Travel Alert Status
Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution
Violent crime, such as armed robbery, rape, carjacking, mugging, and "smash-and-grab" attacks on vehicles, is common. There is a higher risk of violent crime in the central business districts of major cities after dark.
Demonstrations, protests, and strikes occur frequently. These can develop quickly without prior notification, often interrupting traffic, transportation, and other services; such events have the potential to turn violent.
Safety and Security
Anti-American violence is not typical in South Africa, although in the past there have been isolated incidents perpetrated by parties unhappy about U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, the Department of State remains concerned about the continued worldwide threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. You are encouraged to review the most recent Worldwide Caution issued by the Department of State.
Xenophobic Attacks: South Africa has seen a number of attacks directed at refugees or immigrants from other African nations in recent years. Many of the attacks were centered in Johannesburg and the province of Gauteng in low-income neighborhoods and informal settlements, but other incidents have taken place throughout the country. Many individuals have been killed in these incidents, including targeted victims as well as bystanders. While there have been no reports of U.S. citizens or other non-African visitors being targeted, these incidents of mob violence have sprung up quickly and proven difficult for local authorities to control. U.S. citizen residents and visitors are advised to listen to local media for reports of such incidents and to avoid areas (primarily--but not limited to--townships) where they may be likely to occur.
Public Disturbances and Strikes: Organized or wildcat labor strikes occur regularly in South Africa. Service delivery protests also occur frequently and are generally motivated by poor residents’ frustrations with shortfalls in public service deliveries. While both types of disturbances – labor strikes and service delivery protests – are generally localized and normally occur well away from typical tourist destinations, these disturbances can develop quickly, unpredictably, and occasionally turn violent. Use caution and steer clear of any area where protests, demonstrations, or other public disturbances are taking place. During strikes by public workers, access to government offices, public hospitals and schools may be difficult due to protests, and should be avoided if possible. South Africa has many private medical facilities/services that may not be impacted by public-service strikes.
Public Transportation: Public transportation accidents involving trains, buses, minibus taxis and private cars are a regular occurrence in South African and past incidents have resulted in deaths or serious injuries. In addition, minibus taxis and buses have been targeted by criminal elements for hijacking and robbery. Often, the safety and security standards on public transportation systems – especially in urban areas and townships - in South Africa are not on par with what travelers would expect in the United States. The use of individual metered taxis from established taxi companies and tour buses is recommended. The Gautrain, which travels between the airport and Johannesburg/Pretoria, is considered a very reliable and safe mode of transportation.
Game Park/Safari Safety: While visiting game parks and reserves, it is dangerous to leave your 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 injuries.
Ocean Safety: If visiting South Africa’s expansive coastline, be mindful of the possible presence of sharks when swimming or engaging in water sports. In 2012, at the Fish Hoek beach and other areas of the Cape Town and Western Cape coastlines and at Port St. John’s in the Eastern Cape, several people were attacked by sharks, and some of the attacks were fatal. When a shark is spotted close to the shore, local authorities will sound a warning siren to notify swimmers if lifeguards and shark spotters are on duty.
Tragic accidents can occur when swimming in the ocean or walking/climbing on shore areas that are not designated and lifeguard-patrolled beaches. Visitors from the United States and elsewhere have drowned when swimming in coastal waters, where riptides, tides and wave patterns can change unexpectedly and overwhelm even excellent swimmers. Do not swim alone in isolated beach areas. Do not dive into unknown bodies of water, as hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.