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South Africa Travel Advice & Safety

by Staff

Crime and violence are serious issues in South Africa.

Crime rates in South Africa are significantly higher than in Australia and often involve weapons.

Be alert.

Criminals continue to target tourist vehicles along the approaches to Kruger National Park, including Numbi Gate. Avoid Numbi Gate if possible, only travel in daylight hours, stay on main roads, and be aware of potential criminals in the vicinity of all gates and park approaches.

Armed criminals have been targeting tourist buses along the approaches to Pilanesberg National Park and neighbouring Sun City Resort, including near Lekgalong. If you can, avoid the R556 and use alternative routes available on the N4/R565 via Rustenburg. Travel in daylight hours and be aware of potential criminals near all gates and park approaches and when travelling through small towns.

Police in South Africa deal with a high volume of aggravated crime. Their resources are stretched. You may not get the level of service you would in Australia, especially for less serious crimes such as theft and fraud.

The South African Police Service doesn’t have a ‘Tourist Police’ force. Criminals have posed as ‘Tourist Police’ to extort and rob tourists, including stopping tourist buses to check proof of identity and search luggage.

Crime at airports

Crime in and around airports can occur.

Criminals have robbed arriving passengers, following them from the airport to:

  • ATMs
  • foreign currency exchange facilities
  • tourist accommodation

Theft from luggage also occurs. To avoid this, don’t place valuables in checked-in luggage.

Other crimes

Crime in South Africa includes:

Robberies involving violence can occur at shopping centres. South Africa experiences more crime during its rolling blackouts (load-shedding), including at shopping centres. Be alert at all times.

Assaults and robberies on local commuter and metro trains happen:

  • between Johannesburg and Pretoria
  • in Cape Town

Theft from hotel rooms and guest houses does happen, including within game parks.

Criminals have stolen bags and backpacks from public places, including restaurants and bars. Be alert in all public spaces.

To avoid theft:

  • don’t leave luggage and valuables unattended
  • place your luggage and valuables in safekeeping facilities

Crime rates are significantly higher after dark.

To protect yourself against crime, avoid travelling to:

  • central business districts
  • townships, unless with an organised tour run by a reputable company
  • isolated beaches, lookouts and picnic areas

There’s a threat of kidnapping across South Africa. Kidnappings are generally for financial gain or motivated by criminality. Foreign nationals have been kidnapped in the past. Pay attention to your personal security.

Crime involving vehicles

There have been arson attacks on cargo trucks to block roads in South Africa. Check local media for reports of attacks and avoid these areas. 

If you encounter an attack, don’t intervene, don’t take pictures or videos, and leave the scene as soon as it is safe to do so.

Thieves posing as vendors or beggars target cars:

  • on highways off-ramps
  • at intersections
  • at traffic lights

‘Smash and grab’ thefts from vehicles and carjacking are common, particularly:

  • on major routes
  • at major intersections
  • during traffic congestion
  • after dark

Cash-in-transit attacks target armoured courier vans, sometimes using automatic weapons, creating a significant risk of death or serious injury to anyone nearby. Avoid driving alongside, parking next to, or being a pedestrian next to cash drops at banks and other venues.

Criminals also place debris on roads to stop vehicles. Don’t stop to clear debris.

Road spiking occurs on South African roads, where criminals place spikes on roads to damage vehicles and force motorists to pull over.

To prevent theft when travelling by car:

  • keep doors locked and windows up, even when driving
  • keep valuables out of sight
  • avoid driving after dark
  • maintain situational awareness and stop at designated areas such as petrol stations
  • if followed by a suspicious vehicle, go to a police station, petrol station or alert a security company

Attacks against hikers

There have been a number of attacks against hikers by criminals on hiking trails and in national parks and reserves. These have included Lions Head, Signal Hill and Table Mountain near Cape Town.

To prevent attacks when hiking:

  • hike in groups
  • advise friends, family or your accommodation provider where you are hiking and how long for
  • be alert to your surroundings and circumstances.

Crime involving cash and credit cards

ATMs in major cities are common. ATMs in rural areas are less common.

ATM and credit card fraud is common. Criminals use skimming devices to copy your card details onto a blank card.

Criminals wait near ATMs and rob people withdrawing cash.

Criminals use spotters to identify victims who have withdrawn cash or made expensive purchases. Be aware of your surroundings.

To protect yourself against cash and credit card crime:

  • only withdraw small amounts of cash at ATMs
  • refuse offers of help at ATMs
  • keep all ATM and credit card payment slips secure
  • keep your credit card in sight at all times when using it

Don’t use ATMs that open onto the street. Only use ATMs in controlled areas, such as:

  • banks
  • shops
  • shopping centres
  • inside service stations

Scams

Scams are common.

Don’t be fooled by scams. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

If you’re a scam victim, don’t travel to South Africa to try and get your money back. The risk of assault is too high.

Fake internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes operate from some African countries. These typically take place on internet dating sites or chat rooms.

Someone you meet online may ask you to send money so they can travel to Australia to visit you. As soon as the scammer receives the money, they end their relationship with you.

Some may ask you to travel to Africa to meet them. When you arrive in Africa, they may kidnap, assault or rob you.

Report fraud and scams to the Commercial Crimes Unit of the South African Police Service in Johannesburg on +27 (12) 743 0148 or +27 (11) 220 4052

More information:

Cyber security

You may be at risk of cyber-based threats during overseas travel to any country. Digital identity theft is a growing concern. Your devices and personal data can be compromised, especially if you’re connecting to Wi-Fi, using or connecting to shared or public computers, or to Bluetooth. 

Social media can also be risky in destinations where there are social or political tensions or laws that may seem unreasonable by Australian standards. Travellers have been arrested for things they have said on social media. Don’t comment on local or political events on your social media. 

More information:  

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