Unfortunately South Africa's reputation is such that it's necessary to explicitly address the issue of whether it's safe for visitors.
If you want an answer in a nutshell, security concerns are real but hugely overstated, and this is an area where media sensationalism has unfortunately coloured public perception in an irresponsible and unrealistic manner. There's no avoiding the fact that our society can be violent, but the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by South Africans on their families, neighbours and fellow countrymen, and tourists are seldom singled out to be the victims of violent crime. The biggest problem that tourists will encounter - in common with most big cities - is petty theft.
So here are a few simple pointers that will hopefully help you keep safe and allow you to enjoy your holiday without risk to your person or your property.
1. Don't create temptation. South Africa is a society characterised by a huge divide between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', and if tourists flaunt their wealth and take scant care of their possessions, it's little wonder if people who have very little will seize the opportunity to relieve them of these items. So, don't walk around with your wallet and/or passport hanging out of your back pocket, don't flash expensive jewellery or watches and don't leave valuables lying around in your hotel room.
2. Stay on the beaten tourist track. Most areas of Durban are safe - particularly during the day - but there are areas where it simply isn't sensible to venture as a tourist unless you're with someone local, and wandering around after dark outside the major tourist areas isn't sensible in any big city. Similarly, venturing unaccompanied into a squatter camp or a shanty town is very rarely a good idea anywhere in the world - especially if you have expensive camera equipment hanging around your neck.
3. Respect people's dignity and ask people's permission before photographing them. 'Township tourism' presents both the tourist and the community with benefits and downsides, so if this is something that you'd like to do, then please go as part of a tour coordinated by a responsible operator registered with the South African Tourism Authority (SATA). If you decide to go into one of the townships, please remember that these are place where people live (not a zoo) and act accordingly. I have a particular problem with tourists who visit deprived areas in search of 'photogenic poverty', which I think is both demeaning and exploitative.
4. Don't give money to beggars. You may feel guilt ridden that people have so little when you have so much, but giving money exacerbates the problem rather than solving it and simply encourages beggars to be more demanding and aggressive. Many of the beggars you'll see are not genuine: for instance, there is rock solid evidence of rings that rent out drugged-up babies by the day to women who then pose as 'destitute mothers' at robots/traffic lights.
5. Take sensible precautions when driving. Lock your doors once you're inside, don't leave your windows completely open when the car is stationary and don't leave valuables in full view as this simply makes you a target for a 'smash and grab'. Also try not to drive after dark, particularly in unlit areas: here, the risk is not so much one of violence, but rather that you may hit livestock, wildlife or pedestrians on the road.
6. You are at your most vulnerable when you're lost, so plan your route before you set off and either hire a GPS or bring yours with you from home (with the relevant maps already uploaded) as South African road signage - particularly of street names - isn't the greatest. If you do get lost, don't pull over in a badly lit or secluded area and ask for assistance from complete strangers: rather drive to the nearest petrol station where it's well lit and there are other people around and seek assistance there.
7. Don't have sex with locals, regardless of their colour, gender or sexual persuasion. There's no sugarcoating the fact that South Africa has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world (and Kwa Zulu Natal has the highest infection rate in the country) - this virus is not a souvenir that you want to take home with you. Even if you intend to use a condom, remember that your intended partner may not be equally enthusiastic at the prospect, and could cut up nasty if you try to insist. Which brings me to my next point: disappearing off to a secluded spot with a stranger also leaves you vulnerable to rape, theft and/or murder and is simply not a sensible thing to do.
8. Travel with your mobile/cell phone so that you can raise the alarm or call for help should you need it. But of course this strategy only works if you know who to call for help in the first place! At a minimum, I would recommend that you programme in the number of your hotel(s), car rental company and maybe also your national embassy (bearing in mind that it is almost impossible to call an embassy and get past the automated number menus to talk to a real, live person). Many South Africans - myself included - also programme in a number for ICE (to be used 'in case of emergency') which is usually a next of kin who can be contacted if you're involved in an accident and are rendered unconscious (or worse).
9. Above all, be sensible and temper your actions with caution and forethought. If something wouldn't be a sensible thing to do in your home environment, then chances are that it's an even worse idea to do it in a strange town.
As a general rule of thumb, if you exercise the same caution you'd use in one of the developed world's larger cities that you don't know well, then you'll be on the right track.
Now we've got this negative stuff out of the way, you can get on with the serious business of enjoying your holiday!
By international standards, there is never a bad time to visit Durban. However, there are certain times of year when it is less advisable to visit - either because of the heat and humidity, or because of pressure of numbers which drive up transport and accommodation prices, as well as contributing to major traffic congestion.
The first guiding principle is to try and avoid Durban during school holidays, when it is besieged with local tourists. Click on this link for details of
school holidays, but particularly aim to avoid the long summer holidays over the Christmas period (which run from the Day of Reonciliation public holiday on 16th December to the first week in January).
Secondly, Durban hosts the Comrades Marathon - the world's biggest ultramarathon, which takes place on 16 June each year. The town is absolutely packed with lunatic sports fanatics over this period, so best to steer clear unless you intend to participate or feel obliged to collect the mortal remains of your loved one at the finish line!
Climatewise, the heat and humidity in Durban is at its most tryingly oppressive during January and February. I can't comment objectively on this, as this is my absolute least favourite type of weather, and I cope very badly with this particular combination, but I am reassured by friends and colleagues that even by their (more robust) standards, Durbs is not at its best over this period.
I have just travelled to Durban from Australia with my wife and 2 young daughters. In a nutshell, don't go.
My wife is from Durban and lived there for 19 years so she is street wise and knows to look for dangerous situations.
This didn't help when she had a gun held at her head and had 4 black males trying to kidnap her. She gave them her bag phon car keys and this still wasn't enough. They wanted her aswel. She managed to fight them off and get away. This was extremely traumatic for her and myself.
I will never be returning to south africa. It is extremely dangerous.
The police were excellent. In the 20 minutes they were taking a report from my wife there was another 3 hijackings in the area. All violent.
People can say be aware. Be streetwise. It doesn't make difference. These pigs will get what they want by any means possible.
Don't go. It is a beautiful country. But you can not enjoy it if your dead.
Not worth the risk.
In 2009 and early 2010, there were huge problems with fake R200 notes in circulation, and as a result, the Reserve Bank has issued new R200 notes. However, these are very similar in design to the old notes, and I'm not going to bother running through the subtle changes that have been made as it is unlikely that a tourist would be able to pick up the differences.
Banks claim that because the new notes have been issued and their systems have been used to eliminate fakes from their system ("trust us, we're a bank ..."), customers have no right to refuse being issued with legal tender. Thus, there is little point in refusing to accept R200 notes simply on the basis that you are nervous of being issued with fakes will probably not work.
I would therefore suggest that a better way to avoid being given R200 notes would be to ask that you be issued with smaller denomination notes (R100 for example) because they are more convenient to use - this is true, as R200 is the biggest denomination we have, and smaller operators (such as artists at markets) will often struggle to provide change for a large note.
I have met many European tourists who seem to think that the area by Ushaka and Happy Hippo ,because it is better lit, is safe. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Just a block away there was a murder of a man from Johannesburg and I know many people who have had close calls with muggers. A serial rapist who has terrorized Durban frequented the Ushaka area looking for women who were alone or in pairs. You probably think that the whole crime thing in Durban is exaggerated. I thought so as well until locals corrected me. PLEASE-Don't take any chances, take a Taxi back to your accommodation at night and don't wander around alone or in unfamiliar areas. A taxi will cost you less then a trip to the ER because someone aggressively mugged or attempted to rape you. If you play it safe, you're Durban experience will be great!
Whilst each traveller/tourist is their own individual person with their own comfrot zones and security consciousness, I would advise to avoid Durban city centre.
Most tourists I have spoken to have felt very vulnerable in this area as it can be very overwhelming. I visit Durban reasonably regularly as my father lives just outside Durban near the Valley of a Thousand Hills and we never go to the city centre as such.
The only time we go to Durban is to visit the flea market at the amphitheatre on the sea front which is well worth a visit, otherwise, we stay well clear of the city centre.
I have heard so much of the danger in South Africa and in particular in Durban. Well, I guess it is mostly true, in our case our local host inform us exactly where we can go and where it is relatively safe. In short, if you do not know where you are going, stay inside and don’t go look for adventures here.
Before going to South Africa (Umhlanga, Durban) I looked on the net as South Africa seemed to have a very bad rep and I was to be honest quite worried so now I have been I thought I would post my thoughts.
I loved it.
I stayed in Umhlanga which is a nice place just outside Durban. I am 25 and I was with my partner and we stayed with her gran.
We hired a car and I felt extremely safe driving, I did keep the doors locked but I didn’t feel threatened.
People do sell stuff at traffic lights but I just waved them on to the next car.
A lot of people say about withdrawing cash at the ATM’s but I didn’t have any problems with this, but would advise people not to do it at night and usually people can tell which areas would seem dodgy and what wouldn’t. Perhaps leave it until you are in a shopping mall.
Everything is reasonably priced and there are car guards to watch your cars when you go to restaurants etc, just pay them about 2-5 rand (so about 50p-£1).
We did venture to North Beach in Durban and to Ushaka Marine World in Durban and again it’s a bit down market from where we were staying but still I didn’t feel unsafe. The roads are busy and there are many lanes, just pay attention.
My main tips are to be vigilant but DO NOT WORRY! Have a good time.
When you take the bus from the airport to downtown, as soon as you step out of the bus you will be mugged. Get ready for it. When you go to the beach, the "beach kids" will sweat you then mug you. Be ready. The beach areas are very nice but just be ready for that mugging
We were recently (August 2007) in Durban for an international conference. Our hotel was on the south beach and we were warned by our hotel porters not to walk anywhere. Being skeptical we walked the 6 or seven blocks to the ICC (convention center) several days with no problem. Then on a Sunday morning at 9:30 am, as three of us were waiting at an intersection for a light to change, out of nowhere my husband was jumped by a young black guy who knocked him to the ground and tried to get his wallet. As my husband takes the precaution in big cities to keeping his wallet in a front pocket giving the pocket a twist, the guy could not get the wallet out. In the meantime, I was yelling and hitting and kicking at the mugger and my husband was trying to hit and push him off. Fortunately a man came out of his shop and pulled the guy off and he and his two companions who were waiting nearby for him to toss the wallet all ran away. There were at least 10 or 12 people...all black Africans who stood around watching the mugging and made no move to help. Later we learned that at least 9 or 10 conferees had also been attacked during the week in the vincinity of the beach hotels and the ICC, some at knifepoint! After our attack, we took conference shuttle busses and taxis everywhere and felt like prisoners in our hotel and the ICC. We will never go back to South Africa.
as a mother of 2 teenage boys,2000 after relocating from cape town,i have had lots of trouble keeping these girls of my boys soon as we arrived in durban.luckily i had made them aware of all these natural thing since an early age.and THANK GOD they listened .now naturaly ud say thats what all mums do BUT.
BE WARNED.these girls here no matter what race,are all just out to get ur money.some even have the odecity to come up straight n tell u they pregnant just to trap the boys/men.once u fall 4 the trick u end up paying maintenance 4 some1 else kid n u have endless problems with her entire family.this specialy happen in the indian communities.the girls are not allowed 2 go out with diff races but its ok 4 them 2 screw up ur life long as the entire family benefit.they are taught 2 beg from a early age if the family is poor.some of them even work as escorts in brottles or 4 the nigerian on the street.all just for drugs being full of aids sleeping around.
drive down victoria embankment or city centre (specialy the wheal area )at night n ull see plenty hanging around (ALONE)but beware the druglord/pimp are watching u.those little sweetheart at home are either daddys young wifes or involved with a married man.some mothers/daughters even have affairs with the same man.so be carefull all tourist.take a hint.
1.DO NOT GET INVOLVED WITH THESE NICE SWEET LOOKING THINGS.U WILL BE VERYYYYYYYYYY SORRY THE NEXT DAY WHEN UR ROBBED,STABBED,GANGRAPED & DRUGGED UP IN SO ALLEY,SO BAD ULL NOT KN UR NAME.THATS IF UR ULL LUCKY 2 BE ALIVE.
South Africa,beautiful with seriously problems As a South African Ive seen many changes.Tourists/Foreigners are fed lies via media/tv to visit or invest here.All well and good for the economy.Visit here at your own risk.In 10 years things has gone worst.Crime real high as more people are unemployed.Druglords have taken over cities/suburbs.Poverty,housing,gender & race discrimanation are big problem.Called Affirmative Action & BEE.Specialy tailored 2 force companies not to employ skillfull/experienced none Blacks again.We have corrupt Goverment Officials & Police officers on the GRAVY train from taxpayers money.Durban is gr8t but very dangerous.Rather get a professional tour guide 2 help you get taxis/hotels ect. PLEASE BE CAREFUL.A few warnings/dangers/tips
1.DONT GO UNATTENDED/COUPLED/ALONE TO ANY BEACH.
2.DONT ENTER/HITCH CERTAIN PLACES NO MATTER HOW NICE
3.KEEP HOME/CAR DOORS/WINDOWS LOCKED ALLWAYS.
4. Drivers/Passengers.DONT LEAVE VALUABLES ON CAR SEATS.
Thieves has found a new way to mug you .kids are used to beg at traffic lights.They checkout valuables,stick bubblegum on the side 4 bigger 0nes at next light to break your window with a spark plug/object ,grab and run.
If u must find directions or medical help.
5.GO TO THE NEAREST POST OFFICE/BANKS/MALLS/SUPERSTORES
6.DO NOT ASK POLICE as some work with sindicates in Mugging/hurting you.
7.DO NOT GO TO GOVERMENT HOSPITALS as no decent doctors/staff/medication are available anymore.You will sit hours unattended,dying of pain.If you have medical aid rather visit a private hospital. Its expensive but you will get proper help immediately.
8.DO NOT ENTER YOUR PIN/USE ATMS IN SERCLUDED AREAS.u are looking for serious trouble.rather use those in malls or outside banks as security officers are always at hand 24 hours.
9.DO NOT SEARCH UR WALLET OR COUNT MONEY IN PUBLIC.
10.LADIES DO NOT WALK AROUND ALONE WITH HANDBAGS UNATTENDED.
11.DO NOT WEAR ANY JEWELRY IF YOUR IN THE STREETS.u represent a very rich flashy easy target.
I have travelled to many places east and west and have not encountered such a dangerous place as Durban, a recent conference took me there and in a week 46 of the delegates got mugged, the large majority in the day time. You may think well...they were wearing jewellery, exhibiting money or being careless but from those I spoke to...the story often was as such: One lady walked out of her hotel in the early morning to get into a prearranged taxi and as she walked from the hotel to the taxi she was knocked over and her bag taken. Another man took his security guard (from his hotel) to the bureau de change, as a precaution, he was mugged on the way back and the security guard hurt also. The problem is, even if you dress down, strip yourself of jewellery and make safe choices like organisizing transport ahead of time or taking a security guard to a bank with you, it will not make much of a difference. For those of us who really were very careful we saw a lot of the inside of our hotels! We felt like prisoners. This is a place where people enlist 3 separate security companies to monitor their houses, and this is also in areas where it is supposedly less dangerous i.e not downtown or near beachfront. It is such a shame because the South African people we met who worked in the hotel and restaurants, conference centre etc were so nice and hospitable. Unfortunately the crime, mostly from street/beach kids, makes Durban a unlikely tourist haven unless its for an overnight stay before you head to one of the national parks or go on 'safari'.
Crime is very much a reality in South Africa. As with most countries, common sense is needed when traveling: Keep your valuables out of sight, don't walk around alone at night and make sure you are alert and watchful at all times. If you happen to be driving around, keep your doors locked. Carjacking and high jacking is an every day occurence. Don't leave valuables on the seat next to you, or sit chatting on your mobile phone while stopped at a red traffic light - if your window is open, you are inviting someone to reach in and snatch your phone.
Most, if not all houses have armed response, burglar bars on windows, electric gates and barbed wire topping garden walls. We have had three cars stolen in the past five years - two taken from our driveway, one at gunpoint - and the other outside a friend's house. Our house has also been broken into more times that I can recall. We are not isolated in this; crime has touched almost everyone in one form or another.
It is a very sad state of affairs because South Africa is an incredible country, bursting with potential and untapped resources. Although tourism and the economy is thriving like never before, the high crime rate and increased violence is a gray cloud overshadowing much of the optimism and promise this country holds.
We had a brilliant time strolling along the beachfront on Sunday afternoon...the sun was warm, the sand was soft and the waves drummed hypnotically against the shore...all was perfect apart from the slightly strong north easterly wind that whipped up the ocean and blew in the bluebottles.
Bluebottles are the common name for the Portuguese man-of-war, a jellyfish with an aerial float (air bubble) and a long stinging tentacle.
North easterly winds bring in the bluebottles and you want to watch where you put your feet as you wander the tide line, these nasty beasties get washed up onto the sand and if you happen to step on them all hell breaks loose: it hurts like nothing on earth! Be very wary about swimming when bluebottles are in evidence, their tentacles can wrap around limbs, necks and fingers, stinging you dreadfully.
The life guards are on hand to provide a soothing balm should you be stung, but it is best to avoid them altogether. If you are badly stung, it is definitely recommended you seek medical attention.