Is it safe to visit South Africa?
As a South African who has hosted international delegations and visiting overseas pen friends and as a person who has been fortunate enough to visit many countries across the globe, I hope to give a balanced account of the situation that awaits visitors to these shores.
Crime and where it happens
Even the greatest South African patriot cannot deny that our crime statistics are unacceptable, but the social circumstances and geographical areas that are responsible for most of these statistics need to be taken into account. Basic common sense will help travellers in South Africa or anywhere in the world to journey safely and enjoy their stay.
South Africa has a relatively effective police force. When policing is thorough and accompanied by records and statistics, a picture may appear that makes that country look worse than those in which people do not trust the police force, the police force is not effective or proper records are not kept and reported upon.
Domestic violence and alcohol abuse is prevalent: a society that considers alcohol usage the norm cannot fail to have a bad record for domestic and social violence. Sadly, alcohol aggravates aggressive tendencies, and the most likely environment in which this is acted out is the home. Alcohol usage is a common trend throughout most of the cultures of South Africa, except for those adhering to the Muslim faith. So: sadly, a lot of reported crimes are related to domestic violence.
Slum areas are the most likely to breed crime. This is not a purely South African phenomenon. There are many cities throughout the world where it is dangerous to visit certain areas unless you are in a group with a qualified tour guide. Most crimes in South Africa take place with in economically depressed suburbs or poor areas of townships. The poor suffer from the depredations of the unscrupulous, a pattern that has been repeated with depressing familiarity throughout history.
There will always be opportunists: if you leave your bags, wallet or other valuables unattended or in plain sight in a vehicle, someone might well walk off with them. This might happen anywhere in the world!
Don't wander around on your own in an unknown area at night! Need I say more? Check with your hotel or lodging house as to how safe it is to venture forth on foot alone after dark. They will be well acquainted with their neighbourhood and will advise you. Of course, they cannot guarantee your safety, who in the world could? But they should be able to say if their neighbourhood is relatively safe or not.
Yes, yes. but how safe is it?
I've hosted about thirty guests from all over the world at one time or another. They have been natives of sixteen different countries and have hailed from all of the world's continents. All of my guests have had a wonderful stay and enjoyed the scenic splendours and excellent tourist services without disruption. All of them said they'd love to visit again! Some frank advice of my own (Our national tourism agency may not agree with all of this): Start in Cape Town, not Johannesburg: unless your preference is for edgy cities and you don't mind watching your back, avoid staying in Johannesburg. Owing to its proximity to trans-african borders, it is the prime area for car hijacking. As the greatest economic centre, it attracts the desperate and the parasites , superstars and millionaires alike: the good, the bad, the ugly, the rich, the poor. It's sad an ugly and beautiful and exciting all together, but Cape Town's safer for the novice and just as vibrant. The scenery's better too.
Sure, it's laid back, but be fairly alert anyway: basic security rules, such as anyone applies at home, are valid no matter where you are.
Most people are ok but trust your instincts: Most South Africans are friendly people, who get a kick out of making someone's day, but if you feel uncomfortable in any situation, or if someone is overly pushy, walk away!
In a nutshell
If you're mildly streetwise, you should be ok. You'll enjoy meeting the best of our people and seeing the wonders of Africa with first world convenience thrown in for good measure. Roads are generally excellent, and so are communications. Police and ambulance services are relatively efficient, medical facilities (though I hope you won't need them) are good, the scenery is wonderful, and many travellers come back for more.
Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )