Crime statistics are vastly different from area to area in South Africa. You can access the numbers on-line by going to the South African Police Services (SAPS) website and having a look at their reports. Certain areas are no-go zones; some are only bad at night, while other areas are perfectly safe to walk around at night.
Most governments and authorities say South Africa is a safe destination with few complications – provided you observe the basic safety recommendations. Most of these safety tips would apply to any destination. The areas that tourists tend to visit in Cape Town are on a par with London or Paris with regard to personal safety.
Here are 21 basic health and safety tips for Cape Town and South Africa.
1.Do not carry and wear excessive amounts of high value items or openly flaunt valuables in your car or on your person. Keep them in the safe at your hotel or guesthouse.
2. Do not talk to strangers, hitch hikers or allow beggars to accost you. Avoid eye contact and ignore street people. They will leave you alone if you walk on, or if you drive past them. Keep car windows closed and doors locked if there are people milling about at traffic intersections.
3. Don’t go up a mountain without a guide or unprepared and always let someone know if you intend climbing a mountain. Weather can turn in under an hour and thick mist can make it impossible to see your way down. There have been muggings on the mountains.
4. Don’t think wild animals are cute. Baboons can get violent and lurch at your car to access food. Hippos and elephants have been known to charge and flatten people.
5. Malaria kills hundreds of people in Africa every year. You don’t have to swallow drugs but do take precautions. Artemesia, an herbal supplement, is an alternative to drugs. You can also rub citronella oil on exposed skin and wear light clothing to cover exposed body parts.
|Relaxing on the banks of the Orange River|
Some say the quinine from gin also helps keep the mozzies away. Others say mosquitoes favour people with a sweet tooth and high blood sugar. Skip dessert in high-risk areas.
6. Mini bus taxis might be an affordable form of transport and the choice of most locals, but think twice. They have the highest number of vehicle accidents and are not worth the risk.
7. On the subject of mini bus taxis. They are known in South Africa as “one more” buses, because no matter how full they are, there is always room for one more. By using public transport such as mini bus taxis and some of the trains where people are packed in like sardines, you are also at risk of contracting tuberculosis.
TB rates in South Africa, and in particular the Western Cape, are high. You only need to be next to someone with TB who coughs or sneezes to become infected.
|Canoes waiting to go river rafting on the Orange River|
8. Pedestrians are unpredictable on South African roads and more pedestrians die on South African roads than any other category in South Africa, including mini bus taxis.
9. Avoid darkly lit or quiet places at night. That should be obvious, but for some reason, people still stroll through parks alone after midnight.
10. If you are unsure about an area, ask your guesthouse or hotel first, before venturing there.
11. Make sure you wear full factor sunscreen and even better a sun hat as well. South Africa has high rates of skin cancer. Fair skins and skins that are not used to sun are the most at risk.
12. Packing your valuables like jewelry, cameras, cell phones, net book or note book into your main suitcase is not a good idea. Certain airports in South Africa have a reputation for insiders who work together once your bags leave your hands.
|Stopping to enjoy ice cold watermelon on the Orange River|
The X-ray staff inform the handlers who help themselves to your possessions. Keep those items on you in your hand luggage and don’t leave any handbags or hand luggage unattended. In Africa, if it’s lying around, it’s up for grabs. Always lock your suitcases.
13. Unprotected sex with a stranger is not a good idea. Sub Saharan Africa has the highest HIV infection rates in the world. And there is always the Hepatitis family that you might be exposed to. No glove, no love.
14. Think twice about swimming in a river. Especially water used by rural settlements. Cholera and Bilharzia do occur in South Africa. And definitely don’t drink water in rural areas, unless you know it is safe.
15. Make sure there is a lifeguard present when you swim in the sea. Some beaches have strong back-currents and even good swimmers can struggle to make their way to the shore.
16. Patting pets can sometimes be a bad idea. Every now and again it happens that a domestic animal is infected with rabies.
17. Street kids might seem sad and you may want to reach out to them. Don’t! They are skilled pickpockets and crime is how they survive. You can make a much bigger difference by donating money to a charity that educates and rehabilitates them, than by appeasing your discomfort and giving money. That money only goes toward gang leaders or drugs and the kids do not benefit one iota. That’s not all; by giving beggars money, you teach them that begging is a lucrative way to survive. There is no dignity in grovelling for money on the streets.
|Claiming a space to sleep for the night – under the stars|
18. There are illegal moneychangers who promise great exchange rates. They take your money and you wait. And you wait. And you wait. They never come back. Change money the way you are supposed to. With a reputable agent or bank.
19. It should be obvious that drug dealers are criminals and if you are inclined to recreational drug use, just know that you are making yourself very vulnerable and exposing yourself to criminals. You can’t cry if you get done in. Likewise, prostitutes are often drug addicts and desperate. They will look for a chance to grab your money and run. Happens anywhere in the world and it happens in South Africa too.
20. Keep an eye on your credit card if you are using one. Watch it from the time it leaves your hand until it comes back to you. There have been instances of credit card skimming in South Africa.
21. Finally, if it sounds too good to be true. It is. There are foreigners operating in South Africa who run advance fee fraud or 419 scams. They promise amazing stuff and all you have to do is advance some of the money up front. With hindsight most people who get caught realise that it should have been obvious that they were being done in. If you are on holiday, relax and have fun. Forget wheeling and dealing and you wont get caught off guard.