Back from South Africa, anyway. Jet lagged out of my gourd as well.
It is entirely possible to kill someone in Soweto and intimidate the victim's family to say nothing.”
After a decade away (15 years since emigrating), South Africa now feels like a foreign land to me. The South African government claims that crime has dropped since the Apartheid years but I doubt very much that that is true. Absolutely everyone I spoke to, black or white, thought that crime was worse. However, most of them were not talking of major crimes like murder and rape but petty theft and mugging and the like. It is certain that, if the murder and rape rates have dropped, it is not because of the efforts of the police, who catch less than 1:10 murderers and 1:30 rapists (and those are only the reported rapes). I have a horrible suspicion that the rates have dropped purely because fewer people are reporting them. If that seems incredible to my first world readers (most of you) it is entirely because you do not appreciate the sheer vastness of a township like Soweto (officially about 1.3 million – Auckland’s size – but, in reality, a very fluid 3 million). It is entirely possible to kill someone in Soweto and intimidate the victim’s family to say nothing. Given the average African attitude to women (the real one, not the official one), I am surprised any rape gets reported.
One thing I am certain of is that, despite the assurances of National Commissioner, Bheki Cele, those who are attending the Soccer World Cup in South Africa in June will not be safe. Not unless “safe” has an entirely new meaning in SA that excludes mugging, theft and the occasional rape – the most likely criminal encounters tourists experience. Tourists experience these in all countries, of course, including New Zealand, unfortunately. Tourists can expect to encounter thieves in abundance in South Africa. I doubt it is worse than any other third world country, but it is a third world country. Do not expect efficient or helpful police.
Don’t let me put you off going to the world cup, if that’s where you want to go. Just bear in mind that the South African government will tend to guild the lily a bit when it comes to the safety of being in their country. Take the following precautions:
- Stay in tourist designated areas. “Going native” in a township is a particularly stupid way to die.
- Preferably make sure that all transport is provided by your tour or your hotel. Local transport is extremely suspect. Minibus transport crashes at an alarming rate (nobody seems to understand words like “treads”, “maintenance”, “shocks”, “speed limits” or “rules of the road”)
- If you are white, train travel is exceedingly dangerous.
- Leave your passport and travel documents at the hotel, unless you are doing official business, like changing money.
- Carry as little money as you can. (note: It is hard to change traveller’s cheques. Use ATMs)
- Use only ATMs in crowded places like shopping malls, and preferably not alone.
- Keep your money and your credit cards (and your passport if you have it with you) in separate places. Snatch-and-Grab thieves are very common. Pickpockets are commoner.
- If you must go to a bar after the game, stay away from city centers. Your hotel bar is the safest place (at least they rob you legally with their outrageous prices)
Do the above and you minimise your chance of encountering the darker side of Africa (no racial slur intended there). The majority of South Africans are actually a friendly and helpful lot and the country is beautiful. Make sure you take some sort of tour to see something other than Soccer. Include a game reserve if you possibly can. Avoid Sun City. If you simply must go there, MacDoctor suggests a hotel call Kwa Maritane (place of the rock), just down the road from Sun City – cheaper, nicer, and you can visit both the nearby game reserve and Sun City easily.
I’m told there are still packages available for those who want to go. I suspect there may be some discounts in the offing as the numbers of tourists going is lower than anticipated (sounds familiar).
Enjoy the Jet lag. I know I did.