Living in Johannesburg?
Safety in Johannesburg
The Most Important of All: Your Personal Safety
Johannesburg’s “rival” city, Cape Town, often prides itself with being much safer than Gauteng’s metropolis. Unfortunately, there is truth to this claim: Johannesburg can be a dangerous place, even by South African standards. Obviously, your personal experience of the city might be a different one, depending on which neighborhood you choose to settle in and whether or not you opt for the various security measures popular among expatriates. Of course you will not be constantly under threat, but you should be aware of the potential dangers.
These dangers are visible and widespread enough — occurring in all areas of the city, although in varying frequency — to prompt the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) of the US Department of State to rate the crime threat in Johannesburg as “critical”. The range of criminal activity in the city includes petty theft and pick-pocketing, scams, violent and confrontational crime such as robberies, and burglaries. All these crimes are carried out in various degrees of sophistication, often by groups of experienced perpetrators. Elaborate armed robberies targeted at businesses or cash transports have reportedly been on the rise in the past years but will most likely rarely affect expatriates.
Violence in general is often seen by criminals as a viable way of achieving whatever goals they had in mind. The threshold for resorting to violence is notoriously low among South Africa’s criminals — an armed mugger is likely to use their weapon if provoked. If you should ever find yourself in a situation in which you are threatened, do not try to resist or even fight back. As there is no way of being 100% safe of being robbed, no matter what neighborhood you might be in, it is best to make yourself as little of an obvious target as possible. Do not carry large amounts of cash or valuables with you. Make copies of your important documents and keep the originals in a safe location in your home. The website Rough Guides offers a fairly long list of safety tips for visitors, expats, and residents alike.
Security at Home
As we have already pointed out in our article on moving to Johannesburg, many expatriates and well-to-do citizens of Johannesburg opt for gated communities and compounds, which regularly feature camera surveillance, security personnel, as well as walls or fences. Johannesburg and Gauteng in general face a large number of home invasions, oftentimes with the victim being at home at the time of the burglary — the rising popularity and availability of high security gated communities is not a coincidence.
While these communities offer the highest possible level of security, they are not a guarantee for safety — as we have mentioned above, crime in Johannesburg can be carried out on an astonishing level of sophistication. However, even the most nervous of expats can feel at ease in one of the upscale compounds in the more affluent parts of Johannesburg. Again, it is entirely possible — and, for many expats, even probable — that you will not experience a lot of criminal activity during your time as an expat in Johannesburg. However, you should still be aware of the risks.
Even though the actual crime rate in Johannesburg has decreased in recent years, Gauteng’s largest city still cannot shake its infamous reputation. The city administration has heightened their efforts of combating crime, which can be seen in their Integrated Development Plan (IDP). The 2018/2019 review of the IDP includes measures on how they plan to tackle the issue of crime, such as increasing the police force’s numbers and visibility. Results might not be immediate, but the city has hopes of lowering crime rates even further in the years to come.
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