The key to keeping your home secure when you're not there is to consider both the area in which you live and the dynamics of crime in that area. From a cross section of data presented by the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, it's easy to see that having home insurance shouldn't be the only consideration you make when it comes to your safety.
The following tables show data compiled by the ISS for two different forms of robbery, as reported within specific police jurisdictions. The data shows the difference in numbers between common robbery and residential robbery to be vast, and these are only the statics for 2014.
In terms of comparison, only common robbery, defined as "the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force, threat of force or by putting a victim in fear," has been put side-by-side with residential robbery. Of course, other forms of robbery regularly occur on South African streets such as car-jacking or business robberies. However, since a home is a personal space, residential robberies can be similarly compared to individuals and groups of people getting robbed outside their homes.
Most of the time both sorts of robbery are opportunistic: someone who had the thought of robbing a person will happen to catch an individual walking down a lonely side-street and choose to rob him or her. In such an instance, the individual's presence in the side-street at just the exact time for a robbery to occur is an opportunistic crime. The person being robbed is arbitrary because the decision was already made to fulfil the action. Residential robberies are a little bit more complex than someone taking a chance on a side-street but the element of surprise, as a result of targeted criminality, is still a major factor.
The data clearly shows that the general trend is for people to get robbed outside their homes, in the streets or other public areas. Residential robbery numbers rarely reach 100 reports in a given year, as opposed to the statistical highs of common robbery. The only obvious outlier in terms of house-related crimes is Sandton which outnumbers the closest contender, Khayelitsha, by 150 robberies. Both city centres have the least amount of house-related crimes, since there are so few people who happen to live close to the centres. The converse is true for the amount of people robbed on the streets.
What this means for homeowners is that, in addition to home insurance and a well-thought out home security system, pragmatism should be the name of the game when considering how high the level of security should be. Even though the number of residential robberies is lower, as the police would tell you, they pose a greater danger to your livelihood. Most of the time criminals scope a house or neighbourhood for some time before they choose to go there. This means they are thoroughly prepared. In your absence, you should make sure that all windows and doors are firmly closed and locked; if you have dogs, make sure you have trained them to assist you by either barking loudly so that the neighbours can hear, or in fact, training them to trip strategically placed alarms.
If you have other pets, ensure that they are taken care of by asking a neighbour or two to keep an eye on them. In fact, if you're going for an extended stay away from home, the neighbour option is the safest. Find someone close by whom you trust and ask for his or her assistance with watering plants, making sure that the pets are fed and general upkeep to prevent dust and pests. Indirectly, such activity in the house, even though you are necessarily absent prevents any opportunistic crimes from happening. Better yet, if you can find a house-sitter, then that person can take care of your house in your absence.
For those who cannot ask neighbours and for whom house-sitting is also out of the question, then the safest option is to have a dedicated alarm system which is advanced enough to operate not only in your absence, but for extended periods of time. The alarm should preferably be linked to an armed security response firm such as Chubb or ADT. Failing that, all the precautions wouldn't be complete without adequate home insurance, especially if you have the foresight and opportunity to get comprehensive insurance - which covers loss of personal possessions in addition to direct damage to the house or related structures.