In the last five years South Africa has been ranked by travel experts as one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Every year more and more people are choosing South Africa as a place to spend their vacations. In 2006 over 8 million tourists arrived in South Africa and that figure more than doubled in 2010. Despite these incredible numbers, there is one factor that continues to hamper the tourism industry in South Africa. That factor is crime.
The issue of crime in South Africa is a complex one. At Lark Tours often the first thing we hear from travelers is I would love to go to South Africa but what about the crime? Our response is yes, South Africa does have a high crime rate, one of the highest in the world, but the depressing news you hear about crime in South Africa is only part of the picture. It is our goal to present to you an expanded perspective of the crime issue in South Africa. Hopefully this will help you make an informed decision if you are considering visiting South Africa.
Let’s take a look at some of the facts:
- Let’s start with the worst, most publicized fact about South Africa’s crime issue: South Africa has roughly 50 murders per day. Though this is certainly a terrible fact, it is highly misleading. Why is that? Murder rates are traditionally measured using the number of murders per 100,000 people. Using that measurement, South Africa had 40.4 murders per 100,000 people during 2006/2007. That is, of course, still a very high statistic. But, it is important that you put this statistic into perspective before you make any judgments. In 2006 Washington, D.C. had 29.7 murders per 100,000 people. In 2005 that number was 35.4. Three years before this in 2003 it had 44.7 murders per 100,000 people. Have you or your family ever had the least concern about visiting Washington, D.C.? In 2006 Birmingham, Alabama had 44.5 murders per 100,000 people and St. Louis, Missouri had 37.2 murders per 100,000.
- Most contact crimes (defined by the police as murder, attempted murder, rape, assault with intent to do serious bodily harm, common assault, indecent assault, aggravated robbery, street muggings, car hijackings, house break-ins, bank robberies, and common robbery) in South Africa take place between people who knew each other according to the South African Police Services’ (SAPS) recent Annual Report. In 2006/2007, it reported that this was the case in 81.5% of murders, 75.9% of rapes, 89% of assaults with intent to do grievous bodily harm, and 89.3% of common assault. In 61.9% of murders, the victims and perpetrators were related to each other.
- SAPS reports that most contact crimes took place in impoverished township areas, not in popular tourist spots, hotels, etc.
- According to this same report there was a decrease in contact crimes of 3.4% during 2006/2007, which continues the five-year trend of steadily decreasing crime rates in South Africa.
- According to the 2006 State of Cape Town report, the high crime rates are predominantly concentrated in certain township areas where there has been a rise in drug-related crime and where the onset of crime bosses and gangs have taken over in the absence of adequate law enforcement. These areas, according to the report, are key contributors to the crime rate in the country. This is true for all cities across South Africa.
- Crime statistics among tourists to South Africa is very low. Most crimes committed against tourists are petty thefts. Based on available statistics, the chance of a tourist experiencing a violent crime (physical assault, mugging, gang attack, rape, or hijacking) is less than 0.67 %. If you take into account that most crimes happen in non-tourist areas, that percentage drops even further.
- In non-violent crimes such as house burglaries South Africa is safer than countries such as Australia, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Canada.
- For every 10 tourists that visit South Africa one job is created. Tourism is the third largest contributor to South Africa’s GDP. World Cup is being hosted by South Africa in 2010. All this to say, the South African government and its people are acutely aware of the importance of tourism and all efforts are being made to curtail crime.
- South Africa is increasing its police force from the current 164,000 officers to 192,000 officers by 2010. It is also restructuring its police force for quicker deployment time and better administrative ability.
- People leaving South Africa after vacation rate their experience very highly. 99% of people say they would love to visit South Africa again and would recommend it to a friend. To put this in context, only 94% of tourists leaving Australia responded similarly.
While we could continue to provide you with statistics and facts, the point that there are many millions of people that visit South Africa every year and how have fun-filled and exciting vacations. When asked, almost all of them would love to return to South Africa for another vacation. Is crime a problem in South Africa? Yes, but much of it takes place in dangerous, often impoverished areas between individuals who know each other. Are there any incidents of crime involving tourists? Yes there are, but most of them are petty crimes.
In case you are still worried you can further decrease your chances of being the victim of a crime in South Africa by doing two things. First, be smart in how your travel and take some precautions. We offer some suggestions on how to do so in our article Safety and Precautions in Africa. Second, you can travel with a reputable organization that has a thorough knowledge of the area.