No tiptoeing around the bush
Check other travel websites about South Africa and you’ll notice most tiptoe around the bush when answering one major concern: how safe IS traveling in South Africa? No doubt you’ll have read about pickpocketing, robberies, carjacking and even murder. So why go to South Africa at all – you want to realize an African Dream, not a nightmare. Well, the general consensus is that if you behave like you would in any major tourist city in the world, the chances you’ll have a great and problem-free time are overwhelming. And that is true! But we believe in giving you the experience of a lifetime. That means your choice should be based on answering your real concerns, not a general platitude like that. So is our take on safety in South Africa, completed with our 10 golden rules for traveling safely in South Africa.
General safety issues
South Africans are very welcoming, hospitable and friendly, whether rich or poor. There is however a big gap between the ‘haves’ and have-nots’. Having a 25% unemployment rate as well as issues with corruption and a slow implementation of improvements does not help this situation. Even though things are getting better, many people are still living in the poorest parts of the shanty towns and have either no work or they have to walk miles every day to get to work or school. So no matter who you are, you are rich compared to them – hell, your camera is probably worth a couple of months wages! These are proud people who really don’t want to steal, but in these circumstances temptation can overcome even the best of intentions. So take away the obvious temptation and you take away most of the risk. In short, do what you would do in any major city and you avoid making yourself a target for both robberies and pickpocketing (see our 10 golden rules). This is also one of the reasons why you should visit a township through an organized excursion: your guide knows what areas to visit and, equally important, you are bringing money into the community so people profit directly from your visit.
Having said all this, there is one thing you will find in South Africa and not in major cities around the world: smiles. South Africans are a friendly and proud people, so treat them with a smile and a wave and you’ll see wide, warm smiles in return. Try it!
Apartheid and racism
It is just 20+ years since Apartheid was abolished, so everyone older than 20 actually lived in a system where whites had the power and blacks had not. Even today in many rural areas it looks like Apartheid disappeared more on paper then in reality. As you might have noticed by now South Africans are very proud of their country and heritage. They are also not afraid to express their opinion. Put both of these together and you’ll understand why you will still encounter vestiges of Apartheid – both on the white as well as on the black side of town. Sometimes you might see a business owner treating their staff like they can’t do anything on their own, another time you’ll encounter someone telling you you’re a racist because you refuse to give something. This has now become favorite beggar trick towards white tourists, since they know these are very sensitive towards racism.
But if you look at the larger part of the population and especially the younger generations, you see a lot of intermixing and the realization all South Africans need each other to prosper. South Africa has indeed come a long way: though still recovering from the damage of apartheid, the words of Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech symbolize today’s society: “We enter into a covenant that we shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without and fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world”.
Animals and wildlife
How safe is it with the animals? Don’t be surprised by this question, it is really not so weird question in a country famous for its wildlife. But in rural areas too you need to watch out. Here it is for farm animals: horses, cattle and goats are often grazed along the road but not always tethered. Dogs and donkeys love the roads as well and are equally oblivious to oncoming traffic.
Going wild – are you afraid of snakes or scorpions? There is bad news and there is good news (if you like these animals, read this the other way around). The bad news is that all these live in South Africa. The good news is that a tourist being bitten by a snake or scorpion hardly ever happens – in fact the odds of even seeing one are really small. This is because when possible these animals want to hide from humans, not look them up. So by sticking to some basic rules you give them that possibility and yourself peace of mind. Da rules: don’t do something like picking up every rock or branch you see – they like to hide there. Stick to paths, if you have to walk through high grass to take a long stick and wave that in front of you (preferably through the grass just above the ground since snakes don’t fly). Thirdly, take a good look before you pick something out of a tree – tree snakes!
If you are (un)lucky enough to see a snake or a scorpion, back up slowly without turning or running – give them the opportunity to flee, not to attack. Anti-venom is available in most larger hospitals. Scorpion bites are always very painful, but only a few are really lethal. The smaller the mandibles are compared to the body, the more poisonous the scorpion is.
Regarding spiders, creepy-crawlies and flying insects: we can guarantee you will encounter them since they live everywhere, even in the plushest hotels. All hotels, lodges and tented camps we use have either mosquito nets, a fan or aircon. Mosquito’s won’t sit down in moving air, so if you use these in combination with an insect repellent you can avoid bites. Malaria is limited: it only occurs in the Lowveld – however that is where Kruger is. The rest of the country is malaria-free.
Then there is the larger wildlife. Even if you are not on a safari you will encounter wildlife, whether a tortoise crossing the road (slowly of course), an antelope or birds. And these are not always small, think ostrich… It actually becomes easier once you are inside a game reserve: there it’s not you that has right of way – it’s them. In fact you are a guest in their territory, so give them space. When in doubt, or if you see animals reacting uncomfortably to you, back up. So keep space around you so you can get away, especially when encountering lonely elephants, bulls and hippo’s – and all animals with young. It is not just a safety issue: if you give animals their space, they will behave more naturally and you will enjoy them much more. What would you rather have, a photo of a lion watching the cars next to it or a photo of a lion trying to sneak up on an impala?
Last but not least: ever wondered how do the predators see you? Are you a prey if you are on the back of an open safari vehicle, or if you are on foot? Predators act to a large amount on the silhouettes they see. Which is why all the game walks we do are guided by a ranger. Armed when necessary. In a vehicle this is different. As long as you are within the outer silhouette of a vehicle, whether open or closed, they consider you to be part of a moving rock and not a prey. However, if you stick your head or limbs out of this silhouette you suddenly become prey instead of rock. So don’t lean out of a window or sit on the window sill to make a picture – them is wild animals. Beautiful and an experience to be treasured, but wild.
Health care in South Africa is good. Only a small part of the country is considered malaria area, and most other tropical diseases are very rare. With the right vaccinations and medicines you won’t run much of a risk to catch a disease. Read here much more about health and other travel information for South Africa.
You spent a lot of money realizing your African Dream. So how safe is it to book with us? Well, if asking the question is not enough answer for you, read in the chapter ‘Can you trust us’ about the reasons why you can indeed trust us with your booking.