Where to Live

The five safest cities in South Africa

Similar to many cities around the world, there are no-go areas in most South African cities but many safe neighborhoods to live as well. Here’s a guide to some of the safest cities in South Africa.

Safest cities in South Africa

By Gary Buswell

Updated 17-1-2024

South Africa has become a popular relocation place for expats in recent years. 4.2 million international migrants moved to the country in 2019, more than anywhere else on the African continent.

But is South Africa safe to live? This is the question many ask. Like many other nations with growing urban cities, South Africa has its problem areas, but it also has some beautiful parts with very low crime rates.

This guide will look at some of the best cities in South Africa in terms of safety, as well as mentioning some areas to avoid. Sections include:

Problems facing South African cities

South Africa is a nation in transition and, as with all change, there is inevitable fallout. One of the main concerns in South Africa is safety and security; crime has risen in many areas in recent years.

One of the problems has been rising unemployment which has hit many cities. Unemployment in South Africa, having reduced significantly between 2002 and 2008, has risen since then from 22.4 to 33.6%.

Rising unemployment together with increasing population has caused poverty levels to rise. Over 30 million South African citizens (55.5% of the population) were measured as experiencing poverty in 2015.

Cape Town skyline at night

Big cities such as Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town have all witnessed a surge in poverty in recent years as more and more people migrate from rural areas in an effort to find jobs. The Eastern Cape, which includes the cities Port Elizabeth and East London, is the poorest area with 72.9% of residents in poverty.

However, there are many areas in South Africa that are prospering and have much lower crime levels. These cities may have certain neighborhoods to avoid. However, they include some of the safest and best places to live in South Africa.

Top five safest cities in South Africa

Cape Town

Cape Town has experienced a rise in crime in certain districts recently. However, it still boasts some of the most desirable neighborhoods and remains the safest major city in South Africa. It’s an exciting, modern and diverse city that contains some of the best scenery on the planet, making it popular with expats young and old.

The inner city has been revamped, with much money spent on urban renewal to improve levels of safety and cleanliness. Slightly further out, areas such as the Atlantic Seaboard and the Southern Suburbs offer both safety and great quality of life. Violent crime tends to be concentrated in certain neighborhoods. In particular, around the Cape Flats district in the east of the city.

The Garden Route

This spectacular area that stretches between the Eastern and Western Capes is one of the nation’s jewels. It is also one of the best places to live in South Africa. The Garden Route district is 200 km of coastline that runs from Mossel Bay to Storms River.

Very popular with tourists, the Garden Route also offers much to appeal to more permanent residents. Apart from the relaxing yet entertaining lifestyle, many of the towns along the Garden Route are some of the safest places in the region. There are many gated estates that offer superior security measures as well as spectacular views. The town of Knysna is one of South Africa’s premier golfing locations. Meanwhile, Tsitsikamma offers natural delights including sandy beaches, rocky crags and luscious forests.

Port St. Johns

The Transkei Wild Coast is one of the last remaining untouched regions of incomparable beauty. Formerly a Bantustan, or black homeland, during the days of the apartheid regime, the Transkei has largely been forgotten by the powers that be.

Port St. Johns is situated on the Indian Ocean coastline at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River in the Eastern Cape. It offers a sleepy, sublime lifestyle for the growing family with plenty of good nearby amenities.

Although poverty and crime have been a problem in many Eastern Cape districts, this is one of the safer areas thanks largely to some good community programs which have improved local life. It is one of the South African precincts to have recorded fewer than 1,000 crimes in 2020 so far.

Cape St. Francis

This seaside village is nestled in between Port Elizabeth and Storms River at the end of the Garden Route. It is known as one of South Africa’s best surfing locations. During the holidays it is a popular destination for local tourists because of its beaches, while out of season it is a pleasingly quiet commercial retreat. It has access to great amenities and facilities in nearby Port Elizabeth but offers a much safer and more peaceful environment than PE.

St. Francis Bay in South Africa

The West Coast

Situated around 100 km north of Cape Town, the west coast of South Africa is sparsely populated and peaceful, largely due to the fact that it is the dry and arid limb of the nation. The region is popular for drives and treks. Additionally, there are several small towns all the way up the west coast that are both delightful and safe. Yzerfontein, Churchhaven and St. Helena Bay are probably the pick of the bunch, with low crime levels and offering a gentle and secure way of life.

Cities in South Africa that are best avoided

South Africa has the dubious distinction of having five of its cities ranked among the ten most dangerous cities in the world, according to recent Numbeo data on resident experiences. These cities are:

  • Pretoria – northern city that is one of the country’s three capitals, with a crime index of 81.78 and a safety index of 18.22, making it the second most dangerous city in the world after Caracas in Venezuela. Pretoria Central and Sunnyside are two of the worst areas for crime.
  • Pietermaritzburg – city in the KwaZulu-Natal province ranked the third most dangerous city. The Plessislaer precinct is the worst for crime.
  • Durban – largest city in KwaZulu-Natal, with a high murder rate and 5th on the Numbeo study. Durban Central has recorded over 13,000 crimes in 2020.
  • Johannesburg – South Africa’s largest city, ranked 6th on the Numbeo study. Similar to Cape Town, the city has nice areas with high security but the neighborhoods around the city center have been plagued with violent crime.
  • Port Elizabeth – largest city on the Eastern Cape and the 10th most dangerous city according to the data.

Useful resources