Culturally, the country is a most unique blend of African and Colonial cultures, which have seen some of the most engaging and inspiring political reformations of modern times. From the legacy of Nelson Mandela to the harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, South Africa is a haven of traveling cultural indulgences.
1. Pay attention to your location.
If you see a big, loud, angry-sounding demonstration or mob, turn the other way and keep away, no matter how curious you may be.
2. Know where you are going - don't wander around. In many parts of the town (in both Cape Town and Johannesburg), the good and bad neighborhoods are often one block away from each other.
3. Don‘t be flashy.
Keep jewelry and expensive cloths to a minimum. Don‘t flash cash when dealing with street vendors or frankly anytime. (For example) trade your big fancy camera and lenses for a point and shoot pocket model.
4. Mobile phone coverage is extensive, and easy to access.
Phones can be hired, or a good 3G-enabled phone and SIM card can be bought at any airport. If you are social-media savvy, you can enhance your holiday experience with real-time updating of all your networks.
5. Don't rent a hot red convertible.
Poverty is still a harsh reality in South Africa so get a normal car instead of inviting trouble by being flashy (as well as offensive). If you rent a car, try avoid driving after dark. In recent years, there's been a lot more highway robbery after sunset.
Also, if you are going to self-drive, be aware that South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road. Fuel stations (called garages) are not self-service. When you drive onto the forecourt an attendant will fill the vehicle. It is customary to tip the attendant about $1 for the service.
Driving yourself is relatively safe, but you might want to brush up on the local laws and ways before getting behind the wheel.
If you are planning to volunteer in South Africa make sure you are going with a reputable organization. A popular scam has popped up where travelers are approached to help at a needy orphanage, the problem is these kids are made to look extremely poor just to get big donations out of sappy travelers. If you want to volunteer go through an organization that has been doing this for years and has past travelers you can speak to.
6. Be open-minded.
Be fully prepared to venture off the usual beaten track and really get into all the nooks and crannies of South Africa, feel the rhythm of the people and ‘go local‘ whenever possible. You will find them to be warm and delighted to share their corner of Africa with you (as a general rule of course!)
Almost everywhere you go you will be able to get by with English which is commonly spoken in all major towns and cities, hotels, banks, and government departments. Another major language is Afrikaans, a derivative of Dutch, which northern Europeans will find surprisingly easy to follow.
Africa is of many cultures, languages and races. It is a diverse country so remain alert and understand the nuances of the lifestyles.