Because South Africa is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been with some of the most amazing people I’ve known, I’ve been very protective and defensive over how it’s seen, but I haven’t been fair to the many people who continue to pour in, some who may look up information online about how to better prepare themselves for the journey. I’ve written countless blogs, status updates, tweets, and articles about how great the country, specifically Johannesburg is, but I haven’t talked about how crazy it can get, especially now that more and more festivals and other events that began outside of SA are finding a market inside.
The festivals that come into the country are full of great times, dope artists, amazing fellowship, and love, but these coordinators are failing to prepare and protect the folks who are showing up and giving tossing their hard-earned dollars toward the stages. Since falling in love with and moving to Johannesburg years ago, I’ve had countless friends visit, all who feel the same as I do about the place; love. Even when the foolishness happens to them, whether it’s someone breaking into their car in Yeoville, being robbed of their cellphones at a stoplight in the CBD, or the absolute awful service from a few restaurants that will go unnamed, they weigh it against the vibe of the city, the heart of most of the people, and the music, and intensity in the air, and everything is still good about the place. But because we have to tell the truth about things, this post is to prepare you for the bad.
1. Don’t take a taxi, but Uber can be dangerous in many spots. I’ve had one taxi driver threaten to kill my Uber driver while I sat in the backseat, trying to get home from the market. The Uber driver put me out because he feared for his life, of course, but we set it up where he’d meet me around the corner and we’d jet from there. That’s a good story. My friends have stories in which they were actually dragged from inside the Uber while the taxi driver held a gun. Sit in the front seat if it’s just you, so it doesn’t look like an Uber (Taxify is a great app, too, with Uber-like cars and sometimes cheaper).
2. Festivals like Essence Festival, Oppikoppi, Global Citizen, and Afropunk bring in a multitude of visitors, many who are first-time visitors and haven’t quite learned the lay of the land. Unfortunately, these events also bring a multitude of not-so-subtle pickpockets and smash-and-grabbers. At this year’s Global Citizen, I had 11 friends get mugged. Four left with physical scars. Many thieves work in packs and fit in with the crowd, so they’re hard to detect. They will punch, slap, stab, and attack until they get what they want while the crowd runs in all directions, unsure of what’s happening. Then suddenly, it’s happening right next to you again. Of course putting your phone in your pocket is safer, but I’ve seen the thieves go directly into the pockets of the people without shame.
3. Bring mace or pepper spray. I asked a South African friend who attends all the events and leaves with countless stories of insanity, “where’s the pepper spray and mace?” He said jokingly, “that’s a luxury. You only really see the rich white women with it.” Then I asked my other friends, one who matter-of-factly stated “I get mugged at least 3 times a month on my way to work,” if they carry some form of protection, and they each said no. Bring it. Bring extra for a friend or a stranger.
4. Police? Security? I’ve watched the police shrug while a guy was mugged by six guys in the middle of a festival. Security is only present to give the illusion of safety. All that to say: don’t rely on them to protect you.
Again, I’m not writing this to scare anyone away from the country I love so much. I want you to go. I want you to go and be safe and aware and come home with nothing but great stories. It’s just that I’ve been the one to peel victims from sidewalks, drive friends to police stations, chase muggers down the road to retrieve stolen cell phones, and I want to never do that again.
See you in SA!