South Africa occupies the southernmost part of the African continent, with a surface
area of 1 219 090km², sharing boundaries with the Republics of Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The Republic of Mozambique and the Kingdom of Swaziland are situated to the northeast while in the southeast the mountain kingdom of Lesotho is completely enclosed by South African territory.
The western, southern and eastern boarders are formed by the Atlantic and Indian Ocean.
The islands Prince Edward and Marion, situated to the south east of Cape Town are South African territory.
Situated 150km south east of the Cape of Good Hope is Cape Agulhas, the most southern tip of the country and the African continent.
The country can be divided into three geographical regions, namely the narrow coastline, the Great Escarpment and interior plateau. The Drakensberg Mountains are the highest mountains in the Great Escarpment with the Cathedral Peak (3 360m) the highest peak. Wide plains with an average height of 1 200m above sea level characterize the plateau itself.
The three most important rivers are the Limpopo (1 600km) with its source at the Witwatersrand flowing into the Indian Ocean in southern Mozambique.
The Oranje (2 000km) with its source in the Drakensberg Mountains, flows westward into the Atlantic Ocean along the Namibian boarder.
The Vaal River (1 250km) has its source in the northeast, near Swaziland, and flows southwestward to its confluence with the Orange River.
Most of South Africa’s rivers are irregular in flow and are dry during much of the year. Consequently, they are of little use for navigation or hydroelectric power, but of some use for irrigation and water supply.
The warm south-flowing Mozambique-Agulhas Current and the cold north-flowing Benguela Current influence the climate and vegetation of the country.
South Africa is subdivided into nine provinces, each with its own distinct characteristics. They are the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo, North West, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
South Africa has three capital cities, Pretoria (1 541 300 inhabitants) the administrative capital, Bloemfontein (378 000 inhabitants) the legal capital and Cape Town (3 140 600 inhabitants) with the parliamentary headquarters.
Around 40 000 BC San and Khoisan first settled in South Africa. The San were hunter-gatherers roaming freely throughout most of the country. The Khoisan was herdsmen and lived mainly in the southern and south-westerly coastal regions.
By the 3rd century AD, Bantu-speaking people were well established in South Africa.
The Thulamela site in the northern Kruger National Park is estimated to have been first occupied in the 13th century. The ruins of Mapungubwe, where artifacts from as far as China have been found, are the remains of a large trading settlement.
The first European to set foot on the southern African continent was Bartholomew Diaz in 1487 on his mission to find a suitable sea route to India.
1652 the Dutch Jan van Reebeck and 90 men from Dutch East India Company landed at the Cape of Good Hope to build a fort and develop a vegetable garden to supply the ships on the Eastern trade route.
More and more Europeans (Dutch, French and Germans) settled at the Cape with in the next years, forcing the resident tribes into the hinterland.
From the 1820’s, groups of Boers dissatisfied with the British rule in the Cape Colony trekked off into the interior in search of freedom. Very often they clashed with Zulu and Xhosa in violent battles.
Natal was called-out in 1838 as a Boer Republic. The Oranje Free State followed in 1854 and Transvaal 1860.
The Orange Free State was annexed by Great Britain in 1854 when the first diamonds were found. Transvaal followed in 1860.
A huge reef of gold was discovered in the Witwatersrand area in 1886, drawing thousand of foreigners ensuring the exploding growth of Johannesburg.
Tension between the British and the Boers escalated, causing the Anglo-Boer war in 1889.
The British troops outnumbered the Boers but the Boers were no pushovers and the British had to re-enforce their troops. Eventually by 05 June 1900 the Boers surrendered.
As some of the Boer commando raiders denied British the war entered a second phase.
On 31 May 1902 the Peace of Vereeniging was signed and the Boer republics became British colonies.
The Union of South Africa was established on 31 May 1910.
The first election was held in September 1910, which was won by the South African Party and General Louis Botha became the union’s first prime minister.
Black South Africans were not allowed to vote and black freedom was restricted in many ways.
In 1912 the South African Native Congress was formed by Pixly ka Isaka Seme.
From 1923 it was known as the African National Congress (ANC).
The Native Lands Act in 1913 set aside 7.5% of the country for so-called reserves into which thousands of natives were forced to live in.
The National Party (NP) won the 1948 election on a platform of establishing apartheid.
The ANC for the first time advocated resistance in public in 1949 in the form of strikes, disobedience and protest marches.
The Pan African Congress (PAC) called for nationwide protest against the hated pass laws on 21 March 1960.
Consequently the PAC and the ANC were banned.
In 1961 The Republic of South Africa came into existence under Prime Minister Verwoerd.
Nelson Mandela became the leader of the now underground ANC, whilst Oliver Tambo promoted the organization abroad.
In July 1963 Nelson Mandela and other ANC and communist leaders were arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The OAU acknowledged the ANC and PAC and the first sanctions against South Africa were imposed.
Europe and the United States of America, through economic embargos, put more and more pressure on South Africa weakening the economy.
In 1990 the ANC, PAC and other opposition parties were legalized.
As some of the discriminating laws were abolished, sanctions were lifted and the economy of South Africa recovered.
Negotiations under the Convention for Democratic South Africa (Codesa) started on 21 December 1991.
In 1994 the ANC won the first free elections and Nelson Mandela became president of the Republic of South Africa.
The 1999 elections were again won by the ANC and Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki followed Nelson Mandela as president.
Mbeki was reinstated as president after the elections in 2004.
Mbeki resigned in September 2008.Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe completed the second term of Mbeki until May 2009 when Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma became president after general election, which was won by the ANC.
South Africa has a population of 43,7 million. Some 32 million are of Bantu origin, where the Zulu form the biggest group (7 million), followed by the Xhosa(6 million) and various Northern Sotho people, Tswana, Pedi, Tsonga, Swazi, Ndebele and Venda.
The rest of the population is formed by 5 million white, 3 million ‘colored’ (i.e. mixed race) and one million of Indian descent.
The Khoi-Khoi and the San form the smallest part of the population and are counted under the colored.
The average population density of South Africa is 34 people per square kilometer, with the highest population density in the east and less in the west. The lowest population density is found in the Northern Cape Province with 2 people per square kilometer.
The biggest cities are Johannesburg (5 100 700 residents), Cape Town (3 140 600 residents) Durban (2 396 100 residents), Pretoria (1 541 300 residents) and Port Elizabeth (1 065 900 inhabitants).
Close to 80% of South Africa’s population adheres to the Christian faith. Other major religious groups include Hindus, Muslims and Jews. A minority of South Africa’s population does not belong to any of the many religions, but regard themselves as traditionalists or of no specific religious affiliation.
Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the Constitution, and official policy is one of noninterference in religious practices.
Although the homelands no longer exist, most of the native tribes still live there.
The “Homelands” and their people were:
- Homelands People
- Bophuthatswana Tswana
- Ciskei Xhosa
- Gazankulu Tsonga
- KwaNdebele Ndebele
- KwaNgwane Swazi
- KwaZulu Zulu
- Lebowa Lobedu
- Qwaqwa South Sotho
- Transkei Xhosa
- Venda Venda
The Northern and Western Cape are home to most of the ´colored` population. The Cape Muslims are mostly descendants of slaves or prisoners brought to the Cape from the Dutch East Indies.
Most South Africans of Indian descent live in the KwaZulu-Natal Province.
The Afrikaner heartlands are the Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State Provinces.
People of British descent are concentrated in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces.
Despite the strength of traditional black culture in the countryside, the mingling of people in South Africa’s urban areas means that old cultures are fading and others are emerging.
South Africa enjoys a temperate and pleasant climate, with lovely warm sunny days most of the year.
The Western Cape has dry sunny summers with maximum temperatures around 26°C. Winters can get cold and wet with minimum temperatures around 7°C and the maximums around 17°C. Occasionally snow falls on the higher mountains.
The eastern plateau area has a dry, sunny climate in winter with maximum temperatures around 20°C and crisp nights with temperatures dropping to around 5°C.
Between October and April there are late afternoon showers often accompanied by spectacular thunderstorms, but it rarely gets unpleasantly hot.
However the Karoo and the Kalahari can get very hot in summer – up to 40°C.
The coast east of the Cape becomes increasingly tropical, while the weather at the west coast is temperate and dry.
National Parks and Reserves:
National parks and reserves are among South Africa’s premier attractions with spectacular scenery, abundant fauna and flora. The national parks are administered by the South African Parks Board, ensuring a standardized level of accommodation and facilities. In the private game reserves the game viewing is of equal standards, but the accommodation is far more luxurious and the service very attentive, but at a higher price. Most parks and private reserves are accessible on good roads.
Listed here are some of the parks and nature reserves in South Africa:
Bontebok National Park: This small park, situated just south of Swellendam, was proclaimed to protect the last herds of bontebok, a beautiful antelope unique to the Cape.
Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve: This reserve protects a dramatic coastline and the unique Cape Floral kingdom, with some of the best examples of fynbos.
Cederberg Wilderness area: 71 000ha of rugged valleys and peaks form this park, characterized by extraordinary sandstone formations. The vegetation is predominantly mountain fynbos and the rare Clanwilliam cedar.
De Hoop Nature Reserve: Included in this nature reserve is a scenic coastline, a freshwater lake and the Potberg Range, covering 41 000ha.
It is one of the best places to see both mountain and lowland fynbos. The fauna includes the cape mountain zebras, bontebok and a wealth of bird life.
Karoo National Park: This park, close to Beaufort West encloses 32 000ha of classic Karoo landscape and a good selection of its flora and fauna.
Northern Cape Province:
Augrabis Falls National Parks: Here, 120km west of Upington, the Orange River drops spectacularly into a solid granite ravine, forming the Augrabis Falls.
Goegap Nature Reserve: This park is famous for its extraordinary display of flowers in August/September. Just 10km from Springbok Goegab it offers more than 200 amazing Karoo and Namaqualand succulents.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: Formerly known as the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, this park supports large populations of birds, reptiles, small mammals, springbok, oryx, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest and eland, as well as a large population of lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena, jackals and foxes.
Richtersveld National Park: High-altitude, mountainous desert bordering the Orange River are protected in this 162000ha park. The Richtersveld offers a spectacular and rugged countryside and flora.
Addo Elephant Park: North of Port Elizabeth this park protects the last remnant of the great elephant herd that once roamed the province. The unique flora in the park is another attraction.
Karoo Nature Reserve: Situated near Graff-Reinet, this reserve offers an extraordinary flora, birdlife and flora within spectacular scenery and rock formations.
Mountain Zebra National Park: It covers the rugged northern slopes of the Bankberg Range with an area of 6500ha. This park was proclaimed to ensure the survival of the Cape mountain zebra.
Several Conservation areas and nature parks are set out along South Africa’s scenic east coast, like the Mkambati Nature Reserve and the Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park.
Drakenberg Reserves: There are two main reserves in the dramatic KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg – the Giant’s Castle Game Reserve and the Royal National Park.
Both have spectacular sceneries.
Greater St Lucia Wetlands: This complex of reserves centering on the Lake St Lucia are situated on the north coast. Lake St Lucia is a huge and meandering estuary with a narrow sea entrance, crowded with fish attracting a huge number of birds. However, the area is best known as a hippo and crocodile reserve. Other game is slowly re-introduced to the park.
The reserves also include in the world’s most southerly coral reefs and nesting sites of leatherback and loggerhead turtles.
Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park: The large, adjoining game reserves were proclaimed in 1879 and are among the best parks of South Africa.
Both reserves have lions, elephants, many rhinos (Black and white), giraffe and a host of other animals and birds.
Itala Game Reserve: Situated in the northern Zululand, this beautiful park has all the trappings of a private wildlife reserve.
Animals include black and white rhinos, elephants, nyalas, hyenas, buffaloes, baboons, leopards, cheetahs and crocodiles.
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve: The Blyde River originates in the Drakensberg Mountains forming the spectacular canyon of 30km, one of South Africa’s scenic highlights. The canyon features the following interesting view points and rock formations: the Three Rondavels – huge cylinders of rock with hut-like pointy ‘roofs’ rising out of the far walls of the canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes – weird cylindrical holes carved into the rock by whirlpools, the Pinnacle – an impressive rock formation that juts out from the escarpment, and the spectacular view point Wonder View and God’s Windows.
Kruger National Park: This is the one of the oldest and biggest parks in the world.
The park boasts a great variety of animals (147 species) including the Big Five, more than 500 birds, 114 reptiles and 49 species of fish.
This park was proclaimed in 1898 as the Sabie Game Reserve by the president of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger. Later it was renamed and extended to nearly 2 million hectares, and today forms part of the Limpopo Transfrontier Park. This park will be formed by a merger of Kruger and adjacent conservation areas in Mozambique and Zimbabwe covering an initial 35 000km². and ultimately a staggering 100 000km².
On the western side the park is bordered by several private game parks, like Sabi Sand, Idube, Londolozi and Mala Mala.
South Africa is the most important industrial country on the African continent.
South Africa’s economy is a mixture of First and Third World with a marked disparity in income, standard of living, lifestyles, education and work opportunities.
It therefore is a productive and industrialized economy that exhibits many characteristics associated with developing countries, including a division of labor between formal and informal sector and uneven distribution of wealth and income.
Until the discovery of diamonds at Kimberly (1869) and the gold reef on the Witwatersrand (1886), the economy was exclusively agricultural. Since then the mining industry accounts for more than 70% of exports and 13% of GDP.
South Africa has rich mineral resources. It is the world’s largest producer and exporter of gold and platinum and also exports a significant amount of coal.
The value-added processing of minerals to produce ferroalloys, stainless steel, and similar products is a major industry and an important growth area. The country’s diverse manufacturing industry is a world leader in several specialized sectors, including railway tolling stock, synthetic fuels and mining equipment and machinery.
A free trade agreement between South Africa and the EU countries was signed in January 2000. South Africa is also a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Most important trading partners for import and export are Great Britain, Germany and the United States of America.
Primary agriculture accounts for about 4% of the gross domestic product. Major crops include citrus and deciduous fruits, corn, wheat, dairy products, sugarcane, tobacco, wine and wool. South Africa has many developed irrigation schemes and is a net exporter of food.
South Africa’s GDP is expected to increase gradually during the next few years, and the government recently revised upward its 2005 estimated growth to 4.3%.
Inflation and unemployment (27.8%) are still a problem.
South Africa’s transportation infrastructure is well-developed, supporting both domestic and regional needs. The Johannesburg International Airport serves as a hub for flights to other southern African countries. More and more flights make use of the airports at Cape Town and Durban.
South African Airways, the national airline, is very safe and reliable, maintaining a high standard.
The domestic telecommunications infrastructure provides modern and efficient service to urban areas, including cellular and Internet services.
A well-developed road and network with in the country connects most of the cities and towns in the country as well as the neighbouring countries.
The main routes are all tarred and well maintained. The secondary roads are gravel road, generally in good condition.
Luxury trains like the “Blue Train” and “Rovos Rail” are known world wide.
There is a large network of public and private hospitals countrywide, offering excellent service.
All visitors to South Africa must be in possession of a valid passport in order to enter the country, and in some cases, a visa.
Travellers from certain regions of the world (Scandinavia, Japan, the USA and most Western European and Commonwealth countries) do not formally have to apply for a visa. To these travellers a free entry permit sticker will automatically be issued on entering the country.
The currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R, with 100 cents making up R1 (one Rand).
Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and Bureaux de Changes.
Most international credit cards such as the American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa and their affiliates are widely accepted.
Malaria is found only in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Malaria is not much of a risk in the winter months. Although the incidence of malaria is rare, it would be best to take adequate precautions if you choose to visit these areas.
The cheapest, safest and most effective measures against malaria are physical barriers such as a mosquito net, and the use of a good insect repellent.
It is advisable to consult a medical professional before embarking on a course of malaria prophylaxis.
Visitors who are entering South Africa from a yellow fever zone must have a valid international yellow fever inoculation certificate. Only infants under the age of one year are exempt. Immunization against cholera and small pox are not required and no other vaccinations are required when visiting South Africa.
What to pack:
The seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are directly opposite to those of the Northern Hemisphere. For summer months, lightweight (cottons and linens), short-sleeved clothes are best, although a light jersey/jumper might be needed for the cooler evenings. Umbrellas and raincoats are essential for the summers and the Western Cape winters. Warmer clothes are needed for the winter months.
South Africa’s electricity supply: 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz
Exceptions: Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins are also found on appliances. Adaptors can be purchased but may be in short supply. US-made appliances may need a transformer.
A book we would like to recommend:
Southern Africa – D.Swaney – 1740592239