Security in South Africa

Crime in South Africa

I was all too aware of the many crime issues in South Africa prior to us moving here – we couldn’t escape the doom-laden tales from the media, friends and colleagues. Interestingly, the most negative stories came from those people who had never actually been to South Africa, which says more about those individuals than the country itself. However, the enormously high violent crime rate here cannot and should not be ignored or glossed over.

All South Africans know that in the past 15 years there has been an abnormal increase in violence and crime. Hardly a minute goes by without news of an assault, raping, murder, hijacking, home invasion or some other type of violent crime – most often against innocent people quietly going about their normal community respected everyday lives. To reduce the danger of being attacked in the street or at home, of being the victim of a crime or simply of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, it has become imperative for law abiding citizens to learn how to defend themselves and protect their property effectively. [Source]

Home security

Security measures are in place: houses are generally surrounded by high walls topped with CCTV, metal spikes and electric fences. Security grills cover all the windows and doors and we were told to keep them shut and locked at all times. This becomes second nature in a very short time.

More unusual is the ‘safe area’ within the house – a solid door with many locks and bolts which closes off part of the house and is in place in case of a home invasion; a chilling prospect. This ‘keep’ door has to be locked each night to provide an extra layer of security. Burglars here want you to be at home so you can give them access to valuables.

We were given a fleeting security briefing on arrival: how to work the house alarm, and advice such as, “get ‘smash and grab’ film put on the car windows”, “watch out for car-jackers”, “don’t walk anywhere”, and “don’t go out after dark”. As ‘after dark’ is any time after 6pm this would be incredibly limiting, so on further advice from people who have successfully lived here for some time, we ignore that bit and use great care.

A couple of months after our arrival we attended an official security course. Presented by a local consultant, we were given crime statistics (scary) and advice on how to deal with life in South Africa (empowering).

The course was terrifying and encouraging at the same time. Terrifying to hear which horrific crimes occur, how often they happen and the fact that in South Africa a life is worthless and taken easily. Encouragement and empowerment came with being given practical methods to avoid incidents and even what to do in the case of being the victim. I sincerely hope I never, ever have to use what I learned, but it’s good to be prepared.

Crime in South Africa

Certain crimes were examined in depth:


According to SAPS, the majority of all carjackings occur as the victim arrives at home and pulls into the driveway, with the carjackers pulling up behind the victim in order to block an escape path. Victims who resist or fail to comply with demands may be killed or injured seriously. In the worst case scenarios, robbers force the victim into the house, rob the house of its valuables, and drive away with the loot and the victim’s car. [Source]

Car-jacking, known here as hi-jacking, also happens at road intersections, traffic lights and other places on the road. It’s so prevalent that sign posts indicate hot spots. Distraction techniques exist to persuade or force you to stop your car and get out, at which point your car will be stolen, usually at gunpoint.

Prevention comes with an awareness of your surroundings, giving yourself room to manoeuvre and not stopping. If it happens to you, it’s only a car – let them take it.

Smash and grab

As above, smash and grab is common and could occur any time you stop your car. Put any valuables into the boot (trunk) of the car and keep them hidden. There is a special film to put over your car windows which prevents the glass breaking.

Home invasion

These crimes are often violent in nature and can occur at any time. In many cases, criminals prefer to attack when the occupant is home because: 1) the residential alarm is off and, 2) the occupant can identify where valuables are kept. The recently released South African Police Service (SAPS) 2012 crime statistics indicate that the number of home invasions remains at an alarmingly high rate, with a total of 6,336 reported in Gauteng Province alone (Gauteng Province includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria). [Source]

The basics of how to deal with this particular crime are to do everything possible to prevent it happening in the first place. And if it does happen, give them everything they want and do everything they tell you. They have guns.

  • Awareness is the key.
  • Don’t be naïve.
  • Don’t tempt fate.
  • Take precautions.
  • Be aware at all times and look around you constantly. Notice small changes and act immediately.
  • It’s better to call for help based on gut instinct than become another victim of violent crime.

We left the course a little more paranoid, a lot more realistic yet still happy to be living in this beautiful, fascinating country.


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  1. I have lived in Northern California all of my life. I am shocked after reading about “panic rooms” and “rape gates”! I had no idea SA was so dangerous. My heart goes out to you. Stay safe.

    1. And yet we are horrified to hear about the USA schools having ‘active shooter’ drills ‍♀️

      Anyway, I moved back to the UK 4 years ago now, and felt more secure in SA than I do here, it’s all a matter of perspective, I think.

  2. Wow. Presumably this article refers to Joburg – it’s worth pointing out that different cities are, well, different, and even within one city people can have very different experiences. I left SA 11 years ago so my experience isn’t the most up-to-date, but even so: I’ve never heard of anyone I know having a “safe area” or panic room in SA. I’ve never heard of this smash and grab film. I’ve never heard of anyone being advised to stay in after dark. (Fwiw, I’ve lived in both Cape Town and Joburg, and have friends in Durban.)

    Crime is a huge problem – no argument. Pretty much everyone I know has experienced it in some way (ranging from muggings to home invasions), sometimes fairly horrifically, and one of the reasons I’m glad to be living elsewhere for now is that it’s really nice *not* to have to deal with that reality (and the bigger, background problem of massive inequality that’s behind the crime). So I don’t mean to claim that everything’s rosy. Just that this particular picture isn’t at all familiar to me.

    1. Hi, thank you for commenting. Yes, I should think a lot has changed in the eleven years you’ve been away! I’m in Pretoria and I can assure you that the safe area in the house does exist as does ‘smash and grab’ film for car windows.

      1. Oh I certainly didn’t doubt you – sorry if it sounded that way! Just pointing out that this is not a universal experience… quite possibly something that applies more to the expat lifestyle than to locals?

        I may be out of SA but I am very much in touch with my old friends and family, local news, etc. I don’t think things actually have changed that much, at least not when it comes to crime.

      2. This may be a bit after the fact, but I only happened upon this article now. Safe areas have existed for years yes. We moved to Johannesburg in 1998 from CT and all our houses had a wrought iron gate seperating the sleeping area from the living area. Before moving to Kenya 3 and half years ago we lived in CT again for 2 years and again our house near Kirstenbosch had the safety gate. In Zimbabwe and Zambia it is know as a ‘rape gate’ amongst the expats. Here in Kenya we also have safe havens but have yet to use it or our alarm. One has to live and experience your home or temporary country and honestly cannot stay home all of the time. I have always (in SA and here in Kenya) drove around after dark as I have 3 teenagers and a travelling husband. Just be aware and look after yourself, nobody else can do it.

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