This post was a long time coming and many people have asked me questions about this – so I thought I would finally answer some question about safety in South Africa.
If I can be completely honest with you, I had never really thought of visiting Africa. It looked beautiful, but it had never even crossed my mind.
When I moved abroad to St Andrews, I met T, who is from South Africa. She even scared me off of it for a little while. She told me about the different security systems around houses, the barbed wires and fences. It all sounded very strange to a Canadian like me who forgets to lock the door sometimes…
However, she also showed me countless photos of the landscapes, the seaside, the mountains, and of the wild life. Obviously it helped that we had become best friend by that point, but she had convinced me that even though it was so far and so foreign and so different, that a trip to Africa was a must.
When she moved home, it broke my heart. However, since I had some time to kill until graduation, I decided to buy a ticket to South Africa. Right then and there, I announced to my parents that I was to fly to Africa for the fall.
My parents are used to my wanderlust and my constant need for adventures and so they were not too surprised, especially knowing of my friendship with T. However, they were concerned for my safety.
And to be honest – so was I. It is one of those countries where you travel ‘at your own risks’ or something. After buying my ticket I had a bit of an anxiety attack and so T sent me an article about violence in the Western Cape. It said something like ‘Cape Town has really high percentage of violence’. Reassuring, I know. But then T highlighted to me that yes that is true, but that is usually in some specific areas. Areas where we would have no business being.
That was the first and main thing I remembered about safety in South Africa – just don’t wander to places where you have no business being.
But when I arrived in Africa and was reunited with one of my favourite people ever, I realised that it wasn’t at all how I had imagined it! We went out at night, we walked freely around, it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought.
The precautions we took would be recommended in most big cities of the world. Be careful and watch your bags. Don’t flash jewellery and money. Don’t leave items on display on your car seat. Preferably do not walk alone at night – sadly especially if you are a woman.
Simple and logical.
People always ask me, despite it all, if I was scared and the honest answer is yes. Yes I was – despite knowing I was safe, despite my friend and her family’s reassurance, despite it all, I felt scared sometimes.
It’s not like I walked around being scared. Not at all! But at night – when my anxiety gets to its apogee – I used to get scared. Scared because I felt vulnerable – lying there alone – despite all the security around me. In Montreal I have never felt scared – even when I forgot to lock the door. But here I was confronted with maximum security, bars on the windows, laser beams around the house, fences and barbed wires and to me it meant that there was a potential out there that something bad might happen. I felt locked in and vulnerable.
I think the biggest thing here was because of my culture and how I was raised that I found this security so scary. I mean I could get mugged in Canada or Britain for all I know – but it was the whole context behind this safety that scared me in SA. And yet for them it was the norm and they didn’t understand my fears – clearly we were safe inside this fortress. And we were. T and her family made sure to tell me that in all of their years living in Cape Town, nothing had ever happened, no mugging or burglaries, nothing.
And they were right – nothing happened. We were all perfectly safe. But it doesn’t take away the fact that I was scared because of the difference in culture and context. And one of my advices for people travelling to South Africa would be to be prepared for the potential of being scared – not the potential of anything happening, but just the potential that you will be put outside your comfort zone and that it might scare you.
But I’d also recommend trusting in your gut and in life – I loved my trip to the Western Cape and would do it all over again in a heartbeat! The few nights of anxiety will never eclipse the amazing time I had in SA, by the sea or in the mountains, drinking good wine and eating good food and being in the best possible company. It was the trip of a lifetime and I definitely learned a lot about myself and about travelling during my time there.
P.S. Lastly, I want to note that it’s good to be prepared and safe before travelling as well. Remember to ask your doctor about jabs or tablets you may need – no one wants to get malaria obviously! Also remember to get good travel insurance – from a simple twisted ankle to a car accident, better be safe than sorry!
Do you ever get anxiety about travelling to another country?xx