City Basics



South Africa is paradise for wine lovers. The country has countless different producers and brands, and the bottles you will find in stores and supermarkets are more than affordable, especially compared with European prices. Wine can be bought in supermarkets and 'bottle stores', while local and imported beers and spirits can only be bought at bottle stores. There is a wide variety of local beers produced by the beer giant South African Breweries (SAB) and a rapidly emerging craft beer industry.


CURRENCY South Africa’s unit of currency is the Rand, known informally as the “randela” because new banknotes bear the image of former president Nelson Mandela. The currency code is ZAR and there are 100 cents in each rand. Banknotes are issued in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. Coins come in R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c units. Prices are usually rounded off to the nearest 5c.
BANKING South Africa has a modern and sophisticated banking system. Foreign currency can be exchanged at most retail banks and bureaux de change. Retail bank outlets can be found in all major shopping centres, and ATMs are available in malls, some supermarkets and at petrol stations. Major credit and debit cards (Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted) can be used at most retail and hospitality establishments and to withdraw cash at ATMs. The four major retail banks are Absa, First National Bank (FNB), Nedbank and Standard Bank.
VAT Value Added Tax (VAT) is an indirect tax of 14% levied on all consumer goods and services, except some basic foodstuffs. Price tags generally include VAT unless this amount is separately stated. Non-resident foreign passport holders visiting South Africa can claim a VAT refund – two refund offices are located in the international departures hall of O.R. Tambo International Airport. Present your purchases and tax invoices for inspection. See for more details.


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.
Don’t show off expensive jewellery, watches or cameras.
Opt for using an ATM inside a bank or mall.


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.


Electricity is supplied at 220 volts and 50 hertz throughout South Africa by the state-owned company Eskom, and is subject to occasional shortages, and planned outages which are referred to as 'loadshedding'. Valuable electronics should be used in combination with a surge protector, available at large supermarkets, where you can also find converters for the bulky three-pronged plugs used locally.


South Africa is ruled by the African National Congress (ANC), a liberation movement, and now political party, that fought against Apartheid and for a non-racial democracy. The country has a multiparty political system and more than 10 political parties have representation in Parliament with a number of new parties recently formed, such as the Economic Freedom Fighters who won a number of seats in parliament in the 2014 national elections. The country's first democratically elected president was Nelson Mandela. 


South Africa was way ahead of most countries in banning smoking in public places. The threat of hefty fines has ensured that most establishments abide by the smoking laws – probably one of the few rules that most South Africans follow. Smoking is banned on all domestic flights and in all airport terminals; in restaurants, bars and offices with no designated smoking areas; on all public transport; in shopping malls and cinemas.Smoking in cars in the presence of children under the age of 12 is forbidden, while children under the age of 18 are prohibited from entering designated smoking areas and purchasing cigarettes.


South Africa is UTC/GMT +2 hours, and the entire country is in the same time zone. You might find that some applications pick this up as ‘Harare' time as Zimbabwe's capital is in the same time zone. There is no daylight saving time.


If your religion encourages charity, you have arrived at a blessed destination. Apart from the usual recipients, such as restaurant servers and petrol attendants, there’s a plethora of people waiting for (and depending on) a tip: baggage handlers, car guards, security guards, beggars, newspaper sellers, roadside salespeople. Most will happily accept a few rand (small coins may be sniffed at and possibly even rejected). For good service at restaurants, 10% of the bill is the minimum tip, and expect to dole out  around R10 to petrol attendants.


The tap water in the Gauteng province is among the cleanest, safest and healthiest in the world. It also tastes good.

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