South Africa's Johannesburg's airport has a reputation for stolen and rifled baggage and a quick Google search returns many travelers reporting similar stories. My question, is how bad is the situation now. I noticed that many of these reports are older--from around 2006--and that the airport authority started a campaign to resolve the problem. Has the situation improved in 2011?
I can't find the reference now, but there was a great story that an organisation was testing security at airports around the world, by taking a suitcase to the airport and leaving it there, timing how long before it got stolen or identified.
The exception was Johannesburg, where the car was hijacked enroute, and the suitcase never made it to the airport ;)
Apparently in the last year, luggage theft has been reduced by 60% which bodes well. Baggage pilfering is down to 0.6% of all bags that pass through the airport, which when you think about it is still bad, but if you lock your bags and use the bag wrapping machines available, it'll deter the opportunistic thief.
Last night we had a story on Carte Blanche (a South African investigative reporting program) where they said that there are about 140 000 incidents of theft at OR Tambo per year, so the situation is still really bad despite lots of measures put in place. They showed CCTV camera footage of how the thieves know exactly where the cameras are and grab bags off the conveyor belts in such a way that nothing can be seen in the cameras. The bottom line is just that you should never ever put anything valuable in your luggage if flying anywhere in SA - just keep valuables in your hand luggage. Period.
See the following link about the mentioned show with interviews with the head of security and with the Police.