People tell me that South Africa is dangerous. Is it safe to travel there?
South Africa is a first world-third world country, with the challenges and opportunities of each. Where there is poverty, there can be crime. Where there are rich people, there can be crime. Like any place, it’s important to be aware and of course, take care of your personal property.
Will I see poverty in South Africa?
More than half of nearly 60 million people in South Africa live in poverty – one-quarter in extreme poverty. While some live in large inner cities like Johannesburg, most live in Townships created during Apartheid – most some distance from the urban areas. More than half of the youth 18-24 are unemployed. As education improves, the hope is that industry and demand for skilled labor will increase…and poverty will decline. Like virtually everywhere in Africa, while you can’t avoid seeing evidence of poverty as you travel about, it’s not something that is visible every hour, every day.
Are there any opportunities to help the poor while I am visiting South Africa?
There are more than 18,000 NGOs in the country, most with missions to help the poor. Many offer opportunities to visitors to be involved with social action projects while in the country. We can help arrange these.
It’s Africa…is it clean?
The government is making good progress…running water, toilets and electricity are being installed in places where not long ago, there wasn’t any. Most of these places are outside the urban areas, often in Townships that were built in a hurry at the start of apartheid. With a new government recently elected, money that was going to dishonest officials is beginning to flow to housing. Howard and I have driven more than 20,000 miles throughout the country. We call South Africa the land of the clean restroom. Look out for the fresh flowers in the rest stops along the highways.
Africa is so far away. Is it very expensive to get there?
It’s surprising that round trip to South Africa can be bought often for the same price as Europe; and often for less than a coast to coast flight in the USA. Like anywhere else, airlines offer seasonal rates to both Johannesburg and Cape Town, and there are non-stop flights to both cities. The non-stops often – but not always - cost a bit more than flights with stops or change of planes. But don’t go by rumor or hearsay when thinking about airfares; they change literally by the day or even hour, not to mention the day of the week and month of the year. Once in South Africa, the cost of living is significantly less than in the US, especially for those of us who are used to NY prices.
What’s the best time of the year to go to South Africa?
It’s a big country, about one-third the size of the US, so like the US, weather is different in different parts. They are in the Southern Hemisphere, so summer is during the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year holidays. South African winter can be rainy and windy and spring usually brings stunning wildflowers. While, South African summer can be very hot – summer vacation for the entire country is mid-December to mid-January. Many businesses are closed, school children are on vacation, and families head for warm Indian Ocean beaches.
I understand that Apartheid ended in 1994, but there is still segregation. Why is this?
Apartheid affected everyone in the country – whites, blacks, coloreds (mixed race), Indians, Asians and others. Historically, white people make up only 10% of the population…non-whites the rest. Although officially segregation has ended, people still tend to live with people like themselves, so there continues to be racial divide – but it’s caused by custom, not by law.
What kinds of cultural activities, like art, music and theater can I see in South Africa?
Especially in the big cities, there are all kinds of cultural activities – art galleries and museums, jazz clubs and tribal music groups, symphony orchestras and chamber groups, and lots of theater and dance.
What do people eat in South Africa? Will I be able to get kosher food there?
Kosher is difficult, but food in South Africa is as diverse as the country. Bordered by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, there’s lots of fresh fish everywhere. In the interior, game is abundant, so expect to be offered ostrich and springbok and other very tasty wild game. For 400 years, travelers have been bringing spices from the East, frequently found in Cape Malay dishes. In the 19th century there was heavy Indian immigration, so there is wonderful Indian food to be tasted. You will also find special dishes from the many tribal cultures. Almost everything you are used to eating at home, you will easily find in South Africa.
We hear a lot about South African wines and that they are excellent and inexpensive. Can I take some home with me? What about other shopping opportunities and souvenirs?
South Africans love their wine. It’s everywhere. Don’t be surprised if you are offered a glass of wine before a Sunday morning concert. Within an hour of Cape Town, wine farms stretch as far as you can see. It’s hard to spend more than $10 a bottle – so even if you have to pay for shipping, it may be worth bringing home a very special souvenir.
Speaking of souvenirs, we really love to shop on our travels. What can I expect to find?
In addition to wine, art is everywhere, and when it’s not art, it’s crafts. Wire baskets, beaded animals, ceramics…Diamonds and gold jewelry. And so much more.
We are active and like to participate in sports. What sports will we find?
As a spectator sport, rugby is very popular. There’s also lots of soccer. And whale watching! Wonderful hiking trails are all over the country – in low -lands and high in the mountains. There’s lots of biking – even a 7-day race, world-class golf courses and depending on weather, some ski slopes. Water sports are very popular since so much of the country borders the ocean – there’s scuba diving and all kinds of surfing – chose a traditional board or a board pulled behind a kite. And for the really daring, many like to try shark-cage diving.
I have heard people say “Don’t go to Johannesburg.” Should I leave it off my itinerary?
We love Johannesburg. It earned a bad rap years ago for being too dangerous. Today, it has a bustling inner city (think Soho, NYC and Williamsburg, Brooklyn) with art galleries, street art, craft shops, food vendors, avant-garde theater and hip music clubs. It is also steeped in history: Pre-historic, Apartheid and Jewish.