6: Crime & Health Safety Precautions

This section quells the fears (both imagined and real) that might be haunting you regarding your travel to SA. It dishes out perspective as well as solid practical advice – from emergency numbers to health precautions and tick advice, blue bottles, and baboon feeding etiquette.

We get it. South Africa has a lot of stigma stitched to its name. A lot of the time, the media does a pretty good job at making us look like a nation you might want to avoid. Well, what can we say. The media….hmmm…

By no means are we going to tell you that South Africa is a country that breathes only harmony and peace, but we are most certainly going to put things into perspective for you. 

Part of any travel preparation is to inform yourself about measures you need to take for your time away from home to be as smooth as a baby’s bum. It’s all well and exciting to head out into a foreign world and let yourself be surprised by the new, but you can still have that adventurous experience while informing yourself about some basic safety precautions for your destination. 

South Africa in general carries a huge amount of stigma when it comes to crime, health, and racial issues…so this step is not only necessary as a basic travel preparation, but also to calm everyone down a little. 

Stay Calm. Relax. Read this Step. 

The Elephant in the Room – Crime in South Africa

Yes, there is crime in SA – as there is in any other country. Crime in SA is a problem that we definitely aren’t proud of. We aren’t going to deny that. But it is not something that should stop you from studying in SA. Anywhere you go in the world you’ll be faced with some kinds of safety issues. It all comes down to the edging factor in the way you approach these issues and the way you hold yourself. By taking necessary precautions you can still have an incredible time and at the same time – be smart and streetwise. To calm your mind we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to be aware of when you travel, live or study in SA. Since we’re here to provide the truth and guide you along the way we also give you tips on how to stay safe. 

What To Watch Out For

As natives living in SA we’ve come across a few habits and tricks criminals use to take advantage of people. Please be aware of the following: 

  • Pick-pocketing
    As in any country, this is something you should always be aware of when you are exploring a city. Always keep your bag close, be cautious of your surroundings and be vigilant of those tricksters who like to grab and run.
  • “Smash & Grab” and Hijacking
    Unfortunately, in some cities more than others (more in Joburg than Cape Town, for example), the incident of someone smashing your car window and stealing your bag or even your car is something in our reality. When parking, at traffic lights or waiting in traffic, make sure all car doors are locked. Be alert when coming to a halt and always be weary. Remember to keep your valuables hidden under the seats – out of clear view for desperate eyes. And best never leave anyhting in your parked car.
  • Rape & sexual assault
    Rape occurs often in South Africa. However, in most rape cases the victim knows his or her rapist. But of course, a rape can happen to anyone, also by a stranger. Ladies, never walk around in an isolated area, especially not alone.
  • Property Crime
    Once again, theft is prevalent everywhere in the world. Always make sure you lock your doors at night and please don’t let any dodgy strangers into your house. If your accomodation has an alarm system, make use of it, even if it’s just for additional peace of mind.
  • Be aware of corrupt police officers
    Odd, but something to be aware of. If ever you are stopped by police officers, randomly on the side of the road, please make sure you ask them for their badge. It’s been an issue that criminals pretend they are cops – not a funny situation!

The Do’s and Don’ts

When you come to SA you’ll want to feel safe and find out any possible information that will prevent you from an unpleasant encounter. Here are some general safety tips:

  • If you’re out until the early hours of the morning and you’re driving home, please don’t stop at red traffic lights (in SA we call them robots funnily enough). Ladies, this is especially important for you. There is a chance of a ‘smash and grab’ or hijacking incidence. To be on the safer side, always keep your doors locked wherever you drive and if you feel unsafe, keep driving. Of course, first keep a look-out for any other cars in sight before you zoom through those red robots.
  • Don’t walk around alone at any time of the night – it’s just not a wise idea.
  • Don’t use local train services late at night. If you do, go in a large group.
  • Don’t flash your money and valuables.
  • Be cautious and aware (as you would be in any country).
  • Don’t leave your bag unattended.
  • Don’t hail any passing taxi service (and try to avoid the SA VW bus “Taxis”). Always make sure you use a proper taxi service whose number you have.
  • Don’t read all of this information and turn around to run away!

Do’s

  • Be humble. No need to flash around valuable belongings wherever you can. When you explore the city, be confident – as if you know where you are going and you’re not a lost tourist.
  • Do make sure you park in well-lit areas. And if a friendly parking guard comes up to you, do give a small tip as a thanks for his “guarding” of your car (the amount is up to you, but anything between about R2 and R10 is what locals usally tip).
  • Always lock your house and put the alarm on. We ain’t joking.
  • Make sure you are aware of your surroundings. So rather sing to yourself than walk around with big headphones blocking out all other sounds.
  • When using ATM’s make sure you follow the necessary precautions as you would back at home. Always rather be safe than sorry. Having your pin stolen is really crappy!
  • Do explore South Africa despite some of these dangers, especially now that you are prepped!

FYI: South Africa is a third world country, which means you will be approached by beggars and street children. It sucks, and you never get used to it fully. Poverty is a reality, but the way you approach it should be given some thought. Rather than giving beggars money, buy them some food. The problem with giving money is that the person often ends up spending it on alcohol, drugs and other addictive substances. We fully support sharing your fortunes with others, but we believe in giving responsibly.

“I have an emergency… Who do I call?

If you have an emergency and you need to make a call, always remember the following:

Try to stay calm and articulate clearly, and make sure you have the following details ready (even more important in case your phone dies): 

  1. Your name and contact number 
  2. Exact location of the incident (including nearby benchmarks)
  3. Nature of the emergency
  4. Details of any injuries 

FYI: Never hang up until you are told to do so! 

Emergency Numbers to save in your Phone: 

It is essential you save all these numbers in your cell phone just in case you ever need them (hopefully not!)

  • Nationwide Emergency Response: 10111
  • Cell Phone Emergencies: 112
  • Ambulance: 10177

Health & Safety

South Africa is, like most other African countries, categorized as a third world country. Even though this is outrageous given the amounts of resources our continent offers, there is a lot of poverty here. And with poverty, we sadly see many other hardships, like hunger and in many cases, illness. Most of the time, the prime illness associated with our country is AIDS. 

It is true that we have a very high AIDS prevalence, along with other diseases that are often AIDS-related, and though it is more prevalent in poorer and marginalised communities – don’t fool yourself. Diseases don’t discriminate. And there is absolutely no reason for you to assume that you don’t need to take precautions, no matter where in the world you are from, or where in the world you go, for that matter. 

If you follow a basic set of health and safety precautions, there is really no reason for you to worry about getting sick while you are here (unless you suffer from something like diabetes or allergies… in which case we strongly assume that you will bring your personal medications and preventative measures along!)

Below you can read up on some prevalent illnesses in South Africa – what they are, how to easily steer clear of them, and what to do if you think you have one of them.

AIDS

What is AIDS?

HIV AIDS is an illness that obliterates your immune system. It’s caused by HIV (a virus). If you get infected with HIV, it can take years for you to actually show symptoms and get diagnosed with AIDS. 

Basically what happens is that the virus count in your body increases, and it begins to take over and destroy your body’s cells… and once a certain amount of cells have been destroyed, your body eventually starts to shut down and can’t protect itself anymore against other viral and bacterial culprits (also known as opportunistic infections). So when the tragic case of an AIDS-death occurs, it’s because AIDS has disabled the body to fight and recover from other infections. That is why, for example, there are a lot of Tuberculosis cases with AIDS patients – the body can’t fend off the TB virus. 

How can I contract it?

HIV can be contracted through contact with the following bodily fluids:

  • semen and pre-seminal fluids
  • blood
  • rectal fluids
  • vaginal fluids
  • breast milk

What can I do to prevent getting it?

  • HAVE SAFE SEXGuys, for real – do we really need to remind you of this? AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease; so for crying out loud, just use a condom when you have sex. It doesn’t matter, where, how often, with whom, or in what innovative position you do it – use protection (whether your sexual intercourse is oral, vaginal, or anal).

FYI: Many SA universities stash free condoms that are available in the campus bathrooms (the brand is called Choice):

crime and safety condoms

 

  • Don’t touch someone else’s blood, especially if you have no clue about their health condition.

Can it be treated and cured?

Yes, to a certain extent. HIV can be successfully treated with anti-retroviral drugs so that the affected person can have a good quality of life and never have to experience the HIV stage of AIDS. However, to date there is no medication or treatment available that will cure someone with HIV or AIDS. 

FYI: Even if you are being treated for HIV, you can still infect another person with the virus.

I think I might have HIV, where can I go for help?

If during your time in South Africa you suspect that you might have contracted HIV (or if for some given reason you had unprotected sex – gah!), go get tested at a health care facility. 

All of the universities we discuss in the tutorial have student health care facilities that offer HIV testing and counseling – you can get yourself tested anytime, and if you are tested as HIV+, the professional health care providers will assist you right away with a treatment plan and necessary support. 

And please feel free to go there for any other sex education questions you might have!

Tuberculosis

What is TB?

TB is brought on by a bacterial infection that most commonly targets the lungs. Someone with TB can experience symptoms like a strong and sometimes bloody cough, chest pains, as well as symptoms similar to those of flu and fever. 

There are two types of TB:

  • Latent TB infectionSomeone with a latent TB infection won’t feel sick or have any TB symptoms – the body will simply start to fight the bacteria. If you have a latent TB infection, you are not infectious, meaning you won’t infect someone else with the bacteria.
  • Active TB DiseaseIf you have a latent TB infection and don’t treat it properly, it can become active and evolve to TB Disease… which means your immune system can’t fight the infection anymore. Someone with TB Disease is infectious and can pass on the bacteria to another person.

How can I contract it?

You can get infected with the TB bacteria simply by interacting with someone who has the active TB Disease – pretty much like it works with a regular Cold or Flu. It’s an airborne disease, so it can be transmitted while doing things like

  • talking and whispering
  • breathing
  • coughing and sneezing

What can I do to prevent getting it?

Well, basically you do what you would do with someone who has flu – don’t sit with them in an airtight room, or talk to the person with only a 5cm distance between your faces… or generally involve heavy breathing in your interactions – at least not until treatment has kicked in and he or she is no longer infectious. 

Can it be treated and cured?

Yes. TB can be successfully treated, but a dedicated treatment plan is very important. It can take weeks and even months for the bacteria to be completely eliminated and for it not to mutate. Treatments generally involve antibiotics, but the full course of medication will always be specific to the kind of TB infection that it is, as well as other health concerns the patient might need to take into consideration. 

I think I might have TB, where can I go for help?

If during your time in South Africa you suspect that you might have been infected with TB, go get tested at a health care facility. 

All of the universities we discuss in the tutorial have student health care facilities. If you might have been infected with TB, a trained and professional health care provider will advise you on the correct way to proceed and support you in getting the necessary help and treatment. 

Malaria

What is Malaria?

Contrary to what you might have thought, more people in Africa are affected by Malaria than by AIDS. Malaria is an illness caused by a parasite that enters the blood stream. It can be extremely dangerous, and you should have tests done as soon as you suspect to have contracted the illness – even if these symptoms only surface quite some time after you have left the Malaria zones (incubation time, guys…). 

The disease is generally experienced as a fluctuation between strong fevers and chills. 

With severe cases of Malaria, a person can experience horrible conditions, like neurological abnormalities or coma (often due to cerebral malaria), trouble breathing, kidney failure, cardiovascular collapse, to name a few. 

Although Malaria is prevalent in South Africa, it is mostly found in the North near the borders of Swaziland, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. You probably won’t need to worry about Malaria, unless you travel to these zones, or if you travel to other African countries with a Malaria prevalence. 

How can I contract it?

The parasite that causes Malaria is transmitted by a nuisance that, albeit its tiny physical size, is so powerful it can keep you awake all night. Some people refer to it as mosquitos, but we feel calling them a nuisance is probably more apt (okay, okay, yes, they form part of the larger eco-system, but seriously…). 

You can’t personally infect someone else with Malaria, unless you share the same mosquito… (or if you are pregnant – then you can infect your unborn baby). 

What can I do to prevent getting it?

Hmm, the most obvious measure here would be not to get bitten by a carrier mosquito. Use repellant and mosquito nets, and if you are in a high-risk zone, wear long pants and sleeves from dusk onwards. 

Take malaria prophylaxis/ anti-malaria tablets. There are many different brands available, in different price ranges. Go to your nearest pharmacy to find out which one is the best option for you – as different brands come with different side effects (these can include light-sensitivity, nightmares, and even canceling out the function of the birth control pill)

FYI: You need a doctor’s prescription for anti-malaria tablets. 

Can it be treated and cured?

Yes. The sooner the better. If you have been diagnosed with Malaria, you will generally receive oral or intravenous treatment, depending on the severity of the Malaria. 

I think I might have Malaria, where can I go for help?

If during your time in South Africa you suspect that you might have been infected with Malaria, go get tested at a health care facility. 

All of the universities we discuss in the tutorial have student health care facilities. If you might have been infected with Malaria, a trained and professional health care provider will advise you on the correct way to proceed and support you in getting the necessary help and treatment. 

Vaccines

You have probably already undergone some vaccinations before, starting when you were young. But if you are interested in getting vaccinated before coming to South Africa, here are the recommended vaccinations:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)
  • Tetanus
  • Yellow Fever (compulsory if you travel to SA from or through a high risk YF zone)

Emergency & Hospital Numbers

  • National Emergency Response: 10111
  • Ambulance: 10177
  • Cell Phone Emergency: 112

Private and Public Hospitals near the top 8 universities

University of Cape Town

Upper, Middle, Lower and Medical campuses

Groote Schuur Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 404 9111

Vincent Pallotti Hospital (private): +27 (0)21 506 5111

Hiddingh and Breakwater Campuses

Somerset Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 402 6911

Cape Town Mediclinic (private): +27 (0)21 464 5500

University of Stellenbosch

Main Campus 

Stellenbosch Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 808 6100/ 6147/ 6148

Stellenbosch Mediclinic (private): + 27 (0)21 861 2000

Tygerberg and Bellville Park Campuses 

Tygerberg Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 938 4911

Bellville Melomed (private):  +27 (0)21 948 6525

Saldanha Campus

Vredenburg Hospital (public): +27 (0)22 709 7200

Life West Coast Private Hospital (private): +27 (0)22 719 1030

University of Witwatersrand

Braamfontein Campus (West and East)

Charlotte Maxeke Hospital (public): +27 (0)11 488 4911

Netcare Park Lane Hospital (private): +27 (0)11 480 4000

Parktown and Education Campuses

Charlotte Maxeke Hospital (public): +27 (0)11 488 4911

Brenthurst Park Hospital (private): +27 (0)11 647 9000

University of Pretoria

Hatfield, LC de Villiers Sports, Groenkloof, Prinshof, Onderstepoort, Mamelodi Campuses

Steve Biko Academic Hospital (public): +27 (0)12 354 1000

Little company of Mary Hospital (private): +27 (0)12 424 3600

Gordon Institute of Business Science Campus (GIBS)

Charlotte Maxeke Hospital (public): +27 (0)11 488 4911

Netcare Park Lane Hospital (private): +27 (0)11 480 4000

Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Athlone Campus

Groote Schuur Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 404 9111

Gatesville Medical Centre Hospital (private): + 27 (0)21 637 8100

Cape Town Campus

Somerset Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 402 6911

Cape Town Mediclinic (private) : +27 (0)21 464 5500

Granger Bay Campus

Somerset Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 402 6911

Chris Barnard Hospital (private): +27 (0)21 480 6111

Mowbray Campus

Groote Schuur Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 404 9111

Vincent Pallotti Hospital (private): +27 (0)21 506 5111

Bellville Campus

Tygerberg Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 938 4911

Netcare N1 City (private): +27 (0)21 590 4444 

Wellington Campus 

Paarl Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 860 2500

Paarl Mediclinic (private): +27 (0)21 807 8000

University of Western Cape

Tygerberg Hospital (public): +27 (0)21 938 4911

Melomed Hospital (private): +27 (0)21 948 8131

Rhodes University

Steve Biko Academic Hospital (public): +27 (0)12 354 1000

Settler Netcare Grahamstown (public and private): +27 (0)46 602 5000

University of KwaZulu-Natal

Edgewood Campus 

St Mary’s Hospital (public): +27 (0)31 717 1000

Life Westville Hospital (public and private): +27 (0)31 251 6911

Howard College and Medical School campuses

King Edward VIII Hospital (public): +27 (0) 31 360 3111

St. Augustine’s Netcare Durban (private): +27 (0)31 268 5000 

Westville Campus

Life Westville Hospital (public and private): +27 (0)31 251 6911

St. Augustine’s Netcare Durban (private): +27 (0)31 268 5000 

Pietermaritzburg 

Northdale Hospital (public): +27 (0)33 387 9000

St. Annes Hosptal (private): +27 (0)33 897 5000

EduConnect 2cents

We want all of you to have the most amazing experience in South Africa. We’ve mentioned some of the bigger health and safety precautions, but here are some more health and safety tips to watch out for:

Tips & Advice

  • Don’t get Sunburnt. The African sun is very aggressive. Make sure you wear sunblock and a hat when spending time outside and on the beach. Frying in the sun without sun tan lotion belongs to the pre 21st Century.
  • Check for ticks. after a hike or outing to the bush field. If you spot a tick on you, twist it off rather than just pulling.
  • Look out for shark flags. South Africa does have sharks. It’s actually famous for being home to one of the most majestic predators – The Great White. But not all beaches are dangerous. Depending on which side of South Africa coastline you are, you will either dip into the Atlantic or Indian Ocean. Sharks generally won’t show up in the Atlantic, because it’s too cold. As for the beaches where shark sightings do occur, there is always someone on the lookout. Watch out for the shark flags and markers, which tell you when a shark was last spotted. Shark nets are put out in the water if sharks have been spotted, so swim within their brightly marked borders. From just being generally aware, it is safe to enjoy the beautiful oceans of SA. There is a reason why we have an incredible surf talent here!
  • Avoid contact with Blue Bottles. These are sea animals that look like little blue jellyfish. If their tentacles come in contact with your skin, they can release a toxin that will cause your skin to burn and sting…but the pain usually subsides within an hour or so.  Blue Bottles aren’t always around, and not common on all South African beaches. If you see some of these little guys lying in the sand, then just look out for them before you go swim.
  • Think twice before eating a dodgy-looking schwarma (or ‘boerie roll’) from street vendours in your city’s party street. It doesn’t always end with you leaning over the toilet – but it can. However, you should absolutely eat non-dodgy-looking boerie rolls at least once (it’s a roll with the famous South African boerewors sausage). It rocks.
  • Don’t feed or pat baboons. Baboons might look like chilled little primates, but they can be very dangerous. If for some reason you encounter a troop of baboons or even just one baboon, don’t go and pat it on the head.  They have strong and possesive personalities. If they see that you have food or a shiny thing on you, they might want it… and if it looks lke they are coming for it, you best let them have it. Food is all baboons generally want from us, so give it to them and slowly get yourself outta there! Or better, don’t even show them you have anything.
  • It’s mostly okay to drink tap water. Tap water is completely safe in urban areas of South Africa. Not all tap water is safe to drink in rural areas. Also, note that some areas in SA have water filled with lots of minerals and so the taste may change depending on where you’re in the city or the country. 

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