We have been in Cape Town for over a month but are only starting to get comfortable with the safety situation here. We knew that, as a whole, Cape Town is considered much safer than Johannesburg. However, the story behind the fabulous South African movie Tsotsi remained imprinted in our minds.
While Cape Town doesn’t have a massive car jacking problem, locals warn us about burglary and rampant pickpocketing. Even the South African tourists we met in Namibia warned us with all sorts of sordid stories. After our money disappearance in Greece, we wanted to be even more vigilant about our surroundings. Our first week in Cape Town we walked around with the bare minimum – a credit card, some money and a phone. I stopped carrying my camera unless we were driving. That explains why my posting frequency has dropped since arriving here.
As pretty as Cape Town is, one can’t miss the signs of danger. Almost every house and building is fortified with burglar bars. We are used to window bars designed to keep children in. It’s taken a while to get used to bars intended to keep people out. Despite an OPEN sign, this restaurant was locked. Notice the white bell to the left of the door – that’s what a visitor has to ring in order to be approved and allowed in. We spend many mornings at this cafe, whose interior is a stark contrast to the scary bars. The inside greets us with warm smells, country furniture and delectable $3 gluten-free cupcakes.
Almost every establishment, from stores to salons to my yoga studio has a gate.
The gate is locked at the start of every yoga class. This is why, unlike New York City where no one ever seems to be on time, I can never sneak in a few minutes late.
All of these precautions heightened our sense of fear. When Sandeep takes out cash from the ATM, he’ll cough up an extra 20 Rand ($2 dollars) to take a cab back home. He calls it an insurance fee.
This is how we have become comfortable with the safety situation after spending a month surrounded by burglar bars.
– Like any big city, Cape Town has its good and bad parts. We live and spend most of our time in a relatively safe area called The Gardens. It is well patrolled by security services and trafficked during the day. Incidentally, ADT seems to protect all of Cape Town, and their security cars are much more visible than police vehicles.
– Almost everyone drives, so foot traffic is sparse save for a few pockets around our neighborhood, the waterfront and the promenades. Signs of street life come to a virtual stand still when the sun sets so this is when things start getting more dodgy.
– There are very few areas where we are comfortable at night. Even then, we usually call a taxi to take us a few blocks home.
– When we rented a car, the company told us not to leave anything in it, including jackets. They even suggested we leave the glove compartment open so that potential thieves would know there was nothing to steal. We do as told .
– After nine months of wearing the same few clothes every day, we are looking a little worse for wear. The kids make so much noise everywhere we go that people run away from and not towards us. I doubt we are a pickpocketter’s dream.
Locals say that safety is improving in Cape Town. However, there is still a very stark economic divide. South Africa has the second highest income inequality in the world as measured by the Gini Index (source: www.cia.gov). Groups of men, who we can only assume to be unemployed and bored, can be seen lurking around parks, outside stores and at random corners. We usually take another route when we see this. We wouldn’t fall asleep on a park bench here, but we’re not scared for our lives either. After a month I’m more comfortable carrying my camera, albeit in a nondescript bag instead of slung around my shoulder. That will be until we get to Rio de Janeiro next month, a place that even Capetonians call dangerous.