Vital safety tips for women travelling alone in South Africa – Business and leisure travel
A recent Asher and Lyric survey gathered data from a variety of trusted international sources to create a ‘Women’s Danger Index’, ranking the countries’ safety for solo female travellers.
It revealed that South Africa ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for women to travel alone, according to the Index, which helps you find the worst (and safest) countries for solo female travel.
The index was calculated using eight factors and weighted towards the following three, as they were deemed the most reliable indicators of safety for foreign female travellers:
- Percentage of women who feel safe walking alone at night;
- International homicide of women;
- Non-partner sexual violence against women.
The country that scored by far the worst in all of the above was South Africa.
Despite the security risks, thousands of women travel to South Africa and Africa annually.
The majestic wildlife, oceans, mountains, natural treasures and affordability make it one of the most appealing holiday destinations in the world, not to mention Africa’s warm and friendly people. The African continent is also seen as a booming growth market, attracting business investment and business travel into various regions across it. South Africa is at the heart of driving business growth with a growing number of international businesses setting up regional headquarters in the major cities like Joburg and Cape Town.
So, if travel to South Africa is on your cards and is a must for either leisure or business, we have outlined a few necessary precautions and do’s and don’ts that can help you to enjoy the beauty and opportunity that South Africa offers, in safety:
How to stay safe – safety precautions
Mitigate the primary risks that include:
- Walking alone at night on quiet streets or areas known for incidents of criminality. Stick to public spaces with a high density of people, such as malls and shopping centres where there is generally a private security presence to avoid making yourself a target. Wherever possible walk in groups and preferable with a local;
- Hiking and sightseeing alone. Speak to your hotel concierge prior to venturing out for information on the safest and most widely used hiking trails. Find out whether there are any sightseeing tours to the destinations you have identified and try to remain in groups at all times. Make a note of emergency numbers e.g. national parks or ranger service for the hiking trail you’d like to walk;
- Openly displaying valuables and visiting potentially dangerous places like the townships on your own and not with official tour groups;
- Going out socialising at night on your own: there are many fantastic night spots in South Africa but as in most major cities of the world, it is important to be aware and take care in this type of environment. Never leave your drink unattended in clubs, bars or restaurants as ‘spiking’ of drinks does happen. Again, going out on the town with a local just makes good sense;
- Be aware of your surroundings and avoid isolated places. Try to be observant of people or vehicles that appear to be following you. If you feel you are being followed, proceed to a well-lit public place immediately such as a restaurant or mall and alert the security on site so that they can inform the police;
- Be sensible about where not to go alone and avoid going to the townships, CBDs, isolated beaches, isolated parking lots (especially at night), dodgy bars and clubs (etc.) on your own. A conversation with your hotel concierge should provide you with valuable information on which places to avoid and which places are safe to visit. However, even if a place or venue is deemed safe, ensure that you plan your visit appropriately. Have a set schedule in place in terms of drop off and collection times, and avoid using local taxis. Rather make use of a prearranged secure transfer (like an app-based service) or your hotel shuttle service. Most importantly, tell someone where you’re going and what time you expect to be back;
- Avoid petty crime and theft by protecting your valuables both in your accommodation and when out and about. Don’t openly display expensive items like cameras, iPads, laptops, jewellery and other valuables. Ensure that your handbag is clasped shut at all times and appropriately strapped across your body (and not simply over your shoulder). Do not leave your handbag underneath your seat where you cannot see it, or on the table when sitting at restaurants or bars, rather place it on an empty seat next to you or by your feet. If there is no open seat, loop the strap around the leg of your chair. Avoid leaving any other valuables such as cell phones or purses on the table while you eat. Rather store these items when they are not in use;
- Never leave your valuables unattended in your accommodation, or your room door unlocked. Make use of the room safe (if provided) or the hotel safe keeping service at the front desk. Always activate the emergency lock on your hotel room door and use the peephole if anyone knocks and wants to come in;
- Don’t carry large amounts of cash on your person. Rather use card facilities as a primary method of payment and carry a negligible amount of cash on you if necessary. Hand over your cash if confronted by a criminal, don’t resist;
- Inform the front desk/concierge at your resident accommodation about your travel plans for the day and your expected time of arrival back to the residence. Also inform a colleague or family member of your plans for the day and check in with them periodically;
- Be aware that tourist are targets so try to be inconspicuous and not come across as a ‘typical tourist’.
Getting around – secure transportation around the country
Travelling to and from airports
Airports offer rich pickings for criminals in many countries and South Africa is no different. In addition, be aware that visitors have been followed from airports to their hotels / residences and robbed on numerous occasions, especially in Joburg. It is therefore important to consider the following:
- Ensure that your travel documents, credit cards and driver’s license are on your person and secured at all times;
- Never leave your luggage unattended or in the care of a stranger;
- Do not allow a stranger to assist with your trolley or luggage. Should you require assistance, obtain it through the airport information desks and properly identified porters;
- Do not give strangers any information regarding your travel plans and accommodation, and pay close attention to suspicious or unwarranted attention in and around airport terminals;
- Do not accept assistance from taxi-touts. Ensure that transportation is arranged in advance through an authenticated service provider or via your hotel;
- It is generally safe to use Uber in South Africa, but always ensure you are getting into the correct Uber vehicle and that the driver and vehicle info correlates with the info on the app. Also make use of all in-app safety features. If you can afford to, use Uber Black as a rule;
- If you are hiring a car and driving yourself be sure to plan your route ahead. Always keep the car doors locked, windows up and valuables locked in the boot (trunk) of the car. Never stop to pick up strangers or stop to ask for directions in isolated spots or on major roads and check that you are not being followed;
- Be aware of hawkers and informal traders that approach your vehicle. Do not open your window to engage with them and ensure you do not have visible valuables either on your seat or on the passenger seat. Keep all valuables stowed away in the boot of the vehicle;
- Be alert at traffic lights and stop signs and always leave enough room to manoeuvre out of trouble should it be necessary. A rule of thumb is that you should be able to see the tyres of the vehicle in front of you touching the road – this will afford you enough space to swing the wheel left or right to take evasive action if necessary.
Threats of hijacking and what to do if this happens
- Hijackings are sadly a frequent occurrence on South African roads and although these criminal syndicates are generally after the motor vehicle and not the occupants, the encounters can turn violent in nature if the perpetrators feel as though the vehicle occupants pose a threat, or are non-compliant. NSA suggests that all frequent travellers and expats working in South Africa consider attending a course on security awareness and, more specifically, anti-hijack awareness training to equip them with the tools and mindset to prevent a hijacking situation, and if they aren’t able to prevent one, to survive it. Get in touch with NSA Global for more information on these training workshops;
- When using public transport use only reputable operators and transport services. Your hotel can assist with recommending a reliable service provider.
Personal Protection – taking extra precautions
- Be proactive and remember that your security is your responsibility. Research the regions you are visiting, be sure to plan your trip well in advance and always ensure you keep someone, whether a family member or an associate from your company or tour group, informed of your movements and whereabouts;
- If you are a business traveller or have the budget, you might consider the services of a Close Protection Officer or Security Driver while in transit or visiting unknown destinations within the country;
- Secure travel is a service that provides professional, safe personal transportation for individuals and business travellers and is a popular option for visitors.
Useful security contact numbers to keep on hand when travelling in South Africa:
Nationwide Police Emergency Response – 10111
Cell phone emergency call centre assistance – 112
Ambulance response, medical emergency response – 10177