Southern Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, often gets a bad rap for its crime statistics and doubtful level of safety. This tends to leave tourists a bit unsure about visiting.
While Joburg does have higher crime rates than other parts of South Africa, it just requires some smarts and vigilance to navigate it without running into trouble. The city has so much to offer, culturally and historically, and should definitely not be given a miss on the basis of fear!
We have come up with a few top tips to avoid danger, so you have the chance to take in all that the City of Gold has to offer.
So, why is Joburg riddled with crime in the first place?
South Africa has a long history of inequality and oppression. The apartheid regime marginalised many South Africans and created a looming wealth distribution gap, which is becoming increasingly difficult to close.
Being the economic hub of South Africa, Joburg is a particularly tipped scale. The richest man in South Africa calls Joburg home, while 20% of the city’s population lives in abject poverty and a further 40% have inadequate housing and are deprived of municipal services. Crime is often a way of survival and is inevitable in places where the rich and poor are sharing a space.
Intertwined with wealth and each other, are complex family conditions, a lack of access to education, unemployment, and addiction, which are in many cases linked to the unequal and unjust system the apartheid government designed. It is important to understand why crime exists, not to justify actions, but to get a sense of why some places are harder hit than others.
How to avoid danger and stay safe in Joburg
While crime is a reality in Joburg, it shouldn’t determine your entire experience. Learning how to be street smart with a few simple rules will give you room to focus on the incredible stories the city has to share! Here are a few tips:
Keep an eye out
Make sure you are aware of your surroundings and keep tabs on your things – don’t leave any of your personal belongings unattended in public. If you are dining out, keep your bag between your legs, not hanging on the back of your chair where you can’t see what is happening.
In crowds, it is easy for pickpockets to go unnoticed. Don’t get too distracted by everything around you and stay aware. Markets, concerts and busy airports or train stations are typical spaces for petty crimes to take place. While South Africans are quite friendly and being polite to strangers is part of the culture, it is good to remember that not every stranger has your best interests at heart. Keep this in mind when engaging with anyone who you do not know.
The same goes for being in a car. Know what is happening around you, especially when stopping at a junction or traffic light at night (as these are particular crime hotspots). Be wary of strangers – if someone gets out of their car and starts approaching yours, rather find a safe way to keep moving.
Know your Way
Plan ahead of time where you are going on a particular day. Memorise the directions and notice landmarks in the area. Looking lost and confused can make you a target, and actually being lost may leave you wandering into unsafe neighbourhoods without you realising it (if this does happen, try your best to blend in, keep valuables hidden and walk confidently).
Hillbrow, Yeoville, Berea, and Alexandra are quite high in crime and are best to steer clear of.
To ensure that you have access to help wherever you go, we recommend downloading Secura, an app that provides you with an on-the-go panic button for emergencies. Secura has partnered with a host of security companies, making their response time as quick as 5 minutes! Once you press the panic button, Secura alerts armed response vehicles in the area to come to your aid. The app covers nine provinces and almost 900 suburbs, meaning that help truly is all around. Be sure to download Secura before your trip.
When you are walking around Joburg, stick to the rule: “Stash it, don’t flash it!” So, keep cameras and phones packed away and avoid wearing a lot of noticeable jewellery.
Walking at night is not advised, but if you need to, go with a group, never alone.
If you are driving, check that the doors are locked and keep your windows rolled up. Valuables should be out of sight to avoid ‘smash and grab’ (where someone smashes your window and grabs something valuable). If you are using your phone as a GPS, try doing it lowkey and don’t have it laying openly on the seat next to you.
Park your car in a secure garage or guarded parking area and be sure that it is locked and valuables are out of sight. (In South Africa, it is normal to find informal ‘car guards’ watching over cars for tips. They don’t pose any threat and it is customary to give them a tip before leaving your parking space).
Having a guide from an established agency join you while you tour the city is a great way of experiencing Joburg to its fullest, while being led by someone who knows how to navigate its neighbourhoods well.
The Joburg Red Bus is also an awesome touring facility to show you around safely and allow you to see the best sights! If you want to travel somewhere on your own, use reliable means like Uber and the Gautrain.
Is Joburg really worth a visit?
While being vigilant may not sound like much of a holiday, you can be rest assured that there are plenty of amazing things to see and experience in Joburg that make it worth a visit! The city is a cultural and artistic hub, with incredible street art (*link to upcoming street art article), bounds of musical talent and great food.
Curiocity, located in the heart of the colourful Maboneng precinct, is the ideal base for getting a feel for the real deal. We offer a comfortable stay, great amenities and curated tours to explore Joburg’s history, stories and creative spirit. Although Joburg can be painted in quite a negative light because of its notorious crime, the fact is that a bit of common sense goes a long way to keep you out of harm’s way. Fear of crime shouldn’t drive you to avoid Joburg, which really has a lot to share.
Crime is only one aspect, so please don’t let it ruin the whole picture!