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Country Reports

South Africa Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Despite South Africa's position as one of the most popular tourist destinations in sub-Saharan Africa, there are still security threats present in the country of which travelers should be aware. In general, those traveling to South Africa (population 56 million) should maintain a high level of vigilance, especially when in the country's largest cities (e.g. Johannesburg, Capetown, and Durban).

CRIME

South Africa suffers from extremely high crime rates and continues to be one of the most violent countries in the world. Townships (shantytowns) are particularly affected, as are remote and isolated areas. Statistics published by the South African police indicate a continued rise in violent crime in recent years. 

Armed robbery and assault is the most common crime across the country. This is often conducted by organized gangs, frequently armed with knives or handguns. Common crimes also include violent home invasions (both at day and night), carjackings, vehicle "smash and grabs," and robberies carried out at ATMs. Details of carjacking hotspots in major cities of the country are available on this interactive map (click here). Several cases have been reported in which criminals stage fake traffic accidents to stop motorists. South Africa also has one of the highest rape rates in the world; foreign citizens are sometimes targeted.

Perpetrators of the abovementioned crimes often resort to violence and sometimes commit murders; travelers should never offer resistance if confronted.

While these risks are always present during the day, they greatly increase after nightfall. Frequent large-scale blackouts in urban areas are also likely to increase the risk of crime as they can deactivate security systems in homes (alarms, etc.) and lighting in public places. Travelers should not go to service stations after dark.

It is recommended to avoid travel to the townships located in and around the country's main cities: for example, Johannesburg's Alexandre, Diepsloot, Berea, and Yeoville townships, as well as Cape Town's DuNoon, Joe Slovo, Ocean View, and Khyatelitsha townships. Increased vigilance must be exercised around central districts - in Johannesburg: the historic downtown area and the bus station district; in Cape Town: Bo-Kaap; in Durban: the seafront and the Victoria embankment.

Credit card fraud is also a common crime, including in bars and restaurants where perpetrators target wealthy clients. Furthermore, it is recommended that individuals only use ATMs located inside of banks and withdraw cash during the day to avoid being robbed. ATMs in service stations should be strictly avoided.

The number of violent attacks perpetrated against tourists in isolated areas has increased in the Mpumalanga province along the border with Kruger National Park and in the Drakensberg Royal National Park (KwaZulu-Natal). Visiting these areas alone is not advised.

There have also been reports of criminal gangs using spotters at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg (JNB). In July 2017, authorities stepped up a crackdown on criminal incidents at the airport and on surrounding roads, including additional security screening within the airport, an increased police presence, and sporadic roadblocks on access roads to the airport.

SOCIOPOLITICAL RISKS

South Africa has been racked by sociopolitical tensions over past years and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has been beset by both by political infighting and decreasing public support. Tarnished by various scandals and criticized for its mismanagement of the country, the outcome of the August 3, 2016 municipal vote reflected the waning popularity of President Jacob Zuma and the ANC, which has been weakened by internal tensions and the erosion of the party's traditional constituency. While the ANC ultimately won the election, it saw significant defeats in several of its usual strongholds.

Political tensions have risen significantly since March 2017, sparked by Zuma's dismissal of a minister that resulted in a split within the ANC. This led to renewed calls by various members of the ANC, the political opposition, and the public for Zuma to step down. Despite numerous controversies, including accusations of corruption and misuse of public funds, Zuma, who has been in power since 2009, is likely to remain in office until the new leader of the party is chosen in December 2017.

General elections are expected to be held in 2019, for which incumbent President Zuma is ineligible to run.

SOCIOECONOMIC RISKS

South Africa has traditionally been the economic powerhouse of sub-Saharan Africa. Driven by strong growth in the 1990s and 2000s, the country has made significant progress in ameliorating poverty.

However, sluggish economic recovery since the 2008-2009 financial crisis has exacerbated enduring socioeconomic disparities that follow racial lines and were solidified during Apartheid. The government has struggled to bring its significant budget deficit under control and to address mounting public debt and deteriorating prospects for domestic growth. Recent political uncertainty has intensified the country's poor economic outlook, and civil unrest is a significant problem across the country. Strikes and demonstrations driven by socioeconomic and political concerns occur on a regular basis, denouncing the government's shortcomings in providing basic public services (e.g. electricity, drinking water, social benefits).

Xenophobic violence remains a risk in South Africa. In February 2017, a wave of xenophobic attacks against migrants resulted in extensive destruction to businesses, vandalism, and arson of houses in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Violent events occur regularly and exclusively target migrants from other African countries.

Moreover, unions are powerful in South Africa and the country is accustomed to strikes across multiple sectors - usually in relation to wage demands - which may become violent. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the largest of the country's three main trade union federations, most recently held a nationwide anti-corruption strike in September 2017.

Protests and demonstrations may occur at any place at short notice. As demonstrations can easily lead to violence, it is recommended to avoid all gatherings and protests.

TERRORISM

Although no successful terrorist attacks have recently occurred in South Africa, experts have remained cautious regarding the country's susceptibility to such attacks, and have thus encouraged the government to take measures to thwart the development of terrorist cells throughout the country.

Authorities have successfully prevented several planned attacks within the country, including those believed to have been targeting Western diplomatic missions. On July 11, 2016, security forces foiled a planned attack in Pretoria which would have targeted the US Embassy and Jewish institutions' buildings, and was planned by two nationals already under police surveillance.

There has been evidence to suggest that Islamic State (IS) has established some (though limited) networks for recruitment in the country. In the past year, there have been several cases reported of both South African and foreign nationals with suspected affiliation to Salafist Jihadist groups attempting to enter the country from conflict zones including Syria, Libya, and Iraq. Additionally, there is also a latent threat posed by individuals inspired by various "lone actor" terrorist attacks. Such attacks typically target busy public spaces and large gatherings, as well as areas popular with foreigners.

HEALTH

Prior to departure, travelers should purchase health insurance covering overseas care and medical repatriation, the latter being mandatory in case of a significant or urgent health issue. Private hospitals in the country are of good quality, but very expensive. Even in an emergency, a foreign patient without payment guarantees or health insurance can be denied entry and care.

Although South Africa faces some significant public health risks, they primarily afflict poorer communities.

Though the risk of contracting malaria is low, small-scale outbreaks are occasionally reported. In October 2017, the Kruger National Park management  issued an advisory warning for the area surrounding the park in Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. There were also reports of malaria in October 2017 in the Pretoria region, which is considered unusual.

Moreover, cases of Rift Valley fever and West Nile virus - both transmitted by mosquitoes - have been reported in the country.

The parasitic infection schistosomiasis (bilharzia) is present in some water bodies in the country. The parasite enters the human body through the skin. Avoid swimming or paddling in fresh water lakes and streams or walking barefoot outdoors, and boil drinking water.

Food hygiene may be satisfactory in major cities, but in rural areas it varies more widely, especially in terms of water quality. Diarrheal diseases such as cholera may occur. It is recommended to only drink bottled water, to avoid uncooked or undercooked food, and wash hands several times a day.

Moreover, it is necessary to take precautions against HIV/AIDS. According to 2017 UNAIDS data, South Africa has one of the largest HIV epidemics in the world, with 7.1 million living with HIV in 2016, and an 18.9 percent prevalence in adults.

South Africa is regularly affected by measles epidemics, an infectious disease transmitted through contact with nose and throat mucus of an infected person, and through sneezing and coughing of infected persons. The disease mainly affects young children and remains a leading cause of infant mortality. A vaccine exists.

Though there is no yellow fever threat in South Africa, a certificate of immunization is required to enter the territory for travelers over one year of age coming from an endemic zone or those who transited more than 12 hours through an airport in a country where there is a risk of yellow fever transmission. Travelers who are not able to present this certificate may be denied entry to the territory by authorities.

TRANSPORTATION

Most modes of transportation are considered relatively safe (roads, Gautrain, national airlines, etc.).

South Africa has good airport infrastructure serving large cities. South African airlines (domestic and low-cost) operate in accordance with international safety standards. It is advised to remain vigilant in airports, as numerous baggage thefts are reported. Similarly, cases of travelers who were followed from the airport to their home to be attacked, have been recorded. It is advisable to organize your arrival at the airport prior to departure.

The Gautrain high-speed rail line linking Johannesburg and OR Tambo International Airport as well as Pretoria can be taken safely. It is recommended, however, to not use the old railway line "Metro" between Johannesburg and Pretoria, where many bandits operate. Management of the rail network is often criticized by South Africans who denounce the insufficient amount of funds given to this sector.

Major highways crossing the country are in good condition. However, secondary roads - especially in provinces of Eastern Cape and Limpopo - are often poorly maintained and/or unpaved. While driving in South Africa, remain alert for animals, people walking alongside the road, dangerous overtaking, and lack of lighting in some areas. Driving in rural areas at night should be strictly avoided. Roads around North Kwazulu and Zuzuland are particularly dangerous at night, as numerous robberies were reported, especially on secondary roads. Fatal car accidents occur frequently as vehicles are poorly maintained and there is a general lack of respect for road rules.

The use of a chauffeured vehicle is recommended to get acclimated to a city's environment. It is worth noting that in South Africa motorists drive on the left side of the road, which will require special attention for those accustomed to driving on the right.

Furthermore, it is essential to be particularly vigilant on roads, as thieves are known to employ various methods to stop a vehicle (e.g. placing stones on the road, simulating car breakdown, impersonating and dressing like police officers, or hitchhiking). Finally, it is recommended to keep belongings out of sight and to lock car doors while driving. When traveling over long distances, cars should be stocked with adequate supplies of water, food, and fuel. Ensure that the vehicle contains spare mechanical parts (wheels, cables, etc.) and has an effective means of telecommunication.

Tourists and business travelers should never travel alone or at night; it is best to travel in groups of at least three. Travelers are also advised to avoid taking public transit and to instead travel by chauffeured car as much as possible. Driving should be limited as much as possible to daylight hours and windows should remain rolled up and doors locked. Avoid minibus services due to the dangerous driving practices of bus drivers and potential mechanical failures of old, worn vehicles.

NATURAL RISKS

The Cape region may experience heavy rains, floods, and landslides during the austral winter (June to August).

Many areas, especially in the province of Western Cape (Cape region), are also affected by bush fires during the austral summer (December to February), which tend to cause extensive material damage and traffic problems. In January 2017, significant wildfires caused the destruction of several properties in Somerset West. 

INFRASTRUCTURE

The use of mobile and internet telephones is widespread in the country. Mobile phone reception tends to be good in cities and major towns, but may be sporadic in more rural areas.

LEGAL

Foreign nationals should always carry some form of identification (e.g. passport). Identification must be shown to authorities upon request.

Local regulations regarding entry and exit of foreign and South African minors, effective since June 2015, stipulate that all parents are required to present a certificate confirming their relation to their children when entering and leaving South African territory. This rule applies at all border points in the country. Such documents must be translated by a certified translator and copies are not accepted by South African officials.

Climate

The climate in South Africa varies considerably from one region to another. The northwest is arid while the central and northeastern areas are less so. The monsoon brings heavy rains in the summer (January-April), particularly to the Johannesburg coast. Temperatures are highest from December until March (summer). Temperatures can fall below freezing in winter months and snow is not rare at higher elevations, notably in the Drakensberg mountain range.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +27 Police: 110

Electricity

Voltage: 220/230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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