Let’s be honest for a minute; it’s bad news that sells newspapers right? We humans are a weird bunch, we slow down at vehicle collision scenes, we strain to get a better view at crime scenes and outrageously negative headlines attract us like flies to a cadaver (too far?). Well, it’s the same with Durban and crime. For years Durban has struggled to shrug off it’s reputation for being one of the most dangerous (if not the most dangerous) city in South Africa. But my friends, I am here to tell you that it’s just not true.
Durban, The Greatest City in the World
So before I get to telling you how wonderful Durban is, a quick disclaimer.
I am a Durban born lad. I love this city, warts and all and in spite of her frequent bad moods. To me Durban is the greatest city in the world and I wont hear a word said otherwise (I will fight you). So it kinda goes without saying that I may not not be the most impartial individual when it comes to matters pertaining Durban – but I am going to do my best to tell it like it is.
This is a shameless plug!
We’ve been guiding tourists around the city if Durban for around 10 years now and we’ve not lost anyone! We not only offer city tour, but we offer wildlife safaris to the Hluhlwue Imfolozi Game Reserve, St Lucia and Tala Game Reserve. We also offer tours to Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift and, if you’re looking for something different, we also offer shark swimming and ziplining. So give us a call!
Before we get into the nitty-gritty I should point out that the area we describe as “Durban” is not really Durban. To simplify, the city of Durban is only around 240km2, and it lies in the metropolitan of eThekweni which is 2500km2. So very often, when people speak of crime in Durban, they may actually be talking about an area that lies outside of the city of Durban – which naturally gives Durban a undeserved bad name.
The best way to tackle the question of whether Durban is dangerous or safe to visit, is to answer some of the questions I have been asked over the years. So here goes.
Is Durban safe?
Yes, perfectly safe. In 2010 the city of Durban went on this major spending spree – the city had a little excess cash and the world cup was looming so they decide to spruce the place up. As part of this spring clean, extra Metro police were employed and security staff were contracted in. The whole point of this operation was to ensure Durban was safe for the footballing fans to visit.
Fast forward a couple of years and the situation remains the same. You always see Metro police out and on almost every street corner is a security guard or two looking to keep the peace. If you are out and about and you feel unsafe or something has happened, simply walk up to them, explain the situation and they will assist.
What crime is there is Durban?
Durban, like all major cities around the world, has crime – we too suffer from pick pockets, the odd mugging and so on. According to the South African Police Services (SAPS), crime in Durban has actually decreased (woohoo) which is great news for both locals and tourists. In fact, according to CrimeStats SA, Durban is the safest place to be out of the big 3 (Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban).
The type of crime that is common in Durban is…
- burglary at non-residential premises,
- theft of motor vehicle and motor-cycle,
- theft out of motor vehicle,
- drug related,
- driving under the influence of alcohol, and
Now, of the crimes listed above, international visitors really only have to worry about 2 or 3 simply because they wont be affected by the others. What are the chances of an international traveler like yourself being involved in an overnight robbery of a business? Or shoplifting for that matter?
Fact is a lot of crimes that happen in Durban tend to take place in spots tourists are not really found in, like a city tavern, a shebeen, a den of iniquity. That’s not too say you can walk about in a haze of blissful unawareness, this is still a metropolitan city and Africa after all, but it’s not as bad as many make out.
Can I / we walk around the city?
Definitely! Strap on a pair of walking shoes and by all means explore until your heart is content. Fact is many people explore the city on foot without any drama and you can as well. My advice is pretty simple…
- Get hold of a paper map. Durban is obviously unfamiliar to you and you don’t want to get lost right. And why a paper map? You don’t want to be a victim of opportunistic crime right? If you walk around focused on your mobile phone then you’re not paying attention to your surroundings and you have a nice expensive item in your hand, it’s a perfect situation for an opportunistic criminal. Keep the mobile phone hidden.
- Tell someone where you going and what time you think you’ll be back.
- Make sure your mobile is charged and you have the important numbers saved. I would also write the numbers down on paper in case the worst happens, you leave you phone on a restaurant table (horrors!).
- If you don’t feel safe, simply look for a security guard or police vehicle, or walk into the store and explain to someone inside what’s up – Durbanites have a reputation of being friendly to uphold, they will assist.
Walking around at night is not such a great idea. The only reasons I say that is NOT because of crime (Durban is rather empty at night) but rather because it’s easy to get hopelessly lost. Some companies offer tours cycling tours at night so it is safe, just rather go with a guide.
We want to go clubbing, is it safe?
Yup, perfectly safe. But, lets be careful out there, like any major city in the world there are precautions, and if you’re out clubbing it does mean alcohol is involved, so you need to be a little extra cautious.
- Use Uber or a registered metered taxi to get to and from the clubs.
- Do not drink from open containers outside the club.
- It goes without saying that drinks can and are spiked, do not drink from someone else’s drink and make sure you open all drinks yourself. Do not leave your drink around unattended.
- Do not walk about drunk.
- Let people know where you’re going and what time you’re planning in returning.
- If you’re planning to go out along, don’t drink or at the very least, drink lightly.
How about going out for a late or early run?
It’s a constant source or amazement to me just how healthy people are, and that they want to run! Me, the only time you’ll find me running is…I can’t actually think of any time I’d run. But this is a question I get asked a great deal. It’s perfectly fine to go out for a run, people do it all the time.
One of the most popular places to run is on the beachfront itself. Every morning and every afternoon the beachfront is covered by these mysterious individuals named “runners” who delight in suffering; don’t understand it myself but it is perfectly safe and according to the World Health Organization, you (and based on my weight and general state of fitness, me as well) should do it more often.
What should I /we be on the lookout for in Durban?
Durban has a homeless population of around 4,000 people last time I checked. So this does mean that whether you are on the beachfront enjoying a stroll, or exploring the city, there is a pretty good chance someone is going to ask you for some change. The best way to deal with this is too firmly say “no”, but in a polite manner. My go to is…
Homeless individual: “Hi, can I have some spare change please“?
Me: “I’m really sorry but I don’t carry cash on me“.
See? It’s simple, not at all rude and it works. You may of course feel extremely sorry for these individuals but it’s best not to give change directly. There are organizations in Durban that are attempting to deal with homeless people and giving them money simple undermines the work being done. Hard I know, but please don’t.
Is it safe to drive around Durban?
This is a great question! Driving around the city is safe. Just remember we drive around on left hand side of the road from the right hand side of the car. There is some vehicle specific advice though you should be aware of.
- Be aware of your surroundings, especially when stopped at stop streets or traffic lights. There have been recorded incidents of “snatch and grab”. This mean while you’re checking your messages or your map at the lights, a criminal will start to walk past and then suddenly reach into your vehicle and snatch whatever belongings they can grab. They only way to deal with this, keep your windows up and be vigilant.
- When parking, ensure that your car’s immobilizer and locking system actually locked. Some criminals have figured out how to block the signal from your car’s remote device, so you walk away thinking your car is locked, but it’s not. Me, I always lock the car and then walk around it checking each door and boot is actually physically locked. It’s a pain I know, but less than taking the time to report your belongings missing.
- Keep any belongings out of site when parked. Place them in the boot of the vehicle. This will dash the hopes and dreams of the opportunistic criminal.
- Make sure you have the number of emergency services written down somewhere. If you’re hiring a car, ask for their hotline number – write it down!
- If you’re stuck on the roadside, call for assistance and then remain in your vehicle. If you’re obstructing traffic, place a warning triangle out to warn vehicles, and then get back into the vehicle and wait for emergency services to pitch up.
Can I take my camera out with me?
This is actually quite a difficult question to answer. On the face of it I want to say yes, by all means take your expensive Nikon/Canon and photograph the great city in Africa until your heart explodes with happiness. But the pragmatist in me says “hang on a second”.
My advice is pretty simple. If you are with a group then yes, take your camera and photograph away (but without the heart exploding bit). Remember to always ask permission if you’re planning to photograph an individual and don’t be surprised if said individual asks for a coke in return (ie, payment).
If you’re on your own, then I probably wouldn’t advise taking the big expensive camera unless you are a very experienced traveler. In this instance I would advice sticking to a point and shoot that you can put away when not using it.
What about pickpockets?
They are there, the naughty little blighters (I for some reasons always equate pickpockets with Oliver Twist) just waiting for an innocent victim to stroll by. Personally I have never been pick pocketed in Durban, or any city in South Africa (that dubious honor remains set in London) but there are reports.
Awareness of surroundings is your number 1 weapon against this scourge. Also, don’t carry your wallet in your back pocket, just makes it too easy.
For the ladies, carry your handbag in front of your body and and make sure it’s always closed.
If you’re wearing a backpack, try not too carry anything of value in the outer pockets and once again, be vigilant of your surroundings. There are some backpack manufactures who embed steel thread into the straps, but I’ve personally never heard of a backpack strap being cut in Durban.
Can I carry cash or draw cash from an ATM?
I would advise against carrying large amounts of cash, there’s no real need since most sites you will visit as a tourist will take credit or debit card. You may need a little bit of cash especially if visiting a market but on the whole, keep the cash to a minimum.
Drawing cash from an ATM needs to be done with caution. It’s unfortunate that in South Africa being scammed at ATM’s is pretty damn common, far too common so you need to be cautious, here is my advice on the subject…
- Use ATM’s that have a security guard nearby, or are placed inside a store or mall.
- Don’t let anyone help you! A popular scam right now is for an individual to “help” you draw cash, people get flustered when approached in the moment when you’re distracted, your card gets swapped. If you are traveling with a partner, ask then to stand guard while you draw cash.
- Always be aware of who is standing nearby the ATM. If there is an individual (remember criminals come in all shapes, ages and colors) that appears to be lurking, notify security, it’s their job to deal with it.
What do I do if I am a victim of crime in Durban
Heavens forbid that are a victim of crime, but if so, here’s what you should do.
- In the case of a pickpocket, simply get yourself back to your hotel, and if it’s your wallet, naturally start cancelling cards etc, and make a list of everything you remember your wallet/purse contains.
- Ask your hotel/B&B to contact the police for you – depending on the seriousness they may come out to open a case but most likely you will have to go to the nearest police station – your hotel or accommodation can advise.
- If it’s something more serious, like the car you hired was stolen, then you will need to call the police and report it immediately followed by opening of a docket (complaint). Make sure you have vehicle details with you and don’t forget to notify the hire place (if hired).
Who should I call?
- In Durban, call 10111 for emergencies. Ask for your reference number at the end of the call.
- For Emergency: Metro Police & Metro Fire call 031 361 0000
- 10177 – Ambulance
- 031 309 1404 / 1778 – City Med
- 031 337 6522 – S A Red Cross
- 031 305 6588 – St Johns Ambulance
- 082 911 or 0800 333 444 – Netcare
Last words (and legal stuff)
It goes without saying that this is just our opinion and you should definitely keep up to date with travel advisories and most importantly, use Captain Common Sense. But reports of crime are often over-exaggerated and it shouldn’t stop you from visiting the greatest city in the world (in my opinion). The advice offered here is just that, advice and nothing more.
About Country and Coastal Touring
Country and Coastal Touring are registered tour guides and operators based in the city of Durban, South Africa. We offer a range of Durban city tours, wildlife safari tour, cultural tours and history tours.