SA road-trip safety: High-risk areas where tourists need to be vigilant

2017-10-20 10:24 - Selene Brophy
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Cape Town - There is risk associated with any part of the world you choose to explore - we know this for a fact. If there wasn't, we wouldn't need to secure travel insurance every time we decided to cross a border or apply for a visa.

To be well-informed about the destination you're visiting, and to know the areas and codes of conduct that could get you into trouble is essential for local and international travellers alike.

News that a couple from Singapore had been attacked while visiting Cape Town hit the headlines on Friday, 20 October. Eddie Ong and his wife were on honeymoon, when their rental car broke down. Even more unfortunate, the couple ended up being robbed. 

"In a greater context, this can happen anywhere else but as we found out, mugging appears to be common in Cape Town," Eddie Ong told News24 - Read the full report here

What struck a chord was that the couple were travelling on Baden Powell Road in Mitchells Plain. If you’re a local, you would know to be vigilant, if not avoid certain areas in Mitchells Plain especially if travelling alone as it is notorious for high-crime and gang violence. To put it into the context Ong speaks of it could be compared with the riskier side of what the Bronx is to New York or Favela is to Brazil's Rio. 

Currently there are road works in place on Baden Powell, only due to be completed in December - just ahead of the peak holiday period - according to authorities.  The City of Cape Town’s transport and urban development authority has invested R29m in the resurfacing and repair of about 16.5km of Baden Powell Drive in Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain, as part of its regular planned road maintenance programme. 

Although no road closures are in place with the upgrades portions of Baden Powell Drive have been made a one-way, with detours for traffic heading towards the N2 onto Spine Road or detours for traffic towards Muizenberg onto Lukkanon Drive. “When we don’t have a safe or viable detour, we will have a stop-go system in place,” Brett Herron, Mayco member for transport and urban ­development reportedly told the People’s Post in March this year when the road works kicked off.  

Be vigilant and plan your journey 

It cannot be stressed enough the importance of planning your route out properly when in an unfamiliar environment, ensuring your vehicle is in tiptop condition as well as to make sure you have emergency contact details handy.

Safety is a major concern for all tourism authorities, not only in the Western Cape but also across all key cities across South Africa.

Cape Town Tourism CEO Enver Duminy advises, “All tourism hotspots in the world are vulnerable to muggers and pick-pockets. When traveling in a new city, inform yourselves of these areas by speaking to visitor information centres, trusted guides or locals.

"When in these areas, we urge visitors to be aware of their surroundings and to conceal expensive possessions and jewellery. Further guidelines would be to explore with a local guide and to use trusted Cape Town Tourism member services. We also encourage locals to assist visitors at all times."

SEE: #WeDoTourism: How every South African plays a role in the tourism sector

Authorities in Gauteng are cracking down on a the "airport-following" robberies committed in and around the Johannesburg area. See News24's most recent report here

Police spokesperson, Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo says SAPS has seen a significant decrease in crime reports in and around the airport", since the spotlight fell on travellers’ safety to Africa’s busiest International airport earlier in July.

The most recent in a spate of robberies involving robbers posing as police men and following travellers after they leave the airport involved a group of 36 Dutch tourists on Sunday 24 September.  

SEE:  In Transit: Staying safe in and around the airport

“In July levels were reaching unprecedented proportions,” he says. But Naidoo believes the new security strategy, which cannot be detailed in its entirety, has resulted in the significant drop in the number of crimes being reported in and around the airport.   

“Reports have reduced to one in a week,” says Naidoo who cites data integrity and verification of actual crimes not allowing him to detail the specifics of each arrest.

In July, Minister of Police, Fakile Mbalula announced measures for a “master security plan" at OR Tambo International to combat the growing crime wave at the airport.

SEE: WATCH: Road access to OR Tambo to be limited in new safety plan 

While no limited access to the Airport had been put in place as stated by Mbalula, Naidoo confirms stop-and-search operations are being sporadically done on the highways to the airport and will happen on a continuous basis he says, "This is but one part of the operations happening at the airport to combat crime”.

Other measures includes the process of vetting of 35 000 employees across companies at and contracted to the airport, as well as the implementation of a specialised task-team at OR Tambo.

UPDATE: OR Tambo Airport to get dedicated security task team

Naidoo says SAPS is working together with all entities to ensure that travellers are alert and informed.

"Educating them on how to not put themselves at risk remains vital. It’s simple things like not withdrawing large amounts of cash at the airport, not broadcasting your itinerary and keeping high-value goods out of sight," says Naidoo. 

SEE: In Transit: Staying safe in and around the airport

Similarly the matter is being carefully weighed by the National Department of Tourism and South African Tourism.

“The safety and security consideration not only starts when tourists land in South Africa, but in their decision-making about which destination to visit on holiday or hold a business event for their companies or clients,” says Sisa Ntshona, CEO of South African Tourism.

Ntshona will aim to find actionable solutions together with Naidoo, with a Tourism Update webinar to discuss measures that are in place to ensure the safety and security of tourists visiting SA - see details to register here

Launch of tourism Monitor project

On Tuesday, the Department of Tourism in partnership with Gauteng Tourism Authority also launched the Tourism Monitors Programme in Soweto. The programme is expected to create employment for 200 unemployed youth, aged 18 to 35 years who will be trained, mentored and placed as monitors at tourism destination for a 36-month period.

Minister of Toruism Tokozile Xasa who launched the initiative at the Vilakazi Precinct says, "Each participant will receive a stipend and uniform in line with the Expanded Public Works Programme."

SEE: #WeDoTourism: New Soweto tourism monitors plan tackles safety and unemployed youth in one go

With the peak holiday season coming up - these are some of the things travellers need to be vigilant about - as well as some of the areas that need to be avoided.  

Know the risks

The National Hijack Prevention Academy (NHPA) has released a list of hijacking-hotspots in some major SA cities. The organisation's latest list shows hotspots in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.

Carjacking has increased by 14.3% in all provinces, according to the 2015/16 annual crime survey released by the South African Police (SAPS), with the number being the highest in Gauteng.

Traveller24 Tip: Beware when travelling under highway bridges in cities, and as far as possible, do not travel in problem areas at night. 

NOTE: The information is based on historical data and traffic modelling. 

The following hijacking hotspots have been identified by the NHPA: 


Toll Gates 

Toll Gates are situated at the following spots, with the following tariffs. You can use the tool below to calculate what your road trip will cost you in toll gate fares:   

South Africa Toll Roads Cost Calculator

Make sure your vehicle is roadworthy - Check out Wheels24's complete guide for road trip safety in SA.

First things first - Vehicle safety 101 

Whether you’re driving a short distance or across the country, road safety start with you - so be sure to double check your vehicle before taking the family on a road trip.

Here are some tips to ensure that your car and your family are prepared for your next adventure:  

Have your car serviced and given a proper safety check up
Map out your trip – make sure you allow plenty of time to get to your destination, including rest stops
Take regular breaks (at least one every two hours) and pull over for a power nap as soon you feel tired or fatigued.
Share the driving if possible
Never drink alcohol, not even small amounts, before or during a long trip
Have a few good nights' sleep before heading off
Stay within the speed limit and always choose an appropriate speed for the driving conditions – whether city, country or night time driving
Make sure all passengers wear appropriate seatbelts or child restraints - including pets
Make sure all luggage is properly secured and won't become projectiles in the case of sudden braking.
Avoid distractions – don't use mobile phones and keep young passengers occupied with games for children when driving.
If driving refrain from  using your cell phone – even if it is hands-free – as it is a distraction
Keep an adequate following distance – 3 to 4 seconds behind the vehicle in front
Be careful if pulling over into the emergency lane ( yellow lane) as it would be unsafe to do so before cresting a rise 
Give trucks  plenty of room – remember they take longer to stop than a car
Keep your headlights on for entire trip – see and be seen.
Be patient – enjoy the drive

 SEE: The 10 Commandments of Road Safety

Border Crossing 

If your road trip is taking you outside the borders of South Africa this holiday, you'll need to be clued up on all the details of SA's land-based ports of entry and exit.

South Africa is surrounded by coastline of 2 500km, which explain why there are eight harbours in the country. Other than maritime travel, SA has 10 International Airports and 54 border control point for travellers on land.  

According to official SA Tourism data, most travellers using the land-based ports of entry originate from SADC countries, including Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia.

Most South African travellers visiting these aforementioned SADC countries also do so by land, often trekking thousands of kilometres with camper vans and 4x4 trailers to explore places like the Victoria Falls, Okavango Delta and Caprivi strip. 

If you're planning a road trip to a SADC country, you should keep in mind the various ports of entry you might have to travel through. Here is the DHA's comprehensive list of SA's land-based ports of entry. 

Who to call In Case of Emergency 

Report incidents to either the South African Police Services (10111) or the National Traffic Call Centre (NTCC) on 012 665 6075

Arrive Alive can be contacted on 0861 400 800 to report cases of bad driving, as well as poor road conditions.

The Automobile Association Rescue can be reached on 080 001 0101

For emergencies, you can call 112 from any cell phone in South Africa. You will then reach a call centre and they will route you to an emergency service closest to you.

Traveller24 Tip: Download and install the new emergency resonder app MySOS. It's a one-stop solution for access to the closest and most appropriate emergency services in South Africa. Be sure to link up your family and friends to strengthen the network of assistance. Read more about MySOS and how it works.

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