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How safe is Johannesburg, what's the safety situation in South Africa?


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By tompitman - Posted on
08 April 2011
Thinking of moving to South Africa, but worried about the safety situation in Johannesburg as I will be moving with my partner. I hear the safety in Johannesburg is not too good, what is the situation in reality? Are hijackings and muggings a risk. How about burglary? Are there safe places to live in Johannesburg? Can one walk around the city safely? It would be great to get a balanced opinion from someone who has lived there. Many thanks in advance for your advice.
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Really, safety in Johannesburg is something to be desired. Smash and grabs, muggings and burglaries are common. That said, there's measures that can be taken that will certainly minimize your chance of being a victim of a crime.

Most expats live in gated communities where a 24-hour security gaurd controls who comes in and who goes out of the complex. These are generally very safe and secure - albeit very insular and kind of fake feeling (especially the ones that mimic Tuscan villas). If you opt to live in a normal flat complex or in a stand alone house, you should definitely contract a private security company to call in case of emergencies, and you should equip your home with an alarm system, burglar bars and appropriate fencing. The northern suburbs are generally thought to be the nicest area of Johannesburg.

You'll find that very few people walk in Johannesburg, traffic is horrendous and there's not much to look at while trapped in your car.

Expats that choose to live in Johannesburg do so largely at the lure of a job too good to turn down. If you don't have a killer offer or you aren't an ambitious person do yourself and your family a favour and have a look at opportunities in Cape Town!
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Hi Jim,

I've lived in Johannesburg as an expat for about a year. I was very worried about moving here with our family, as I heard many horrible stories about crime. So far, we have had no personal experience with crime, so to answer your question, in reality you can live here very safely. As in any big city, you will have to stay away from certain areas, so walking around in downtown Johannesburg, like Hillbrow, is not something you should do. But there are many places you can go, even at night, where you will have no problems. For instance, Melrose Arch is a wonderful area with many restaurants and little piazzas where you can walk around at night no problem. As for living here, most expats end up in the Northern Suburbs in one of the security estates. I wouldn't say they feel fake. If you can afford them, they are wonderful places to live, and the upside is that you can move around freely within. Our kids walk to school every day and we have no safety concerns with that.

As for smash and grabs, yes, they do occur, but again, I think it is a matter of what areas you keep to. I drive up and down William Nicol Dr all the time, which has myriads of street vendors, and again, I've never  had any problems, and am not shy about buying their wares. It is recommended that you get smash and grab protection for your car (a kind of film on the windows, and your insurance company may even require it). Most people don't seem to be bothered by it as you see plenty of big cars in Joburg, and even a good number of convertibles.

Burglaries do happen, we even had an incident in our estate recently, but the coombined response from our security office and the police was swift, as you would expect in any other country, so I honestly think this is not so different from other places. Yes, there is more armed robbery and that is worrisome, but you have to balance that with all the other factors of living in South Africa, which has so much to offer. I personally would be much more reluctant to live in Mexico or Venezuela, which don't get nearly as much bad press as South Africa.
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The bottom line is that Safety concerns should not be a reason for not accepting a posting to Joburg. There are many practical, obvious steps you can take to maximise your safety, and provided you remain a little vigilant and sensible, you are not at any great risk. Regards, a Local Resident!
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Anonymous
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I'm a 59 year old born and bred Johannesburger, and have never been hijacked, have never been mugged, and have not been burgled since 1982!
The stand alone house is fitted with an alarm and does have burglar bars, but it has a low wall with no razor wire or electric fencing.
I live in Parktown North and do have a private security company patrol the streets.
I walk a lot, including taking the dogs for a walk after dark, and never feel uneasy.
We walk to and from local restaurants after dark as well.
I wouldn't think not to walk - regardless of the time of day or night.

We've just had a family of four stay with us from the UK (we have accommodation we rent out) and they loved Jo'burg.
He was linked to Wits university, and she and the children explored the city for the 6 weeks they were here - and couldn't do all they had planned before having to head back home.
They far preffered it to the few days they spent in Cape Town.

People who are critical of Jo'burg, usually don't know it well.
Those that know it well, tend to give honest opinions.

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Anonymous
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Hello,

Thank you for an interesting thread!
My own situation is that I've been offered a position in a long term project in Johannesburg. We would be living in Bryanston area in an apartment hotel called Waybury house. Does anyone know this particular neighbourhood well?

Apparently it's an upmarket area fairly close to Sandton. But what about the details, for instance can my REALLY blond girlfriend take our dog out in the evening after dark? Apologies if this sounds stupid but we really don't know much about this Bryanston neighbourhood.

Thank you in advance!

-Timo (Helsinki, Finland)

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Hi Timo

The suburb of Bryanston is an upmarket and area being close to Sandton City, means it's very conveniently located. The area is generally safe and as you will be in a hotel, security is likely to be quite tight in and around the facility. I would not recommend that a woman walks on her own at night - muggings and opportunistic street crimes are common in Johannesburg's suburbs and it's better to be more cautious. I grew up in Joburg and even as a local who knows the area, I would not walk in the dark by myself. Walking during the day should be fine, but she should always be aware of her surroundings and walk with confidence. It'ss a good idea to familiarise yourself with the local area, street names and routes to and from home. Keep the local emergency numbers and the number of your hotel in your phone.

If you will be driving to and from work, you should note that the traffic in this area is pretty hectic, especially along the William Nicol road which is the main road running through Bryanston and which links to freeways running around the city. Drive with confidence and be careful of the minibus taxis which generally ignore the rules of the road.

Good luck with your move! Despite the negative things said about Joburg, it really is a great city!

Catherine
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Anonymous
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Is shopping in malls and shops safe? If I travell by car i guess there shouldn't be any risk. I would also like to know one thing what is the cost of living? Is 25,000R good enough amount to spend a good life in joburg alone.?

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Hey Anonymous, Johannesburg has some of the best shopping malls in South Africa and going to these malls is pretty safe. There is normally secure parking and security guards patrol most malls and major department stores so it should be fine. Shopping and hanging out at the mall are a very popular past time for most locals in Joburg. 

R25,000 is a pretty decent salary, although I am not sure what industry you are working in so I can't say for sure whether it is market related, but that salary should let you live a pretty good life in Joburg - but this also depends on your own lifestyle and what you generally spend your money on - accommodation will be your biggest expense and petrol prices are increasing at a rapd rate so you should factor your accommodation and transport into everything. Check out our Cost of Living in South Africa page for a general breakdown of what you can expect to pay for things in the country. 
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Hi Anon

Shopping malls are definitely very safe, especially the upmarket ones in nice suburbs. R25,000 a month will be enough to live a  comfortable life, especially if you're on your own. Of course, as with any salary, it will depend on your lifestyle and in particular, which area you plan to live in (and therefore how much rent you will be paying). Which country are you coming from, just so I have a better idea of what you're used to?
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Anonymous
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Hi,

We also recently got an offer in Joburg and considering it. At present in Dubai so am sure very different scenario. My main concern really is safety as I have a 5 yr old daughter and also education. Its really a mixed review that u get on the sites about everything so super confused. Pls help

Aastha

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Hi,

We are in Dubai as of now and considering move to Joburg but seriously concerned about the safety issues as have a 5 yr old daughter. there are mixed reviews on everything on all sites so super confused> Please help

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Anonymous
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Johannesburg has some great world class schools both private and public - although you should send your child to a private school as you will get good standard of education. The private schools are as good as any developed country. As for safety, there are some hectic places in Johannesburg and you should stay away from the 'townships' and inner city without a local guide but if you play it safe you will be fine. I have lived in Jhb my whole life and have had no problem.

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Anonymous
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Hi, I can understand your concern about coming to live in Johannesburg, but, if you look for a residence in one of the Northern Suburbs, in a gated area, such as Atholl, Illovo, Inanda, there are in fact, many lovely suburbs to chose from, you should be fine. My Husband and I have lived in Atholl for close on 30yrs, and have never had a problem. The area is gated, we have an alarm, but no electric fencing. We have a number of very upmarket shopping centers on our doorstep, where we have a lunch or early meal and watch a movie in complete safety, in a beautiful environment. There is also a wonderful park called the Ethel Gray Park on our doorstep, where you can walk the dogs or play with the children in complete safety. The private schools in the Northern Suburbs are amongst some of the best in the country, and the standard of education is extremely high. We often say to our adult children who all have families of their own, that they should spread their wings and see the rest of the world,but it falls on deaf ears. Where in the world would we find such superb schools as we have here in this country is oft repeated by my daughter, a mommy of 6yr old twins. Hope this is of some help .

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Anonymous
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Hi,

I am from Holland, came here first in 2007. Never ever happened anything to me or my friends. I have no expat live. I have local friends here black and white.
R25.000 is for me the minimum unless your company pays rent / car etc.
Otherwise secure estates. I think minimum rent is from R12.000. excl. your electricity. It is an expensive city for a 'third' world country.
Going out is still cheap comparing to other countries but all the rest like petrol R12 / L is pretty European. Was R 6 when I arrived here 5 years ago.

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Anonymous
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Hi

I am from India. I have been offered a job assignment in Johannesburg that is long term.My monthly pay would be R20,000 approx.My location would be in Rivonia Sandton.What is the safety situation there right now? And whether it is fine to take up this job with the pay offered.Also which are the common areas that I may need to stay away from to avoid trouble.If anyone can answer please....Thanks

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There are some Do's and Dont's for each country and so does South Africa has some do's and Dont's.

Hijacks and muggings are quite common and the chances are more if u dont follow the do's of that country. I have lived there for a couple of years and it doesnt mean that you have to stay indoors all the time.

Some donts would be as follows:

Taking out flashy / flamboyant mobile phones in public and clicking pictures where the area seem not too safe.

Driving car with window glass turned down.

Casing out from ATMs which is not well lit or in prominent areas.

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I am from India and I did felt at home during my entire tenure in SA

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Anonymous
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Hello Srinath,

I am from India as well.Please can you share, which area were you staying and what is the rent in that area.....

Thanks, Sanjana

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Hi Sanjana

Check out the Accommodation in Johannesburg page for more information on price ranges and areas in Johannesburg. You could also have a look at this interview with Srinath about being an Indian expat in Johannesburg.
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Anonymous
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Gaby reading your comments were so helpful to me. I am an American who is considering taking an assignment for 5 months and was really concerned about safety and where to live. Reading this has helped me quite a bit.

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Hi Sanjana, I was staying at Morningside for very short time and I stayed at majority of the time at Parktown. I enjoyed staying at both these places and was never mugged even once. I would suggest you to stay at northern suburbs first. Once you get a decent level of trust, confidence as you explore new places, you might think of relocating else where. But I would suggest Northern suburbs are always better. Check out my interview as mentioned by Gaby above.

Thanks, Srinath

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Anonymous
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I am considering moving with my family to Johannesburg. I would love to live in a large compound like Kyalami. Can somebody point me to a list of similar compounds? I just dont seem to be able to find them online. There were three mentioned in an earlier post but I would like to research others as well.

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Anonymous
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I am from India and I have recently refused a job offer from Johannesburg. Salary offered was R 36000/month + Well furnished Family Accomodation in gated community + 1600 cc Car. The decision was taken based on the high crime rates and the pattern of crimes. Some of my friends also suggested not to move to South Africa at any cost. Rapes, carhijacking, burgalaies, mugging are very common.
-Sanjay

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Hi Sanjay

Of course if you value personal safety very highly then moving to South Africa may not be for you. That said, although there is a high crime rate, you must remember that it is not a war zone (despite disgruntled South African expat's comments to the contrary!). Statistically most crime affects those in lower-income groups, most rapists and murderers are known to the victim, a lot of crime is gang related and so on. I say "most" - of course it is probably more likely that you would experience a mugging or house breaking in South Africa than at home. That is a risk some people choose not to take.

Your package sounds like a lucrative one and since you would have been living in a gated (i.e. guarded) community you probably would have been fine. South Africa is a beautiful country with a lot going for it to offset the crime rate.
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Hi Sanjay, I was an Indian expat living in Johannesburg between 2010-12.  SA is a lovely place to live.  Joburg especially will have flavors from Africa, India and little Europe. Of course, it is not India.  you have security concerns.  You don't have terrorist attacks in SA, unlike India.

read my experiences in SA here.

Any questions, post back.

- Srinath
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Anonymous
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The place is a hell hole to be avoided at all costs and to all those who say you walk and nothing ever happens to you, just wait!
Your worst nightmare is on its way, I lived there for many years and know that I survived only because of good fortune.

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Anonymous
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Just visit www.deathofjonhannesburg.com if you want to know the truth about this so-called "world class" city.

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Anonymous
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hi
I would also like to know how safe is Isando,johannesberg to stay and live.
I would like to know before I accept this offer.

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Anonymous
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Hi
My husband just got a job wit uni wits and we ate contemplating moving the whole family. We have two kids below 4years. I need to know how safe accommodation is around wits or what areas you suggest we get accommodation. How expensive life is around there or how much do you rekon would be ok for the family. I have an msc and would like to know the prospects of getting a job quickly and if possible get one before we move down. At least that should boost our income. Please do give me your views as this is a desperate issue for us. Personally I am scared for the family both financially and security wise.thanks
Sele

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Hi Anonymous,

I am from the UK and I have been living in Cape Town for the past 3 years. I won't be able to comment on the best areas in Jo'burg but I will just tell you a little bit about getting a job in South Africa.

Getting a job in SA is certainly not a fast process. If your MSc is in a specialist area you might have a chance obtaining a special skills visa which will give you the flexibility to change jobs.

In most cases its a little more tricky. Employers are reluctant to hire people who haven't got a work permit and you need a job offer to get a work permit so there you have a Catch 22 situation. With most jobs, the employer also has to prove that they could not hire a South African citizen for the job first.

Once you've got a job offer, then you need to apply for your permit and wait for it to be processed this can be a long process (my initial work permit took 8 months to come through). So try applying as early as possible. 

I hope this answers part of your question. Good luck
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