Top Ten Reasons You Should Move to Johannesburg Despite the Crime Rate

By: Sine Thieme

You’re a prospective expat considering a move to Johannesburg, or South Africa in general. You have heard about the high crime rate. In fact, based on your online research, you could actually write an entire book about all the reasons you should NOT move to such a dangerous country.

Why, then, are large numbers of expats living happily in Joburg, or Jozi, the City of Gold? Whose biggest fear is not crime but the fact that they’ll have to move back home one day?

Because each of them can tell you their own ten times ten reasons why you should move to Johannesburg. Here are mine:

  1. Johannesburg has the best weather in the world. It’s as simple as that. It’s nearly always sunny. It’s mostly warm and not too hot (even though this summer might prove to be the record-worthy exception). The air is never humid and cools down sufficiently at night so that you can comfortably live without air conditioning. Winters are short, with very cold nights and warm sunny days. During those two months you will curse the flimsy state of South African housing, combined with the inefficiency of expensive underfloor electric heating, but by the time you’ve stocked up on gas bottles for your much more efficient space heater and adjusted to an early bedtime, it will be spring again, the beautiful jacarandas lining the streets will erupt in their purple explosions, and you will join the ranks of Joburgers enjoying another ten months of summer without a second thought about frost.

    The skies are almost always blue over the roofs of Joburg
    The skies are almost always blue over the roofs of Joburg
    More blue skies over the Magaliesberg mountain range on the Northern outskirts of Johannesburg
    More blue skies over the Magaliesberg mountain range on the Northern outskirts of Johannesburg

  2. Your kids might spend their lives barefoot. South African schools have a dress code when it comes to the school uniform and tidy hair, but what goes on below the ankle is often up to the child. This might not strike you as a compelling reason to move to a place, I grant you that. (And it does make for a higher-than average share of lost shoes). But it also stands for a much broader attitude in child rearing and educational philosophy. South Africa, more than any other place I’ve lived, allows children to be children. They are less micromanaged, overscheduled, or buried in homework than elsewhere. Break is still a time when you get to run around and play with your friends, without rules restricting the monkey bars in case you fall off. Vacations are meant to be spent with your parents, not in summer camp. You are taught to respect adults, but you are not forced to become one.

  3. You will get to pet lions. I mean, where else can you do that on a regular basis? I admit that this feature of life in South Africa was not a selling point to my husband, who is not particularly fond of cats. He’s been known to put our cat Maus on a raft in the pool to see what happens (if you must know, what happens is that you get a very wet cat and very angry children). But the rest of us couldn’t get enough of the 3-day old white lion cub we got to cuddle one day. Even if it looked like a sheep and quacked like a duck.

    Holding a baby lion in Johannesburg
    Holding a baby lion in Johannesburg

  4. You will become a more patient person. Africa is determined to make you slow down your Western-bred fast pace of life, no matter how determined you are to get things done the way you are used to. All I can say is Africa usually wins. You will arrive with your 23-item expat to-do list, pen poised to start checking things off in short order, until you hit the wall of “just now.” As in “yes Ma’m, we will call you back just now.” Which you will only realize later means nothing of the sort. It may not even mean soon, or ever, for that matter. It might take you four trips to the cellphone company to get a contract signed, because every time they will send you back home with some other document you must produce, before they finally inform you that it is really your spouse that needs to come in. Or you might go for a manicure where you are greeted by five bowing ladies who, it turns out, only have three bottles of nail polish between them (“so sorry, we are buying more tomorrow”), colored black, blue, and lime green, and where you then proceed to sit still for two and a half hours (hours!) while each stroke of lime green is applied ever so diligently by one attendant with the others watching as if they have nothing else to do in the world (like going out to buy more nail polish).

    And yet, all these are reasons to move to South Africa, I’m telling you. It is amazing how much more relaxing and truly happy your life becomes when you are forced to slow down and smell the proverbial roses. It’s all in your attitude, and not in your surroundings.

  5. You will live among the world’s friendliest people. This will help greatly on your quest to becoming a more patient person. You might be briefly annoyed by things promised and not happening, but then mollified by reassuring smiles. Everyone seems genuinely happy to see you, as if they’d been waiting for you all day. Johannesburg especially has a reputation for its friendly and welcoming people (apparently this is in rather stark contrast to Cape Town, a place I can’t speak to beyond the occasional visit). It won’t take long for you to be invited to people’s houses for a braai (the South African version of a barbeque but really more an entire philosophy of life). You will be offered help beyond anything you’re accustomed to, often by random strangers. I have had my fair share of tire trouble while living in South Africa, and I’ve always had someone show up out of nowhere to help.

  6. You will become an expert at changing tires. Okay, so I lied just then. When you are driving along a godforsaken dirt road in Namibia and three of your tires pop in quick succession, there won’t be a soul coming by for hours, friendly or otherwise, so you will learn to change a tire, trust me. Or, rather, you will recognize it as an excellent teaching moment for your teenage sons who have never had to jack up a car in their lives but can recite every Top Gear episode from memory.

    Learning how to change tires in Namibia
    Learning how to change tires in Namibia

    My point is, living in Johannesburg gives you incredible travel opportunities of the most exciting kind, be it to visit nearby Pilanesberg for a self-drive safari to view the Big Five and much more, hop on a plane to see the majestic beauty of Victoria Falls, encounter great white sharks near Cape Town, ride through Soweto on a bike, or be hauled by cable across a river in Botswana. The most vivid memories we have of travel in Southern Africa are from those occasions when a few things went wrong. Namibia and those tires (and a tent that flew off into the night) are currently at the top of our list.

  7. You might become Impala Poop Spitting champion. Honestly, I’m not making these things up. The, um, droppings of an Impala (a small and very common antelope) lend themselves very well to spitting (only if properly dried, I should point out), much like cherry pits. Don’t ask me who came up with this idea in the first place. But who knows – maybe you’ll overcome your Purell dependency and start hurling impala poop with the best of them.

  8. Your toilets will not be clogged. We had been on home leave for less than three days when I was called to the first of many American clogged-toilet emergencies; something I had forgotten existed after a blissful clog-free existence under South African skies. I attribute this to the simple physics of wider pipes. A life without central heating? Yes, but at least you get to flush without trepidation.

  9. Your house (including your unclogged toilets) will always be clean. Most likely, while living in South Africa, you’ll employ domestic help like everyone else. Unemployment is high in South Africa and a job as a domestic worker often provides an income not only to one person but an extended family as well. Your helper will often become a part of your family, sorely missed by you and your children when it’s time to move on. And he or she will provide a glimpse into another culture (if you’re lucky enough to be invited when a bull is slaughtered and brave enough to visit a different world).

  10. You will get to learn wonderful new words, even if English is already your first language. Descriptive words and phrases like ballbox (an athletic cup where I’m from), giving someone a tinkle (a phone call in my repertoire, where a tinkle is something else entirely), robot (traffic light), lekker (yummy) and kak (the opposite of lekker; “bad” would be the sanitized translation).

Here you have my top ten reasons for moving to Johannesburg. And I haven’t even mentioned the food (and, more importantly, the wine).

As for that crime rate, you might ask?

I admit that crime is an issue in Johannesburg, even though it has gotten a lot better in the last few years and is nothing close to the dire scenarios you will encounter in some online forums. Perhaps we’ve been lucky, but in our three years living there we haven’t been affected at all. To me, the crime rate is just one of many factors to consider when taking on a South African expat assignment. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you by not providing the top ten ways to protect yourself against crime in Johannesburg. Frankly, I’m the worst person to ask for advice about safety tips. Because I’ve pretty much ignored every single one of them. I was too busy enjoying life and looking for the next adventure.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingSine Thieme is an American expat living in South Africa. Blog description: A blog about the tales of an American mother of four in Johannesburg, and the top source of relocation advice for expats moving to South Africa.
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Contest Comments » There are 17 comments

Fozzle7907 wrote 11 years ago:

1. The afternoon thunderstorms and the wonderful smell of hot earth mingled with the rain. 2. The African sunset, creating an spectrum of colours that take your breath away. Sometimes they even turn the evenings yellow around you. 3. The ingenuity of the African people. Their creativity and ability to execute that creativity never ceases to amaze me. 4. The nightlife. There are family friendly things to do, and for the young adult the clubs and bars are exciting and the people so polite. No fear of getting bottled there!! 5. The design and layout of the houses. The space they offer inside and out. 6. Wimpy and Milky lane... Can't say anymore, they speak for themselves :) 7. The easy-going, happy, friendly relaxed people, which make life so easy! 8. Mampoor! Not exactly legal, but a taste you'll never forget!! Also Klippies and cola!! Hmmm 9. The bright red earth, which stains all your whites socks! 10. And not exactly a reason to move to Jo'burg, but something I miss every much... Velt fires. The smell of them in the winter months and the crunch under your feet as you walk over the land once the fire has died out.

Giuseppina wrote 11 years ago:

HI all, thanks for the postings and the comment. This is Giuseppina. I am an italian lady living in the Netherlands and working in Germany. I am now in the process of a job interview for Johannesburg. I was wondering about it and I google. Do you have pre-expat advice and or links I should read before I sign and come to South Africa? Thanks

Nicole Mason wrote 10 years ago:

What a wonderful antidote to all the whining that South African are prone to doing! I love hearing about how much expats love our country. Seeing my country through someone else's eyes is a good way of making me more appreciative of the country I have lived in all my life.

Jessica Festa wrote 10 years ago:

Currently traveling in Johannesburg now and am loving it! I was very surprised at how safe I felt after all that I'd read on the crime rate. I think your post does a great job in bringing out the best of the country and showing it's colorful culture :)

Natalie wrote 11 years ago:

I wish you had written this Top Ten list 3 years ago when we were discussing moving to Johannesburg. We did move here, despite what we read on the internet about the crime, and have found all of your Top Ten to be true! I won't comment on all ten things but I will vouch for you on the following: -the weather is amazing -my children who are not so little (almost 14 and 11) do go barefoot and most of the time it is at school -we have witnessed an impala poop spitting contest -I don't expect to get anything done on my "to do" list so when I do it is bonus -we are blessed to have so many wonderful South Africans of all backgrounds in our lives Please continue to write about all of the positive things in South Africa...and even when there is a bump in the road (well, it probably is a pot hole here) sharing through your blog what the issue is and how we all manage. It is hard to stay too frustrated when the sun is shining all the time!

Tim Bruggeman wrote 11 years ago:

Love this Sine. I will send it to prospective folks coming to SA. Love the jacarandas in the spring! Love that the hobbies I enjoy most, baseball, hunting, and target shooting are enjoyed by South Africans, though not on as big a scale as back in the USA, and that in all cases I have been accepted as an "honorary South African." Love seeing the Southern Cross and the constellation Orion every night. Love (in a strange way) that my wife has never ending opportunities to volunteer to help those less fortunate, like kids in settlement schools and kids in orphanages.

Maria Foley wrote 11 years ago:

I always enjoy your posts about Johannesburg, but I confess what really pulled me into this one were seeing the words "impala," "poop," and "spitting" in such close proximity. I thought it was another of those lovely South African euphemisms you've written about in the past. Full marks for describing the reality so vividly! (Note to self: no more cherries. Ever.) Thanks for another enjoyable read.

Rose wrote 11 years ago:

Just returned from our annual trip back to the home country, love Johannesburg and miss it so much! Thanks for your post!

Natalie V wrote 10 years ago:

As an ex-joburger living in the UK I love the way you recognise the best in the place. There is no sea or mountain to entice visitors. Johannesburg is about blue sky winters, summer rain on hot roads, Jacaranda blooms, barefeet and so much more. Mostly though, it's about the people. I'm homesick!

Alton Mags wrote 10 years ago:

I was there on 4 business trips for 16 weeks. I loved the meals at some really great restaurants and never had a problem. I would say on a business trip all expenses paid it is definitely worth going. I went for a few long walks (in day time) and bought some nice souvenirs from road side vendors but the hostess at my bed and breakfast said I shouldn't be going for walks because it could be dangerous. I don't know, I never had any problems but I was not walking in dark alleys at night. I also went to a few shopping malls and they were pretty much the same as what we have in Ottawa. I would say it is definitely a great place to visit and to be careful, not that I had any problems but there must be a reason everyone says be careful. There were a few people I worked with who lived in Johannesburg that were not happy with the way things were going - especially health care and of course crime. I can see how it would be great weather wise to live in Joburg but I would not advise it, I liked it, but people I worked with were not happy. The impression I had was they loved Joburg but hated the crime.

Steve wrote 10 years ago:

Great post. Live here all my life. People in Jozi are the cities greatest asset

Christina wrote 10 years ago:

I have lived here for almost 9 years and unless something majorly drastic happens, I am not going anywhere. fell in love with Joburg and its endless opportunities, fun things to do and great life almost 13 years ago. the rest, as they say, is history :-)

Bob wrote 10 years ago:

Also had the pleasure of working in Joburg for 3 months in 2011. What a wonderful experience! The place is not without problems, like any other city on the planet, but it unfortunately gets more than its fair share of negative press. Funny stuff from a South African friend... Enjoy! Keep the great reads coming.

ESV wrote 10 years ago:

I'm not an expat. I'm a born and bred Jo'burger ! Those who have been fortunate to be born here take all the wonderful good for granted. It takes the observations of an expat to remind us how much good we do have. Sine Thieme represents Jo'burg truthfully... and for those of us who get depressed worrying about the crime in Jo'burg, reading Sine's blog is a great opportunity to gain the insight that in other cities crime may be less or non-existent... but so would all the great stuff that we all Jo'burgers love !

Godwin wrote 10 years ago:

I just spent my first week As an expat in joburg and can so relate to what you wrote. The Telekom guys were supposed to come Monday morning. It's Thursday and let's just say I still don't have a phone or internet connection.

Steffi wrote 10 years ago:

OMG, I love that article. I am Germany and me and my hubby (back than boyfriend) lived for 1 year (me) and 1 year 8 months (my hubby) in Pretoria. We loved it there. We met so many nice people and found the best friends we ever had. The country is beautiful, the weather perfect, the food amazing and life all in all is just great there. I loved reading your article and remember everything. Our last holiday “back home” was November 2012 including a trip to Mozambique which was wonderful. We stepped out of the Airport in JHB and felt right at home again.

Sine Thieme wrote 9 years ago:

Thanks everyone for your wonderful comments and sharing some more insights about Johannesburg, the city we all seem to love. For some reason I hadn't seen these comments before (hard enough to keep up with my own blog:-) and it was lovely to read them all in succession. Guiseppina - I trust you have found your expat advice in the meantime and hopefully did move to Johannesburg, otherwise I would have sent you to my blog, Joburg Expat. Oh, and I'm glad that the Impala Poop Spitting has been such a popular topic. I truly miss Johannesburg, South Africa, and all its wonderful people.

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