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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: South Africa

South Africa: Republic of South Africa
Capital: Pretoria; note - Cape Town is the legislative center and Bloemfontein the judicial center
Population: 43,647,658
Currency: rand (ZAR)
Languages: 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu
Religions: Christian 68% (includes most whites and Coloreds, about 60% of blacks and about 40% of Indians), Muslim 2%, Hindu 1.5% (60% of Indians), indigenous beliefs and animist 28.5%
Borders: Botswana 1,840 km, Lesotho 909 km, Mozambique 491 km, Namibia 967 km, Swaziland 430 km, Zimbabwe 225 km

Although South Africa is in many respects a developed country, much of its population lives in poverty. All major urban areas have modern, world class hotels and tourist facilities. Game parks and areas most often visited by tourists have a wide range of facilities. Food and water are generally safe, and a wide variety of consumer goods and pharmaceuticals are readily available. The capital is Pretoria, while the seat of parliament is Cape Town and the Constitutional Court, South Africa's highest court, is located in Johannesburg.

Areas most frequented by tourists, such as major hotels, game parks, and beaches, have generally been unaffected by political violence. Nevertheless, travelers are encouraged to be vigilant and avoid any large gathering, particularly protests and demonstrations. The possibility of violence, including threats against American interests, should not be discounted, particularly in times of heightened world tension.

While visiting game parks and reserves, it is dangerous to leave one's vehicle or otherwise be on foot, even in the presence of a guide. Several incidents of wild animal attacks on tourists in the region have resulted in deaths or serious injury.

Although the vast majority of visitors complete their travels in South Africa without incident, visitors should be aware that criminal activity, sometimes violent, occurs routinely. Notwithstanding government anti-crime efforts, violent crimes such as carjackings, muggings, "smash and grab" attacks on vehicles and other incidents are regularly reported by visitors and resident Americans.

Crimes against property, such as carjacking, have often been accompanied by violent acts, including murder. South Africa also has the highest incidence of reported rape in the world. Foreigners are not specifically targeted, but several have been the victims of rape. Victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical attention, including antiretroviral therapy against HIV/AIDS. Questions about how to receive such treatment should be directed to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Criminal activity, such as assault, armed robbery and theft, is particularly high in areas surrounding many hotels and public transportation centers, especially in major cities. Theft of passports and other valuables is most likely to occur at airports. A number of Americans have been mugged or violently attacked on commuter and metro trains, especially between Johannesburg and Pretoria. There have been several instances in which American travelers have been drugged to sleep by strangers they met and invited to their hotel rooms. The victims' beverage is surreptitiously "spiked" by the stranger. The victims awaken to find their valuables have disappeared. In at least one instance, an American traveler died after being robbed/drugged in this fashion.

In areas of Mpumalanga Province west of Kruger National Park, there have been violent attacks on foreign tourists. In the Western Cape, police resources have been strained by continuing gang conflicts and vigilante violence in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town. Some portions of the provinces of Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, such as the "Wild Coast," have significant levels of crime and inadequate medical services. Travelers may wish to contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate before embarking on trips to these particular areas.

Credit card fraud, counterfeit U.S. currency, and various check-cashing scams are frequently reported. Do not accept "assistance" from anyone, or agree to assist others with ATM transactions. Travelers should try to avoid using ATM machines after bank business hours. There have been reports of ATM machines retaining the card, the cardholder leaving the scene since they cannot remove the card, and criminals later returning to retrieve the card from the machine. When giving your credit card to a store or restaurant employee for processing, do not let them take the card out of your sight. Also beware of fraudulent schemes in which a caller from South Africa (who usually is not South African) attempts to win the confidence of an unsuspecting American, who is then persuaded either to provide privileged financial information or travel to South Africa to assist in a supposedly lucrative business venture. Anyone receiving such a solicitation is urged to see the U.S. Secret Service website at before providing personal financial information or making any financial commitments.

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating South African law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in South Africa are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

Private medical facilities are good in urban areas and in the vicinity of game parks, but they may be limited elsewhere.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning South Africa is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good to Excellent
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair to Good
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Good

Unlike the United States, where traffic moves on the right hand side of the road, traffic in South Africa moves on the left. Care must also be taken when crossing streets as a pedestrian.

Travelers should use caution at all times when driving, and especially avoid nighttime travel outside major cities. Road conditions are generally good. However, excessive speed, poor lighting on rural roads, and insufficient regulatory control of vehicle maintenance and operator licensing have resulted in a high and rapidly increasing number of traffic fatalities. Special care should be taken when passing others vehicles. A significant number of Americans have been killed in highway accidents in recent years. Drivers should also take care to avoid pedestrians crossing roads, including major highways.

Travelers are advised to carry mobile phones. U.S. mobile phones may not work in South Africa, but rental mobile phones are widely available. The nationwide number for the police flying squad is 10111, and the nationwide number for ambulance service is 10177. It is not necessary to dial an area code for these numbers, including from mobile phones. Callers from mobile phones may not necessarily be connected immediately to the nearest flying squad. The rate of response varies from to area to area, and is generally slower than response to 911 calls in the United States.

For specific information concerning South Africa driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance please contact the South Africa National Tourist Organization offices at telephone 1-800-822-5368.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of South Africa 's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of South Africa 's air carrier operations.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet web site at The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 9, 2004

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