Crime and safety can be a major worry for residents in South Africa. New expats feel they may not enjoy the same sense of freedom they had in their home countries and may have to live in restricted estates or gated communities for protection. The on-going trial of Oscar Pistorius for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, has also brought the topic of gun crime into focus in a big way. The South Africa sprint runner and Paralympic champion maintains he shot Steenkamp as he mistook her for an intruder. While the escalation of fear regarding safety may partly be due to the fair share of publicity this high-profile case has received, it is still pertinent to consider just how safe it is for expats living in South Africa.South Africa does have a high rate of petty theft, armed robberies and hijackings in certain parts of the country.
Although much of this is reported from low-income areas, it is not restricted to them, as is evident in the Pistorius incident, which took place in an elite Pretoria estate. Statistics also show that most instances of such crimes occur between individuals known to each other. The South Africa authorities have taken measures to tackle the problem of crime and while murder rates have reduced to half, the rates of house robberies and business-related crimes have remained stable.
In the larger cities, where most expats reside, the South African Police Service and Metro police is responsible for keeping crime in check. However, residents also have to exercise caution for their own protection.
Safety at home
Most suburban estates have electric fencing and armed response security providers, which help to contain crime in these areas. Private security companies that send armed response units in emergencies are especially useful since there the police response is known to be slow. Still, residents should also make it a point to alert the police if they see suspicious individuals or groups around the area. Expats are advised to opt for homes in enclosed neighborhoods with gated security and to avoid walking around at night especially in isolated areas.
One needs to be vigilant when using devices like smartphones and tables in public or when travelling as these can draw the attention of pickpockets. Public transport is not very safe in South Africa and minibuses, trains and taxis are often subjected to muggings. The Gautrain, though a bit expensive, is known to be safer. The Bus Rapid Transport services are also seen to be safe, although commuters are advised to exercise caution when travelling alone or with valuables.
If you’re travelling by car, ensure that auto locking is enabled and that there are no smartphones or handbags left on the dashboard when the vehicle is unattended. In certain areas such as at traffic lights, incidents like hijackings are common. When driving at night, expats should be observant of the rules and aware of their surroundings. If stopped by an unmarked police car or a vehicle that you feel suspicious about, make your way to the closest police station or marked police car and ask to check the officer’s identification. Parking is safer in well-lit places or areas that have security.
Other security concerns
Frauds and scams are common in South Africa. Avoid engaging strangers who strike up a conversation or offer help when drawing money from an ATM. Also, avoid counting the money in public. In case, the machine withholds your card, use the helpline number displayed. Frauds often take place when hiring or buying a car or during transactions for insurance policies. Expats are advised to be cautious during such times and if possible, to consult a friend or trusted individual in the country, especially when large transactions are involved.
Expats who have been living in South Africa for a while maintain that caution soon becomes a part of their lifestyle, as they grow more accustomed to the environment. The problem of crime cannot be denied, but it is also quite possible to live a quality life in South Africa and a number of expats are doing exactly that. However, it does remain one of the many factors most expats consider when deciding to move there.