I didn’t get robbed in Johannesburg!

I don’t think I have ever had as bad of a feeling about a city other than Johannesburg.  I met a young South African woman that grew up in the city while we were partying at Carnival in Brazil and she said to me “you can’t grow up in Jo’burg without getting robbed or mugged”.  It’s one of the most dangerous cities in the world and after I have experienced it for the brief 24 hours I can say that it’s deeply misunderstood.

South African Airways

South African Airways Jet

I was born in Venezuela and have been living in South America for roughly a year before I started living in Nairobi, Kenya.  Venezuela is a very bad place to be right now, I consider myself a local there and even I got kidnapped and robbed.  You get used to looking behind your back every 5 seconds to see if there is anyone following you after living in South America so long.

Living in Africa is even worse since I stick out more than a skinny person in the United States

I can blend in (somewhat) by mimicking accents and wearing certain clothes in South America,  I can’t blend in Africa unless I get a serious tan. I unfortunately can’t do that yet since I still have more laser hair removal treatments.

Yeah that’s right, even Mr. Wiggles.

 I’m comfortable enough with my sexuality to say I’m metro sexual, I’m cool with that.  Shaving your eyebrows and arms?  Not so much.  These Puerto Rican heart throbs seriously need to explain that to me.

Is Johannesburg dangerous

No of course Johannesburg isn't dangerous says the armed response security sign

The point is I’m used to being in a dangerous place where I stick out.  I’m used to seeing bars on windows and women holding their purse closer to their body than that kid screaming with a toy at Wal-Mart.

I’m used to seeing part of my family in Venezuela have a compound with serious security including Lassie the dog.

Nothing prepared me for what I saw in Johannesburg

When I was driving from the train station to my friend’s apartment you didn’t see anything other than 15 foot walls with electrified fencing.  In Sicily, they have two lions at the entrance of every house to signify the mafia has its hands in those pockets.

In Johannesburg, they have electrified fencing with house alarms that are included with an armed response; not a police officer that comes and checks on the house, not a rent a cop that pretends he can protect you, an armed response.

These people are dead serious about security

After getting a very eerie feeling on the taxi ride I was completely blown away when I entered the condo complex.  There are two guards at the reception desk (standard) but once I walked out to the fourth floor my jaw dropped.  Inside of the condo complex there are metal gates before you reach the door of the home.  You need two set of keys, the first to open the metal gate and the second to open the door to your home.  These are old fashioned metal gates that you find on patio doors in some bad neighborhoods.

When you are in a condominium complex all of the security is supposed to be a the place of entry;  the front door, elevators, back of the building entrance.  Every single entrance to a home was equipped with the Santa Clause proof metal framed gate.  Who wants Santa Clause coming into your house and eating your Chips A’hoy anyway?

Can you just imagine how dangerous this city must have been?

Gated doors in Johannesburg

The Prison Gates for your home in Johannesburg.. Available today!

I have been traveling around the world for most of my life and I have never seen anything like this.  The city at one point in its history was a very bad place to be and there are still some neighborhoods that you don’t want to visit.  Now it’s just a habit of feeling safe more than it is actual danger.

Recognize that most of the older generation in the city lived through a very tough time and now they are just used to feeling safe.

While I would need more than one day for an opportunity to get robbed I can compare the city to the country of Colombia.  There was so much violence in Colombia at one time that people ask me how dangerous Colombia is rather than is it safe.  There is an image that both the city of Johannesburg and the country Colombia share, but only an image.

When I was walking around the city I didn’t feel in any danger at all.  The first thing I look for when I arrive in a new city is my surroundings on the drive from the airport.  Johannesburg was a train from the airport and then a drive, only the drive is what surprised me.  It’s very similar to allowing your boyfriend/husband cook a cake only to have it look like World War 3 on a plate and once you try the cake it happens to be delicious.

We both know the cake always turns out awful but it’s the figure of speech that I am going for

I look forward to returning to Johannesburg to explore more parts of the city.  It would be very interesting to delve deeper into the culture of a city that has such a huge connotation of violence.

My perspective has certainly changed, until next time Johannesburg.  Until next time.


  1. Great post, Marcello. Always good to see people portray all sides of the story and it’s great when travel bloggers can offer insight on something so bogged down by stereotype. 

  2. Yo!  I didn’t get robbed there either!  That place isn’t so bad is it?  Did you head out to Soweto and check out Mandela’s place on vilakazi??  

    I had an awesome time there.  I recommend people go there.  It’s a life changing place.  

  3. I am a south African who currently based in England while I go travelling. I am here in South Africa at the moment for 4 months visiting family. I loved reading your article and I read it out to my mum who is one of the older generation that you write about. I feel comfortable here and I enjoy talking to the locals but my mother is so filled with fear and I am scared that she actually misses out on a lot. It was wonderful to read your article, I found it refreshing and incredibly positive. Thank you 🙂

  4. South Africans are super drama queens and extremely neurotic. I moved to JHB two months ago and I agree that the perception people give you about the place is bordering on absurd mythology. And yes the high walls and fences are more a reflection of this neurosis than anything else.

    The root cause I suspect is the years of propaganda South Africans were taught about what would happen if the locals (blacks)were given rights mixed with the fact that yes, the fact that Jhb does have a high crime rate. But I’m loving life in Johannesburg and don’t in the slightest way feel in danger more than anywhere else I’ve lived. On top of that Johannesburg is actually quite beautiful with it’s trees and mansions laden hills.

  5. I’m traveling to South Africa after Christmas for a safari/adventure tour. My tour starts in Johannesburg. I won’t exploring the city much, just going to and from the airport and my hotel. I do want to explore Cape Town a bit more though (my tour ends in Cape Town). Did you visit that city? If so, how safe did you feel there?

  6. South African Airways “Jumbo Jets” don’t operate anymore. They used the Boeing 747SP variants, which are the shorter version of the plane. You know, there are those 747-400’s (like the ones extensively used by Lufthansa).

    If you got the chance to fly that South African Airways 747, then you were lucky. It’s a “rare breed” of planes nowadays.

    The plane you have on that photo is the “Outeniqua” plane that flew first in 1976, according to this data here:

    The plane was scrapped since…

  7. I am an 18 year old South African who has lived in Johannesburg for my entire life.

    While there are dodgy areas and bad people, there are also some very safe areas, and predominantly good people. People must remember that every city has bad spots. I often walk and run around the area and feel completely safe doing so.

    What I feel is very important to mention is that a lot of the violence and crime is because of the country’s Apartheid era – the Afrikaans government which made it illegal for black and white people to interact with one another. Under this system, black people were denied basic rights and suffered immensely. While I have lived only in the “new” South Africa (being born after 1994), I have certainly seen the reprocussions of the old one. It is hard to earn money to educate your children when you were denied an education. This is the big problem, and the government is still really a baby government as far as democratic states go, being only 20 years old.

    Johannesburg is a good place, you just have to mindful about where you go. I really loved the fact that you ended this article by expressing your desire to return to this city. More people should come, and truly experience to great sides to it. It’s what we need here.

    So thank you.

    P.s: I live in a complex, but I don’t have a gate on my front door 😛

    1. Also, I agree with @Mcfearless when he says that a lot of the ridiculous security measures are just a product of certain people’s paranoia.

      1. I totally agree with @Mcfearless too, for the same reason. I have lived in Johannesburg for 65 years now and can thankfully say that I have never been robbed or mugged. You have to know your areas.
        Marcello, I really hope you will give Johannesburg another try!

  8. The gates and security is heavily arranged in the whole of South Africa, that’s true! But I haven’t felt unsafe one bit. Have you?
    Wouldn’t want to live like this though…

  9. I wanted to read your article but your ignorant comment made me stop… maybe do your research first:

    “More recently, the U.K.’s Clinic Compare created a map (above) based on international obesity statistics by the CIA, which lists Pacific Island nations—American Samoa, Nauru, and Cook Islands—as the most obese countries in the world. (The United States is 18th on the CIA’s list)”

    -From a very active healthy American like most of us

    1. I definitely trust all the government statistics released by the endless three word American agencies. Keep paying attention to all their reports they will definitely help you out in life.

  10. I’m from Johannesburg. Each area is different here in Jhb. I live near the farmlands; Jhb west and we are okay not heavily barred like Sandton and surroundings. I guess we so accustomed to this place we don’t realise that we are not free like other countries but we are very diverse.

  11. Johannesburg, in my opinion, is not safe in particular Hillbrow where I had to pass in the car because of car accident on the highway. I will have to return to Johannesburg because of business trips but it is not pleasant experience.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *