South Africa Crime

Is Cape Town Safe?

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“I’m sorry,” I said to the young, blonde woman who was selling frozen drinks at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. “But can you tell me what flavor this is?”

“Blueberry,” she answered quickly. Then, she correct herself. “Actually, it’s raspberry bubble gum – I think.”

I laughed. “Either way, it probably just tastes like sugar. I’ll take one. How much?”

“12 rand,” she said and came out from behind the stall to prepare the drink for me. “Where are you from?”

“America,” I handed her a 20-rand note. “And you’re from here in Cape Town?”

“I fucking hate it,” she shot back, without officially giving an affirmative answer. “I wish I could go to America and never come back.

“They’ll rob you here,” she continued, not missing a beat. “Right here in this ‘safe’ area, they’ll get you at gun point and take you for everything you have.” She handed me my 8 rand in change.

I smiled. “Well, I’m sure you’ll make it to America one day. Thanks for the drink.”

This was my first conversation with a South African person.


I did my best not to dwell on what the woman had said as I escaped from Cape Town’s ultra-touristy V&A waterfront and headed south down Long Street into the colorful Bo Kaap neighborhood.

But every time a homeless person approached me – and homeless people approach you quite often in Cape Town – I couldn’t help but think back on her words. I very quickly developed a reflex to do a discreet about-face every time I passed someone who seemed even the slightest bit threatening.

Ironically, most of the things that are meant to make South Africans feel safer – electrified fences, barbed wire and armed guards, to name a few – have made me feel even more sketched out during my time in Cape Town thus far.

They also make me question the extent to which apartheid is actually over. I mean, blacks and whites are heavily mixed in many areas of Cape Town, and the archaic legal system that separated them has largely been abolished.

But how much of the crime in South Africa – and in Cape Town – has to do with the still-festering wounds of that period in history, the tangible barriers that have replaced the legislative ones so long ago torn down?

And the more intangible ones: On more than one occasion, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve felt immediately safer upon seeing other white people.

About The Author

is the author of 766 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

traveler lyle February 1, 2013 at 9:21 pm

spent a great 3 days in cape town…yes, panhandlers by the dozens…but not threatening, just persistent…did some walking around at night and felt very safe…fell in love with the city and would recommend it to anyone interested…did an escorted tour of langa township…yes, apartheid still seems around even with the changes…we stayed in bo kaap and had a great stay at la rose b&b….

Robert Schrader February 1, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Thanks for offering your perspective, Lyle!

Our Oyster February 14, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I heard that cape town is relatively safe – when compared to johannesburg. Although all of south africa in general makes me a bit nervous. I dont think I would want to travel there alone.

Robert Schrader February 15, 2013 at 1:26 am

It’s funny, but aside from CPT, I haven’t really felt much danger anywhere in ZA. Most of it, in fact, seems built up and almost made up by white South Africans, who are paranoid (perhaps understandably, but paranoid nonetheless)

Melissa Shearer May 27, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I do understand what you mean by not feeling completely at ease in Cape Town. And you’re completely right about the electric fences and barbed wire, etc. that are supposed to make you feel safe, but leave you feeling more worried than before.

I spent about 9 days in Cape Town last year, and after the first day or so I started to feel a bit more comfortable, but never 100% at ease and carefree. I think it’s just one of those places that you need to be aware of the dangers and the crime, not flash around valuables, etc. (basically all the things your mom warns you about). That being said, I did manage to navigate myself around in the mini-busses… something that very few tourists ever do because they’re considered “unsafe.”

I’m heading back to Cape Town in September and will be staying with a friend, so I am curious to see what it will be like to “live with a local” for two weeks.

CapeTown August 14, 2013 at 6:43 am

I have friends and personally have experienced more violence in L.A and London than Cape Town.

Anna August 17, 2013 at 4:33 am

I am running a website, which deals exactly with this topics.
Cape Town is an amazing city to visit. There are so many things to enjoy! BUT… You need to gain information and education where you should avoid to show yourself ( )or if something happens – to handle the situation in the right way ( Crime situations with tourists are rare. Statistics of hiking accidents is higher than crime ( And believe me, the hiking is unbelievably amazing there. Even if you never have been a big fun of it, you will become!
I love Cape Town and encourage everybody to go there.

Matt April 21, 2014 at 9:07 am

I’ve recently came back from a 3 week trip to South Africa. And it was a fantastic place. The only part that was slightly sketchy seemed to be Jouberg Cbd. Cape Town was safer than Sydney

Matt April 21, 2014 at 9:09 am

Joberg cbd*

Robert Schrader April 21, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Matt, interesting perspective. Cape Town might be objectively safer, but I still got sketched out. Then again parts of Sydney are quite sketchy!

Ling Tan October 22, 2014 at 11:37 am

I was in Cape for five days just in June… it’s touted as the safest city in Africa, and because I was cocooned in the comforts of said V&A Waterfront, with jaunts along Camps Bay and Green Point, it did feel “safe”… The tension is obvious though, and even in these areas, we were on constant alert. Especially as we had our kids travelling with us. We are Asians, so we had “TOURISTS” stamped all over us.

That said, our hotel’s Guest Service Manager took really good care of us. We heed his advise on areas to avoid after dark, and always had him book cabs for us, whenever we needed one.

I agree with Melissa, so important to be aware, and not be flashy.

But it was such a beautiful city, and there’s so much more we want to see and experience too!

Thanks for a thoughtful post.

Ling Tan

Robert Schrader October 23, 2014 at 8:37 am

Thanks for reading! Where else did you go in South Africa?

it'sthatbad September 12, 2015 at 3:09 pm

my husband and i are planning to visit Capetown, SA in Feb 2016, where would we find a reasonable and safe hotel to stay, ideally near the ocean, are the prices good for designer and first class products

Robert Schrader September 16, 2015 at 8:04 am

Check out Green Point!

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