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I am thinking of moving to Cape Town, in South Africa. I heard a lot of clichés about safety overall in South Africa. There is also the famous story of Pistorius that shows the fear of house robbers.

My question is, how different from Western Europe is safety handled in South Africa, in Cape Town if that matters?

I suppose the wording might be too vague. So let me try to be clear. What I expect when living in a rented place is that you lock the door and windows when you leave your place, but nothing else.

The things I heard make me wonder if I would need extra security, be it an alarm, cameras supervised by a security company, or even live in a gated community.

I do not take in account the chances to get robbed when walking in the neighborhood, I consider it risky to show too much you have valuables on you, whatever the country and area.

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    "lock the door and windows when you leave your place" is important, but just as important is to lock the door when you come in (this is one thing I noticed that many Europeans -- or just people from small towns -- don't do) – Max May 20 '14 at 20:52
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I lived in Cape Town for 6 month where I stayed in Observatory, an area where many students live and where crime is said to be rather bad for Cape Town standards. Nevertheless, I never felt unsafe at home, even at night and I was never robbed even though I experienced "proactive begging" where people came to my house which I shared with others, asking for money and attempting to enter our property which was however guarded by an electric fence what is not so uncommon in Cape Town.

However, depending on whom you ask, you will - based on a person's personal experience - either get an answer like mine or an experience report on how dangerous South Africa can unfortunately be. My neighbor for example was drugged after bringing home a girl after which he woke up in an empty apartment. And if you look at statistics, the answer is clearly yes: You should be concerned about the safety of your home.

I observed every single house in Cape Town to be guarded by some sort of security company and I would recommend you to have such security. However, chances are that your entire building has such security included in the contract since it is so common. Additionally, most apartments have panic buttons inside. All these measures are however mostly intended for scaring away people, I never had to press our button once. The signs hang high on each door, though and you do not want to be the exception.

Good locks are important. Do not have anything visible in the yard, such as bikes or a motorcycle. Park your car on your grounds, not on the street. If you follow all that, chances are that you will not make a bad experience. If you do nevertheless, you might rather spend some money on insurance than better security. However, if you are a girl, you might set the bar a little higher, since rape is an unfortunate problem in South Africa.

On a final note. Don't let these stories ruin Cape Town for you though. Most crime happens in the town ships and in the suburbs. As an immigrant, you do not live there.

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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.

Multi culture

  • 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
  • "There is a law in South Africa that woman can slow down at red lights and go through them" -- do you have a source for this? I know many people believe this, and the police might allow it, but I don't think it's actually the law. – Max May 20 '14 at 20:57
  • I think you can find it under an amendment for woman's safety or something like that, but it has to appealed in court. I cant remember now, this was like 12 years ago. I updated to use best judgement, its not a free for all. Seek legal advice if needed. – Piotr Kula May 20 '14 at 21:27
  • "The cape flats are a place you really do not want to go unless you know and trust somebody..." Dont go there at all. Point. – Chris Jan 16 '15 at 10:45
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I found Cape Town -- the city proper -- to be not safe at all at night. I stayed a few nights in town and got harassed on every block whenever I made the mistake of trying to walk back to my hotel after nightfall. Note that I'm a 6' white dude, but was walking alone. Note also that this was five years ago; don't know if things have changed.

Staying even just a little ways outside the city, though, seemed much safer. Everywhere else i stayed in SA, I was not harassed at al

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I found Cape Town -- the city proper -- to be not safe at all at night. I stayed a few nights in town and got harassed on every block whenever I made the mistake of trying to walk back to my hotel after nightfall. Note that I'm a 6' white dude, but was walking alone. Note also that this was five years ago; don't know if things have changed.

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I think, whether Cape Town is safe or not will depend a lot on which part of Cape Town you decide to live in. Besides, the concept of safety also differs from person to person. So it’s better to define what you would consider safe and unsafe and then compare it with the conditions that prevail in different parts of Cape Town. Generally speaking, every city has its share of safe and unsafe areas. The same holds true in the case of Cape Town too. If you survey and study the different neighbourhoods in Cape Town, you would discover that some areas are relatively safe and some others are not so safe. For instance, Camps Bay witnessed 21 incidents of common assault whereas Kensington saw 219 such incidents. When you study these neighbourhoods under different parameters of crime such as murder, robbery, burglary etc., you will realize that some neighbourhoods are comparatively safe and you can opt to stay there without having to worry about advanced safety measures beyond a point.

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