Safety and security
South Africa has a very high level of crime, including rape and murder. The risk of violent crime to visitors travelling to the main tourist destinations is generally low. The South African authorities give high priority to protecting tourists and tourism police are deployed in several large towns. Most cases of violent crime and murder tend to occur in townships remote and isolated areas. Consult a reliable tour guide if you visit a township.
Crime increases in areas where large crowds gather, so be particularly vigilant if you’re attending sporting or other events that attract large numbers.
There are ongoing tensions between Uber and metered taxi drivers, which at times escalate into violence. You should exercise caution when using either service, particularly if using the Gautrain or travelling to and from airports in South Africa.
Incidents of vehicle hi-jacking and robbery are common, particularly after dark. Keep to main roads and park in well lit areas. Vulnerable areas include, but are not limited to: traffic lights, junctions, and when approaching or pulling out from driveways. Take care at all times and be vigilant of your surroundings when in a stationary vehicle.
There are frequent incidents of car windows being broken and valuables taken while cars are waiting at junctions. Keep valuables out of sight.
Due to thefts at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, you should vacuum-wrap luggage where local regulations permit. Keep all valuables in your carry-on luggage.
Keep large amounts of money, expensive jewellery, cameras and phones out of sight. Don’t change or withdraw large sums of money in busy public areas including foreign exchange facilities or ATMs. Thieves operate at international airports, and bus and railway stations. Keep your valuables safe and baggage with you at all times.
Don’t give personal or financial account information details to anyone. There are international fraud rings operating in South Africa, who may target visitors and charities.
There’s an increasing threat of kidnap throughout South Africa. Kidnaps can be for financial gain or motivated by criminality. In recent years several foreign nationals, including British nationals, have been kidnapped.
British nationals can be perceived as being wealthier than locals and may be at particular risk of kidnap for financial gain.
The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage-taking.
There are particularly high levels of crime in the Berea and Hillbrow districts of Johannesburg and around the Rotunda bus terminus in the Central Business District in Johannesburg.
Be particularly vigilant in Durban’s city centre and beach front area.
Keep to main roads and avoid driving at night when visiting Northern KwaZulu Natal and Zululand, as there have been incidents of hi-jacking and robbery, particularly on isolated secondary roads.
Be vigilant on the approach roads to and from Kruger Park where there have been cases of car hijacking.
Avoid isolated beaches and picnic spots. Don’t walk alone, especially in remote areas or on beaches after dark or when beachgoers have left.
Hikers should stick to popular trails and hike in large groups taking local advice where available on security. There have been violent attacks on hikers and tourists on Table Mountain. Take care in quieter areas of the Park, especially early in the morning or just before the park closes. More advice on hiking on Table Mountain is available on the South African Nationals Parks website.
Call the police (on 10111 or on 112 from a mobile phone) at the first sign of danger.
Mobile phone reception is generally good in major towns and cities but can be intermittent in more remote spots.
Protest marches and demonstrations can occur anywhere in South Africa and sometimes at short notice. Avoid areas where demonstrations and marches are taking place.
You can drive using a UK Driving Licence for up to 12 months.
The standard of driving in South Africa can vary greatly and there are many fatal accidents every year.
On highways overtaking can occur in any lane including the hard shoulder. On single-lane roads the hard shoulder is also sometimes used by trucks and slower vehicles to allow faster vehicles to overtake. At quieter intersections, first vehicle to arrive sometimes has priority. On roundabouts, you should give way to the right, although this rule is often ignored.
Road standards are mostly very good, but some roads in remote areas are less well maintained and may have potholes. Drive cautiously, obey speed limits and avoid unfamiliar rural areas at night. Thieves have been known to employ various methods to make a vehicle stop (eg placing large stones in the middle of the road) enabling them to rob the occupants. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t pick up strangers or stop to help apparently distressed motorists, as this is a technique sometimes used by hijackers. It’s better to report any incident to the police.
The Metrorail suburban railway in the larger cities of South Africa is often unreliable and has high crime levels including theft of infrastructure and criminal activity on board trains. If you use Metrorail, you should exercise caution, take local advice and follow Metrorail’s own safety and security advice which is available at main stations.
Long distance train services operated by the Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (PRASA) under the names ‘Shoshaloza Myel’ and ‘Premier Classe’ are sometimes delayed en route for long periods. Be security conscious if using these services particularly at night when doors and windows to the cabins should be secured.
The ‘Gautrain’ high speed commuter train service which runs between Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Oliver Tambo International Airport is secure and reliable. Buses and taxis are available at most Gautrain stations. Walking to and from Gautrain stations after dark isn’t advisable.
Luxury trains such as The Blue Train and Rovos Rail have very high levels of security and safety but can still be impacted by delays en route.
Beach conditions and local safety provisions vary considerably throughout the South African coastline and every year significant numbers of people drown due to the strong sea currents. Speak to local people who are familiar with the conditions, and check whether there are any flags and/or lifeguards before entering the water. Most beaches don’t have warning signs, flags or life-saving equipment.
Follow any warnings that are displayed and instructions issued by lifeguards. Familiarise yourself with the signs of a rip current or tide. Contact the National Sea Rescue Institute in case of emergency.
For more information about how to stay safe, visit the website of the South Africa National Sea Rescue Institute, or read this information sheet and watch this video about how to avoid being caught up in a rip current: