South Africa, A Crash Course

fionajean By fionajean, 16th Jun 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Africa>South Africa>Cape Town & The Cape Peninsula

Despite a lot of negative press, South Africa is a fantastic tourist destination. The people are friendly and helpfuland there is so much to experience - from the hustle and bustle of the big cities to the huge tracts of open veld containing endangered wildlife. South Africa has pristine beaches, wine lands, mountains and a lot of game reserves. There are action adventure activities or sedate spa experiences. Just about anyone’s tastes can be catered for.

What to expect:

South Africa is a mish mash of cultures and different socio-economic groups all mixed into one. Although officially classified as a third world country, it is the economic powerhouse of Africa. We have world class hotels and entertainment. Our infrastructure tends more to a first-world nation’s then a third world’s so you can expect the same basic services that you get at home.

Most South Africans can speak English. Afrikaans is the second most common language throughout the country. The other two most widely spoken languages are Zulu and Xhosa. South African slang is a mixture of all of these and don’t be surprised if you hear someone slipping from one to the other in the same sentence. There are 11 official languages in total.

South Africans are very sociable and love the outdoors. A favorite pastime at the weekend is the braai. (What you would call a barbeque.) South Africans tend to be a little sport mad. Soccer, cricket and rugby are the main sporting attractions. Spending the day at the beach or local dam is also a great pastime when the weather is hot.

The municipal water is safe to drink and usually quite palatable so you do not have to buy bottled water over here. Health standards in the restaurant industry are quite strict so you’ll be safe if you stick to reputable restaurants. That said there are a lot of street vendors who sell good, safe food. Again, ask your hosts which they’d recommend.

What’s the weather like?

The weather tends on the whole to be mild. We have a lot of sunshine here, so don’t forget your sunscreen. The hottest months are December, January and February and temperatures usually factor in at around 30-35 degrees centigrade. Humidity levels can be quite high and this does cause some discomfort. Our coldest months are June and July with temperatures usually between 2-15 degrees centigrade. Some parts of the country do experience snow, so pack some winter woolies if coming over in winter. Rainfall varies according to the region you’re staying in, the Cape experiences winter rainfall and Kwa-Zulu Natal experiences summer rainfall.

Before You leave home:

There are regions in South Africa that are malaria areas so ask your travel agent if you should take malaria medication. Malaria is more prevalent in the summer months but prepare for it in winter as well as a precaution. Try to map out a basic travel plan and confirm bookings for accommodation.


The main means of public transport are the informal mini-bus taxis. These are inexpensive but be wary of using them. A lot of tourists find them novel and fun to use but to most South Africans (including the commuters themselves) they are a public nuisance. Drivers are not always qualified and the business is only profitable because of the volumes using it. This may mean waiting until the taxi is full before setting off for your destination. It also may mean overcrowding and reckless driving on the part of the driver. There is generally always a formal taxi service which can be used. Check with your hosts what they would recommend.

Service Issues:

In general, things in South Africa are more relaxed in terms of service. This may mean waiting a little longer when eating out than you’re used to. View it as part of the experience and you’ll find it quite pleasant. Tipping in South Africa is big. Most restaurants do not include a service charge in the bill and it is customary to leave 10% as a gratuity if good service is received. It is also customary to tip hotel staff, for example, the bellboys and cleaning staff but not the management or owners. These tips are based on services rendered and so it’s difficult to give an amount. Usually any tips are appreciated. Something that may be novel to you is the South African car guard. The car guard industry sprang up in reaction to crime and you’ll find car guards in most parking lots. Car guards stand and guard your car whilst you are shopping. They generally work only for tips and it is standard to tip between R2 and R5 depending on how long you left your car for.

Safety Issues:

As with any country in the world, a tourist must be aware and alert to danger. The crime rate in South Africa is high but criminals tend to prey on the unwary and look for soft targets. Basic guidelines include:

1) Question your hosts about dangerous areas and which of these to avoid.
2) If you are exploring on foot, walk with a purpose, don’t wander around aimlessly. Have a good idea of the how to get to your destination before setting out.
3) Keep a tight hold on handbags and valuables when carrying them. Cameras and cell phones dangling from your neck are an open invitation to criminals. Keep cash on hand to a minimum and leave your passport and travel documents locked up when going out.
4) At Automated Teller Machines, be vigilant, especially if a stranger offers to assist you. Do not use these machines late at night or in a secluded area. Do not ask strangers for assistance and if you feel remotely uncomfortable, leave.
5) Do not wear a lot of flashy jewelry and do not flash a lot of cash.
6) If in a car, keep your seatbelt on, make sure all doors are locked and that windows are rolled up.
7) If you are accosted, comply as quickly as possible, do not argue or become aggressive, and do not make eye contact with the aggressor.
8) Do not hitch hike, it is not safe to do so.
9) Do not walk around deserted areas at night.
10) Keep an eye on your credit card when paying for goods. It should not leave your sight.
11) When leaving your valuables in your room, make sure they are locked away. When out and about, ensure that you do not leave your bags unattended.

All in all, South Africa is a wonderful place to visit and a great place to live. Most South Africans couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.


Africa, Destination, Safety, South Africa, Travel, Travel Tips, World Cup

Meet the author

author avatar fionajean
A freelance writer based in South Africa specialising in
articles on health and finance.

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author avatar drelayaraja
17th Jun 2010 (#)

Nice share

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author avatar Rohit19
3rd Jul 2010 (#)

Thanks a lot for the share. By the way I am wondering who termed S.A. as a third world country.

I am following you and hope you will follow me too.

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author avatar fionajean
5th Jul 2010 (#)

Hi Rohit, Actually, South Africa is a strange mix - we are termed third-world because the majority of our population live below the poverty line. That said, our infrastructure and facilities are deifinately more first world.

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author avatar Tranquilpen
16th May 2011 (#)

Hello Fionajean, A truely remarkable article, well balanced and truthful. You have found your niche topic

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