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how to stay safe in south africa

On the second Wednesday of the month, Kristin Addis from Be My Travel Muse writes a guest column featuring tips and advice on solo female travel. It’s an important topic I can’t adequately cover, so I brought in an expert to share her advice. This month her column is on safety in South Africa.

At the dinner table back home in California, I asked my friends to name the first thing that came to their minds when they thought about South Africa. I expected them to say things like “elephants!” and “Lion King!” but instead “Ebola,” “soccer,” and “crime” were among the responses I got. When I told them that I would be traveling there by myself, they were horrified at the thought.

This is proof to me that much is misunderstood — or at the very least generalized and oversimplified — about this country, which has a lot more going for it than some misplaced Ebola rumors and a World Cup that took place a few years ago. South Africa is huge and diverse, spanning 471,000 square miles, with a population of over 53 million and eleven official languages.

South Africa is the first country where the locals have repeatedly told me that muggings and violent crime are a big problem and, according to most I’ve spoken with, on the rise. It seemed to me that South Africans were among the first to caution me about the dangers traveling around the country.

According to this post by the BBC, the rate of violent crime is the ninth highest in the world, and incidence of rape is the highest in the world. And in a 2012 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, South Africa had an annual intentional homicide rate of 30 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

While this may seem high, it’s lower than Detroit (54), Honduras (92), and Belize (44). Moreover, the homicide rate has gone down since apartheid ended, and there have been no murders in Cape Town’s five safest neighborhoods, where tourists tend to flock. It’s not a war zone — most violent crime takes places between people who know each other in dangerous neighborhoods that tourists don’t tend to visit. Tourists in South Africa are the targets mainly of petty crime.

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