Crime in South Africa | A local's guide to foreigners
Crime in South Africa

A local's guide to foreigners

When you decide to travel to South Africa, the immediate response from friends and family might be something like, “Oh wonderful! But have you heard about the crime?”.

It’s true. South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world, leading to a lot of fear and anxiety around visiting the country. As much as the numbers are frightening, it is important to understand why they are so high and what you could do to feel safe and still enjoy the special treasures the tip of Africa does have to offer.

At Rentacheapie, we aim to provide a reliable car hire service with 24/7 roadside assistance and thoroughly maintained vehicles to help you feel safe whilst you tour Cape Town and its wonders.

Why does crime exist in South Africa?

South Africa, rooted in a harrowing history of oppressive systems such as that of the apartheid era, presents us with one of the most unequal countries in the world, where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing each year. Groups who were most disadvantaged during apartheid, were strategically situated outside the city and separated from those who benefited from the system. The geography from that time has continued to perpetuate a poverty cycle, forming one of the key causes for high crime rates today.

As a visitor in this country, crime figures may be intimidating and may leave you unsure about how to navigate your way around cities like Cape Town. Due to South Africa’s past, becoming streetwise is important. Theft and robbery are common, especially when it comes to tourists. Displaying valuables or looking lost often results in criminals knowing who to target - which is honestly much like almost every other country in the world. By mentally preparing yourself to be aware at all times and by following the tips below, you can ensure that you are doing your part to tour as safely as possible and to enjoy the time you have to spend here.

How to handle crime in Cape Town and South Africa

Keeping the above in mind, here are a few suggestions for ensuring personal safety as much as possible:

At the Airport

Do not leave personal belongings unattended and make sure you are aware of everything you have with you at all times. Make sure your bags are labelled and have locks.


Keep your room locked and if anyone knocks, check who it is before opening the door. When going out, do not leave valuables on display. Pack these things into the cupboards or just slide them under the bed, so that nothing is visible from the outside.

Exploring the city

When asking for directions, always try to find official information counters. Do not ask directions from strangers. Make sure to keep valuables in your bags or packed away in the boot (trunk) of your car, if you are using one. Let someone know when you are going out, where you are going and how long you think you will be gone for. This keeps people alert in case they don’t hear from you beyond that time frame. Avoid walking around alone. Walk in well-lit, busy streets and if possible, stay in a group.

Try to avoid congested streets, as these are often where pickpocketing takes place. Do not carry large amounts of cash around with you. Rather find a way to have your money stored on a card, as you can easily call to cancel the card if it gets taken. Think about purchasing pepper spray for when you can’t avoid walking or travelling somewhere alone. This is a small line of defense and can buy you some time to get away if you get caught in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. Become familiar with emergency numbers (listed in the section below) and have them easily accessible - you can write them on a piece of paper to put in your pocket in case your phone gets stolen.

In your vehicle

Keep the doors locked and windows rolled up. Do not leave valuables clearly visible from the outside. Do not pick up strangers or hitchhikers. Keep the number of your car rental company close at hand in case of emergency.

Out in nature

Always hike in groups and avoid isolated areas (do not veer off designated paths). Have someone in your group who knows the way and carry route guides. Make sure your phone is fully charged and has emergency numbers saved. Do not park your car remotely; look for security presence and areas where there are multiple cars already parked.

Emergency numbers and what to do in the event of a crime

If you are the victim of a crime, the first thing to do is to report it. Being in shock or feeling distressed is natural and so asking someone to help you report the crime can provide some comfort during the process. You can contact the police by calling 10111 or by going to the nearest police station. Reporting a crime is free of charge and all documentation will be filled out by a police official. From here you will be guided through the rest of the procedure for dealing with the particular crime you have experienced.

The South African Police Service offers free counselling sessions in the case of certain crimes. If you feel you may need this service, do not hesitate to ask.

Telephone numbers to have at hand:

South African Police Service Emergency Number - 10111

Crime Stop (report criminal activity anonymously) - 08600 10111

Mobile phone emergency number - 112

South African Tourism helpline - 083 123 6789

For more information on how to handle crime in South Africa, visit the SAPS website here.

Driving the Garden Route?

The Garden Route is a very popular route to tour among tourists. With its beautiful scenery and stops, it doesn’t fall short of awe. Although the route is quite safe because of the tourist traffic, knowing which areas to avoid and how to stay safe whilst driving will help make the tour as trouble free as possible. For specific tips relating to the Garden Route, read up on the Tropical Medical Bureau’s list of Garden Route Safety Dos and Don’ts.

Do not let the fear of crime overwhelm your decision to visit South Africa. This country has many beautiful things to see and experience and should not be clouded by anxiety. Always keep in mind why people do the things they do and stay informed on how you can ensure that you feel as safe as possible.

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