Author: William Robertson

Johannesburg, South Africa – July 1999

The election is over, the ANC won, (mostly) and we have a new president. The election was, in a word, boring. It’s so WEIRD! The really cool bit is that it makes a lie of “One man, one vote, ONCE!” It’s hopefully an indicator to some people to the North of how it’s SUPPOSED to be done. (Pay attention Cde Mugabe.)

On a more somber note: The most frequently asked question about South Africa is: “Is it safe?”

Bearing in mind that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, here are some numbers:

1997 Murder Rate for:

Washington DC: 69.34/100 000 people.

Pretoria: 41.12/100 000 people.

If I ever go to Washington, I’ll be VERY careful!

Scary stuff, but in reality, crime is “LUMPY”. Some areas are worse than others. The worst areas are the old townships, like Soweto. If you REALLY want to see one of these areas, take a tour.

The REAL question for the traveller is: “How will this affect ME?”

Not much, really. At least it’s not much different from anywhere in the world where tourists are seen as “easy prey”, mostly by muggers. If you’re in a dodgy area on your own, wearing a backpack, a watch and carrying a camera, you’re a prime target.

If you’re arriving at JHB international airport, I’d suggest that you book accommodation before you arrive, and then spend at least 2 nights in a hostel (see links and previous articles). This will give you a chance to recover from the flight and orientate yourself. South Africa is not quite the culture shock other countries in Africa may be, but rather sit in a safe environment with people who can give good local advice/swop stories and similar.

I’ve lived in Hillbrow for 5 years, and have been mugged twice in that time. I must confess to a bizarre admiration for some muggers: on the last occasion, I had 3 guys busy holding me while going through my pockets, while a fourth was waving a knife in my face saying: “If you’ve got any problems, if anybody tries to give you trouble, just talk to me, I’ll help you out”. The effect of someone physically threatening me, whilst verbally offering assistance, resulted in a paralyzing mental short-circuit.

On a side note, a lot of European medical students work in South Africa as part of their training. Reason? They see, and do, more trauma work in a month in Baragawanath (Soweto) than they will in a lifetime “back home”. There isn’t a national enquiry if the patient dies, either.

To search SA sites for what you’re looking for…

try one of the better South African search engines.

“Backpackers” will turn up some good links.

For newspapers which will turn up interesting headlines like:

“Police Station Robbed by Armed Gang”


“Man gets 40 years

for shooting gorilla”.

More South African travel info at,

Joburg Weather

Travel in Africa

Backpack Africa

Just Backpacking – Southern Africa

If your like mountains, and spectacular scenery…head East, young person!

Check out this seriously refreshing Africa site, particularly for female travellers.

More numbers about crime than you can shake a stick at.

Finally, visit my website which is where this is written.