Saturday, January 29, 2011

Crime in South Africa

Recently we had the following comment from Kristin on our Blog:

“Kristin said...
Hi there!
I am a norwegian who suddenly came over your blog :) seems like you are enjoying Sweden! Nice to see! I have a question for you... my husband got a job offer in Johannesburg, and we would love to have an exciting new experience. However, I get really scared when I read about the crime in Johannesburg... Since you are living in sweden, I wanted to get your opinion, since you are familiar with what we are used to... (we are currently living in Kuala Lumpur and enjoying Malaysia) Would you be scared to bring two kids to live in South Africa? How is daily life there, can you reduce the risks by not going out after dark and living in a safe gated community? I would be thrilled to hear from you, since you are from South Africa! Wish you all the best in Sweden :-)

These are not in easy questions to answer. Unfortunately, crime is very high in South Africa, and the highest in Gauteng, the province in which Johannesburg is located. It is also true that one of the main reasons why people emigrate from South Africa is the high crime rate (especially the violent crimes where people are injured or killed rather that just being robbed). Comparing safety in South Africa to Sweden is therefore so different that neither Swedes nor South Africans believe us when we tell about the conditions in the other country (I therefore invite anyone to comment/correct on this post if I exaggerate on any side).
Some of the major differences include the following. In Sweden you are “free” to walk almost anywhere at almost any time without a need to feel threatened. Initially this was very strange and I still jump when I hear someone in the dark jogging past me whilst walking home. In Johannesburg I would prefer not to be outside when it is dark and you are also at high risk when driving somewhere during night. There are also multiple places in Johannesburg and Gauteng that I would avoid, even during broad daylight. The homes and places of work in South Africa are also different. Where we lived and worked you only had access to the premises if you had some key card at the 24 hour manned gated. Additionally, once inside there were locked garages, locks on the homes, security locks to the doors, security guards on the premises at work, locked offices locked drawers at your desk, security cables to your computer and monitor and so forth. In Sweden this is completely different and you often require only one key to have access to any office in a whole building. Additionally, I have marvelled at people sometimes leaving their cars unlocked with valuables inside, offices left open during lunch and small children cycling to school alone. It is a very nice not to worry about safety to the same extent as in South Africa.
A second main difference we see, but are not as well known, are much safer roads in Sweden. I feel that this is an important thing to mention to people who move from Scandinavia to South Africa. South Africans often do not realise that this is a big problem and many drive excessively fast on very bad roads, even in heavily populated residential areas. Additionally many vehicles are in a bad condition and neither pedestrians nor drivers obey many of the rules. Cycling in South Africa is not a viable mode of transport. It is therefore shocking to many Swedes when they hear how many people die on South African roads and currently some of my colleagues think I lie about the death toll over Easter weekend.
This just said, both of us were able to survive with only minor crime related incidents (and only a few traffic related incidents) for more than 30 years, many of which were spent in Gauteng with regular visits to Johannesburg (Carina worked in Johannesburg city centre for 3 of the last 4 years before we left but grew up on a farm in a very peaceful environment). Being affected by crime is to a large extent a chance event and the best thing to do would be to reduce the chance of being in a place or situation where you may be at risk of being involved. Some of the things we did (and sometimes still do) may be considered paranoiac. I would however suggest that you try to make friends with a local, preferably in the area where you are going to stay. Ask them what they consider safe and what they do to minimise the risks. Ask them where they recommend going and not going and at what times (in general it is safer in most places in the day and where there are lots of people). As a general rule it is good to be aware of your environment. Again a local may be able to tell you about the neighbours and who are regular people and vehicles in your area. Listen to their suggestions. Very important is NOT to cross the street at pedestrian crossings when there are any vehicles approaching, they will NOT stop. I also cannot recommend any of the public transport facilities in South Africa. There are many other habits that may help, such as not having anything on a passenger seat when driving, minimising the time to enter through any security gates, not trusting the police, avoiding strangers on the street, always know where you are going, never stop at the side of the road, never letting strangers in your house, not trusting workmen when around and so on. This list can be quite long but as I said we may be considered paranoiac.
To end, I do want to say that a stay in South Africa could be amazing if you have someone to help you find your feet. This post may sound negative but the question is about crime in South Africa. Many people are able to keep safe and enjoy their lives. South Africans are very nice people (when they are not trying to rob you :) and you can easily make friends that will make you feel very welcome. Additionally, the food in is very, very good and I recommend trying as much as possible. To add to this, South Africa have a variety of climatic regions, which leads to many different natural environments. You could therefore visit subtropical, desert, semi-arid, savannah, forest, fynbos areas and many more with their own plant and animal life. There is also a rich diversity of cultures.
I hope that other people will add comments, both positive and negative, to give an accurate representation of South Africa.
PS. Follow this link to local (South African) news to see what happens on a daily basis (some good and some bad):


  1. Thank you so much for this enlightening post ;-)
    Now I feel I have more knowledge on how it is to live there. It seems like you just have to be careful, and ask local people, then its fine. To me it does not seem paranoiac, it seems to be the way to behave, better safe than sorry, right?
    It really looks like an amazing country to get to discover. So happy you shared this with us, thank you!
    Regarding traffic, we are getting used to chaotic and crazy drivers here in Kuala Lumpur, so that should be ok ;-)

    Thank you again!
    Wish you all the best in Sweden, seems like you r enjoying the cold weather and are getting good at skating ;-)))
    Keep up the good blogging-work!


  2. @Kirsten,
    Glad we could give some information. Good luck with your adventures in South Africa I hope you enjoy the beautiful country :)

  3. @Kristin... After all that has been said and done about South Africa and its crime, violence and malice it remains a spectacularly beautiful country. With so much to offer to anyone who wished to settle here and be a productive member of our society. ALWAYS be careful and vigilant, criminality in South Africa is an unpleasant fact and should NEVER be underestimated… but relish in South Africa’s beauty and its people.

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