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Carjacking in South Africa

The murder of a Swedish tourist in a carjacking incident in South Africa, highlights the dangers associated with travel in the region.

While many of the ‘attractions’ on the  popular tourist trail are relatively safe providing you take reasonable precautions, as soon as you wander off these established routes South Africa remains a very dangerous country.

Tourists should not under-estimate the dangers that the country presents, there is good reason why many South Africans live behind compound walls protected by razor wire and armed guards; and let us not forget that many people in South Africa live in abject poverty.

Certainly any over-land travel should be carried out in daylight hours and travel after dark is not recommended, if the threat of crime does not deter you and South Africa is one of the carjacking capitals of the world (13,000+ p.a.), then the sheer danger of driving on the roads in South Africa should.

The level of fatalities on South Africa’s roads is significant and anyone who travels for any significant time in the country is likely to see the wreckage of a very serious accident or at least see the aftermath of one.

South Africans drive fast and the laws of the road are unique. Many of the highways are single lane and when you are driving if a car speeds up behind you flashing their lights, you are expected to get out of the way; this means pulling into the hard shoulder to let them by. Pulling into the hard shoulder when you may be travelling at 120km/h+ is a challenge anywhere, in a country where the hard shoulder is often the place where people walk, including children going to and from school, and where livestock wander freely, the potential for disaster is obvious.

Car-jacking for those unfamiliar with it is when you, your car and anyone in your car is held up, often at gun point, and you are forced to drive to an out-of-the-way location. The lucky ones are dumped once they have been robbed of all their valuables and their car stolen, but in a very violent country like South Africa, unfortunately often violence is the first resort and not the last.


There are several ‘techniques’ which carjackers use.

One is to block you in with other vehicles, not the most common as it requires a level of co-ordination and co-operation many of those involved in this activity don’t have access to.

Another is to pull a gun when you stop at in a petrol station, at a traffic light or other traffic signal, hence why especially at night in urban areas, traffic lights are often ignored.

Yet another system used is for a car to bump you from behind as if by accident, the intention is to get you to stop and get out of your car, at which point the perpetrators pounce; the advice is always to drive to the nearest police station and report the accident without stopping or getting out of the car.

Carjacking is not unique to South Africa and is ‘common’ in many other countries including the USA; the methodology is generally the same.

This is a tragic case and should not be seen as the norm for travellers to South Africa, most people who visit still have a fantastic trouble free trip.

South Africa recently held the football world cup and special measures were put in place, with significant success, to protect visitors at the tournament. These measures were unsustainable in the long term and things seem already to have gone back to ‘normal’ meaning that South Africa is a destination where special care must be taken when visiting and where effective planning goes a long way to protecting travellers.


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Source – www.bbc.co.uk 

Date – 15th November 2010

Submitted by – Peter Mayhew