While Cape Town’s dark reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous cities is almost entirely a result of the number of murders that happen there each year, the vast majority of these murders happen in areas far removed from the main tourist destinations.

Unfortunately, while your life may not be in much danger as a visitor, your possessions most certainly are! The city’s Central Business District (CBD) is where the majority of its accommodation and most of the “must see” tourist locations are. It’s this part of the city that has the second-worst robbery rate for the whole metropolitan area.

According to the South African Police Service (SAPS) statistics for the year ending in March 2011, a total of 1 336 robberies were reported in the central part of the city. That’s an average approaching 4 robberies per day; a lot higher – nearly 50% more – than in a national crime hotspot like Khayelitsha, where a (usually successful) attempt at murder happens every single day on average.

Why are the types of crime so very different? What these numbers mean for you is that petty criminals are aware that tourists present an easy target with great rewards, and they actively take advantage of that fact.

To help you understand how to best protect yourself from robbery, let’s look more closely at these official numbers. Unusually for the city, a significant majority of robberies – 879 of the 1 336, or 66% – didn’t involve the use of a weapon. This suggests that most people fall victim to crimes like bag snatching, pick-pocketing and opportunistic theft. These kinds of crime tend to happen in busy places, where you’re relaxed or your attention is elsewhere, and where there are many escape routes. The highly popular Greenmarket Square with its host of local traders crammed together; Long Street – and its bars and restaurants (especially if you’re a drinker); and crowded areas like Adderly Street and the train station are perfect examples.

Cultivate good behaviours that keep your possessions safe, and try to make them a habit:

  • Keep your bags, satchels and purses closed or zipped up  – especially when they’re on your shoulder.
  • Keep money and mobile phones in front pants pockets or other difficult to reach places.
  • Never leave your wallet or mobile phone on the table where you’re seated.
  •  Don’t hang bags on the back of your chair, and take them with you when you leave the table for any reason.

Armed robberies are more likely to occur in secluded places where the chance of witnesses is low. The Institute for Security Studies has determined that most weapons-related crime in Cape Town is carried out with knives. This is a significant fact, because a large number of muggings involving visitors to the city have happened to people hiking on the major attractions of Lion’s Head, Signal Hill and Table Mountain itself. While the idea is of course to try and find peace and enjoy the unspoiled nature in these places, being in a large enough group should keep you safe from knife attacks. The SAPS is very clear that if you can’t easily defend yourself, for example if you’re a small group or facing a gun, you must comply with the attackers’ demands and give them your valuables. Violence is strongly associated with crime throughout South Africa, and resistance will probably result in serious injury or even death, but probably fail to protect your goods.

With these relatively low-level and fairly common-sense safety measures in place, you stand an excellent chance of being one of the many thousands of people who enjoy the “Fairest Cape’s” most popular destinations without any incident.