Crime and tourism in South Africa

Is it safe to visit South Africa? The country's high crime rate has reportedly led many former residents to leave the country. Now South Africans are fearful that tourists' apprehension about crime will deter them from visiting in 2010 when South Africa hosts the World Cup.

Blogging from Capetown, I can say there here are areas of high relatively high safety. These tend to be places where merchants or wealthy residents have paid for private security protection.

For example, in Capetown, one advantage to staying in the backpacker enclave of upper Long Street is that the the location is described as "the one area of downtown Capetown" where your security is pretty much assured "around-the-clock."

Although his assertion may be true in respect to thievess, the private security cameras and guards hired by local businesses to defend patrons from muggings do not regulate the traffic. And South Africa has some of the worst drivers in the world.

Calling some of these drivers "bad" is an understatement. A better description would be reckless. In Cambodia I encountered some similar drivers, but at least there the insane maniac drivers could probably have claim to have been fueled by drink or drugs. In South Africa, a number of apparently sober drivers -- like one taxi I took recently -- seem to have absolutely no regard whatsoever for pedestrians.

I am told that South Africa's crime problem and traffic safety woes stem from the low pay of the police force. Officers in the this rather developed country make as little as $400 a month. That's developing-world pay for professionals in what is, in fact, a fairly wealthy country. A South African told me that the situation had deteriorated so badly that millions were being spent on private security companies charged with the protecting police stations. The cops, it seems, are just about useless.

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