Johannesburg is renowned throughout the world for its extreme contrast of wealth alongside poverty. The metro is also infamous for reckless culture and for the presence of firearms which are spread illegally throughout the city. It will come as no surprise that this city can be a dangerous place to live or visit.
However, despite this fearsome reputation, it’s so important for residents and tourists alike to remember that they must maintain a sense of perspective when it comes to these risks and not to let the fear of paranoia ruin your trip.
Its worth noting that during the World Cup 2010, held in Johannesburg, several hundred thousands of football fans from around the world visiting the city without a single mentionable incident occurring.
While in Johannesburg, it’s vital that you remember that the majority of crimes happen in the outlying districts of the town, rarely in the central districts. Upon closer inspection, most of Johannesburg’s residents are extremely friendly and welcoming but, like when visiting any major city in the world, it’s highly recommended that you take precautionary steps to protect yourself.
Whether you’re visiting Johannesburg for business or leisure, if you’re exploring the city on foot, the most likely form of crime is mugging or street robbery. Despite the highly invested efforts that have gone into minimizing risk in the central areas, for example, the installation of surveillance cameras, it’s wise to remain alert when traversing the Central Business District (CBD).
The same can be said for districts such as Braamfontein and Newtown. Ensure that if you go sightseeing or exploring, you do so during daylight hours, sticking to the busier streets and never dwindling or loitering.
The ‘No-Go’ areas of Johannesburg are Hillbrow, Berea and Joubert Park. Other districts such as Yeoville and Observatory are generally safer to explore as long as you seem confident in your travels or have someone showing you around. It’s very rare that you would fall victim to a mugging incident in the Parktown, Rosebank or Melville areas.
If you feel the desire to explore some of the more riskier areas, you can do so, but it’s highly advised that you study a map beforehand and learn your route. You won’t want to be standing on a street corner with your head in a map. Other advice for these areas would be to avoid walking around with luggage and avoid groups of young man (statistically the main offenders for crime in Johannesburg).
If you cannot help but travel with valuables on you, split them up so a small portion are easily accessible and the other portion is well hidden. This way, if a robbery does occur, you can simply hand over the easily accessible items and more likely than not, the criminals will be happen with this and leave you alone. It’s important that you never resist a mugging as this will do more harm than good.
It’s very rare that you would fall victim to a robbery on the public transport services but, in regards to robbery and pickpockets, it’s always best to remain alert. Public transport areas such as Park Station and taxi ranks located around the city should always be entered or exited on full alert and take extra care if exiting a minibus taxi. If you’re waiting for public service buses in the northern suburbs, you should be fine as there are few incidents reported here.
On the other hand, if you’re driving around the city, there is always the small risk that you will be victim to a ‘smash & grab’ theft or a car-jacking incident. Always remember before setting off to stash all your bags and valuables in the trunk of the car in a locked compartment and to keep your doors locked when en route to your destination.
It’s also highly recommended that you keep your vehicle windows up when driving through the city after dark or when travelling through the central districts.
When walking around the city, always remain alert when leaving or returning to your vehicle and entering and exiting driveways. When parking in the city, always locate a guarded car park to leave your car. This are bountiful in Johannesburg and you should have no problem finding one.
Despite the hearsay, it’s illegal to jump red traffic lights in the city at night. Not only is this illegal but it’s also extremely dangerous and it’s highly advised that you don’t do it. When you do stop at red traffic lights, especially at night, keep a fair distance between you and the car in front and be aware of anyone that could be moving around in front or behind the vehicle.
There is a fully operational police force in Johannesburg but don’t rely on them. Looking after tourists is not their first priority although they will help you if required. When in the central city areas or Rosebank district, private security guards are able to provide effective anti-crime solutions and can be found by looking out for their signature yellow armbands. They are usually located and stationed on street corners.
The Central Business District (CBD) of Johannesburg is a vast network of tightly packed together skyscrapers found south of the Witwatersrand Ridge. This is easily the most recognizable area of the city. Since the first mining camp was established and for a century afterwards, the CBD was the heartbeat of Johannesburg’s vibrant financial and commercial life. This area is now widely known as Commissioner Street.
Unfortunately, the area witnessed mass exodus during a surge in crime rates between the years 1980 and 1990. Consequently, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange was relocated from the area to the nearby Sandton district which resulted in the city centre becoming near derelict.
However, there has been a lot of re-generational work in this central district over the last few years, breathing new life into the area. When CBD today, visitors have the opportunity to view life in Johannesburg as it once was, a bustling, thriving city with the atmosphere of a genuine African city that has its own personality.
It’s important to note that crime in the CBD area is still relatively high, one of the highest in Johannesburg and visitors and tourists will need maintain that high level of awareness throughout the duration of their visit. This is especially important if you are unfamiliar with the area. If so, you should avoid visiting this district at night.
The districts of Sandton and Melrose and renowned for being relatively safe. This districts are prosperous and bustling with profitable shops, restaurants and businesses. These northern suburbs seem far-fetched compared to the CBD and surrounding districts.
The name of this enriched area is actually an umbrella term for the endless urbanised area which runs for around 30km from the Parktown area, through the N1 Ring Road system and onto the area known as Midrand. Midrand then continues towards the southern border of Pretoria.
This is the highly invested area of Johannesburg where the existence of high level shopping malls is not uncommon and the vast majority of housings implement high concrete walls, huge iron gates and electric fences around property borders. The only exception in this area is the district of Alexandra. As a whole, the owners of property here are extremely security-conscious.
Sandton city, one of the main thriving hubs of Johannesburg has a much lower crime rate than areas such as CBD.
Despite this vast diverse city and its many different areas and sub-sections, there are some extremely intriguing areas that do exist throughout the city. The centre areas of districts such as Parkhurst, Rosebank and Melville are well worth a visit. These visits are best taking by car and there is an improved road network around these areas for this to completed with ease. There are now bus services with grant visitors easy access to this areas.
Some of the oldest areas of Johannesburg, such as Bezuidenhout Valley, commonly referred to as Bez Valley, have changed significantly over the last few years. For decades, these districts used to be home to the Jewish and Portuguese communities that had resided in South Africa. These communities have, over time, relocated, leaving the housing behind for immigrants and migrants. Cyrildene, an area found in the north-eastern parts of Bez Valley has surprisingly become the Chinatown of Johannesburg and is packed with a unique collection of Chinese supermarkets, services, businesses and authentic restaurants and dining options. Most of these can be found on Derrick Avenue.
When visiting this area, the majority of visitors make a point of visiting Bruma Lake. This is an artificial span of water that, despite the best efforts, remains a unfulfilling attractions. Fortunately, the lively and widely appealing nearby flea market is very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Due to the increasing crime rates in this area, many of the residents relocated to the more northern districts mentioned earlier, in favour of a more secure lifestyle. This protected areas include Houghton, Linksfield and Oaklands.
If you’re a travelling directly south of the city centre, you’ll come across a district that was initially intended for white, working class communities of the past. In 1990, the Group Areas Act was repealed and black communities began to relocate to the area, a very unusual process to happen in South Africa where these communicates then became wealthier than the original communities.
As mentioned above, when travelling to Johannesburg, like you would any major city in the world, it’s recommended that you maintain a sense of perspective, remaining alert during your stay and heeding the advice of tour guides, travellers and safety instructions. There are a large number of visitors and tourists that visit the city every year and experience no issues so it’s important to bear that in mind and don’t let fear ruin what will otherwise be, a fantastic trip.