Within 15 minutes of landing at Johannesburg Airport in South Africa someone tried to scam me. As usual, I headed directly to the ATM machine to get local currency with my bank card. Upon completing my transaction, a woman approached me, saying she was having trouble getting the ATM to take her card and asking me to show her how I got mine to work. This was an elaborate ruse, complete with much rubbing of the magnetic strip on her card against her pants to clean it, etc. It was obvious to me that I was being played. To begin with, she was putting the card in the machine backwards. They attempt to get you to demonstrate how it is done with your card, then deftly swap the cards. I pointed out that she needed to turn the card around. She continued to make much ado about the situation, rubbing the magnetic strip again.
By that point it was amusing because the whole thing was so lame, so I played along until she finally turned the card around. I then walked to the middle of the corridor, crossed my arms and looked directly at her. Each time she checked over her shoulder to see if I had left I looked her directly in the eye. I had no intention of leaving until she actually took some money out. From this vantage point I could see she had an accomplice – a man across the corridor. She finally walked away with a single bill in her hand. I reported her to the police but they had no interest in doing anything about it.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in South Africa. The country is crime-ridden and corrupt beyond belief. I spoke to many local people who lamented the situation but have no idea how to change it. Even the taxi driver who took me to the airport in Cape Town tried to scam me with a ridiculous story about how he forgot to turn on the meter so he would ONLY charge me a flat rate of 180 Rand, which is cheaper than any of the other taxi companies, blah, blah, blah. I told him to put the meter on. It cost 150 Rand on the meter and I paid with a 200 Rand bill, for which he claimed to have no change. Amazing.
In the Cape Town airport, one of the national air carriers, Nationwide Airlines, was repeatedly apologizing over the loudspeakers for any inconvenience their ‘total system failure’ had caused with bookings or lost luggage.
The signs over every entry door at the Johannesburg Airport state ‘Enter at your own risk.’
It is too dangerous to walk alone at night in either town and even in the daytime it is wise to keep your antennae up. On my first morning in Cape Town I was waiting outside the hotel for a tour bus to pick me up when an obviously homeless man, his hoodie pulled up and draped over his eyes, shuffled by me. With the entire wide sidewalk at his disposal he managed to brush up against me. I watched him walk a block then come back toward me, so I put my backpack to the wall as he sullenly asked me for money. The government says unemployment is 25% but the locals all told me it was closer to 40%. Carjackings are normal occurrences and they don’t just drag you out of the car, they kill you and then drag you out of the car.
All this is a terrible shame, because Cape Town is a lovely city in a gorgeous location, set amidst towering granite and sandstone cliffs on one side and a beautiful bowl harbor on the other. And while I wouldn’t want to go back any time soon, I did enjoy the sights in Cape Town and on the peninsula leading down to the Cape Of Good Hope, so I thought I’d share a few photos: