With Johannesburg’s extremes of poverty and wealth, its brash, get-ahead culture and the presence of illegal firearms, it’s hardly surprising that the city can be a dangerous place. Despite its unenviable reputation, it’s important to retain a sense of proportion about potential risks and not to let paranoia ruin your stay. Several hundred thousand foreign football fans visited Johannesburg during the 2010 World Cup, with not a single noteworthy incident. Remember that most crime happens in the outlying townships, and that the vast majority of Jo’burgers are exceedingly friendly; as in all major cities, taking simple precautions is likely to see you through safely.
If you’re wandering around on foot, the most likely risk of crime is from mugging. Although significant effort has gone into making the riskiest central areas safer – such as the installation of security cameras – remain alert when exploring the central business district (CBD), Braamfontein and Newtown, do your touring in daylight, use busy streets and never be complacent.
Joubert Park, Hillbrow and Berea are regarded as no-go zones; Yeoville and Observatory are safer and generally fine if you’re confident or have someone to show you around. You’re very unlikely to be mugged on the streets of Melville, Parktown or Rosebank. If you want to walk around one of the riskier areas, study maps beforehand (not on street corners), don’t walk around with luggage and avoid groups of young men (the main offenders). If you’re carrying valuables, make a portion of them easily available, so that muggers are likely to be quickly satisfied. Never resist muggers. You’re unlikely to be mugged on public transport but, as always, it’s wise to stay alert, especially at busy spots such as Park Station and taxi ranks, and to be extra vigilant when getting off minibus taxis. Waiting for buses in the northern suburbs is generally safe.
If you’re driving around, note that there is a small risk of “smash and grab” theft or carjacking; keep all bags and valuables locked up in the trunk, lock the car doors and keep windows up when driving after dark or when in central areas. Be aware of your surroundings when leaving or returning to your car and entering driveways and always seek out secure – preferably guarded – parking; in Jo’burg this is in ample supply. Although urban legend suggests you can cruise through red lights at night, this is dangerous and illegal; stop, keep a good distance from the car in front and be aware of anyone moving around the car.
Don’t expect too much from the police, who normally have priorities other than keeping an eye out for tourists. In the city centre and Rosebank, private guards, identifiable by their yellow armbands and, stationed on street corners, provide an effective anti-crime presence on the street.