The South African general election is set to take place on 8 May 2019 and it is likely there will be a rise in social unrest as protest groups take to the streets. With South Africa being an important market for UK businesses, Healix International, the security and medical risk mitigation and assistance expert, is urging employers to be aware of potential risks.
“South Africa has one of the highest recorded rates of crime in Africa”, explained Eilidh Thomson, Associate Security Consultant – Africa at Healix International. “But it’s also a really important region for UK businesses. It’s vital, therefore, that firms sending employees to the country, whether for short visits or longer term secondments, provide advice and assistance before the trip as well as making support available for the duration of their visit.”
The majority of crime in South Africa’s major cities is of an opportunistic nature, such as pick-pocketing, bag-snatching and smash-and-grab incidents, as well as carjacking at traffic lights. Criminals regularly target ATMs, which can include ‘express kidnappings’. This is where criminals take victims hostage for a short time and force them to take money out of ATMs.
Social unrest is an issue, particularly around the time of political events, like the upcoming general election. Townships and roads leading into and out of them are common flashpoints; as are central business areas, political and judicial sites and university campuses.
“Academics and business travellers need to take stock of the situation in South Africa before they travel this May”, continued Eilidh Thomson. “We advise first-time travellers to organise a meet-and-greet with a local contact or trusted driver at the airport when they first arrive. Travellers should check a driver’s credentials and passenger details before leaving and always keep windows closed in the car. Simple tips like only using ATMs in secure complexes and avoiding car journeys during rush hour can make all the difference to business travellers, when it comes to reducing their risk.
“In general, terrorism isn’t a significant risk in South Africa, with no incidents in recent years, but employers need to make sure staff check any warnings before they travel.”
Employers also need to consider the health risks staff face overseas. South Africa has a well-developed private healthcare system of an excellent standard in the major cities. A number of network hospitals provide gold standard care, especially in Johannesburg and Cape Town, and there are also suitable medical facilities in the other large cities. Hospitals will ask for a credit card on admission and failure to provide one is likely to result in transfer to a public facility, which will typically be of a lower standard and have longer waiting times.
Anyone travelling to South Africa should ensure that all national immunisation schedules are up to date, in particular tetanus and MMR. They should also only drink bottled or boiled water and eat well-cooked food to avoid illnesses such as typhoid, cholera and traveller’s diarrhoea. And all travellers should always ensure they have appropriate travel health insurance with up-to-date declarations. It is also advisable to carry a credit card in case of emergency.
Eilidh Thomson concludes: “Employers should ensure that they have an understanding of the operating environment to which they are sending their staff and have a robust travel risk plan in place. This should be managed by a risk manager or security team with local knowledge and expertise, or outsourced to an organisation like Healix International which will have dedicated expertise both ‘on the ground’ and in the UK.
“At Healix International we have regional intelligence and operational teams who monitor developments and maintain a network of local assets able to assist in protection or emergency response. We help employers look after the health, safety and security of their staff, even in the most challenging locations.”