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South Africa and Crime Prevention

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I've been reading the Forum and travel guides and State department info about travel in South Africa. My family of 5(all adults) will fly into OR Tambo, spent the night, then head to Victoria Falls first thing. Then back to Johannesburg for a few days before heading to Kruger, then Durban (battlefields), and finally Cape Town. We will be met at each airport and have escorted tours for the trip. We are experienced world travelers. My major concerns: luggage pilferage and purse snatching/mugging when out and about at night. Any advice? Any different precautions from traveling anywhere else in the world? For luggage, I plan on using locks and suitcase straps as deterrents, and the usual for carrying money. Do I really need a fake purse/wallet in case we are mugged, etc. Are credit cards readily accepted for dinners out in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg? We will ask hotels for advice on eating out and of course use Fodor's. Am I being overly paranoid? Anything else we should do?

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    We (a family of four Canadians) lived in Cape Town in 2004-2005 and again in 2011-2012 - we always felt perfectly safe. About the only precautions we took: we all carried cell phones, we drove with the doors of our vehicle locked (when we remembered!), we tried not to drive at night (drunk driving is a huge issue in SA), we didn't walk alone in areas that we thought were unsafe, I would check in and out with another family member when I went for my daily run, we tried to blend in as much as possible (I carried the local cloth grocery bags) and, when on the UCT campus, we kept our laptops and cell phones hidden (apparently muggers are of the impression that students have the best phones and often carry laptops - or so a campus security guard told me when he caught me carrying a laptop up to campus).

    If you will be a group of five and on an escorted tour, you should be fine. Your guide will no doubt offer guidance about where not to wander on your own, particularly at night. Take the same precautions you would in any big city - no flashy jewelery and watch your cameras.

    However, be careful. Our daughter (22yrs) remains in CT and was mugged about two weeks ago while walking home from work - the only incident of crime that our family has experienced on our numerous visits to South and East Africa. It was a quiet afternoon on her street, and she met a fellow walking towards her as she walked down her street. She knew she was in trouble when, after passing her, he turned and started following her. She took her cell out of her backpack and called a friend and then stood at the gate to a neighbour's house - she didn't want the fellow to know where she lived. As she talked on the phone, he came up to her, pulled a knife and demanded her phone, which she handed over immediately. He ran off up the street while our daughter madly rang the neighbour's doorbell. While she was doing this, the fellow took one look at the phone (it was an old and cheap flip phone - the police told her that muggers want BlackBerrys) and pitched it in a bush. Luckily, he did not come back for her backpack, which had her laptop and wallet. We can laugh about it now (the fact that her phone wasn't good enough for him), but there could have been a much more tragic outcome. My daughter and the neighbour retrieved the phone and then called police. The whole incident was caught on a nearby security camera.

    So, I would be the first to say you will be perfectly safe. Just be careful and sensible! Carry a fake wallet if you like - just be certain to put enough money in it so that you don't annoy a mugger. Frankly, I'd be quite prepared to hand over anything they ask for - it can be replaced! Just have photocopies of any crucial documents. My DH and I always have separate bank cards and credit cards, so that we have back-up in case one of us loses our wallet.

    Regarding luggage - of all the family and friends who came to visit during those two years, one lost a pair of jeans and the other a camera out of their (locked) luggage - both at the JNB airport. The camera was concealed in a shoe, so either it was seen on a security camera or the suitcase was well searched. Don't put anything of value in your suitcases.

    Have a wonderful time - you will love SA. CR

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    Don't be overly paranoid, just remember to be aware as you would any city anywhere when you're not familiar with areas. Your guide and/or hotel will advise safe areas and always recommend at night you use taxis. Never have large cameras, wear flashy jewelry or show money in public. Even if lost with a map, walk into a shop/building to get your bearings so you aren't sticking out as possible targets.

    I never travel with any electronics, but if you do... don't use in public - target, target, target. Hey, they steal iphones and others on the streets in NYC, so nothing new there.

    As with travel anywhere, it's not the time to leave your common sense at home - pack it!

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    As with any travel, always be aware of your surroundings. Do not automatically trust anyone in uniform (I know this is hard because we are used to trusting uniform-types). Ask for ID and to speak to a supervisor. Also, do not blindly trust ANYONE (ant this goes for anywhere in the world). When I was at Mala Mala, I heard a story from a couple who had decided to go on a South African safari as their first ever international trip. Unfortunately, they lost all of their luggage at the airport after they landed because someone came up to them in the line for customs and said they had been selected for a "special" customs inspection. Apparently, these "officials" took their luggage and were never seen again!

    As far as Cape Town goes, do not walk around in the evening. If you are out at dinner, take a cab back to your hotel/B&B (unless it's only a couple blocks away). The B&B I stayed at was very security conscious and made sure you were as safe as possible. Actually, they were putting up some barbed wire while I was there because I believe their patio furniture had been pilfered! They arranged taxis for us, etc., and I felt very protected while I stayed there. They are the ones who recommended not walking around at night. I didn't visit Jo'berg other than the airport and a hotel by the airport so I can't speak to safety in that city.

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