We were having a fine time on Christmas day 2005 and decided to eat at Tasca de Belem Restaurant in the VA Waterfront in Cape Town. Big Mistake! We had our meal and when the bill came, we thought nothing of putting our credit card in the bill folder. A few minutes later the so-called assistant manager who took our card told us there was no payment in the folder. We insisted we had put in our credit card, but they basicaly accused us of trying to get a free lunch. We ended up at the Police Station, however while this was going on, our card was being swiped all over the VA Waterfront. They managed to get one charge through, almost $600 at an Edgards clothing store. To top things off, we talked to the owner of the restaurant who was totally rude and told us that we should essentially just get over it. Not so simple as we had to get a police report and file a notarized affidavit back in the states so as not to be liable for the charges. Moral of the story is, never lose sight of your credit card (as paranoid as that sounds) and avoid this restaurant! Terrible service, rude owner and thieves on staff!
The reason I had not visited South Africa earlier was because of concerns over personal safety. To be honest I was almost paranoid. When I first arrived I was a little concerned at seeing walls and fences around the majority of properties and burglar bars everywhere over windows and doors.
I'm pleased to say that generally my fears were unfounded. Walking around in the daytime is fairly safe and I didn't feel threatened. After dark I kept in busy areas and took taxis to get around.
While in Cape Town an Irish couple staying at the same place as me were mugged. This sounded really bad at first but when I heard the details it seemed that they had just been stupid. They had been to a club or something late and decided to walk back at around 3am. They were both the worse for drink and the girl had been swinging her handbag around while teetering around drunk in high heels.
Acting like this is not advised. Get cabs after dark and don't have anything about your person that will be attractive to a potential thief.
Be careful when using the ATMs. If anyone approaches you and offers to help you with the "hard to use" machines, refuse their help and do not let them touch your card. A common scam occurs where the individual pretends to help you, but really steals your card, watches as you type in your PIN, and then pretends that your card has become stuck in the machine. By the time you realize what has happened, the individual has already handed off your card to a partner-in-crime who is withdrawing cash from a nearby machine.
Obviously most people that visit will leave unscathed but I will not lie to you - there are a LOT of shady and questionable characters hanging around.
As it is to be expected in a third world country with high unemployment and low education there is crime - just be smart. DO not walk by yourself at night, wear $$$ clothes or jewelry or act rich.
I saw 1 mugging and 1 attempted mugging during the week I was there. Police and security are everywhere but stay aware of your surroundings.
There are lots of pushy touts in the tourist areas, best to just ignore them.
Cape Town tries to look and act European but it is Africa and remember that and you will be fine.
Beware of pickpockets in all busy areas, especially markets. My friend had her mobile phone taken out of her pocket. They weren't worried about her feeling it as once they had it they dissapeared into the crowd.
I think if you are aware as you should be in any place you would be fine. I carry my wallet in my front pocket and when in a busy place put my hand in my pocket to hold it.
It never hurts to be wary. It seems to have worked for me so far!
(work in progress)
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 Cape Town 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 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 - myslef 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!
I am a single female in her 50s who has travelled to South Africa alone - Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg on two separate trips for over a month.
Cape Town is a city where you have to be fully aware of your surroundings at all time but I was exposed to no crime. Definitely had to be indoors by sunset for safety reasons.
The country is spectacular and well worth the visit. You see the rich and the poor within distance of one another. Poverty prevails but beauty of nature is immense.
Like most major cities in the world, you have to be aware of dangerous areas and all major cities like Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg (especially).
Enjoy your trip as you will be delighted as I was.
If you are not prepared to be mugged or stabbed, don't go. I've been a number of times and I love it, there are many great things about it but the apologists saying "be careful" are deluded. Last week I was mugged at knife point with 2 colleagues at 10am on a main rd. These things are relative, but nothing like that happens in Australia or Europe with such frequency. It is not OK and has nothing to do with having your wits about you. It is a beautiful city with an underclass of desperate opportunists. Very dangerous and uncivilized. Beware, I'm reconsidering my next trip.
The centre of capetown has become a muggers paradise.I have lived in the centre of town for 4 years and there was never a problem but seems that things have changed dramatically.I have witnessed 2 x tourists being mugged in St Georges Mall in broad daylight. A guy had his cellphone removed from his hand near safmarine hse, he was out numbered and rather let it go than resist to these crooks. A month a go i was unfortunate to be in an attempted mugging,just of heerengracht str, i was more fortunate but thought that it was time people know you must not take your safety in capetown for granted
Please take care when visiting the beach areas and walking trails in and around Cape Town. Numerous robberies and assaults have been reported in 2005.
Contact the local newspaper archives and any other source you can think of available on the internet to do research about the areas where you intend to travel.
NEVER HIKE ALONE! They kill for as little as a cellphone in South Africa!!!
Beware the pickpockets! Zips are a speciality for them, especially around Cape Town railway station. You are best off taking a throw-away camera, so at least it's only some pictures you lose if you are robbed.
You may be unaware of this, but if you are purchasing anything of value (antiques, diamonds, gold, coins, rare plants, gemstones, rare minerals etc.) in South Africa and are planning to not declare or to under-declare the value of your belongings when departing South Africa, it is in your best interest to not tell any local dealer or seller who you are, where you live and especially when your departure date and time is. Do not at any cost or time agree to be given a free friendly ride by any even the most decent looking gentleman, be him a shop owner or even a President of a company. You will be surprised how many shopkeepers and dealers will ask you when you are leaving and will kindly offer you a free friendly ride to the airport in their own car to farewell you to the far away land. If you do, you may regret that very much. Here's how the whole thing works:
The local dealers, shop owners etc. have friends at the South African Customs with whom special secret "business" agreements are made to sell to them the confiscated goods by the airport Customs officers at a fraction of their value. Once a departee agrees to be given a ride by someone like a shopkeeper and both of you arrive at the airport you may be carefully suggested to not declare your belongings or even if no suggestion is made the shopkeeper may inform the Customs officer (usually their accomplice or a friend) about the incoming "gem" (you). If the particular Customs officer catches you under-declaring or not declaring your valuables, they will surely confiscate them and sell them at a fraction of their value to the waiting shopkeeper after you're gone back to your country. Not sure how exactly they execute all this cause this has never happened to me, but one of my friends told me he was offered free rides by so many shopkeepers that he knew that he became naturally suspicious and was told by one honest man to be careful with such rides.
Instead of bringing you to the airport, these decent looking people that look just like one of your relatives could as well arrange the entire robbery thing, if not rob you themselves, you never know, so better be safe than sorry.
One of possible scenarios would be the friendly ride giver could stop by at some petrol station or shop in a remote area in Cape Town and while they are shopping there and you are sitting in their car some "strangers" could be robbing you at a gun point.
Therefore, to avoid this, always declare full value of your belongings that you take out of the country and be secretive who you are, where and when you go and when you depart. You may pay a small Customs fee or a taxi cab fee as opposed to getting everything confiscated. Instead, have someone who you really trust give you a ride to the airport, someone who does not know nor cares what your belongings are.
One afternoon in front our hostel just outside the centre of Capetown, in a seemingly decent neighbourhood, the car window of some other travellers who stayed here, was smashed. As they had just arrived, everything was still in the car and when they returned from some shopping, everything was taken out in broad daylight...
Alarmed by this brutal theft, we took the few last things out of our car so it showed empty for a would be little burglar. The next morning, it appeared that our car window too was smashed.... Nothing was taken as there was nothing to take, but we were annoyed by having to switch our car at the rental office (which was swapped without any cost or discussion > good to you, Budget!!).
As for our fellow travellers who had been robbed of all their stuff: a few hours later all their bags were found on a church yard just around the corner.... the thieves had only taken some useless traveller's cheques.
This sort of crime is a serious problem in Capetown and it seems that the authorities have lost control over coping with it.
Their are not enough jobs anywhere in the world, and Capetown is no exception. Half of the world's population lives on $1-$2 dollars a day, and lots of them are in South Africa.
Crime is the only way they can survive, so don't display all your flash, ie cell phones, name brand purses, jewelry, etc. Be very careful as crime is a serious problem.
There is no enforcement of the laws, so this leads to people taking calculated risks that could kill you. Do not go out walking at night. Take a taxi to your destination and take one home. This is very important.
Do not drive without taking lessons to know how to handle car hijacking. It is best not to drive at all. It is possible to visit without driving, as I have been in Cape Town for 5 1/2 months and have never driven a car.
The best thing you can do for yourself before you arrive is to understand what you are walking into before you come here.
Read the wonderful book of Sampie Terreblanche, "A History of Inequality in South Africa. 1652-2002" published by University of Natal Press.
Reading so many negative reports before going scared me, reading the forums here calmed me down a little bit. I feel to a certain extent that crime is overrated particulalry in Cape Town because there are a lot of cameras on the street and outside of hotels and apartments. I did not have one criminal incident or see one when I was there and I went to the so called dangerous neighborhood. I am not going to guarantee that nothing will happen to you if you go, but I think that the crime level may have been blown out of proportion by the media. I swear Africa needs a new public relations department. I did not really have to use my New York attitude much either. All I did was try to get to the hotel before the street lights came on. If I arrived at the hotel after that time I was normally with someone and they waited for me to walk through the gate of my hotel. I also dressed very simple in basic colors so as not to draw attention to myself. No one knew I was an American unless I opened my mouth. The other thing is I went after the holidays because I know people normally have the itch to steal to give gifts to their families. These are the only street smarts you could say I used. When you are in any city in the world including the so called "safe" ones you have to use some sort of precaution. Unfortunately, with the number of people that live in cities some are going to be criminals. Thats life..... but I really would not worry.