: 087 150 0823 from any mobile or landline phone
- Step 2: Dial destination number and press #
- z. B. 00 44 11 123 4567
- Countries: USA, UK(landline), India, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong and many more.
- Supported by: Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom and Neotel
One of the main reasons for travellers to visit South Africa is to experience the great outdoors and see the wide variety of wildlife.
When driving in a game reserve, always obey the speed limits and stay in your car at all times. Always follow your guide’s instructions when on game drives or walks.
Make sure you wear socks and boots when out in the bush; do not wear open sandals. A good pair of boots can prevent snake and insect bites and avoid possible cuts that can lead to infections.
In many areas you may encounter wildlife while driving on public roads, monkeys and baboons are particularly common. Do not get out of the vehicle to take photos or otherwise attempt to interact with the animals. As they are wild animals, their behaviour is often unpredictable.
You may even find yourself out in the wild, with wild animals( this often happens with baboons at Cape Point). Keep your distance and always make sure the animals are only on one side of you, do not walk between two groups or individuals. A female baboon can become quite agitated if you separate her from her baby.
Always check with the locals before swimming in a river or lake as there may be crocodiles or hippos. Shark nets have been installed on most major beaches in KwaZulu-Natal. If you intend to swim anywhere other than the main beaches, ask a local first.
Note that shark nets may be removed for a few days during the annual sardine fishery (usually along the KwaZulu-Natal coast between early May and late July). This is done to avoid excessive deaths from sharks and other marine animals. Notices are posted on the beaches during this time.
Stay healthy in South Africa
Emergency and medical assistance
There are a number of independent emergency aid companies in South Africa
- Netcare 911, 49 New Rd, Midrand, +27 11 254-1927. Some travel agents offer Netcare911 cover as an option, but you can also take them out through Travel Insurance (see below) or find out if your existing cover has a link with them.
- Travel Insurance, +27 11 780-3300. Is contracted with Netcare and provides comprehensive EMS cover for travellers entering South Africa.
- ER24, Manor 1, Cambridge Manor Office Park. A large and well represented urgent care company comprising the Medi-Clinic chain of hospitals.
It is best to avoid public hospitals if possible. Private hospitals are of world-class standard.
The main pharmacy chains found in tourist shopping centres (e.g. Sandton City, V&A Waterfront) are Clicks and Dischem. Some supermarket chains such as Checkers have their own pharmacies in the shops.
Pharmacies in South Africa are generally in a similar class to those in Europe and North America. Note, however, that the shelves of South African pharmacies tend to have a smaller selection of medicines than their North American counterparts and a higher quantity of nutritional supplements. South African pharmacies carry many OTC medicines, but if you don’t see them on the shelf, you will have to ask for them at the counter when the pharmacist is there.
Municipal tap water is generally safe to drink throughout the country. In the Western Cape, mountain water is safe, even if it is coloured brown by vegetation. There is a strong risk of schistosomiasis if the water is stagnant.
Many activities in South Africa take place outdoors, see the travel topic Sunburn and Sun Protection for tips on how to protect yourself.
HIV and AIDS
The rate of HIV infection in South Africa is among the highest in the world. Out of a population of 48 million, 5.4 million people are HIV positive.
The HIV infection rate in the total population older than 2 years varies from about 2 % in the Western Cape to over 17 % in KwaZulu-Natal (Avert and overall 18.8 % of South Africans over 15 years are HIV positive. It is estimated that one in four women and one in five men between the ages of 20 and 40 are infected.
The north-eastern areas of the country (including the Kruger National Park and St Lucia and surrounding areas) are seasonal malaria areas, roughly from November to May. The main risk period is just after the rainy season from March to May. Consult a doctor about appropriate precautions depending on the time of year you are travelling. The most important protective measures against malaria are:
- Use of a DEET-based mosquito repellent
- Cover your skin with long-sleeved clothing, especially at dusk; and
- Use of mosquito nets when sleeping.
Tabbard and Peaceful Sleep are commonly used mosquito repellents and can be bought almost everywhere.
Smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public spaces, including airports, pubs, shopping centres and theatres. However, this is largely ignored. If people smoke indoors, feel free to join them.
Most restaurants have smoking areas, either ventilated indoor areas or open outdoor areas.