Crime and Health Risks
20 minute read20 Mar 2020
South Africa has a high crime rate, but the risk of violent crime is generally low for foreign tourists. Security is a priority for all hotels, resorts and major attractions in South Africa so stay on the tourist path and don’t do something that puts you or your families lives at risk.
You will see the effect of crime on everyday life in South Africa. There are high walls around houses with razor wire and electric fencing, people live in gated communities in more affluent areas and many streets are closed off with restricted access to non-residents.
Crime creates jobs in South Africa, with many people making a living working as security guards or for private security companies. Private armed security forces are well established, and you’ll see their vehicles patrolling the streets day and night. And you’ll see security guards on foot patrol.
These security precautions make South Africa safer for international tourists but you need to make safety a priority for you and your family wherever you go in South Africa. Don’t do something that puts your safety at risk - use your head to keep safe in South Africa.
Like any third-world country or popular world destination, you need to worry about petty crime, credit card fraud, muggings and general theft.
This ranges from pick-pocketing to stealing cash or valuables from out of your suitcase in a hotel or car.
Use a handbag or daypack that zips up properly and be vigilante in crowded street market. Keep your valuables safe by anticipating a problem; like dishonest staff in a hotel and opportunists in shopping centres.
Credit card skimming
Credit card crime is rife in South Africa and card skimming (or cloning) is a growing problem in the busy tourist destinations in South Africa. Thieves work in crime syndicates which have become more sophisticated over the years.
Card skimming is when a fraudster captures card data on a device that looks like a legitimate point-of-sale machine or ATM transaction.
- never let your card out of sight - insist that a transaction happens in front of you
- always cover the PIN pad when entering your PIN number
- only use an ATM inside a bank
- check the ATM card slot carefully before putting your card in
Smash and grabs
A “smash and grab” is not life-threatening but it can be very traumatic and inconvenient. This happens when someone standing close to your car window smashes the glass and grabs what is on your passenger seat.
- never leave any valuables in your car while you are at a restaurant or shopping
- put suitcases, laptops and music systems in the trunk/boot of your car
- keep your handbag or daypack close to you while in the car – do not put it on the passenger seat in open view
Street muggings happen at night time, rarely during the day. Don’t walk around after dark in South Africa. Don’t risk it - take an Uber even it your hotel or the restaurant is a short walk away.
If you are out at night, never walk on your own. Walk in a group, and only walk in streets that are well-lit and busy.
Spiking a drink is when someone puts a substance in a person’s drink without their knowledge that can severely impair their senses. This can be anything from a tranquiliser to liquid ecstasy and is linked to crimes of sexual assault and robbery.
Drink spiking is a world-wide problem and on the rise in South Africa. It happens at nightclubs, parties, pubs, restaurants and private homes.
Party with trusted friends, buy your own drinks and insist that the barman pours your drink in front of you. Don’t accept drinks from strangers, and never let your drink out of your sight.
If you suspect your drink has been spiked, tell someone immediately and get help.
If your drink has been spiked, immediately report it management or your host.
Car jackings are a problem, particularly in affluent areas. In South Africa, we call it hijacking. Most incidences take place in the driveway of a residential area or at intersections or traffic lights. In the most extreme case, hijackers will force a vehicle off the road or they might pose as traffic officers.
Be alert to suspicious behaviour. Be vigilante if you have hired a car and avoid vulnerable places or dangerous situations.
Never pull off the road if someone waves you down, even if it looks like a traffic officer. Traffic road blocks in South Africa are organised and run professionally. Traffic officers that look random and like they’re operating alone may be bogus and part of a criminal syndicate.
If you think you are being pulled over by a bogus traffic officer, put your hazards on, slow right down and indicate that you will drive to the nearest petrol station or public area.
Africa is well-known for corruption and you may experience it at a mildly annoying level or at a more serious level. You won’t have any major problem with corruption if you visit the well-known tourist destinations in South Africa.
If you rent a car and travel around South Africa by road, you may meet up with a dodgy, corrupt traffic cop. They can ruin your day so obey our road rules and keep to the speed limits.
Common complaints of corrupt traffic officers include
- bribes are solicited from drivers whether they have contravened the law or not;
- if a person refuses to pay a bribe, the officer usually lowers the amount requested;
- if the driver still resists paying a bribe he or she is (a) given a fine, if the law has been broken; (b) allowed to leave without paying the bribe; (c) given a fine in which the officer has fabricated allegations;
- when drivers say they do not have any cash on them, they are asked to go to the nearest ATM and withdraw the money.
Traffic officers by law are not allowed to take money from drivers for any traffic violations. Do not offer or pay a bribe. Bribery is a crime in South Africa.
Know your rights
If stopped by the police or a traffic officer, you can ask to see the officer’s appointment card, which includes the officer’s photo, name, rank, force and station according to Section 334 (2) (a) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.
If a police officer refuses to identify him/herself, you do not have to show your driver’s license.
If you don’t have your driver’s license or ID, a police officer may detain you for 12 hours to ascertain your identity.
A male police officer is not allowed to search a woman, but he can ask you to empty your pockets and bag.
You are not obliged to pay fines on the spot. Never had over cash to pay a fine. However, if there is a warrant of arrest against you, then you can be detained until the fines are paid.
If you are pulled over for drunk driving, a police officer must take you to the police station to open a docket before you are taken to a clinic for a blood test. A blood test must be done within two hours.
A police officer may not verbally abuse or intimidate you or anyone else. Get the details of any officer who has treated you unjustly.
Report corruption or bad behaviour by police or traffic officers to Corruption Watch
SMS 45142, charged at R1 per SMS
crime line: 32211 or Justice Project: 081 208 6682 (24/7 service)
Armed robberies happen in South Africa; they are traumatic even if there is not violence involved. The likelihood of you being robbed at gunpoint at a popular hotel or resort is so low, you don’t have to worry. But if you have chosen to stay somewhere that doesn’t have good security or is in a bad location, even remote like a cottage in the country – you are at risk.
In the old days, robbers broke into houses and stole stuff when no-one in the house. Robbers now want you to be in the house, so they can get you to open a safe and hand over PIN numbers for phones and bank cards.
If you are a victim of an armed robbery in a private home, guest lodge or B&B; this is what you must do so you don’t aggravate the robbers and make the situation worse:
- stay calm and encourage your children and partner to remain calm
- don’t make any sudden movements or noise - do not scream or shout for help
- keep your hands visible but not waving above your head
- do not look the robbers directly in the eye –- keep your eyes downcast
- show a willingness to cooperate and let them take what they want
- do not go for the panic button or alarm system - it’s more dangerous for a security guard to rush into the house with you and your family in the middle
Everything they steal is replaceable, but you cannot replace a life. Everyone must keep calm, let them take what they want and go.
The robbers may be nervous and hyped up on adrenalin, this makes them trigger happy. Don’t do anything to alarm or spook them. Stay calm!
South Africa has a volatile political environment and things flair up periodically. This could be anything from wage strikes to mass action to protest poor service delivery and bad governance.
Avoid areas affected by protest action as they often get violent – with rock throwing and burning cars. If you are travelling with a tour operator, they will know which areas to stay away from. Otherwise, your hotel receptionist or guest lodge owner will warn you of problem areas.
Read online news sites and make sure you know if trouble is brewing in the area you are visiting or plan to visit.
HEALTH RISKS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Vaccinations for South Africa
There are no compulsory vaccinations for South Africa required for travellers from Western Europe.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required if you have travelled from or through endemic zones in Africa and the Americas.
Travellers on scheduled airlines whose flight have originated outside the areas regarded as infected are not required to possess a certificate. If the flight originated form within a yellow fever endemic area, a certificate is required.
Speak to your doctor or a consultant at a travel clinic for more general information and vaccination cover for the following:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
Hepatitis A and Typhoid: This vaccination is recommended as a general precaution. You can get both from contaminated food or water, and they can occur even though you are staying in an upmarket resort.
Yellow fever: There is no risk of yellow fever in South Africa. The government of South Africa requires proof of a yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever.
High risk in malaria areas
Take malaria seriously. It is the highest risk you face if visiting a malaria area. Take anti-malaria tablets – don’t listen to people who say they aren’t necessary or they mask the symptoms of malaria.
It is vitally important that you don’t put yourself and family at risk of dying from cerebral malaria.
Find out from your travel agent or travel clinic if you will be visiting a malaria area. The Cape and Gauteng are not malaria areas, so you are safe arriving at OR Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport.
If you are travelling straight to a malaria area, for example the Kruger National Park. – start taking your anti-malaria tablets before you leave home, as per instruction from your doctor.
If you experience any of the following symptoms within 10 days of arriving in a malaria area, go to hospital for a blood test:
- feverish temperature
- chills, night sweats and violent shivering
- pain in the abdomen or muscles
- very bad headache
- diarrhea, nausea or vomiting
- generally feeling unwell with fatigue, fast heart rate and dizziness
- yellow or sickly pallor
Malaria is not a contagious disease. It does not spread from person to person like the flu, and it cannot be sexually transmitted. You can only get malaria from a bite by a malaria-carrying mosquito. This is the nophilly mosquito; it is spread by females only who bite at night – commonly between dusk and dawn.
If a nophilly mosquito bites a person infected with malaria, it will infect the next person it bites. This is how the nophilly spreads malaria and puts people living near in rural villages at risk.
Once bitten, the parasite enters the bloodstream and travels to the liver. The infection develops n the liver before re-entering the bloodstream and invading the red blood cells.
The parasites grow and multiply in the red blood cells. At regular intervals, the infected blood cells burst, releasing more parasites into the blood. Infected blood cells usually burst every 48-72 hours. Each time they burst, you'll have a bout of fever, chills and sweating.
If malaria is not treated quickly, the disease can become life-threatening – elevating to cerebral malaria which kills you.
Take malaria seriously. It kills!
Low to zero risk
Practice safe sex in South Africa. Your life depends on it.
HIV/AIDS is a major health concern in South Africa. The country is believed to have more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world. The other top five countries with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence are all neighbours of South Africa.
In 2007, an estimated 5.7 million South Africans had HIV/AIDS which represents just under 12% of the population. In the adult population, the rate is 18.5%
Take HIV/AIDS seriously and practice safe sex.
Low to zero risk
The chances you will come across a rabid dog or wild animal infected with rabies is extremely rare as a foreign tourist, but it is something to be aware of.
Never pat or pick up a strange dog, particularly if it is showing rabid signs – like snarling, panting and frothing at the mouth.
Rabies is a fatal virus that causes viral encephalitis (brain inflammation). It occurs in wild and domestic mammals and can only be caught if you are bitten by an animal infected with the rabies virus. Once the virus enters the body, it enters peripheral nerves and is carried towards the brain. The virus multiplies in the brain, causing brain dysfunction and eventually death. Rabies is life threatening and very few people survive.
Animals in the wild that may carry the rabies virus include:
- bat-eared fox (North-Western Cape)
- black-backed jackal (northern province)
- yellow mongoose (Highveld and Karoo)
These animals very rarely encounter humans. Bats are a very rare source of human rabies in South Africa, so be careful if you’ve come to the country to hike in the mountains and do cave explorations.
The risk is stray dogs and cats living on the outskirts of rural villages, or in forests and wild areas. The danger sign is the following: “when a wild animal becomes tame or a tame animal becomes wild”.
In other words, when a wild animal appears to have lost its fear of humans and is unusually approachable. Or when a tame and docile animal becomes aggressive without provocation. Rabies is a possibility.
Physical signs include excessive drooling (saliva) and partial paralysis.
The saliva of a rabid animal has high concentrations of the virus. You can catch rabies by being licked by a rabies carrier, not only bitten.
The virus can only enter your blood stream through a scratch or broken skin, or through skin that is wet and thin like the eye, mouth or genitals. The virus cannot pass through unbroken healthy skin.
Watch your children carefully. Don’t let them pat or pet an animal that does not belong to the owners of a guest house or lodge and looks like a stray.
There are pockets of high risk areas for the hepatitis virus but generally foreign tourists risk of contracting hepatitis in South Africa is very low. Take the necessary precautions to avoid contracting the three strains.
The risk is higher for people eating out in establishments where personal hygiene (food prep) and sanitation is poor.
Hepatitis A is an infection of the liver cells. As the body’s immune system tries to fight the virus, the response by the immune system causes liver cell damage and inflammation. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food and water, and generally occurs sporadically as an epidemic.
Hepatitis A doesn’t cause chronic liver failure like Hepatitis B and C, but it can still cause acute liver failure if left untreated which is often fatal. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and include fever, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting and jaundice (yellow skin).
Hepatitis B and C
Low to zero risk
Follow the precautions required to avoid contracting Hepatitis B and C. You are only at risk if you are irresponsible about who you have sex with and other high-risk activities like getting a tattoo.
Hepatitis B and C are infectious diseases that affect the liver. Most people have no symptoms, and the disease silently progresses in people that don’t know they are infected. Those who do develop symptoms experience fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite and jaundice skin and eyes.
Both strains are contracted through sexual contact, sharing contaminated needles, and unsterilised tattoo and piercing equipment. The virus is not air-borne, it can only be contracted through blood-to-blood transmission.
Hepatitis B and C are life-threatening, particularly for people living with HIV/AIDS who already have a compromised immune system. Anti-viral medication is used to treat Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
Low to zero risk
It is very unusual for a foreign guest in South Africa to contract cholera. Take the basic precautions with food and water and maintain a good standard of hygiene.
Cholera outbreaks occur periodically in South Africa in areas where water supplies, sanitation, food safety and hygiene practices are very poor. Watch online news sights for notifications, but outbreaks are rare and generally isolated to areas well away from popular tourist destinations.
Cholera is a bacterial infection which is mostly transmitted through drink water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria. Overpopulated and impoverished communities with poor sanitation are most at risk of experiencing cholera outbreaks.
Low to zero risk
It is very unusual for a foreign guest in South Africa to contract typhoid. Take the basic precautions with food and water and maintain a good standard of hygiene.
Typhoid is endemic within South Africa and sporadic cases are reported in all provinces every year. These occur as clusters or outbreaks and are generally isolated to areas where water quality and sanitation are poor.
Typhoid is a systemic illness caused by a bacterial infection. It was once a “feared” illness but there are now very effective antibiotics for treatment. It is still however regarded as a notifiable condition in South Africa, because isolated cases have the potential to become epidemic.
Low to zero risk
Most foreign tourists do not go into areas where the risk of contracting diphtheria is high. It is only a high risk if you are mixing with locals living in impoverished, overcrowded living conditions (like shanty towns).
Diphtheria is a serious bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of the throat and nose. Although it spreads easily from one person to another, diphtheria can be prevented through a vaccination. Children from Western countries are vaccinated against diphtheria at a young age.
You may also get diphtheria if you’re around an infected person when they sneeze, cough or blow their nose. People risk of contracting it are those that are not up to date on their vaccinations, have an immune-system disorder such as AIDS or live in unsanitary or crowded conditions like shanty towns.
Consult a doctor immediately if you think you have diphtheria. If left untreated, it can cause severe damage to your kidneys, nervous system and heart. It can be fatal.
Children should be vaccinated against tetanus. If cut badly, burnt or wounded – visit a local clinic to have the wound treated and receive a tetanus shot.
Tetanus is spread when cuts, burns and wounds are contaminated with tetanus spores. The bacteria are found in spores living in soil, dust and some animal feces.
The bacteria enter the body through a wound, like a deep scratch or cut. They move deep within the body and become active; they survive in places with very little oxygen. The bacteria produce a toxin that attacks the ends of nerves on the spinal cord and where nerves meet muscles.
Tetanus used to be called “lock jaw” because it causes painful muscle contractions, particularly in the jaw and neck. In interferes with your ability to breathe, eventually causing death.
Symptoms include fever, high blood pressure and sweating; followed by muscle spasms, facial muscle spasms and stiff muscles.
HEALTHCARE IN SOUTH AFRICA
State hospitals in South Africa are chronically underfunded and understaffed. They serve the majority of the population, with the wealthiest 20% of the population using private healthcare establishments.
Half the population lives in rural areas, but only 3% of newly-qualified doctors take jobs there. All medical training takes place in the public sector but 70% of doctors go into the private sector.
Mediclinic is the leading private hospital group, and the sixth largest in the world. It has hospitals and clinics in South Africa, Namibia, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
Life Hospitals is the second biggest private hospital group in South Africa.
Care and treatment at a private hospital in South Africa is expensive. For a medical emergency that needs surgery and hospitalisation, the private hospitals will not admit you without authorization from the person’s medical aid company or without a large deposit (it can be in the region of R30 000).
Travel medical insurance is a not negotiable. You need to have adequate medical cover for a visit to South Africa.
All drugs are illegal in South Africa.
The drug industry in South Africa has boomed in the last 20 years and the industry is run by large drug syndicates and drug lords.
The problem with drugs in South Africa that drug dealers use a variety of substances to “cut drugs” and these are more harmful than the drug itself.
Avoid buying drugs off the street in South Africa. Your life will be in danger!
Take extra care to avoid having your drink spiked with an illegal substance.
SANCA 24-hour Helpline
SANCA is an organisation that has caring professionals who deal with drug abuse daily.