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South Africa Helpful Travel Information

South Africa is a vast country with widely varying landscapes and has 11 official languages, as well as an equally diverse population.  South Africa has the strongest economy in Africa, and is an influential player in African politics.  South Africa is also renowned for its wines and is one of the world’s largest producers of gold.

South Africa Map (Wikipedia)

South Africa Map (Wikipedia)

The tip of Africa has been home to the Khoisan (collective name for Hottentot – Koi – and Bushmen – San) people for thousands of years.  Their rock art can still be found in many places throughout South Africa.  The first Europeans to reach South Africa were the Portuguese, who names the tipping end of the country “Cape of Good Hope” in 1488, when they managed to sail around it to reach India.  Bur permanent European settlement was only built at Cape Town after the Dutch East India Company reached the Cape of Good Hope in April 1652.  In the late 1700’s the Boers (settling farmers) slowly started expanding first westward along the coastline and later upwards into the interior.  By 1795, Britain first took control of the Cape, as a consequence of the Napoleonic wars on the Dutch, and in 1820, a large group of British settlers arrived in the region.  In 1835 large numbers of Boers started out on the Groot Trek (great migration) into the interior after becoming dissatisfied with the British rule.

Two wars for control over the region were fought between the Boers and the British in 1880 and 1899, of which the second war was particularly unpleasant, due to the British Administration containing Boer civilian population in concentration camps.  After peace was restored by the 1902 Treaty of Vereeniging, the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, consolidating the various Boer republics and British colonies into a unified state as a member of the British Commonwealth.  In 1961, the Republic of South Africa was formed and SA exited Commonwealth.

In 1948, the National Party came into power and apartheid laws were introduced to initially give a national / tribal, independent and sovereign homeland to each of the various tribes within South Africa, who frequently engaged in raids and border wars with each other.  Since then, South Africa became practically synonymous with fascism, racism, and many other pejorative descriptions.  Political violence escalated, following a period of apartheid, in 1990 as extremists of all kinds attempted to derail ANC-NP peace talks in favour of their own visions of the future of South Africa..  A new constitution was established in 1993 and the first democratic elections in April 1994 in which the ANC won a 63% majority vote and Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s president.


Cultural and Language Considerations

South Africa has 11 official languages, but English is widely spoken and understood by most locals.  What is noteworthy is that English is the second (and third, forth or fifth!) language of most South Africans, but nevertheless, it is spoken well and with a lot of character.

On the one hand South Africa is a first world state, especially the major cities and on the other hand, it is under-developed and has large scale poverty.

South Africans are generally polite, friendly and accommodating to tourists.  Men generally greet with firm handshake, while woman will to the continental kiss on the cheek in more informal circumstances.

South Africans are also proud of their country and how far they have come since apartheid.  It is wise to avoid racial or political remarks while in South Africa if you don’t have a good understanding of the history.

A few words you may encounter are:

– eish – as in “eish, it is hot today”, “eish, that’s expensive”, or “eish, that’s too far to drive”

– lekker – nice, enjoyable (Like Leka Escapes!)

– howzit – how is it? (generally a rhetorical question)

– yebo – yes

– boet, bru, china, ou – generally referring to a man, friend or brother

– koppie – a small hill

– Madiba – referring to Nelson Mandela

– robot – traffic light

– tinkle – phone call

– just now – sometime soon

– now now – a bit longer than sometime soon

– braai – barbeque

– cheers – used for saying good-bye or saying thank you or for the occasional toast

– heita – hello

– sharp – OK

– sure-sure- agreement

– ayoba – something cool

– zebra crossing – pedestrian crossing (black and white lines painted on road to indicate this)

Getting around – transport systems and fuel stations

South Africa has 4 international airports; OR Tambo in Johannesburg, Cape Town, King Shaka in Durban and Mphumalanga-Kruger near Nelspruit.  There are also numerous local airports to which you can fly from any of these destinations.

Any mode of transport goes in South Africa, from train to bus to car to motorcycle to bicycle, so take your pic and go where your heart (or stomach) takes you!

Fuel stations are also abundant and thus you will not go far without passing at least a few in one trip.  It is customary to tip the attendants that assist you in filling your vehicle.


Currencies and ways to pay

The currency of South Africa is the Rand for which the symbol is R, and on forex boards known as ZAR.  Notes are in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10.  Various coin denominations are also available.

Conversion rates vary wildly depending on politics and it is best to import or carry USD or GBP, as conversion of them can be done at any bank without trouble.  The Rand can be used in Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique.

ATM’s are linked to all major international networks and are available freely throughout the country.


Health, Safety and Emergency Information

South Africa has some of the highest violent crime rates of the world, but, by being vigilant and using common sense, you should have a safe and pleasant trip as hundreds of thousands do each year.  Do not accept offers from strangers, no matter how friendly they are.  Do not wear expensive jewellery or watches for everyone to see.  It is suggested that you wear a tummy bag with all your valuables and a concealed money bag under your shirt.  Leave your passports and other valuables in a safe or other secure locations whenever possible. There are quite a few ‘don’t do’s” when coming to South Africa, but if you make sure you stay safe and don’t go wandering out on your own when its dark, you should be fine.  Visiting the townships can be done through various tour operators that know the areas and people.

There are a lot of hospitals and pharmacies all over South Africa and it is advisable to visit a private hospital or clinic to ensure the best care possible.  With regards to the water, the municipal water is safe to drink in all provinces, but in the rural areas bottled water is advised.

Another factor to consider in South Africa is the risk of sunburn, even on winter days you can burn if you don’t wear the necessary protection. Try and wear protective clothing and minimum SPF30.

South Africa has one of the highest HIV infection rates worldwide – 5.4 million people out of a population of 48 million are HIV positive.  Therefore it is advisable to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself.

The north-eastern areas of the country (including the Kruger National Park and St. Lucia and surrounds) are seasonal malaria zones, from about November to May.  Take the necessary precautions.

Important phone numbers include the following:

Police emergency – 10111 or 112 from a mobile phone

Ambulance – either 101777 or 082911 for the Netcare response team and The National Sea Rescue Institute

National Tourism Information and Safety line – +27 (0)83 123 2345


Embassies and high commissions contacts (

Australia – Tel 012 423 6000,

Austria – Tel 012 452 9155,

Belgium – Tel 012 440 3201,

Botswana – Tel 012 430 9640 (Pretoria) or 021 421 1045 (Cape Town) or 011 403 3748 (Johannesburg)

Canada – Tel 012 422 3000,

France – Tel 012 425 1600, (Pretoria) or 021 423 1575, (Cape Town) or 011 778 5600 (Johannesburg)

Germany – Tel 012 427 8900, (Pretoria) or 021 405 3000, (Cape Town)

Greece – Tel 012 430 7351,

India – Tel 012 342 5392,

Ireland – Tel 012 342 5062

Japan – Tel 012 452 1500,

Lesotho – Tel 012 460 7648 (Pretoria), 031 307 2168 (Durban) or 011 339 3653 (Johannesburg)

Mozambique – Tel 012 401 0300 (Pretoria), 021 426 2944 (Cape Town), 031 304 0200 (Durban), 011 336 1819 (Johannesburg)

Namibia – Tel 012 481 9118,

Netherlands – Tel 012 425 4500, (Johannesburg) or 021 421 5660, (Cape Town)

New Zealand – Tel 012 342 8656

Portugal – Tel 012 341 2340, 012 341 2340

Russia – Tel 012 362 1337/8,

Swaziland – Tel 012 344 1910 (Pretoria) or 011 403 7372 / 2036 (Johannesburg)

UK – Tel 012 421 7600, (Pretoria) or 021 405 2400 (Cape Town) or 031 572 7259 (Durban)

US – Tel 012 431 4000, or 021 702 7300 (Cape Town) or 031 304 4737 (Durban) or 011 644 8000 (Johannesburg)

Zimbabwe – Tel 012 342 5125, (Pretoria) or 011 838 2156, (Johannesburg)


Satellite and Mobile Networks

Mobile networks (including GPRS, 3G, LTE, etc) are well established in South Africa, with the exception of some remote areas.  The same goes for internet cafes and wi-fi is widely available at most restaurants, malls and hotels.


Border and Entry Requirements

Tourists may enter South Africa for up to 120 days, depending on their country of origin.

The following nationalities do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania (90 days per 1 year), United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and citizens of British Overseas Territories.

The following nationalities do not need a visa for a stay of 120 days or less: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Gabon, Guyana, Hong Kong (BNO passports or SAR passports), Hungary, Jordan, Lesotho, Macau, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Poland, Seychelles, Slovakia, South Korea, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey,Zambiaand Zimbabwe.

Citizens of India have to apply for tourist visas but this visa is issued gratis. The same applies to South Africans visiting India. This is because of the reciprocity that India shares with a lot of countries like Argentina, Uruguay and Mongolia.

Do not show up without a visa if you are required to have one, as visas will not be issued at points of entry. If needed, you can extend your visa in South Africa. With an extension the total amount of time you are allowed to stay is 6 months. Additional information as well as Visa application forms can be found at the Department of Home Affairs, tel +27 (0)12 810 8911.

The Department of Home Affairs is notoriously inefficient, so make sure to apply for visas and visa extensions as early as possible.

Make sure you have 2 blank pages back to back in your passport and that it is valid for at least 30 days after your intended date of departure, or you will be sent back! Make sure you have a return ticket available or they will send you back. If you need to pick up a ticket at the airport have the flight number and details handy and speak with the customs guy, they should check your story out and let you in (be firm). Be wary of arriving with a damaged passport as new security measures might trip up your entry.

Should you be entering from one of the other countries in Southern Africa you might want to do so by car. South Africa operates a number of land border posts between itself and immediately neighbouring countries. The more commonly used ones are:

Botswana border

• Skilpadsnek, (On the N4, 54 km/34 mi from Zeerust), ☎ +27 18 366-1469. 06:00-22:00.

Lesotho border

• Maseru Bridge, (15 km (9 mi) from Ladybrand on the N8 towards Maseru), ☎ +27 51 924-4004. Open 24 hours.

• Ficksburg Bridge, (Just outside Ficksburg), ☎ +27 51 933-2760. Open 24 hours.

• Sani Pass, (In the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg park), ☎ +27 51 430-3664. 08:00-16:00.

Mozambique border

• Lebombo, (On the N4 btwn Nelspruit and Maputo), ☎ +27 13 790-7203. 06:00-22:00.

• Kosi Bay, (R22 btwn Hluhluwe and Ponta do Ouro), ☎ +27 35 592-0251. 08:00-16:00.

Namibia border

• Nakop, (132 km (82 mi) from Upington on the N10 towards Ariamsvlei), ☎ +27 054 571-0008. Open 24 hours.

• Vioolsdrift, (On the N7 N of Springbok), ☎ +27 27 761-8760. Open 24 hours.

Swaziland border

• Oshoek, (120 km/75 mi from Ermelo on the N17 towards Mbabane), ☎ +27 17 882-0138. 07:00-12:00.

Zimbabwe border

• Beit Bridge, (On N1 approximately 16 km/10 mi N of Messina), ☎ +27 15 530-0070. Open 24 hours.

Open times are often extended during South African holidays.. For a full list of entry ports or any additional information see the South African Border Information Service or contact them on +27 (0)86 026-7337.



The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline.

The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter. Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year. Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35 degrees Celsius (95°F) in some places.

The South African Weather Service provides up to date weather information, forecasts and radar imaging.


Legal Considerations

Law enforcement (speed and other violations) is usually done by portable or stationary, radar or laser cameras. Local police forces, especially in rural areas, direct a lot of their efforts in to fining motorists.

If your driver’s licence is in any of South Africa’s 11 official languages (e.g. English) and it contains a photo and your signature integrated into the licence document, then it is legally acceptable as a valid driver’s licence in South Africa. However, some car rental and insurance companies may still insist that you provide an International Driver’s Permit.

It is generally best practice to acquire an International Driver’s Permit in your country of origin, prior to starting your journey, regardless of whether your licence is legally acceptable or not.

Elize Rowe

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