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For the sake of this question I need to distinguish between different skin colors.

TL/DR: Together with my girlfriend, I am visiting South Africa in October 2023. We both are European citizens in our late 20's, and we both are white. How safe is it for us to visit? I am not talking about safety issues like pickpockets or similar. I am talking about serious crimes like murder or rape.

Long version: We have been planning this trip for quite some time now and are looking forward to it already. We know that South Africa is not the safest place on Earth. You can find a few hundred internet pages describing how people got robbed, cars got stolen and so on. That's why we always tried to plan the trip to be as safe as possible. This includes:

  1. choosing hotels with good reviews in "good"/safe areas
  2. booking mostly guided trips (e.g. Safari, one day in Johannesburg, hiking trips, Cape of Good Hope, ...)
  3. planning to always be and stay at the hotel when it's dark outside
  4. staying at tourist hotspots and avoiding "dangerous" zones like townships
  5. not wearing jewelry or valuable items so that anyone can see
  6. not leaving baggage unattended in a car or something similar
  7. not carrying huge amount of cash, so if it really should happen that we get robbed, we give them the money and that's it

Of course there are some parts of the trip which seem more dangerous then others, like self-driving (e.g. JNB to Hazyview or the panorama route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth) or walking around in Cape Town (even though it's only at the tourist hotspots), but we always thought that with the rules above, we should be quite safe. Now in the last few weeks I have read some articles that since COVID the situation there, especially the "hate" between black and white people, got worse. Then there was also the freedom speech by politician Julius Malema a few days ago, in which he calls for genocide for white citizens.

  • How safe is South Africa for white people this year?
  • How is the situation there; did it get worse for white people?
  • Is there a higher risk for serious crimes against white people than it was before?
  • Does it seem that the situation there might escalate in the coming months so that the situation could even become worse?
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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Travel Meta, or in Travel Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 14:11

4 Answers 4

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As a South African, the precautions you have listed in your post (for people of all ethnicities) are MORE than adequate to ensure your safety. In my opinion, there is no hatred of (or targeted violence against) any race. Unfortunately (and again in my opinion), our crime stats are as a result of a deprived society - poor national governance, too few police, no jobs, limited electricity - and the list goes on. But our country is beautiful, the people are hospitable/friendly and you will love your visit. Just stick to the popular routes (the ones you mention are fine/busy) and don't stray anywhere after dark on one's own. Happy holiday!

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    – Willeke
    Commented Aug 20, 2023 at 19:30
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Beware: this is only an anecdote of my/our group's single visit to South Africa for one month. We travelled from Johannesburg to the Kruger Park and then clockwise along the coast to Capetown.

Regarding safety: Near the Kruger National Park, we saw stones on the road placed as car traps (see Kruger National Park: Safety Advice), but we weren't the target. The stones were placed from side to side over the road in multiple lines. Someone before us pushed some of them away, to make cars passable, though. In Gqeberha/Port Elizabeth I got robbed (not mugged) of my mobile phone on a very busy tourist street in daylight. I am a 192cm male in his thirties, so not the most obvious target, I thought.

Regarding racism against whites: In Pretoria and near Eswatini/Swaziland some people made xenophobic remarks, because I am white (e.g. "Get out of this country! White people don't belong in Africa!" etc.). Apart from these two instances, everyone else was nice.

I am sure, we had some bad luck, but it is, what it is. Still, I did not have the feeling that many people are racist against whites. It is more that all tourists are seen as "Walking Wallets", just like in any tourist spot of the world. You don't need to bring race into the game there.

What I took away from my trip: if you see humanly-placed stones on the road: try to keep driving! I can't think of taking more safety precautions next time, apart from not being a tourist in a poor country.

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  • Thank you very much for the reply, pity I can't choose two correct answers, because yours is very helpful too. The link you posted is amazing, very detailed and useful information there. Also I never heard about the stones on the street before. But over all it seems like you had some bad luck, but it could always end worse. Thanks for sharing your story, best regards Stefan Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 9:58
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As a white former South African who lived in the country for over 30 years without ever being the victim of crime, you've already ticked most of the boxes. I'll just add/expand on a few things:

  • The #1 rule of South Africa is that life is cheap. In other words, if you become the victim of crime, the most reliable way for the criminal(s) to ensure you won't report them is to kill you. As such, if you do become a victim of crime (yes, even violent crime such as rape), just stay quiet and give the criminals what they want. Fighting back is the best way to end up dead.
  • Don't expect the police to come to your aid. Don't expect the public healthcare system to care.
  • Try not to ever be alone outside your hotel; single targets are easiest prey. Conversely, the more people in a group, the less likely it is to be targeted. In other words, if you and your girlfriend are travelling with another group of tourists, stay with that group; if it's just the two of you, stay together at all times.
  • Don't ever go into the townships for any reason, EVER - even with a guided tour. Just absolutely DO NOT. The townships are not merely "dangerous", they are deadly places where assault rifles are commonplace.
  • Try not to leave anything in your vehicle when it's unattended. Criminals are perfectly willing to take a chance at breaking a car window, snatching something and running with it; even if it may turn out to be worthless.
  • Be careful driving on the motorways - keep your speed down. Criminals often wait on the bridges above them with bricks or stones, and throw them onto vehicles passing below; should they cause an accident in this way, they then rob the occupants.
  • The Western Cape is the safest province, Gauteng is the most dangerous.

Regarding Julius Malema and his particularly noxious brand of racist populism, you need to understand that it's mostly a proxy for how wealth is distributed amongst the various racial groups. Due to the legacy of SA's apartheid policies, white people are historically the most wealthy while black people are the least - and due to the ANC (ruling political party's) government's corruption that has drained public coffers over the past three decades, that gap hasn't really closed up.

As such, when Malema calls for violence against white people, what his supporters hear is a call for redistribution of wealth. Of course, Malema himself is a politician and entirely dishonest; he is just saying what people want to hear, in order to get their votes, so that he can be elected to a position that allows him to continue his pillaging of public funds.

That doesn't mean that some of his supporters aren't racists, nor that none of them will interpret his words literally, nor that the racial divide engendered by apartheid doesn't exist. But you'll generally find that any South African willing to kill someone over the colour of their skin, is - like any psychopath from any other nation - willing to do so for any similarly trivial reason. You'll also find that such a psychopath won't have any qualms about killing anyone, regardless of the colour of their skin - remember rule #1.

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  • 1
    This is downright depressing
    – Aswath
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 10:38
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    This answer sounds more on par with what I was being told by my South African acquaintance.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 11:51
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    @Aswath which is exactly why I left. SA is a beautiful country, and it has some amazing people, but it's being "governed" into the ground. And I decided I was tired of living my life in fear.
    – Ian Kemp
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 12:56
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    This is a negative view. There are many places in the western cape (where I currently live) where it is safe to (eg) leave stuff in your car, be outside alone during the day. "Try not to ever be alone outside your hotel;" At night, sure. during the day is extreme. How do people live otherwise? Do they just never leave their houses? Many people drive to work, go shopping on their own, walk/run in the neighbourhood on their own. I do, every day. It depends largely on where you are. There are safe areas in the western cape.
    – stanri
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 13:46
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    @stanri This answer is for the question asked by a tourist from the first world, not somebody who is familiar with SA's third-world dangers.
    – Ian Kemp
    Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 8:49
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I remember when my mother visited Cape Town for four months in 2019 to take an English course. Unfortunately, she was horrified by the violence during her stay. Two of her friends were stabbed, and at least half a dozen others were robbed with intimidation. After reading your question, we even consulted with a South African friend about safety precautions, and all three of us agreed that you're taking the right steps to stay safe. The problem is that South Africa is very unpredictable and if something happens and you're in the hands of criminals, remember not to fight back, the lack of justice in the country makes killing an easy option.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy your trip, but above all, please prioritize your safety.

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