Johannesburg - The Basics


Disabled travellers

The rights of the disabled are enshrined in the South African constitution meaning that by law all public buildings must be made accessible for the disabled. Many of the country's hotels, restaurants, museums and national parks are wheelchair-friendly. 

Safety in Johannesburg

Joburg can be the friendliest city but, like its summer weather which switches suddenly from sunshine to a thunderstorm, it also has a tempestuous streak. Be aware, rather than paranoid. Use your head, know where you’re going, and do not flash your cash or valuables around. Consult a local to get a head’s up. For a first encounter with the inner-city consider a guided walking tour or a trip on the City Sightseeing hop-on, hop-off Red Bus to get the lay of the land.

Some safety tips:

  • When driving, always keep valuables in the boot of the car rather than on the passenger seat
  • Pay attention to what is going on around you, especially if you may be distracted by using your phone. Opportunistic pickpockets like to target people who pay be otherwise distracted 
  • Don’t show off expensive jewellery, watches or cameras. It is best to leave your jewellery in the hotel safe while you explore the city
  • Opt for using an ATM inside a bank or mall and never take advice from somebody at an ATM
  • Areas such as Alexandra, Hillbrow, Berea, Yeoville and Joubert Park are best visited with a tour guide or experienced local
  • Be wary of opportunistic ‘phone snatchers’ who are known to grab phones from people using them on the street. This is especially common at transport nodes, such as the Gautrain station, where people are using their phones to order Ubers. It is better to order your Uber while inside a building.
  • At the airport avoid using unmarked transport providers. You can ask to book from a legitimate transportation company at the airport information desk or alternatively use the Gautrain or book an Uber.
  • Never exchange currency on the street. Only use legitimate foreign exchanges in banks or at the airport.
  • Be aware of 'staged mishaps', such as someone bumping into you or spilling your drink in a busy bar. This is a tactic often used by pickpockets to distract you while an accomplice goes through your belongings.
  • When seeking directions at the airport, proceed to the indicated information counters for official advice.
  • Avoid picking up strangers or hitchhikers when driving around and likewise, do not accept lifts from strangers.
  • If you are renting a car always have the rental car details at hand in case you get stuck, stranded or involved in an accident. 
  • Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) must carry an identification card stating the member's name, rank, service number and photograph. You have the right to request members in civilian uniform to identify themselves with their identification cards.

Emergency numbers:

  • Police Dial 10111 to contact a national call centre that can assign a patrol vehicle to attend to a crime incident
  • Fire and ambulance Dial 10177 for emergency services
  • Cell phone networks Dial 112 from any cellphone to be connected to a 24-hour emergency service operator. This is a free call
  • Medical emergency Dial 082 911 to connect to Netcare 911's 24-hour operations centre or 084 124 for ER24. Both are private emergency medical services


Cellphones and internet access

The local dialling code for Johannesburg landline numbers is 011. From outside the country it is +27 11. Numbers starting with 086 can only be dialled locally. For directory information, dial 1023 from a landline. There are four major cell phone networks and each offers pay-as-you-go as well as contract call and data options. The network providers have stores in all major shopping centres, and airtime can be purchased at supermarkets and garage stores.

Cell phone networks: Vodacom MTN Cell C 8.ta Telkom

How to get a SIM card RICA is not the name of a woman but the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act. All cell phone SIM cards must be registered before they are activated and able to be used. The law is aimed at assisting law enforcement agencies to identify the users of cell phone numbers. To purchase and register a South African SIM card you will need to show your passport at the store and a proof of address (the details from your hotel booking will suffice).

Internet Access An increasing number of cafes and restaurants offer free wireless along with hotels and other accommodation establishments. Look for the {WIFI} icon in our listings. Speeds are decent but can vary by provider. Pay-as-you-go data packages can be bought in conjunction with your local SIM card and allow you to surf the internet on your smartphone, although bear in mind that cellphone data is much more expensive in South Africa than in other parts of the world.

Vodacom Rentaphone International Arrivals Hall, O.R. Tambo International Airport, tel. +27 11 394 8834
Rent SIM cards, phones, GPS devices, routers, USB modems and satellite phones. Advanced bookings can be made. Open 06:00–22:00

Embassies and Consulates

Most countries are represented by embassies in South Africa. Embassies are generally located in Pretoria, a 45 minute drive from Johannesburg, while consulates of many countries can also be found in Johannesburg. Find a list of local embassies and consulates here.

LGBT Joburg

South Africa has one of the world's most progressive constitutions specifically giving gays and lesbians equal rights and it was was one of the first countries in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. For citizens and foreign visitors it is the most gay-friendly country in Africa. There is no one part of the city which can be considered as a gay neighbourhood, with the city's gay bars and gay-friendly venues scattered throughout Joburg.


South Africa has a free press (although controversial government attempts to pass a Protection of Information Bill into law could result in restrictions) with plenty of local and national newspaper titles, public and commercial radio stations and TV channels. The country was ranked 52nd out of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2013 press freedom index.
Business Day, the business newspaper
The Star, a crime and grime obsessed broadsheet with an events listing section
The Times, a daily upmarket tabloid
Mail & Guardian, the leader in investigative reporting, published Fridays, with daily online news
City Press, a Sunday broadsheet for news, political commentary and opinion
Sunday Times, a broadsheet for news, opinion and lifestyle-related content (online for subscribers only)

Radio & TV
There are more than 30 local radio stations. for talk radio
94.7 Highveld Stereo, Kaya FM 95.9 or 5FM are popular music radio options
SABC, the public TV broadcaster
ETV and ENews Channel Africa (ENCA), free-to-air TV channels
M-NET and DStv, satellite TV provider

Public Holidays in South Africa

South Africa has 12 public holidays. No matter how solemn their intention, they are regarded by most as shopping-extravaganza days. The city slows down dramatically from around December 16 each year until early January, with the shopping frenzy tapering off between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day when locals take a break, often heading for the coast or to family in other provinces. Most big malls are open on public holidays (see Shopping for details). Whenever a public holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday following it is also a public holiday.

Postage and printing

The South African Post Office is not the mostly highly regarded postal service in terms of speed and efficiency and unfortunately it is often on strike, so don't expect postcards or parcels to arrive quickly. If you are mailing parcels using 'surface mail' (the cheapest option) be aware that they may take up to three months to arrive. Post Office branches can be found in most shopping malls, as can their commercial rival Postnet. For sending packages and letters in a hurry or for courier services, Postnet is your best bet. Note there is a South African Post Office branch in OR Tambo airport (Terminal A1 International Arrivals. Open 07:00-21:00, Sat and Sun 07:00–20:00), useful for sending any excess baggage home.


Christians are in the majority in South Africa, but there is a great deal of religious tolerance and diversity. Johannesburg has many places of worship and spiritual sites. Some are made of bricks and mortar while others are public spaces that on weekends are commissioned as 'houses' of worship. In suburbs like Yeoville and Hillbrow you can follow the sounds of the charismatic preachers from Nigeria and Cameroon who set up in backyards and under makeshift tarpaulins. The city also has many public parks that on weekends are commandeered by followers of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC), one of the largest African initiated churches in Southern Africa. You will see groups of people dressed in matching blue and white, green and white or khaki suits, a trademark silver star identifying their allegiance to the church. The Shembe Church, whose followers dress in white robes also commands millions of followers. Atop Yeoville Ridge different preachers mark out territory for worship as this is the highest green space in the inner city, believed to bring followers closer to their God.
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