Crime in South Africa: Know the Score.

hotspot_22.gifOn my most recent trip to South Africa I met and fell into conversation with a Danish women at a local backpackers lodge who had been in the country for a few days, and who was, within a week or so, due to take up a voluntary appointment working for a month or two at Kruger National Park. The subject drifted to local crime, and as I gave her the usual dissertation that I spare no newcomer, I could see by the smile on her face, and a general look of indulgence, that she had me down as a paranoid local white racist with an historic distrust of black people. Even as I drew her attention to the 9ft high wall surrounding the property, the steel gate at the front door, and the loops of razor wire running the length of the perimeter, she still preferred to rely on her instincts, and the surface impression one invariably gets on arrival in South Africa. To prove this point she slung her day pack over her shoulder, popped her camera in her fanny pack, and set off downtown on foot.

How serious is the problem?

It is a fact that South Africa, especially Johannesburg, and the many comfortable backpackers or luxury lodges that abound, do not in combination give the newcomer any hint of the fact that South Africa is a very dangerous country indeed. Johannesburg has one of the best urban freeway systems in the world, but you will never see a soft top convertible. It has some of the most lavishly appointed malls and shopping centers anywhere, but each is patrolled by a heavily armed paramilitary security guard with two side arms, body armor and an R5 assault rifle. It has one of the most tried and tested, effective and best equipped police forces on the planet, from the ranks of which at least one, but often more, are killed in shootouts with criminals every month, not to mention the extraordinary number who fall victim to suicide, or stress related fratricidal killings.

South Africa is a victim of this extraordinary dichotomy. It is the economic powerhouse of the region, a global player on a continent of hobbled economic maladroits, and yet as one might feel perfectly confident of walking cross town from one end of Harare to the other, or Maputo, Dar es Salaam and Kampala, one would simply not survive a stroll through the Johannesburg Central Business District after dark. Hence you should not try. The key to surviving a nation ranked second in the world for murder, and first in matters of rape, is to first understand why this is so, and then take some necessary and simple precautions.





South Africa is a country of fantastic discrepancy between rich and poor. In a country where Mark Shuttleworth, local computer genius and marketeer extraordinaire, ponied up US$20 million for a space flight with the Russian Soyuz mission, can also been found the blight of vast shanty towns and sprawling and impoverished squatter camps.

In South Africa the righting of historical imbalances promised by the revolution have not yet unlocked the gates of the banquet for the vast majority. These are the people who by and large fought the fight and bore the brunt of the struggle. And indeed independence has left the huge white middle class virtually untouched, and merely added to it a strata of increasingly wealthy blacks who seem to the masses to be as insulated and self satisfied as those who went before. Added to this is the awful weight of AIDS on an already suffering society, and an angry clique of forty something men who sacrificed their educations for the struggle, but have guns and training to compensate. From this you have the alchemy of a generation of social and political agony that can but take its course and be exorcised.

It has been said that those men planning and executing the cash in transit heists that, with extraordinary risk and bravado, occur on an almost weekly basis in South Africa, are funding the university education of the new generation, who might themselves be released from the necessity of violence to make ends meet. It might be so, but for now these are the facts, and this is the situation, and travelers to South Africa need at all times to be aware.



Awareness, of course, is the key. Don’t be stupid. Don’t tempt fate. Don’t think because the KNZ coast looks like Southern California that it is. Don’t think because Capetown is so clean and ordered, so cultural and sophisticated, that it is fine to whip your iPhone on your wrist as you stroll downtown in the sensual twilight. If you hire a car don’t have a picnic on the side of the freeway, or take an unscheduled diversion into the local favella for the sake of authentic local color. All of these will get you into trouble. South Africa is a fantastically well organized country, and every travel contingency is provided for by one operator or another. From the Bazz Bus to the Blue Train, from wildlife safaris to whale watching and shark caging, there is nothing that cannot be done both safely and professionally, and it is this that needs to be borne in mind at all times.

So lock up your cash, keep your electronics hidden, and get, and adhere to, local advice from your lodge or hotel wherever you go. Most importantly, however, get on that plane, and come to South Africa. It is the best country in the world, and you won’t regret it.

16 thoughts on “Crime in South Africa: Know the Score.

  • optimist

    October 2008 – Welcome to the Kwa-Zulu Natal South Coast farming area. If you want to experience an adrenalin rush – here’s the place. If you want your throat caressed at 3 0’clock in the morning by complete strangers – come here to experience it. If you want to experience the thrill of riding in an ambulance – here’s the place to be. If you want to experience (or lack of) our police – what better place. Life is full of excitement – your blood is always pumping. Never fear – death is always near.

  • Alf Watts

    On Friday 31st October 2008 I was caught up in the crossfire between police and the bad guys in Gardener Street in Durban. Luckily I managed to dodge the bullets. Today 06 November 2008 we had no lunch to eat at our office,as my colleague who went to buy some was mugged and robbed of all his belongigs in West Street Durban. Great country, with no crime as the ministers say!


    What a shame, I really mean it. i am born and bread south african now living in the uk, I am still and will always be homesick, but i just have to read these comments to bring me back to reallity and quash the ideas that i have of going home.
    When will the debt of appartheid be paid and all people be equal so we can move forward in peace and get the economy moving and get a grip on the crime?
    Sadly, I believe that this will never happen, the past will always haunt us and be blamed for the problems of today i.e corruption, employment etc. (you just have to look at the other african countries that changed before us)
    Keep Safe

  • Daniel Sobieraj

    I have to disagree on the last sentence ‘It is the best country in the world, and you won’t regret it.’ How can it if last year 15 000 people were murdered it has the highest number of rapes and second highest murder rate?

  • Colin

    I’m living in Ireland and have been for the last 6 years.I was recently married to an Irish girl outside Joburg and had a wonderful time.Being South African I tried my best to be contiously aware of my souroundings always watching for the unexpected.
    Sitting in Nando’s in Eastgate , my wifes handbag was stolen from under our noses and did’t realise this until we had to pay.To make things worse, our wedding money and passports became a victim of crime as well.
    It was evident that this was an inside job as the waiter seemed to distract us with the order on several occassions,whilst the cleaner hovered close by.Nando’s in fact ,for once made a Cluck up
    as no CCTV footage covered the area of where we were sitting.We did complain to Nando’s Head Office and threatened to go to the Media.Although they did pay us some compensation ,the hastle and time wasted in trying to sort out the passports was arduous.However we’ll still support Nando’s as their food is great but just be wary of what looms in front and behind!!!

  • Katie Cameron

    I think South Africa is a lovely country. I have been mugged on many visits though. I think the authorities should do something about this, because they stole the apple of my eye, my cat Jason!!

  • zumatello

    Bet all the villains are rubbing their hands together thinking about the easy game 2010 World Cup Football visitors.

    SA govt. are too happy lining their pockets and fighting for power to think protecting the people they govern.


  • Angela Norton

    It is my opinion that until you have had a gun stuck to your side, and told that they are going to kill you if you look at them or scream you are not allowed an opinion on South Africa and crime.I went to pulled into a secure parking lot at Doctor’s rooms and chemsit, as I was getting out of my car 2 men put a gun to me. They had balaclava’s so I couln’t identify them. I have lived in 3 countries America, Australia and South Africa. We have 3 young children and I can’t wait to get out of this hell hole. The trama I am going, words can not explain. So if you are coming to Johannesburg be prepared and more so good luck……

  • snowy smith

    South Africa is the CRIME, MURDER Capital of the World.

    60 to 149 MURDERS per DAY South Africa



    South Africa is the CRIME, MURDER Capital of the World.

    According to South African Police Services: Murders 60 per DAY.
    According to Department of Home Affairs: Murders 83 per DAY.
    According to Medical Research Council: Murders 89 per DAY
    According to Interpol claims: Murders 149 per DAY.

    The reason for this under-reporting of MURDER and CRIME in South Africa could be the desire by the ANC Government to change the growing reputation of South Africa as the “crime capital of the world”, this title is one any government would desperately want to lose as it would cause any potential investor to take his money elsewhere.

    According to South African Police Services 21,683 per year
    According to South African Police Services 60 per DAY in South Africa
    Police new computerised Geographic Information System (GIS), which, as of June 2001, had been implemented at 340 priority police stations covering 80% of the country.
    According to Department of Home Affairs, 30,068 per year
    According to Department of Home Affairs, 83 per day.

    According to Medical Research Council 32,482
    According to Medical Research Council 89 murders

    MRC statistics, there are 89 murders committed on average every day in South Africa.
    Non-natural” deaths from 37 mortuaries in six provinces (note that South Africa now has nine provinces).
    MRC’s revelation of serious under-registration and misclassification in the government’s death statistics was gleaned from various sources.
    According to Interpol claims 54,298 per year.
    According to Interpol claims 149 per day.


    Interpol figures South Africa has extraordinary high level of VIOLENT CRIME. It is South Africa’s high level of violent crime which sets the country apart from other crime ridden societies. This finding is supported by CIAC data indicating that since 1994 recorded violent crime has been escalating at a faster rate than any other crime category. It is primarily violent crime which fuels people’s fear of crime. To lose its label as crime capital of the world, violent crime levels have to drop substantially in South Africa.
    The evidence is overwhelming.
    YES it is RACIST,


  • Wilhelm

    I left RSA just over 2 years ago. We visited again after 2 years. What a shock – in 2 years the streets became dirtier than before. The taxies drive worse than before, and now Mr Joe-public is doing the same as the taxies!

    Why did we leave? Our children could not safely walk in the streets. No secure public transport. No world-class education. Crime-crime-crime, everywhere everyday! Women have a 1 in 3 chance of being raped in their life-time. 50-100 murders per day? Crazy! What a life!

    I would any day go back to RSA if the +/*-%$*&!!?? government will stop being SLAP-GAT and resolve the crime. I will be able to do it in less than 4 years! I will bring crime back to zero! If you are determined to do it, you can and will do it Zuma!

    They (ANZ) don’t have any incentice to stop crime. It creates jobs and welfare which they do not have to pay for! Understand that?

    Simple example: For every cell-phone stolen, a new one will be purchased – the government earn (steal) VAT (tax) on the new one. The insurance company must employ someone to process the claim (employment). The police must process (place it in file 13) the case. More employment. The cellular company must block the phone (more employment). The thief scores a phone which he did not work for (redistributiuon of wealth – ANC style). And so the list goes on and on.


  • Zippy96

    Good advice.
    One thing however: Most crime is poverty and alcohol related. According to statistics 27% of South Africans “drinks to get drunk” and that percentage is more or less the same for all different cultures and races within this country.
    The main problem is not crime on its own but the sources of crime.
    Many visitors to especially the Western Cape go for wine tasting but not always at cellars of which the management/owners maintain good labour relations (just look to the labour cottages). If a traveller can shift these locations out of his/hers itinerary to start with; well all changes start slowly…. etc. etc.

  • Kamal

    the crime in south africa should be stopped. Many foreign peoples are there and they are also not safe at this time. Government should take stong steps to stop this crime otherwise this countary becomes poorest countary.

  • Nadeem

    I visited South Africa 02 years back. At a first glance it was wonderful but soon I realized it was hell. I have never seen any country like this before where even police are crimnal. U can not even walk on street. Believe me I live in Pakistan and it is thousand time safer than RSA. It was medeness to stay in a country like RSA. I cut my visit duration and got back to my country. I feel sorry for the people of RSA cause they are living in contant fear.

  • Alan

    Mandela once said that those who left SA were deserters or something like that.

    He is a fool. He helped to end Apartheid which was a good thing but Nelson and his cronies have destroyed a beautiful country by not taking responsibility for crime and poverty.

    They might as well as kept things the way they were!

Comments are closed.