- Call yourself lucky.
- Take the following tips in this article seriously for your own safety.
Johannesburg is also called the New York of South Africa because it is the home of hustlers and dreamers, artists, and creatives.
But not because you can compare the safety level.
Whereas in most areas of New York I feel safe walking around by myself in the middle of the night as a solo female traveler, and even safer if I’m with walking with someone, I definitely can’t say the same about Joburg unfortunately.
While I came to absolutely love Joburg and its people, I have to admit I have felt uncomfortable and unsafe on a few occasions. Also, honestly, it took me a good two weeks to fall in love with the city and be sure how to navigate it. Becoming friends with locals changed everything
Nevertheless, I want you to have the best experience ever in this city because it truly is amazing, diverse, and full of culture.
Also, this may come as a surprise for a few people. According to this list, Johannesburg is NOT among the 50 most dangerous cities in the world. Cape Town takes spot #13, Nelson Mandela Bay #42, and Durban #49.
I will now tell you the different things that are common in this city and where and how they’re happening and then will give you some safety tips on how to avoid having bad stuff happen to you. Most commonly, people are pickpocketed or mugged.
I’m writing this after spending almost a month in Joburg, having visited various areas and townships, and I’m also going by the experiences of other people. This post is a one-person account with generalizations, yes, but if you want to be safe in Joburg, please continue reading.
I know I have helped a few travelers with these safety tips already.
Also, do not mistake me for just some white girl talking because she’s afraid of being the only white person among black people (sorry to bring race into this but I know people who base danger on skin color unfortunately and I’m horrified by it).
So first of all, Joburg is unlike most European, Asian, Australian, or American cities. It is a bit more unsafe (I can compare this because I’ve been to more than 40 countries and countless cities and lived in 6 countries on 5 continents).
You can walk down one street and few completely safe and fine, but once I turn the corner, you can feel totally unsafe.
I will give you an example: my friend and I (a Nigerian from Lagos, if you know what that means in terms of safety) walk down Melle Street in Braam and turn left on Juta Street to search for a grocery store. On Juta Street, we saw crowds of men drinking in front of bars and being loud and rowdy.
A guy came into the store we were and just asked for trouble by accusing the store owners of taking away jobs from South Africans and said he could burn this place down and got extremely aggressive to the point where my friend and I had to leave to the shop not to witness a fight.
If you’re in the Maboneng Precinct, the same could happen once you turn around a corner. That’s why staying on the main street (Fox Street) and not wandering off or exploring is key. That can get you robbed. Just like a girl who got out of her Uber two streets off that said main road (another true story).
To avoid this, please always ask locals who are familiar with the area which streets are safe and what’s safe to take on these streets aka if you can take your nice camera and if you can carry it openly or not.
That brings me to my next point:
Avoid getting robbed or pickpocketed
Robberies and pickpocketing happen a lot in Jozi unfortunately. I’ve met countless people who have gotten their phones stolen or robbed at knife or gunpoint.
Therefore, to be safe:
- If you can, avoid carrying a purse.
- Take as much cash with you as you can afford to lose.
- Don’t carry your camera or drone or whatever unless a local who’s very familiar with the area tell you it’s ok to do so.
- Avoid walking around with valuables.
- Don’t flash expensive jewelry.
- Wear your purse or backpack in front of you need one. Don’t wear it on your back and put your phone in the small pocket on the back. Like seriously, a stupidest mistake you could make!
- Walk around in groups. If you have to walk alone, act as if you know where you’re going. Don’t just look around wondering at people and things.
- Don’t walk long distances (and by that, I mean more than 10 minutes). Take an Uber instead.
- Do NOT walk around at night. Especially by yourself.
- Always look around and ahead of you. If you’re a girl and you see a crowd of men, don’t walk through it; pass by left or right.
- Always watch your stuff.
- If you’re in the unfortunate situation of someone trying to rob you, don’t fucking fight it. Give them your shit and let everything go. Things can be replaced. You can’t.
Now here are some tips if you’re driving:
- If driving a car, be aware of your surroundings.
- Be aware of other drivers, especially at red lights.
- Be aware of people coming up to your car.
- Lock your doors. Close your windows.
- Park your car in garages.
- Never leave valuables in your car. Or anything that could seem valuable to someone else.
- Take Uber.
And one last safety tip in case you’re attending a big open-air event: make yourself familiar with the sound of gunshots and muffled gunshots because you don’t want to be walking into a sticky situation thinking people are blowing off fireworks. I’m dead serious here. Almost happened to me.
Now I’ll give you an overview of the safety of different areas:
- Maboneng is safe enough to walk around with your camera, even if you have it out, but only on Fox Street.
- Braamfontein is also pretty safe, wouldn’t have my camera out around here though. Avoid Juta street.
- I also found Greenside’s Greenway Street safe enough to walk around with your camera out, but again – only on this street in the area with all the restaurants.
- Thanks to the metal detectors at Sandton City mall, it is safe to go there with your camera as well.
- Zoo Park is also safe during weekends because there are lots of families having braai’s, wouldn’t have my camera out here really.
Townships are safe to visit if you’re with a local
Now here’s some info on townships.
I assumed everyone knew this, but that’s not the case, so that’s why I’m bringing it up.
If you don’t know what townships are, please do yourself a favor and learn about South Africa’s history while not buying into everything the media tells you.
Learn about the history of townships and then visit one and make up your mind.
If you know what a township is, learn their names aka Soweto or Alex.
Here’s a true story:
A German girl arrived in Joburg, and one of her friends had told her to go to Soweto, and that’s it totally safe and easy to do so by herself.
Partially true, but going with a local, a personal guide, or a tour is highly advised because you know where you’re going and what to do.
And you won’t be an obvious foreigner wandering and wandering around a neighborhood where that may make you a target.
At first, the girl wouldn’t listen to several South Africans, another African, and a seasoned African traveler.
If several people advise you not to do something in a city like Joburg, you just don’t do it, or you do it any way but don’t come crying to anyone about what happened to you.
Anyway – I went to several townships in South Africa, always accompanied by locals, and always felt super safe – safer than in other parts of Cape Town or Joburg. I was warmly welcomed, and everyone was super friendly and curious about why I was visiting their home.
Don’t forget this: townships are homes to people. To families. Kids play on the street. It’s where people live. Go to school. Do everything you do as well in your home.
Townships are not war zones like the media paints them. It’s not just poverty. It’s entrepreneurs. Culture. Entertainment. Artists.
Everything that you find in another place.
But the history is a bit different.
And yes, there are dangerous areas like in every other city, but locals won’t take you there.
But you on your own or with other foreigners don’t know where these are.
So please, let me say this again: go with someone who knows where. You’ll have a blast!
Now let’s go back to Jozi in general: even though you have to take these precautions, don’t let them stop you from having fun! Meet and mingle with locals because they know where to go and will keep you safe.
And here’s a last but not least tip and also a universal law for traveling anywhere, but especially Jozi. Always keep it in mind.
Positive attracts positive.
And negative attracts negative.
That means if you walk around being scared and all negative and Debbie downer ish – people will pick up on your vibes and you make yourself a target.
If you’re confident and happy and even greet strangers or converse with them, I guarantee you will be fine.