South Africa is a big and diverse country with 11 official languages and a complicated history which still manifests in a deeply rooted racial-obsession. This will inevitably affect anyone who hitchhikes in South Africa so come prepared.
|Language:||English, Afrikaans, Southern Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu|
|Capital:||Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Cape Town|
|Hitchability:||<rating country='za' />|
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|<map lat="-29.236080457085" lng="25.275075312611" zoom="5" view="0" float="right" />|
Generally most people who hitchhikes in South Africa pays a little bit for the ride so most of the time you ought to make it clear that you're not intending to pay for the ride. Peculiar enough Theo found that white South Africans rarely stop for hitchhikers but if they do they never seem to expect money for the ride. However most other people do so you may have to let 1,2,3,4 or even 5 cars go before someone is willing to take a mahala along (see Communication for the word Mahala). Hitchhiking is a common practice among the poorer communities, and you may sometimes find yourself hitchhiking together with several other people. Hitchhiker Kiko found that being the only one insisting on refusing to contribute for gas was making use the privilege of being foreigner and white, and that to accept making small contributions for gas at times was culturally more interesting and enriching.
The hitchability is very dependent on the region and with the notable exception of main roads in between main cities (i.e. road N1, N3 and some parts of N2) it is generally fairly challenging to hitchhike in South Africa. If you do persevere you'll be amply rewarded with a lot of spontaneous hospitality, extraordinary scenery and a beautiful melange of different cultures.
The hitchability in South Africa varies widely from part to part and road to road. Inside the Gauteng region hitchhiking is very hard but in most parts its doable. In some parts (like northwestern South Africa) it is not uncommon to see people waving money instead of their thumbs to indicate that they would be ready to pay for a ride. Needless to say this complicated things slightly for someone who's trying to hitchhike for free.
Most people of Western countries don't require a visa and shouldn't encounter any hustle at all at the border. All borders are crossable on foot. You'll most likely get a stamp which is valid for 90 days in the country.
The most common route from Namibia to Johannesburg and Durban is through Botswana, but the Ariamsvlei border crossing close to Upington is also fairly hitchable. Most people tend to head south-east from there, sometimes as far as Port Elizabeth.
There are 2 border crossings. If you take the tourist crossing into Kruger National Park it might be pleasant. However the hitchability of that crossing remains unknown. If you do take the main border crossing at Beitbridge one good advice is prepare for Chaos with a big C and do not get to the border hungry. It's the the busiest border crossing in Africa. People cut in line shamelessly, it's quite a confusing system of different queues for people with non-Southern African passports and a lot overly helpful people abound (beware). Even if you cross it in the middle of the night you're not guaranteed to leave the border without a severe headache. Generally things are a little bit more manageable after darkness though and many people going long distance tend to plan their trip to they cross the border either early in the morning or after midnight. It should be mentioned that this is for the Zimbabwean side, the South African crossing is pretty well organized.
As in every Southern African country you hitchhike with you thumb and not by waving you hand up and down as in many other parts of Africa.
Another useful thing to know is that in South Africa there is a special sign language used by hitchhikers to communicate what kind of hitchhiker they are to drivers. For example in many areas it's common to see people stand with cash in one hand while thumbing with the other hand to indicate that they wouldn't mind paying for the ride. Hitchhiking with your indexfinger instead of your thumb signalizes that you're going long distance along the main road. Hitchhiker Theo found the index finger-technique to be especially useful when hitchhiking out of major cities. Another thing is that if people know you're from abroad (normally referred to as Overseas) they'll generally feel more comfortable with picking you up.
Provided that you intend to hitchhike in the western sense of hitchhiking (i.e. for free) the most useful word you'll need for hitchhiking is Mahala which is a South African slang word meaning roughly free of charge. Possible ways to use the word include: I'm mahalaing or I'm a mahala. You could also ask people 'is it mahala'?.
Generally everyone speaks basic English but it could be useful to learn some words of the local languages if you intend to hitchhike on small roads in the countryside. In many predominantly Afrikaans-speaking areas it's some older people may not speak English but unless you really venture deep in the Afrikaans heartlands you're not very likely to encounter them.
While South Africa is by no means the safest place to hitchhike in it isn't that bad either. Sure armed robbery and rape is rampant in some parts but by using the simple preventative safety measure of common sense you'll almost certainly encounter no more than the occasional pickpocket attempt. For example hitchhiking after darkness is generally not a good idea. Some areas (e.g. Gauteng) are inhabited by people highly reluctant or perhaps to afraid to stop for hitchhikers if you just thumb it by the side of the road. Asking people at gas stations tends to do the trick slightly better but a nice sign might get you somewhere as well.
You might also want to bear in mind that many richer South African live in fortresses with electrical fencing and all sorts of extremely high security. These people, no offense meant, tend to be overly paranoid about the dangers of life outside their safe oasis. Do take their advice but take it with a pinch of salt.
South Africa is a must stop for yachts sailing around the world, as the Red Sea route has mainly been avoided due to pirate activity. You can find many boats making repairs and provisioning before setting sail to cross to Saint Helena, Brazil and the Caribbean (before eventually crossing the North Atlantic back to Europe). Many South African yachts sail to Mozambique, Madagascar and other islands in the Indian Ocean. Because of the cyclone seasons, the sailing season for the Indian Ocean is mostly from July to November, while for crossing the Atlantic is mostly from October to January. You should try your luck in all possible marinas, but there are two rather discrete harbors which are dear to the sailing community and probably the best to find a crewing opportunity: Hout Bay (near Cape Town, mostly for crossing the Atlantic), and Richards Bay (near Durban, mostly to explore the Indian Ocean).
- How to Hitchhike in Southern Africa: 15 Tips