I was born in South Africa and travelled and lived to/in Cape Town, Durban and other places - I still have many friends that live and work in Cape town and Johannesburg and lead normal lives. My answer is lengthy, but really very shortened.
Over the years you will gain a sense of necessity for safety where ever you live in South Africa, not just Cape Town, and it becomes a natural part of life- Do not let it bring you down but treat it with respect. I lived through the change from apartheid to a Democratic South Africa and strongly believe that it was a necessary step in the history of the country, but minorities still have stigma associated with the change, and what makes it unique they are for very different reasons, as sensitive as they may be, the more mature Democracy becomes the smaller the minorities become. But each country will always live with extreme right and left wing politics.
My intention is not to spread scare politics but to allow you to embrace that Africa, is Africa. Rules are completely different than in well established Western countries.
For any tourist or western world immigrant I can recommend the following:
- In the first months of living there try and replace your everyday clothes. Fashion is main give away for criminals targeting unknowing people. Even when I go on holiday first thing is go to a shop like 'Pep', 'Jet', 'Mr Price', where the majority of low and middle class people buy clothes. It is inexpensive but will blend you into the crowd.
- You may be used to using devices like high end smartphones or tablets in public freely without any serious concern, because it is likely several people next to you also own these. In SA, these are items of high value and even citizens get targeted for these. Social phising involves asking for time, asking for directions where the phisher/pick pocket will establish if you have anything like this on you. At first, consider buying an ordinary cell phone for everyday use.
- For the same reasons, wearing flashy gold, silver or other jewellery also makes you a prime target.
- Know where your Police stations and Hospitals are.
Commuting in South Africa
- The most popular is with a car, as public transport is virtually non existent.
- Do not leave devices on the dash board, GPS, smart phones - This also applies to hand bags, laptop bags or back packs in line of sight, when your car is unattended.
- Make sure that auto locking is always enabled or lock the doors at all times. Trust me I have been a victim "robbed" like this several times, you don't even realise when somebody is trying to open your door.
- You will also see signs on road saying hi-jack hot spot. As peculiar as it sounds and I have never seen these anywhere but in SA, any where is a hi-jack hot spot. The main target are traffic lights near open fields on the outskirts of any town or places where you must stop. There is a lawCitation needed in South Africa that woman can slow down at red lights and go through them if: Its after sunset, They feel vulnerable at the time. Providing that there is no traffic and its safe to pass. This is not a free for all and needs to be appealed in court.
- Another interesting law is that if a Police Vehicle tries and flag you down and you feel suspicious, you can drive to your nearest Police station and go inside. Police stops at night are rare because of this, so it is a high risk that it could be a trick. Police checks are usefully done with 2 or more units, on busy highways, during the day. It is quite common to see this.
- You should not take these above "laws" literally and only apply them when you feel threatened, driving during off peak times 23:00-5:00
- Try not buy anything from street vendors while in traffic. Do not get upset with them either, especially the guys who wash your wind screen with some dirty water. They are also trying to make some cash to feed their family but also these people work in organised units to protect them selves from racist minorities, don't be one of them. Each region you go to will have people selling things on the street or car to car,I mean some places have a stream of people trying to sell you something. Buy at your discretion but make sure your valuables are stored away and never take out, or show how much money you have in your wallet.
- Drive Aware - Allot of the cars are un road worthy and drink/drug driving is a problem. If you get hit or damaged by somebody, they usually will be uninsured. So if your car is like a baby to you get a good insurance policy. Otherwise just don't stress about it. Dents in your are like war wounds, at least that is how I treated it.
- You can use local "Taxis" that are mini buses, which I think most of them operate on defined routes and are regulated. They are cheap and cheerful way to get around town, and definitely worth experiencing. Have change handy, visas not accepted.
Living in South Africa:
- The main checklist, and I joke not, is if there are anti burglar bars in the house or apartment, that is good. Active alarm with armed response is a bonus in low density areas or high crime areas. I do not miss either of those features but without that you are a more likely target by organised crime.
- Automatic gates are very popular and do tend to scare off the petty thief, especially if its a woman driver with children.
- It is not uncommon to see villas with private security, surrounded by electric fences and monitoring, near city centres, or dense residential areas and especially in urban areas.
- It is considered dangerous to walk around at night in suburban areas, where there are no other people walking around. In city centres where night life booms you should always try to be in or near a group of people. In Cape Town this would be the peers
- Woman and children are more vulnerable to attacks.
- Have a safe in you home or in a bank and keep really valuable things there, especially if you employ domestic help. Domestic help is very affordable and common for all South African cultures. It is a primary income for many less fortunate families. Most of the time domestic helpers become a part of your family and this is really unique experience, you can't really find this anywhere else in the world. But, it may also be a backdoor into your secure home. You have to decide on your best judgement how to handle this.
Living in Cape Town:
- Cape town is better known for its Indian/Asian population groups. The cape flats are a place you really do not want to go unless you know and trust somebody.
- Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is great place to go socialise and is safe.
- There allot of tourist areas in Cape Town and you will not get bored there.
- It may happen that you use words that sound perfectly normal, but are frowned upon or even deemed racist, just because of the history of the area. You should ask somebody that you trust and wont get upset to explain the local jargon to you, so you don't get caught in unplanned fights. This happened to me when I came back to SA for a while, after a few years in EU. Jargon changes quickly and are fuelled by current, but mostly historical political situations.
- Embrace the variety of cultures. Don't fret to eat with your hands if others do. This will be common in Cape Area.
- Even though South Africa is not that religious, there usually exists several different religious views in public places. You will come across many public religious activities.
- In some African cultures it is a sign of disrespect to look somebody in the eye. In the Cape area this might be less common but be aware that it usually doesn't mean they are hiding something.
- Also some African cultures believe that men go before women.
There is an unfortunate saying, that goes like "'It' is not if it will happen, but when 'it' will happen." -
It, refers to getting robbed.I cannot even count on all the fingers of my hand how many times I was pick pocketed, robbed, defrauded, or had stolen from me just because I left it unattended for 2 minutes.
It is popular to go to shopping malls or shopping centres, where there allot of shops concentrated around a parking area, or have secured parking buildings. People can drive up 45 minutes one way, on their shopping days, just to feel that little bit safer - But it is also very convenient and quite a cultural trend to meet at such places with friends and socialise.
I lived in South Africa 16 years, and really this is just a high level of advice I offer everybody, and use my self to "Stay Aware" - This is a campaign for safety SA. If you are ever involved in a criminal incident, it is best to cooperate, do not pull out a weapon like a knife because the other party usually has a knife them selves, or even a gun.
South Africa, especially Cape Town is a beautiful place. The culture is vibrant and this noticeable by the official 11 native African cultures and even more international cultures, that live and integrate with each other.
The unfortunate stressful cliché as you call it is caused by the fact that there is roughly 40% unemployment in South Africa, but it is getting better as it used to be near 60%, 10ish years ago. So really, things are better for you now, than they were for me back then.
Embrace the beautiful, new South Africa, integrate with the various cultures but always "Be Aware" of what is going on around you. As you make friends you get a better understanding of the localised problems in your area.
I really wish I could still live in South Africa, despite the third eye in the back of your head - As it truly an amazing, beautiful, unique and full of new experiences. I had to leave because I could not find work in my profession. Europe was more appealing to me and as I am 2nd generation, naturalised immigrant - I have freedom and the option to live and work in the new Europe and come back home any time.
"This is Africa" - Blood Diamond