South Africa

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Africa; African Countries

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Flag of South Africa Coat of arms of South Africa
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: !ke e: ǀxarra ǁke  ( ǀXam)
“Unity In Diversity” (literally “Diverse People Unite”)
Anthem:  National anthem of South Africa
Location of South Africa
Capital Pretoria (executive)
Bloemfontein (judicial)
Cape Town (legislative)
Largest city Johannesburg (2006) 
Official languages
Demonym South African
Government Parliamentary republic
 -  President Thabo Mbeki
 -  Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
 -  Chairperson M. J. Mahlangu
 -  National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete
 -  Chief Justice Pius Langa
Independence from the United Kingdom 
 -  Union 31 May 1910 
 -  Statute of Westminster 11 December 1931 
 -  Republic 31 May 1961 
Area
 -  Total 1,221,037 km² ( 25th)
471,443  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) Negligible
Population
 -  2007 (mid-year) estimate 47.9 million ( 25th)
 -  2001 census 44,819,278 
 -  Density 39/km² ( 136th)
101/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2007 estimate
 -  Total $587.5 billion  ( 18th)
 -  Per capita $13,300  ( 56th)
Gini (2000) 57.8 (high
HDI (2007) 0.674  (medium) ( 121st)
Currency South African rand ( ZAR)
Time zone SAST ( UTC+2)
Internet TLD .za
Calling code +27

The Republic of South Africa (also known by other official names) is a country located at the southern tip of Africa. It borders the Atlantic and Indian oceans and Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Lesotho, an independent enclave surrounded by South African territory. South Africa is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The South African economy is the largest in Africa and 24th largest in the world. Due to this it is the most socially, economically and infrastructurally developed country on the continent.

South Africa has experienced a different history from other nations in Africa because of early immigration from Europe and the strategic importance of the Cape Sea Route. European immigration began shortly after the Dutch East India Company founded a station at what would become Cape Town, in 1652. The closure of the Suez Canal during the Six-Day War highlighted its significance to East-West trade. The country's relatively developed infrastructure made its mineral wealth available and important to Western interests, particularly throughout the late nineteenth century and, with international competition and rivalry, during the Cold War. South Africa is ethnically diverse, with the largest Caucasian, Indian, and racially mixed communities in Africa. Black South Africans, who speak nine officially recognised languages, and many more dialects, account for slightly less than 80% of the population.

Racial strife between the white minority and the black majority has played a large part in South Africa's history and politics, culminating in apartheid, which was instituted in 1948 by the National Party (although segregation existed before that time). The laws that defined apartheid began to be repealed or abolished by the National Party in 1990, after a long and sometimes violent struggle (including economic sanctions from the international community) by the Black majority as well as many White, Coloured, and Indian South Africans.

Several philosophies and ideologies have developed in South Africa, including ubuntu (the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity) and Jan Smuts's holism.

Regular elections have been held for almost a century; but the majority of South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994.

South Africa is often called the " Rainbow Nation", a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and later adopted by then President Nelson Mandela. Mandela used the term "Rainbow Nation" as a metaphor to describe the country's newly developing multicultural diversity after segregationist apartheid ideology. The country's socially progressive policies are rare in Africa, for example, by 2007, the country had joined Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, and Spain in legalizing same-sex marriage.

History

South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological sites in Africa. Extensive fossil remains at the Sterkfontein, Kromdraai and Makapansgat caves suggest that various australopithecines existed in South Africa from about three million years ago. These were succeeded by various species of Homo, including Homo habilis, Homo erectus and modern man, Homo sapiens. Settlements of Bantu-speaking peoples, who were iron-using agriculturists and herdsmen, were already present south of the Limpopo River by the fourth or fifth century (see Bantu expansion) displacing and absorbing the original KhoiSan speakers. They slowly moved south and the earliest ironworks in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal Province are believed to date from around 1050. The southernmost group was the Xhosa people, whose language incorporates certain linguistic traits from the earlier KhoiSan people, reaching the Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. These Iron Age populations displaced earlier peoples, who often had hunter-gatherer societies, as they migrated.

Indigenous people of what is now South Africa include the Khoikhoi and the San.
Indigenous people of what is now South Africa include the Khoikhoi and the San.
A group of Xhosa people
A group of Xhosa people
Image:JanVanRiebeckArrival.jpg
Painting of an account of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, the first European to settle in South Africa, with Devil's Peak in the background.

The written history of South Africa begins with the arrival of the Portuguese. In 1487, Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to reach the southernmost tip of Africa. When he returned to Lisbon carrying news of the discovery, which he called Cabo das Tormentas (Cape of Storms) due to the stormy conditions he had encountered in the region, his royal sponsor, John II of Portugal, chose a different name, Cabo da Boa Esperança or Cape of Good Hope, for it promised a sea route to the riches of India then being sought by Portugal. Later, the great Portuguese poet Camões immortalized Dias' voyage in the epic poem The Lusiads, specifically via the mythological character, Adamastor, which symbolizes the forces of nature the Portuguese navigators had to overcome during the circumnavigation of the Cape.

Along with the accounts of the early navigators, the accounts of shipwreck survivors provide the earliest written accounts of Southern Africa. In the two centuries following 1488, a number of small fishing settlements were made along the coast by Portuguese sailors, but no written account of these settlements survives. In 1652 a victualling station was established at the Cape of Good Hope by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. For most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the slowly-expanding settlement was a Dutch possession. The Dutch settlers eventually met the south-westerly expanding Xhosa people in the region of the Fish River. A series of wars, called Cape Frontier Wars, ensued, mainly caused by conflicting land and livestock interests.

To ease Cape labour shortages slaves were brought from Indonesia, Madagascar, and India. Furthermore, troublesome leaders, often of royal descent, were banished from Dutch colonies to South Africa. This group of slaves eventually gave rise to a population that now identifies themselves as " Cape Malays". Cape Malays have traditionally been accorded a higher social status by the European colonists - many became wealthy landowners, but became increasingly dispossessed as apartheid developed. Cape Malay mosques in District Six were spared, and now serve as monuments for the destruction that occurred around them.

Most of the descendants of these slaves, who often married with Dutch settlers, were later classified together with the remnants of the Khoikhoi (aka Khoisan) as Cape Coloureds. Further intermingling within the Cape Coloured population itself, as well as with Xhosa and other South African people, now means that they constitute roughly 50% of the population in the Western Cape Province.

Historical nation-states of present-day
South Africa

(including Boer republics and TBVC states)

Mapungubwe (1050-1270)
Swellendam (1795)
Graaff Reinet (1795-1796)
Waterboer's Land (1813-1871)
Adam Kok's Land (1825-1861)
Winburg (1836-1844)
Potchefstroom (1837-1844)
Potchefstroom, North West (1844-1848)
Republic of Utrecht (1854-1858)
Lydenburg Republic (1856-1860)
Nieuw Republiek (1884-1888)
Griqualand East (1861-1879)
Griqualand West (1870)
Klein Vrystaat (1886-1891)
Stellaland (1882-1885)
Goshen (South Africa) (1882-1883)
Zululand (1816-1897)
Natalia Republic (1839–1843)
Orange Free State (1854-1902)
South African Republic (1857-1902)
Union of South Africa (1910–1961)
Bophuthatswana (1977-1994)
Ciskei (1981-1994)
Transkei (1976-1994)
Venda (1979-1994)
Republic of South Africa (1961-present)

Great Britain seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1795 ostensibly to stop it falling into the hands of the French, but also seeking to use Cape Town in particular as a stop on the route to Australia and India. It was returned to the Dutch in 1803, but soon afterwards the Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy, and the British annexed the Cape Colony in 1806. The British continued the frontier wars against the Xhosa, pushing the eastern frontier eastward through a line of forts established along the Fish River and consolidating it by encouraging British settlement. Due to pressure of abolitionist societies in Britain, the British parliament first stopped its global slave trade in 1807, then abolished slavery in all its colonies in 1833.

The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1884 in the interior encouraged economic growth and immigration, intensifying the subjugation of the natives. The Boers successfully resisted British encroachments during the First Boer War (1880–1881) using guerrilla warfare tactics, much better suited to local conditions. However, the British returned in greater numbers without their red jackets in the Second Boer War (1899–1902). The Boers' attempt to ally themselves with German South-West Africa provided the British with yet another excuse to take control of the Boer Republics.

The Boers resisted fiercely, but the British eventually overwhelmed the Boer forces, using their superior numbers, improved tactics and external supply chains. Also during this war, the British used controversial concentration camps and scorched earth tactics, forcing whole families into crowded tents and burning their houses. Crops were burnt and all livestock slaughtered to demoralize the resisting Boers. The appalling conditions in British concentration camps were brought to light by Welfare Campaigner Emily Hobhouse in her report "Report of a Visit to the Camps of Women and Children in the Cape and Orange River Colonies". Maltreatment and undernourishment were common in camps. Food was often poisoned and glass pieces and hooks were found in many rations. The death toll reached 26,370 of which 24,000 were children.

The Treaty of Vereeniging specified full British sovereignty over the South African republics, and the British government agreed to assume the £3 000 000 war debt owed by the Afrikaner governments. One of the main conditions of the treaty ending the war was that "Blacks" would not be allowed to vote, except in the Cape Colony.

After four years of negotiations, the Union of South Africa was created from the Cape and Natal colonies, as well as the republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal, on May 31, 1910, exactly eight years after the end of the Second Boer War. The newly-created Union of South Africa was a dominion. The Natives' Land Act of 1913 severely restricted the ownership of land by 'blacks', at that stage to a mere 7% of the country, although this amount was eventually increased marginally. In 1934, the South African Party and National Party merged to form the United Party, seeking reconciliation between Afrikaners and English-speaking "Whites", but split in 1939 over the Union's entry into World War II as an ally of the United Kingdom, a move which the National Party strongly opposed.

In 1948 the National Party was elected to power, and began implementing a series of harsh segregationist laws that would become known collectively as apartheid. Not surprisingly, this segregation also applied to the wealth acquired during rapid industrialisation of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. While the White minority enjoyed the highest standard of living in all of Africa, often comparable to " First World" western nations, the Black majority remained disadvantaged by almost every standard, including income, education, housing, and life expectancy. However, the average income and life expectancy of a black, Indian or "Coloured" South African compared favourably to many other African states, such as Ghana and Tanzania as education and health were provided, though selectively.

Apartheid became increasingly controversial, leading to widespread sanctions and divestment abroad and growing unrest and oppression within South Africa. (See also the article on the History of South Africa in the apartheid era.) A long period of harsh suppression by the government, and at times violent resistance, strikes, marches, protests, and sabotage by bombing and other means, by various anti-apartheid movements, most notably the African National Congress (ANC), followed. In the late 1970s, South Africa began a program of weapon">nuclear weapons, and in the following decade it produced six deliverable nuclear weapons. The rationale for the nuclear arsenal is disputed, but it is believed that Vorster and P.W. Botha wanted to be able to catalyse American intervention in the event of a war between South Africa and the Cuban-supported MPLA government of Angola.

In 1990 the National Party government took the first step towards negotiating itself out of power when it lifted the ban on the African National Congress and other left-wing political organisations, and released Nelson Mandela from prison after twenty-seven years' incarceration on a sabotage sentence. Apartheid legislation was gradually removed from the statute books, and South Africa also destroyed its nuclear arsenal and acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The first multi-racial elections were held in 1994, which the ANC won by an overwhelming majority. It has been in power ever since.

Despite the end of apartheid, millions of South Africans, mostly black, continue to live in poverty. This is partly attributed to the legacy of the apartheid system and, increasingly, what many see as the failure of the current government to tackle social issues, coupled with the monetary and fiscal discipline of the current government to ensure both redistribution of wealth and economic growth. Since the ANC government took power, South Africa's United Nations Human Development Index has fallen dramatically, while it was steadily rising until the mid-1990s. Much of this could be attributed to the AIDS pandemic and the government's failure to take steps to address it. However, the ANC's social housing policy has produced some improvement in living conditions in many areas by redirecting fiscal spending and improving the efficiency of the tax collection system.

Government and politics

The central area of Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa
The central area of Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa

South Africa is the only nation in the world with three capital cities: Cape Town, the largest of the three, is the legislative capital; Pretoria is the administrative capital; and Bloemfontein is the judicial capital. South Africa has a bicameral parliament: the ninety members of the National Council of Provinces (the upper house); and the four hundred members of the National Assembly (the lower house). Members of the lower house are elected on a population basis by proportional representation: half of the members are elected from national lists and half are elected from provincial lists. Ten members are elected to represent each province in the National Council of Provinces, regardless of the population of the province. Elections for both chambers are held every five years. The government is formed in the lower house, and the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly is the President.

Current South African politics are dominated by the African National Congress (ANC), which received 69.7% of the vote during the last 2004 general election and 66.3% of the vote in the 2006 municipal election. The current (2004-2009 term) President of South Africa is Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded former President Nelson Mandela. The main challenger to the ANC's rule is the Democratic Alliance party, which received 12.4% of the vote in the 2004 election and 14.8% in the 2006 election. The leader of this party is Helen Zille (elected 6 May 2007). The previous leader of the party was Tony Leon. The formerly dominant New National Party, which introduced apartheid through its predecessor, the National Party, suffered increasing humiliation at election polls since 1994, and finally voted to disband. It chose to merge with the ANC on 9 April 2005. Other major political parties represented in Parliament are the Inkatha Freedom Party, which mainly represents Zulu voters, and the Independent Democrats, who took 6.97% and 1.7% of the vote respectively, in the 2004 election.

However since 2004 the country has suffered many thousands of popular protests, some violent, making it, according to one academic, the "most protest-rich country in the world". Many of these protests have been organised from the growing shanty towns that surround South African cities.

Law

The primary sources of South Africa law were Roman-Dutch mercantile law and personal law with English Common law, as imports of Dutch settlements and British colonialism. The first European based law in South Africa was brought by the Dutch East India Company and is called Roman-Dutch law. It was imported before the codification of European law into the Napoleonic Code and is comparable in many ways to Scottish law. This was followed in the 19th century by British law both common and statutory. Starting in 1910 with unification, South Africa had its own parliament which passed laws specific for South Africa, building on those previously passed for the individual member colonies.

Provinces, districts and municipalities

Map showing the provinces and districts (numbered) of South Africa.          Northern Cape       North West       Gauteng             Limpopo             Mpumalanga        KwaZulu-Natal       Eastern Cape        Free State           Western Cape
Map showing the provinces and districts (numbered) of South Africa.
      Northern Cape       North West       Gauteng       Limpopo       Mpumalanga       KwaZulu-Natal       Eastern Cape       Free State       Western Cape

When apartheid ended in 1994, the South African government had to integrate the formerly independent and semi-independent Bantustans into the political structure of South Africa. To this end, it abolished the four former provinces of South Africa ( Cape Province, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal) and replaced them with nine fully integrated provinces. The new provinces are usually much smaller than the former provinces, which theoretically gives local governments more resources to distribute over smaller areas.

The nine provinces are further subdivided into 52 districts: 6 metropolitan and 46 district municipalities. The 46 district municipalities are further subdivided into 231 local municipalities. The district municipalities also contain 20 district management areas (mostly game parks) that are directly governed by the district municipalities. The six metropolitan municipalities perform the functions of both district and local municipalities. The new provinces are:

Province Former homelands and provinces Capital Area (km²) Area (sq mi) Population (2001)
Eastern Cape Cape Province, Transkei, Ciskei Bhisho 169,580 65,475 6,436,761
Free State Orange Free State, QwaQwa Bloemfontein 129,480 49,992 2,706,776
Gauteng Transvaal Johannesburg 17,010 6,568 8,837,172
KwaZulu-Natal Natal, KwaZulu Pietermaritzburg 92,100 35,560 9,426,018
Limpopo Transvaal, Venda, Lebowa, Gazankulu Polokwane 123,900 47,838 5,273,637
Mpumalanga Transvaal, KwaNdebele, KaNgwane, Bophuthatswana, Lebowa Nelspruit 79,490 30,691 3,122,994
Northern Cape Cape Province Kimberley 361,830 139,703 822,726
North West Transvaal, Cape Province, Bophuthatswana Mafikeng 116,320 44,911 3,669,349
Western Cape Cape Province Cape Town 129,370 49,950 4,524,335
Total 1,219,080 470,688 44,819,768

Geography

Map of South Africa
Map of South Africa
Satellite picture of South Africa
Satellite picture of South Africa

South Africa is located at the southernmost region of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 kilometres (1,550 mi) and across two oceans (the Atlantic and the Indian). At 470,979  sq mi (1,219,912  km²), South Africa is the world's 25th-largest country (after Mali). It is comparable in size to Colombia. Njesuthi in the Drakensberg at 3,408 m (11,424 ft) is the highest peak in South Africa.

South Africa has a generally temperate climate, due in part to it being surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, by its location in the climatically milder southern hemisphere and due to the average elevation rising steadily towards the north (towards the equator) and further inland. Due to this varied topography and oceanic influence, a great variety of climatic zones exist.

The climatic zones vary, from the extreme desert of the southern Namib in the farthest northwest to the lush subtropical climate in the east along the Mozambique border and the Indian ocean. From the east, the land quickly rises over a mountainous escarpment towards the interior plateau known as the Highveld. Even though South Africa is classified as semi-arid, there is considerable variation in climate as well as topography.

The interior of South Africa is a vast, rather flat, and sparsely populated scrubland, Karoo, which is drier towards the northwest along the Namib desert. In contrast, the eastern coastline is lush and well-watered, which produces a climate similar to the tropics. The extreme southwest has a climate remarkably similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers, hosting the famous Fynbos Biome. This area also produces much of South Africa's wine. This region is also particularly known for its wind, which blows intermittently almost all year. The severity of this wind made passing around the Cape of Good Hope particularly treacherous for sailors, causing many shipwrecks. Further east on the country's south coast, rainfall is distributed more evenly throughout the year, producing a green landscape. This area is popularly known as the Garden Route.

The Free State is particularly flat due to the fact that it lies centrally on the high plateau. North of the Vaal River, the Highveld becomes better watered and does not experience subtropical extremes of heat. Johannesburg, in the centre of the Highveld, is at 1,740 metres (5,709 ft) and receives an annual rainfall of 760 millimetres (30  in). Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.

To the north of Johannesburg, the altitude drops beyond the Highveld's escarpment, and turns into the lower lying Bushveld, an area of mixed dry forest and an abundance of wildlife. East of the Highveld, beyond the eastern escarpment, the Lowveld stretches towards the Indian ocean. It has particularly high temperatures, and is also the location of extended subtropical agriculture. The mountains of the Barberton Greenstone belt in the lowveld are the oldest mountains on Earth, dating back 3.5 Billion years. The earliest reliable proof of life (dated 3.2–3.5 Billion years old) has been found in these mountains.

The high Drakensberg mountains, which form the south-eastern escarpment of the Highveld, offer limited skiing opportunities in winter. Many people think that the coldest place in South Africa is Sutherland in the western Roggeveld Mountains, where midwinter temperatures can reach as low as −15 degrees Celsius (5 ° F). In fact, the coldest place is actually Buffelsfontein, which is in the Molteno district of the Eastern Cape. Buffelsfontein recorded a low of −18.6 degrees Celsius (-1.5 ° F). The deep interior has the hottest temperatures: A temperature of 51.7 °C (125 °F) was recorded in 1948 in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington.

South Africa also has one possession, the small sub-Antarctic archipelago of the Prince Edward Islands, consisting of Marion Island (290 km²/112 sq mi) and Prince Edward Island (45 km²/17.3 sq mi) (not to be confused with the Canadian province of the same name).

Flora and fauna

Fynbos, a floral kingdom unique to South Africa, is found near Cape Town
Fynbos, a floral kingdom unique to South Africa, is found near Cape Town

South Africa is one of only 17 countries worldwide considered Megadiverse. It has more than 20,000 different plants, or about 10% of all the known species of plants on Earth, making it particularly rich in plant biodiversity. South Africa is the third most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil and Indonesia and has greater biodiversity than any country of equal or smaller size (Brazil being roughly seven times South Africa's size, and Indonesia more than 50% larger).

South Africa's most prevalent biome is grassland, particularly on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs, and acacia trees, mainly camel-thorn and whitethorn. Vegetation becomes even more sparse towards the northwest due to low rainfall. There are several species of water-storing succulents like aloes and euphorbias in the very hot and dry Namaqualand area. The grass and thorn savannah turns slowly into a bush savannah towards the north-east of the country, with more dense growth. There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park.

The Fynbos Biome, which makes up the majority of the area and plant life in the Cape floristic region, one of the six floral kingdoms, is located in a small region of the Western Cape and contains more than 9,000 of those species, making it among the richest regions on earth in terms of floral biodiversity. The majority of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous plants. Another uniquely South African plant is the protea genus of flowering plants. There are around 130 different species of protea in South Africa.

While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, it has few forests. Only 1% of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain along the Indian Ocean in KwaZulu-Natal (see KwaZulu-Cape coastal forest mosaic). There are even smaller reserves of forests that are out of the reach of fire, known as montane forests (see Knysna-Amatole montane forests). Plantations of imported tree species are predominant, particularly the non-native eucalyptus and pine. South Africa has lost a large area of natural habitat in the last four decades, primarily due to overpopulation, sprawling development patterns and deforestation during the nineteenth century. South Africa is one of the worst affected countries in the world when it comes to invasion by alien species with many (e.g. Black Wattle, Port Jackson, Hakea, Lantana and Jacaranda) posing a significant threat to the native biodiversity and the already scarce water resources. The original temperate forest that met the first European settlers to South Africa was exploited ruthlessly until only small patches remained. Currently, South African hardwood trees like Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), stinkwood (Ocotea bullata), and South African Black Ironwood (Olea laurifolia) are under government protection.

Numerous mammals are found in the bushveld habitats including lions, leopards, white rhinos, blue wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotamus, and giraffes. A significant extent of the bushveld habitat exists in the north-east including Kruger National Park and the Mala Mala Reserve, as well as in the far north in the Waterberg Biosphere.

Climate change is expected to bring considerable warming and drying to much of this already semi-arid region, with greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flooding and drought. According to computer generated climate modelling produced by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) (along with many of its partner institutions), parts of southern Africa will see an increase in temperature by about one degree Celsius along the coast to more than four degrees Celsius in the already hot hinterland such as the Northern Cape in late spring and summertime by 2050.

The Cape Floral Kingdom has been identified as one of the global biodiversity hotspots since it will be hit very hard by climate change and has such a great diversity of life. Drought, increased intensity and frequency of fire and climbing temperatures are expected to push many of these rare species towards extinction. The book Scorched : South Africa's changing climate takes much of the modelling produced by SANBI and presents it in an accessible travelogue-style collection of essays.

South Africa houses many endemic species, among them the critically endangered Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticullaris) in the Karoo.

Economy

The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background. Cape Town has become an important retail and tourism centre for the country, and attracts the largest number of foreign visitors in South Africa
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background. Cape Town has become an important retail and tourism centre for the country, and attracts the largest number of foreign visitors in South Africa

By UN classification South Africa is a middle-income country with an abundant supply of resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors, a stock exchange (the JSE Limited), that ranks among the top twenty in the world, and a modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centres throughout the region. South Africa is ranked 25th in the world in terms of GDP(PPP).

In many respects, South Africa can be considered a developed country. However, advanced development is significantly localised around four areas: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, and Pretoria/Johannesburg. Beyond these four economic centres, development is marginal and poverty is still prevalent despite government efforts. Consequently the vast majority of South Africans are poor. However, key marginal areas have experienced rapid growth recently. Such areas include: Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay; Rustenburg area; Nelspruit area; Bloemfontein; Cape West Coast; KwaZulu-Natal North Coast amongst others.

Even though South Africa has the fourth highest per capita income in Africa, only behind Seychelles, Botswana and the European possessions located in Africa, it suffers from large income gaps and a dual economy marking it as a developing country. South Africa has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. A decade of continual economic growth has helped to lower unemployment, but daunting economic and social problems remain. The average South African household income decreased considerably between 1995 and 2000. As for racial inequality, Statistics South Africa reported that in 1995 the average white household earned four times as much as the average black household. In 2000 the average white household was earning 6 times the average black household. The implementation of affirmative action policies have seen a rise in black economic wealth and an emerging black middle class. Other problems are crime, corruption, and HIV/AIDS.

At the start of 2000, President Thabo Mbeki vowed to promote economic growth and foreign investment by relaxing restrictive labour laws, stepping up the pace of privatisation, and cutting unneeded governmental spending. His policies face strong opposition from organised labour. South Africa is also the continent's largest energy producer and consumer.

The South African rand (ZAR), the world's most actively-traded emerging market currency, has joined an elite club of fifteen currencies, the Continuous linked settlement (CLS), where forex transactions are settled immediately, lowering the risks of transacting across time zones. The rand was the best-performing currency against the United States dollar (USD) between 2002 and 2005, according to the Bloomberg Currency Scorecard.

The volatility of the rand has affected economic activity, falling sharply during 2001 and hitting a historic low of 13.85 ZAR to the USD, raising fears of inflation, and causing the Reserve Bank to increase interest rates. The rand has since recovered, trading at 7.13 ZAR to the dollar as of January 2008. However, as exporters are put under considerable pressure from a stronger domestic currency, many call for government intervention to help soften the rand.

Refugees from poorer neighbouring countries include many immigrants from the DRC, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and others, representing a large portion of the informal sector. With high unemployment levels amongst poorer South Africans, xenophobia is prevalent and many people born in South Africa feel resentful of immigrants who are seen to be depriving the native population of jobs, a feeling which has been given credibility by the fact that many South African employers have employed migrants from other countries for lower pay than South African citizens, especially in the construction, tourism, agriculture and domestic service industries. Illegal immigrants are also heavily involved in informal trading. However, many immigrants to South Africa continue to live in poor conditions, and the South African immigration policy has become increasingly restrictive since 1994.

Electricity crisis

After unsuccessful attempts by the government to encourage private construction of electricity generation capacity, in 2007 the state-owned electricity supplier ( Eskom) started experiencing a lack of capacity in the electrical generating and reticulation infrastructure. This led to an inability to meet the routine demands of industry and consumers, resulting in countrywide rolling blackouts. Initially the lack of capacity was triggered by a failure at Koeberg nuclear power station, but since then a general lack of capacity became evident. The supplier has been widely criticised for failing to adequately plan for and construct adequate electric generating capacity.

Agriculture

farm in the central area of Mpumalanga.">Workers planting on a farm in the central area of Mpumalanga.
Workers planting on a farm in the central area of Mpumalanga.
Farm workers.
Farm workers.

South Africa has a large agricultural sector and is a net exporter of farming products. There are almost a thousand agricultural cooperatives and agribusinesses throughout the country, and agricultural exports have constituted 8% of South Africa's total exports for the past five years. The agricultural industry contributes around 10% of formal employment, relatively low compared to other parts of Africa, as well as providing work for casual labourers and contributing around 2.6% of GDP for the nation. However, due to the aridity of the land, only 13.5% can be used for crop production, and only 3% is considered high potential land.

Although the commercial farming sector is relatively well developed, people in some rural areas still survive on subsistence agriculture. It is the eighth largest wine producer in the world, and the eleventh largest producer of sunflower seed. South Africa is a net exporter of agricultural products and foodstuffs, the largest number of exported items being sugar, grapes, citrus, nectarines, wine and deciduous fruit. The largest locally produced crop is maize (corn), and it has been estimated that 9 million tons are produced every year, with 7.4 million tons being consumed. Livestock are also popular on South African farms, with the country producing 85% of all meat consumed. The dairy industry consists of around 4,300 milk producers providing employment for 60,000 farm workers and contributing to the livelihoods of around 40,000 others.

In recent years, the agricultural sector has introduced several reforms, some of which are controversial, such as land reform and the deregulation of the market for agricultural products. Land reform has been criticised both by farmers' groups and by landless workers, the latter alleging that the pace of change has not been fast enough, and the former alleging racist treatment and expressing concerns that a similar situation to Zimbabwe's land reform policy may develop, a fear exacerbated by comments made by the country's deputy president. The sector continues to face problems, with increased foreign competition and crime being two of the major challenges for the industry. The government has been accused of not devoting enough time and money to tackle the problem of farm attacks as opposed to other forms of violent crime.

Another issue which affects South African agriculture is environmental damage caused by misuse of the land and global climate change. South Africa is unusually vulnerable to climate change and resultant diminution of surface waters. Some predictions shows surface water supply could decrease by 60% by the year 2070 in parts of the Western Cape. To reverse the damage caused by land mismanagement, the government has supported a scheme which promotes sustainable development and the use of natural resources.

Demographics

Historical populations
Year Pop.  %±
1900 5,014,000
1910 5,842,000 16.5%
1920 6,953,000 19.0%
1930 8,580,000 23.4%
1940 10,341,000 20.5%
1950 13,310,000 28.7%
1960 16,385,000 23.1%
1970 21,794,000 33.0%
1980 24,261,000 11.3%
1990 37,944,000 56.4%
2000 43,686,000 15.1%
2007 48,000,000 (est) 9.9%
http://populstat.info/Africa/safricag.htm
Population density by municipality. Large areas of South Africa are sparsely populated.
Population density by municipality. Large areas of South Africa are sparsely populated.

South Africa is a nation of more than 47 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions. The last census was held in 2001 and the next will be in 2011. Statistics South Africa provided five racial categories by which people could classify themselves, the last of which, "unspecified/other" drew negligible responses, and these results were omitted. The 2006 midyear estimated figures for the other categories were Black African at 79.5%, White at 9.2%, Coloured at 8.9%, and Indian or Asian at 2.5%. Even though South Africa's population has increased in the past decade (primarily due to immigration), the country had an annual population growth rate of −0.46% in 2007.

By far the major part of the population classified itself as African or black, but it is not culturally or linguistically homogeneous. Major ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele, all of which speak Bantu languages (see Bantu peoples of South Africa).

Some, such as the Zulu, Xhosa, Bapedi and Venda groups, are unique to South Africa. Other groups are distributed across the borders with South Africa's neighbours: The Basotho group is also the major ethnic group in Lesotho. The Tswana ethnic group constitute the majority of the population of Botswana. The Swazi ethnic group is the major ethnic group in Swaziland. The Ndebele ethnic group is also found in Matabeleland in Zimbabwe, where they are known as the Matabele. These Ndebele people are however in effect Zulu people because the language they speak is Zulu and they are the descendants of a faction under the warrior Mzilikazi that escaped persecution from Shaka by migrating to their current territory. The Tsonga ethnic group is also found in southern Mozambique, where they are known as the Shangaan.

The white population is not ethnically homogenous and descend from many ethnic groups: Dutch, German, French Huguenot, and British. Culturally and linguistically, they are divided into the Afrikaners, who speak Afrikaans, and English-speaking groups, many of whom are descended from British immigrants (see Anglo African). Many small communities that have immigrated over the last century retain the use of other languages. The white population is on the decrease due to a low birth rate and emigration; as a factor in their decision to emigrate, many cite the high crime rate and the government's affirmative action policies. Since 1994, around one hundred thousand white South Africans have emigrated.

The term " Coloured" is still largely used for the people of mixed race descended from slaves brought in from East and Central Africa, the indigenous Khoisan who lived in the Cape at the time, indigenous African Blacks, Whites (mostly the Dutch/ Afrikaner and British settlers) as well as an admixture of Javanese, Malay, Indian, Malagasy and other European (such as Portuguese) and Asian blood (such as Burmese). The majority speak Afrikaans. Khoisan is a term used to describe two separate groups, physically similar in that they were light-skinned and small in stature. The Khoikhoi, who were called Hottentots by the Europeans, were pastoralists and were effectively annihilated; the San, called Bushmen by the Europeans, were hunter-gatherers. Within what is known as the Coloured community, more recent immigrants will also be found: Coloureds from the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Namibia and immigrants of mixed descent from India and Burma ( Anglo-Indians/ Anglo-Burmese) who were welcomed to the Cape when India and Burma received their Independence.

The major part of the Asian population of the country is Indian in origin (see Indian South Africans), many of them descended from indentured workers brought in the nineteenth century to work on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal area then known as Natal. There is also a significant group of Chinese South Africans (approximately 100,000 individuals) and Vietnamese South Africans (approximately 50,000 individuals).

Religion

According to the latest 2001 national census, Christians accounted for 79.7% of the population. This includes Zion Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal (Charismatic) 8.2%, Catholic 7.1%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%, and other Christian 36%. Islam accounted for 1.5% of the population, Hinduism about 1.3%. 15.1% had no religious affiliation, 2.3% were other and 1.4% were unspecified.

African Indigenous Churches were the largest of the Christian groups. It was believed that many of these persons who claimed no affiliation with any organised religion adhered to traditional indigenous religions. Many persons combined Christian and traditional indigenous religious practices.

Islam probably pre-dates the colonial period, and consisted of isolated contact with Arab and East African traders. Many South African Muslims are described as Coloureds, notably in the Western Cape, including those whose ancestors came as slaves from the Indonesian archipelago (the Cape Malays). Others are described as Indians, notably in KwaZulu-Natal, including those whose ancestors came as traders from South Asia; they have been joined by others from other parts of Africa as well as white or black South African converts. It is estimated that Islam is the fastest growing religion of conversion in the country, with the number of black Muslims growing sixfold, from 12,000 in 1991 to 74,700 in 2004.

Hinduism dates back to British Colonial period primarily but later waves of continuous immigrants from India have contributed to sizeable Hindu population. Most Hindus are predominantly ethnically South Asians but there are many who come from mixed racial stock and many are converts with the efforts of Hindu missionaries such as ISKCON. Other religions in smaller numbers are Sikhism, Jainism and Bahai Faith.

Culture

Prison Buildings on Robben Island, the holding place of several anti-apartheid fighters including Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned there for eighteen years. Robben Island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Prison Buildings on Robben Island, the holding place of several anti-apartheid fighters including Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned there for eighteen years. Robben Island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Decorated houses, Drakensberg Mountains
Decorated houses, Drakensberg Mountains

It may be argued that there is no "single" culture in South Africa because of its ethnic diversity. Today, the diversity in foods from many cultures is enjoyed by all and especially marketed to tourists who wish to sample the large variety of South African cuisine. In addition to food, music and dance feature prominently.

South African cuisine is heavily meat-based and has spawned the distinctively South African social gathering known as a braai, or barbecue. South Africa has also developed into a major wine producer, with some of the best vineyards lying in valleys around Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl and Barrydale.

There is great diversity in music from South Africa. Many black musicians who sang in Afrikaans or English during apartheid have since begun to sing in traditional African languages, and have developed a unique style called Kwaito. Of note is Brenda Fassie, who launched to fame with her song "Weekend Special", which was sung in English. More famous traditional musicians include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, while the Soweto String Quartet performs classic music with an African flavour. White and Coloured South African singers are historically influenced by European musical styles including such western metal bands such as Seether (formerly Saron Gas). South Africa has produced world-famous jazz musicians, notably Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba, Jonathan Butler, Chris McGregor, and Sathima Bea Benjamin. Afrikaans music covers multiple genres, such as the contemporary Steve Hofmeyr and the punk rock band Fokofpolisiekar. Crossover artists such as Johnny Clegg and his bands Juluka and Savuka have enjoyed various success underground, publicly, and abroad.

The country's black majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished lives. It is among these people, however, that cultural traditions survive most strongly; as blacks have become increasingly urbanised and westernised, aspects of traditional culture have declined. Urban blacks usually speak English or Afrikaans in addition to their native tongue. There are smaller but still significant groups of speakers of Khoisan languages which are not included in the eleven official languages, but are one of the eight other officially recognised languages. There are small groups of speakers of endangered languages, most of which are from the Khoi-San family, that receive no official status; however, some groups within South Africa are attempting to promote their use and revival.

The middle class lifestyle, predominantly of the white minority but with growing numbers of Black, Coloured and Indian people, is similar in many respects to that of people found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia. Members of the middle class often study and work abroad for greater exposure to the world's markets.

Asians, predominantly of Indian origin, preserve their own cultural heritage, languages and religious beliefs, being either Christian, Hindu or Sunni Muslim and speaking English, with Indian languages like Hindi, Telugu, Tamil or Gujarati being spoken less frequently, but the majority of Indians being able to understand their mother tongue. The first Indians arrived on the famous Truro ship as indentured labourers in Natal to work the Sugar Cane Fields. There is a much smaller Chinese community in South Africa, although its numbers have increased due to immigration from Republic of China (Taiwan).

South Africa has also had a large influence in the Scouting movement, with many Scouting traditions and ceremonies coming from the experiences of Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of Scouting) during his time in South Africa as a military officer in the 1890s. The South African Scout Association was one of the first youth organisations to open its doors to youth and adults of all races in South Africa. This happened on 2 July 1977 at a conference known as Quo Vadis.

Languages

Map showing principal South African languages by municipality. Lighter shades indicate a non-majority plurality.          Afrikaans       Northern Sotho       Southern Sotho       Swati       Tsonga        Tswana       Venda       Xhosa       Zulu
Map showing principal South African languages by municipality. Lighter shades indicate a non-majority plurality.
     Afrikaans       Northern Sotho       Southern Sotho       Swati       Tsonga       Tswana       Venda       Xhosa       Zulu

South Africa has eleven official languages: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu. In this regard it is second only to India in number. While each language is technically equal to every other, some languages are spoken more than others. According to the 2001 National Census, the three most spoken first home languages are Zulu (23.8%), Xhosa (17.6%) and Afrikaans (13.3%).

There are eleven official names for South Africa, one in each of the official national languages.

The country also recognizes eight non-official languages: Fanagalo, Khoe, Lobedu, Nama, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, San and South African Sign Language. These non-official languages may be used in certain official uses in limited areas where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent. Nevertheless, their populations are not such that they require nationwide recognition.

Many of the "unofficial languages" of the San and Khoikhoi people contain regional dialects stretching northward into Namibia and Botswana, and elsewhere. These people, who are a physically distinct population from other Africans, have their own cultural identity based on their hunter-gatherer societies. They have been marginalised to a great extent, and many of their languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

Many white South Africans also speak other European languages, such as Portuguese (also spoken by Angolan and Mozambican blacks), German, and Greek, while some Asians and Indians in South Africa speak South Asian languages, such as Telugu, Hindi, Gujarati and Tamil.

Sports

The main sports in South Africa are football, rugby union, cricket and boxing. Other sports with significant support are swimming, golf and netball. Basketball, surfing and skateboarding are popular among the youth.

Famous boxing personalities include Baby Jake Jacob Matlala, Vuyani Bungu, Welcome Ncita, "the rose of Soweto" Dingaan Thobela, Gerrie Coetzee and Brian Mitchell. Soccer players who have excelled in international clubs include Lucas Radebe of Leeds United and Quinton Fortune, formerly of Manchester United, Benni McCarthy of Blackburn Rovers and Steven Pienaar of Everton. South Africa produced Formula 1 motor racing's 1979 world champion Jody Scheckter. Sarel van der Merwe won many national titles during the 1970s, '80s, and '90s.

South Africa hosted and won the 1995 Rugby World Cup at their first attempt and again won the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, beating reigning champions England in the final. This is quite remarkable because South Africa was only allowed to participate from 1995 since the end of Apartheid, meaning they won 2 out of the 4 tournaments they participated in. It followed the 1995 Rugby World Cup final by hosting and winning the 1996 African Cup of Nations football tournament. It also hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup and the Pro20 Cricket World Cup in 2007. South Africa will be the host nation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which will be the first time the tournament is held on the African continent.

In 2004, the team of Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, simultaneously breaking the world record in the 4x100 freestyle relay. Schoeman, Ferns, and Neethling trained at the University of Arizona. Previously Penny Heyns won Olympic Gold in the 1996 olympics. Several other swimmers have participated and won in international swimming events.

Health

HIV/AIDS

The spread of AIDS (acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome) is an alarming problem in South Africa with up to 31% of pregnant women found to be HIV infected in 2005 and the infection rate among adults estimated at 20%. The link between HIV, a virus spread primarily by sexual contact, and AIDS has long been denied by the president and the health minister, who have insisted that the many deaths in the country are due to malnutrition, and hence poverty, and not HIV. Recently, in 2007, the government made efforts to fight AIDS..

AIDS affects mainly those who are sexually active and is far more prevalent in the black population. Most deaths are people who are also economically active, resulting in many families losing their primary wage earners. This has resulted in many 'AIDS orphans' who in many cases depend on the state for care and financial support. It is estimated that there are 1,200,000 orphans in South Africa. Many elderly people also lose the support from lost younger members of their family.

Roughly 5 million people are infected with the disease.

Malaria

According to Statistics South Africa, malaria death rates increased between 1997 and 1999, and decreased between 1999 and 2004. That said, deaths from malaria among males increased 45% between 1997 and 2004, and among females it increased 93% during the same period.

Crime

Owing to the fact that very little accurate information on crime is available for the other African countries, it is difficult to judge how South Africa fares against the rest of the continent, crime-wise. International comparative studies on crime generally do not take into account African countries for which recent statistics are not available.

According to a survey for the period 1998–2000 compiled by the United Nations, South Africa was ranked second for assault and murder (by all means) per capita, in addition to being ranked second for rape and first for rapes per capita. Total crime per capita is tenth out of the sixty countries in the data set.

Crime has had a pronounced effect on society: many middle-class South Africans moved into gated communities, abandoning the central business districts of some cities for the relative security of suburbs. This effect is most pronounced in Johannesburg, although the trend is noticeable in other cities as well. Many emigrants from South Africa also state that crime was a big motivator for them to leave. Crime against the farming community has continued to be a major problem.

Military

South Africa's armed forces, known as the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), was created in 1994. Previously known simply as the South African Defence Force (SADF), the new force consists of the forces of the old SADF, as well as the forces of the African nationalist groups, namely Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), and the former Bantustan defence forces. The SANDF is subdivided into four branches, the South African Army, the South African Air Force, the South African Navy, and the South African Military Health Services.

In recent years, the SANDF has become a major peacekeeping force in Africa, and has been involved in operations in Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi, amongst others. It has also participated as a part of multi-national UN peacekeeping forces.

South Africa undertook a nuclear weapons program in the 1970s and may have conducted a nuclear test over the Atlantic in 1979. It has since renounced its nuclear program and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991. It is the only African country to have successfully developed nuclear weapons.

Tourism

South Africa is a popular tourist destination, and a substantial amount of revenue comes from tourism. Among the main attractions are the diverse and picturesque culture, the game reserves and the highly regarded local wines. In recent years, tourism in South Africa has seen high growth with the first five months of 2007 showing the highest levels of tourism in South Africa since 1998. Figures released by Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism show a decided increase in foreign visitors.

International rankings

Organisation Survey Ranking
A.T. Kearney/ Foreign Policy Magazine Globalization Index 2005 48 out of 62
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal 2007 Index of Economic Freedom 52 out of 157
IMD International World Competitiveness Yearbook 2005 46 out of 60
Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (2007) 43 out of 169
Save the Children Children's Index Rank 2005 65 out of 110
The Economist Worldwide Quality-of-Life Index 2005 92 out of 111
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2007 43 out of 179
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 2006 121 out of 177
World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2006-2007 45 out of 125
Yale University Centre for Environmental Law and Policy and Columbia University Centre for International Earth Science Information Network Environmental Sustainability Index 96 out of 146 countries

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