To say I was a little nervous about travelling to South Africa would be just a slight understatement. Health and safety were my primary concerns. When I first started talking about this trip I heard things such as 'South Africa has the highest rate of rape in the world', 'people will shoot you for your phone', 'you will get carjacked if you go to Johannesburg'. Terrifying stuff. And while these statements may not be entirely untrue or unfounded, by doing some research and being sensible about things, my travel companion and I managed to avoid any trouble.
Here are a few simple precautions we took as female travellers to minimize the risk:
Prearrange airport transfers. To avoid any risk that may be associated with climbing into a cab, or an even riskier uber, with an unknown person, organise a shuttle through your hotel to pick you up and drop you off at the airport. The hotel will tell you where in the terminal the driver will be waiting, and the driver will have a sign with your name on it. This is the surest way to get to your intended destination safely.
Choose the location of your accommodation carefully. The only place we travelled alone in South Africa was Cape Town. The main tourist precinct in Cape Town is the V & A Waterfront, which is patrolled by security personnel. We chose a hotel which was only one block from the waterfront and just across the road from the main City Sightseeing Bus Stop. This meant we minimised the distance we had to walk alone.
See a doctor before you go. Cape Town has world class medical facilities but most of South Africa does not. It's a good idea to see a doctor and make sure you are healthy for travel. You may also need vaccinations (certainly Hep A & B and perhaps Typhoid), and anti-malaria medication if you plan on visiting Kruger. It's also a good idea to have a letter stating any medications you will be carrying with you in case anyone asks.
Be confident in OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg. People are known to pose as porters in this airport. They may not necessarily mean you harm, but they will lead you on a merry dance and then demand money. Even if you aren't exactly sure where you're going, pretend you are. Look confident, and refuse help with a simple smile and 'no thank you' as you continue to walk. This airport is also notorious for items being stolen from baggage. You can opt to wrap your bag for some added security, but in reality if someone wants to get into your luggage, they will. There isn't a whole lot you can do about it, and is a risk you will simply have to take when travelling to South Africa. Keep all your valuables in your carry on if possible (this is a standard tip for any airport).
Don't flaunt valuables. The best way to avoid being a target for thieves is to remove the temptation. Don't get your phone out on the street, wait until you are somewhere safe to check it. I promise you will survive without Facebook until you are safely inside a restaurant or back in your hotel room.
Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Take cash and cards. Spread your cash around. Carry some in a money belt under your clothes. Keep a small amount, about what you will need for one day, in an easily accessible wallet/purse in your pocket. Stash some in your suitcase which you leave in your hotel room. And if your room has a safe, use it.
Minimise your time in Johannesburg. Don't plan a stopover here. There is no denying that Johannesburg is a dangerous city, and many South Africans won't even go there. OR Tambo is South Africa's main international airport and if you are travelling to South Africa from somewhere like Australia, you have no option but to pass through this port. Try to arrange a connecting flight straight to Cape Town, or have your accommodation/tour provider pick you up directly from and drop you off at the airport.
The food is great. To follow some good advice I once heard, I will end on a high. I was needlessly concerned about the food in South Africa. Cape Town is packed with world class restaurants, and by doing a tour, we always had great food at the Bed & Breakfasts and restaurants we visited. The food was by no means expensive, but was very tasty and served in huge portions. Even the breakfast at Wimpy's is edible. Many grocery stores also have pre-packaged meal options available. Tap water in South Africa is potable except for in some rural areas. Ask your accommodation provider if the water is drinkable.
All this being said, and perhaps it's because we followed this advice, we didn't actually encounter any problems. Cape Town is a beautiful place and I promise you will not be disappointed if you do decide to visit. As far as safari goes, compared to other destinations further north on the African continent, visiting in Kruger in winter means there is virtually no disease threat. Technically malaria is present, but mosquitoes are not during the colder months of May to August, making it a comfortable and relatively low risk, yet extremely rewarding place to experience safari.