Driving/Crime in South Africa

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Sep 18th, 2004, 02:56 PM
  #1
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Driving/Crime in South Africa

Hi all,

We have 10 days in South Africa next May/June before starting the Botswana part of our trip. After studying this board, I'm planning to spend 5 days in Cape Town and the wine country area, flying to Johannesburg, renting a car, and driving to the Kruger/Blyde Canyon/Panaramic route area and stay for 4 days. We can do some hiking and maybe some self-drive game viewing to practice for Botswana. We will then drive back to Joburg and stay over night before flying to Maun, etc.

My question is how safe is it to do this drive from Joburg to the Kruger area. I did not give this another thought, but the travel agent I've been working with literally will not arrange a rental car (not that I need him to) b/c he says the crime makes driving not safe. I don't plan to drive in Joburg, just pick up the car at the airport and driving onto Kruger.

Thoughts?
Judy
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Sep 18th, 2004, 05:42 PM
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hi linjudy,
i rented a car and drove from j'burg to kruger in june 2000 and had absolutely no problems. the roads are great and very easy to follow. we made sure to do most of our driving during daylight hours (for safety and for seeing signs etc) but other than that, you should have no trouble. in fact at one point we got a flat tire and luckily were close to a service station. the people there fixed the rim and refused to charge us any money. the people are much more friendly than many other parts of the world. if you have time, i would definitely prefer the drive than taking a charter flight.
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Sep 19th, 2004, 02:08 AM
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We drove from Kruger to Jo'burg on our recent trip.

Your agent would be doing his job if he simply made sure he helped you understand where the crime hotspots are on the various routes between K and J but he's doing a disservice by refusing to book you entirely.

After doing my research I decided that I was happy to drive in the region but wanted to avoid HazyView and White River areas where some car related crime seemed to be centred.

We drew up an itinerary that did not take us through those areas.

We never felt unsafe.
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Sep 19th, 2004, 08:29 AM
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Thanks, Kavey. Agree with you on the agent.

What kinds of "car crimes" are prevalent? How did you do your research?

Also, interesting you bring up the Hazyview area. In looking at the map, this seems like one of the areas that's close enough to Kruger that we may be able to base ourselves in one place and not necessarily stay in the park. Is this workable? Given we'll be going to Botswana, I'm not too keen on spending the mega $$ needed to stay in a private camp in Kruger. At the same time, we don't think we want a rest camp either. That leaves precious few options inside the park.
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Sep 20th, 2004, 01:10 AM
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My research was in itself very subjective but I did a lot of searching on google for reports and feedback from travellers to this region.

I posted on various travel forums that I found.

I also looked through newspaper archives for articles on crimes etc.

At the end of the day one can't get a full picture but I decided, with the advice I'd received, to avoid Hazyview and White River.

That said, some people insisted that because they had driven through these locations once two years ago that I was silly to even worry and would be safe. My feeling was that I did have cause to worry about crime rates, car jackings and muggings and so on, in this area and didn't want to take the chance.

We changed our itinerary to go through Swaziland which I wanted to see anyway and stayed overnight at Berg-en-Dal inside the park...
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Sep 20th, 2004, 01:28 AM
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I spent three weeks in SA last October - hiring a car and driving in the Cape area and also from Joburg down to the Drakensberg to Durban. I think all guidebooks mention that dirving at night is not a good idea. Once we did end up driving back to Capetown in the dark but it was early evening not late at night... I was a little bit uncomfortable about it but there were plenty of cars taking the same route and we did stay on the main road into town. (note: SA drivers can sometimes drive dangerously - they come up very close to you at high speed trying to overtake. Not sure what driving style you are used to but we found it dangerous). We also drove from Joburg Aiport to Limpopo (north) for a Safari and then down to the Drakensberg and then to Durban. Interestingly on the main road to the Kruger which we took for part of the journey there were huge signs all over alerting drivers for the danger of car jacking along the stretch. THis was the only time, again.. About 100 miles from Joburg towards the Kruger where we saw these signs. Apart from carjacking there are other dangers: apart from the driving sometimes locals can wonder off and on onto the road which can cause accidents. To summarize: drive carefully, drive during the day, drive on the main roads to get to your destination , be cautious if you see any police barricades as this could be fake.
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Sep 20th, 2004, 03:10 AM
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As JC said, we also avoided driving in the dark. That did take some research on driving times etc because travelling in winter meant early sunset times.

Anytime we drove through an area we weren't sure about we tended to take steps as advised in our guide books such as not pulling up right behind the person in front at traffic lights but leaving a car's length between so could pull away in case of problem.

We never once felt unsafe driving in Cape Town/ winelands or anywhere along the garden route - even during the evenings. Not at all.

Generally we felt safe in most places...
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Sep 20th, 2004, 08:49 AM
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Our most recent trip to South Africa was in May-June 2004. We drove north from Jo'burg to the northernmost part of Kruger Park, through the park, through Swaziland, and back to Jo'burg on some secondary roads as well as primary roads. In Jo'burg we drove after dark coming home from restaurants. We had a flat tire in a rural area, and got it fixed in the next small town. We had no problems with crime.

Most of the car crime is highjacking of expensive cars. There is a large "industry" of this -- cars are stolen, taken immediately to Zimbabwe, and from there are resold all over the continent. If your car isn't a luxury car, a highjacking of it is very unlikely.

Crimes against tourists are rare in SA, but they get lots of press. Does your travel agent really know anything about South Africa, of his own knowledge? Or is he basing his refusal on on hearsay?
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Sep 20th, 2004, 09:50 AM
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Just wondering...did you end up using a US agent or a SA agent?

I was in this area in 2001, but not since. Stayed at a lovely inn outside Hazyview. At the time, I had an SA guide/driver (travelling alone, and didn't want to deal with right hand drive!) and we drove all over this area. During the day. Of course things could have changed since then, but I do wonder about the perception from the US vs. the reality of living in SA.

By the way I know that exchange rates have changed since 2001, but getting a driver/guide was not all that expensive, and was well worth it, I thought. Did an learned MUCH more than I could have on my own. Wonder what this costs these days?

Another analogy: if you were travelling to Miami, there are plenty of carjackings of tourists here. But I have relatives in Miami, and they haven't stopped driving at night...nor do travel agents refuse to rent them cars. Just makes me wonder...my guess: you are using a US agent who is thinking "my liability".
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Sep 20th, 2004, 10:39 AM
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We've driven extensively in SA, and never a problem. Drive only in daytime. Stay on national highways, major roads. Study your map beforehand, write down the directions, etc. - know you way. Use your A/C, lock doors and windows. Never pick anyone up. Watch for people walking along the roads. Never leave bags un attended in your car. Have a working cell phone in the car, practice using it, and have emergency numbers written down and very, very handy. Juts follow thse simple ideas and it will increase safety.
 
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Sep 20th, 2004, 02:22 PM
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We recently returned from S.A., Botswana and Zimbabwe. We did not drive, but fear of crime was not my main (nor even my secondary) consideration. When we chatted with locals about driving in those countries, nearly all strongly advised against driving at night. Not because of crime, however. But, because large animals ofter enter the roadways, usually without warning. I was told of more than one story of friends who were killed or seriously injured in nighttime collisions with elephants and large antelopes.
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Sep 20th, 2004, 05:40 PM
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Thanks for all the responses. We've travelled (and driven) all over the world and this is the first time I've been warned about crime while driving. I can't imagine that we look wealthy enough to be carjack victims!

We will avoid driving in the dark, rent an average car, and take all normal precautions.

Judy

PS: Ended up with an US agent that quoted the same rate for Botswana. In the end I felt a little bit more comfortable w/someone local given the big deposit. But I think I will arrange the SA portion of the trip myself and not use the agent.
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Sep 20th, 2004, 11:18 PM
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Hi,
I second the advice given above. We drove a similar route a couple of years ago, and had no problems. Of course we took the usual precautions, kept our belongings out of sight (no bags on the back seat for example), avoided driving after dark, etc.

The main reason we were given for not driving after dark (in rural areas) was that there are often animals and people on the roads, and it's not uncommon for people to drive around with no lights! And of course the ubiquitous minibus taxis are not known for their safe driving records...

We also checked with the staff at our lodge to find out if there were any areas we should avoid driving through, or anything we should be aware of. Around Hazyview we were advised to avoid driving at "rush hour", around 4-5 pm because of all the schoolkids and workers walking home on the road, and the large number of minibus taxis which drive like maniacs, pulling out, stopping or turning with little or no warning.

When people drive up close behind you wanting to overtake, the etiquette in South Africa is to move over to the hard shoulder and let them pass. Trucks or slower moving vehicles will also do the same for you. It's then common to flash your hazard lights as a "thank you".
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Sep 21st, 2004, 12:57 AM
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I have family in Miami and have been there often and I have to say that I'd be more worried about driving there or encountering crime there than I would in South Africa.

There is crime, of course. It's not Disneyland. But the percentage of it that's perpetrated against tourists is actually very low, from what I have read.
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