Safety in South Africa
Crime and safety in South Africa are major factors for expats considering moving to the country.
Crime rates remain high, petty theft and opportunistic crimes are common, and armed robberies and hijackings are also fairly frequent in certain areas. Expats should be aware that crime happens all over South Africa, so expats and locals alike will need to take the necessary precautions to secure their homes and possessions.
South African authorities have made great efforts to address the crime issue. While crime is generally contained by the South African Police Service and the Metro Police in larger cities, expats still have to be vigilant to reduce their chances of being affected. Keeping abreast of local affairs keeps residents aware of emerging public safety issues. Small lifestyle changes can also greatly decrease the chances of becoming a victim and improve the experience of life in South Africa.
By being aware of their surroundings, avoiding isolated areas and investing in home and vehicle security, expats can become less vulnerable to crime.
Residential safety in South Africa
While burglaries can be a problem in some areas, expats can increase their personal safety by contracting an armed response security provider and investing in electric fencing and an alarm system. Many suburban estates also have controlled access, while neighbourhoods without controlled access often have neighbourhood watch patrols instead, which can also decrease the chance of crime.
There are a few more factors that can improve the residential safety of expats:
Be vigilant about locking front and back doors at all times and make sure alarm systems are set before leaving the house
When choosing a home, it's a good idea to opt for enclosed neighbourhoods or security villages, apartments with gated security, or an area with an effective neighbourhood watch
The vast majority of South African properties have burglar bars installed on windows, and safety gates on external doors. Sliding doors are sometimes overlooked by property owners in this respect, but it's important that they are fitted with safety gates too as they are particularly vulnerable potential entry points. Burglars have also been known to get through even the smallest of windows, so tiny, innocuous-looking windows should have burglar bars too.
Extra precautions such as perimeter walls, guard dogs and electric fencing can make the property more secure and are good to have, but aren't absolutely essential
A common complaint is that police response is too slow – so expats should consider using private security companies with armed response units capable of responding to emergencies.
Public transport safety in South Africa
A lack of safe public transportation in South Africa poses a frustrating challenge. Minibus taxis, trains and even certain buses are especially vulnerable to pickpocketing and muggings. Consulting trusted locals, such as friends or coworkers, on the safest mode of transport in the area is recommended.
There are no underground trains, but the speedy Gautrain operating between Johannesburg and Pretoria provides a safe and effective means of travel, although it is somewhat expensive.
The MyCiTi bus services in Cape Town are widely regarded as a safe option, but valuables should still be kept out of sight when using them and caution is advisable at night, especially when travelling alone.
Road safety in South Africa
Although South Africa has a developed transport infrastructure, road safety is an ongoing concern. Reckless driving, especially by minibus taxis, is the cause of many accidents.
In certain areas, smash-and-grab thefts and hijackings are threats too; hotspots include outside residential driveways and at traffic lights, particularly those near freeway off-ramps. When in these two situations, it is important to keep a sharp eye out for any suspicious-looking figures trying to lurk in the car's blindspot. Drivers should also make sure they have an escape route available by leaving a gap between their car and the car in front of them at traffic lights, or by rolling slowly towards the traffic light. Coming to a total stop makes it easier for criminals to approach the car and smash a window.
Expats driving in South Africa should do so defensively, and should be sure to obey the rules of the road and constantly be aware of their surroundings, especially at night. Car doors should be locked and windows should be rolled up. Drivers should also stick to main routes, park in well-lit areas, keep valuables out of sight, and never pick up hitchhikers.
When parking at night, expats should choose a security patrolled or well-lit area. Informal and formal car guarding services are common in South Africa. Should a car guard offer their assistance once the car has been parked, it’s accepted practice to pay them some change when returning.
Scams in South Africa
ATM scams in South Africa are common. Never engage a stranger in conversation while drawing money. Don't count money in public, and avoid drawing large amounts of cash if strangers are watching. Should the ATM withhold a card, immediately call the helpline number displayed on the ATM, and do not allow a stranger to assist.
Political and social unrest in South Africa
Protests stemming from social inequalities and labour disputes are fairly common in South Africa. These can disrupt traffic and service delivery in the affected area and violence has erupted on occasion.
Large labour union strikes are usually reported on in advance and there is normally a notable security presence surrounding such events. Expats should keep abreast of local developments and avoid any affected areas.
Emergency telephone numbers in South Africa
Emergency services: 10111
Emergency services (from a cellphone): 112