South Africa Basic Facts - History

South Africa Basic Facts - History

Population mid-2009..................... .....................49,052,489
GDP per capita 2008(PPP US$)........... 10,100
GDP 2008 (PPP, US$ billions)................ 492.2

Average annual growth 1991-97
Population (%) ....... 2.0
Labor force (%) ....... 2.0

Total Area...................................................................471,444 sq. mi.
Urban population (% of total population) ............................... 50
Life expectancy at birth (years)..................................................... 65
Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)........................................ 48
Child malnutrition (% of children under 5) ............................... 9
Access to safe water (% of population) ..................................... 59
Illiteracy (% of population age 15+) .............................................16

South Africa Population 2021 (Live)

Based on current projections, South Africa’s population will continue to grow until 2082, reaching just over 80 million people before plateauing and slightly declining the rest of the century. South Africa’s population growth rate is currently 1.28% per year.

South Africa’s birth rate is 19.995 births per 1,000 people and its death rate is 9.3 deaths per 1,000 people. The birth rate is more than double the death rate in South Africa. Additionally, the fertility rate is 2.372 births per woman, well above the population replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. While the birth and fertility rates are both high, they have each decreased annually, indicating the slowing of South Africa’s population growth.

5. The Bloukrans Bridge is the highest bridge for bungee jumping in the world.

6. The variety of flower species found on Table Mountain number more than those found in the entire United Kingdom.

7. Rovos Rail is the most lavish train in the world.

8. South Africa’s lion, wildebeest, cheetah and springbok, are four of the seven fastest mammals on earth.

9. Boulders Beach, Cape Town, is where you can swim with colonies of Jackass penguins.

10. With more than 6 million trees in Johannesburg, it is believed to be the site of the largest man-made forest on earth.

11. The biggest and oldest one-day marathon in the world, the Comrades Marathon, is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, in Kwazulu Natal.

12. Although the Blyde River Canyon is only rated third largest in the world, it is believed to be the biggest “green” one on earth.

13. Rooibos/Redbush tea is naturally caffeine-free and is only found in the Cederberg, Western Cape.

14. Despite skiing and snowboarding not being typical winter sports in the country, it is possible to enjoy them in the Drakensberg Mountains.

15. Two-thirds of Africa’s electricity is generated in South Africa.

16. As much as 80% of Africa’s rail infrastructure is found in South Africa.

17. Most of the world’s macadamia nuts come from South Africa.

18. South Africa is three times bigger than Texas, and five times bigger than Japan.

19. The kingdom of Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa.

20. The African elephant is the largest land mammal in the world. The African bush elephants can weigh up to 11 tons and live up to 70 years!

21. South Africa is home to the tallest animal in the world, the giraffe.

22. The Least Dwarf Shrew, the smallest mammal in the world, lives in South Africa.

23. The world’s largest reptile, the Leatherback Turtle, is found in South African waters.

24. No less than eight of the world’s heritage sites are found here.


The formal economy of South Africa has its beginnings in the arrival of Dutch settlers in 1652, originally sent by the Dutch East India Company to establish a provisioning station for passing ships. As the colony increased in size, with the arrival of French Huguenots and German colonists, some of the colonists were set free to pursue commercial farming, leading to the dominance of agriculture in the economy. [ citation needed ]

At the end of the 18th century, the British annexed the colony. This led to the Great Trek, spreading farming deeper into the mainland, as well as the establishment of the independent Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. [ citation needed ]

In 1870 diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, while in 1886 some of the world's largest gold deposits were discovered in the Witwatersrand region of Transvaal, quickly transforming the economy into a resource-dominated one. The British annexed the area as a result of the Boer War which witnessed the placement of Boer women and children in British-built concentration camps. The country also entered a period of industrialization during this time, including the organization of the first South African trade unions. [ citation needed ]

The country soon started putting laws distinguishing between different races in place. In 1948 the National Party won the national elections, and immediately started implementing an even stricter race-based policy named Apartheid, effectively dividing the economy into a privileged white one, and an impoverished black one. The policy was widely criticised and led to crippling sanctions being placed against the country in the 1980s. [ citation needed ]

South Africa held its first non-racial elections in 1994, leaving the newly elected African National Congress (ANC) government the daunting task of trying to restore order to an economy harmed by sanctions, while also integrating the previously disadvantaged segment of the population into it.

The government refrained from resorting to economic populism. Inflation was brought down, public finances were stabilised, and some foreign capital was attracted. [30] However, growth was still subpar. [30] At the start of 2000, then President Thabo Mbeki vowed to promote economic growth and foreign investment by relaxing restrictive labour laws, stepping up the pace of privatisation, raising governmental spending [31] and cutting interest rates sharply from 1998 levels. [32] [33] His policies faced strong opposition from organised labour. From 2004 onward economic growth picked up significantly both employment and capital formation increased. [30]

In April 2009, amid fears that South Africa would soon join much of the rest of the world in the late-2000s recession, Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni and Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel differed on the matter: whereas Manuel foresaw a quarter of economic growth, Mboweni predicted further decline: "technically," he said, "that's a recession." [34] In 2009 the Nobel-Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz warned South Africa that inflation targeting should be a secondary concern amid the global financial crisis of 2007–2009. [35]

South Africa, unlike other emerging markets, has struggled through the late 2000s recession, and the recovery has been largely led by private and public consumption growth, while export volumes and private investment have yet to fully recover. [36] The long-term potential growth rate of South Africa under the current policy environment has been estimated at 3.5%. [37] Per capita GDP growth has proved mediocre, though improving, growing by 1.6% a year from 1994 to 2009, and by 2.2% over the 2000–09 decade, [38] compared to world growth of 3.1% over the same period.

The high levels of unemployment, at over 25%, and inequality are considered by the government and most South Africans to be the most salient economic problems facing the country. [39] These issues, and others linked to them such as crime, have in turn hurt investment and growth, consequently having a negative feedback effect on employment. [39] Crime is considered a major or very severe constraint on investment by 30% of enterprises in South Africa, putting crime among the four most frequently mentioned constraints. [40]

In April 2017, political tensions in the country arose over the sacking of nine cabinet members including Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan by the president Jacob Zuma. [41] The finance minister was seen as central to efforts to restore confidence in South Africa. As a result of the tensions, S&P Global cut South Africa's credit rating to junk status on Monday 3 April 2017. [42] Fitch Ratings followed suit on Friday 7 April 2017 and cut the country's credit status to the sub-investment grade of BBB-. [43] The South African rand lost more than 11% in the week following the cabinet reshuffling. [42]

Historical statistics 1980-2017 Edit

The following table shows the main economic indicators in 1980–2017. Inflation under 5% is in green. [44]

Year GDP
(in Bil. US$ PPP)
GDP per capita
(in US$PPP)
GDP growth
Inflation rate
(in Percent)
(in Percent)
Government debt
(in % of GDP)
1980 134.7 4,631 6.6 % 14.2 % 9.2 % n/a
1981 155.1 5,200 5.4 % 15.3 % 9.8 % n/a
1982 164.1 5,362 −0.4 % 14.4 % 10.8 % n/a
1983 167.5 5,331 −1.8 % 12.5 % 12.5 % n/a
1984 182.2 5,658 5.1 % 11.3 % 13,7 % n/a
1985 185.8 5,634 −1.2 % 16.4 % 15.5 % n/a
1986 189.6 5,620 0.0 % 18.4 % 16.0 % n/a
1987 198.5 5,760 2.1 % 16.2 % 16.6 % n/a
1988 214.1 6,081 4.2 % 12.9 % 17.2 % n/a
1989 227.7 6,331 2.4 % 14.8 % 17.8 % n/a
1990 235.4 6,398 −0.3 % 14.2 % 18.8 % n/a
1991 240.8 6,388 −1.0 % 15.2 % 20.2 % n/a
1992 241.0 6,234 −2.1 % 14.1 % 21.2 % n/a
1993 249.8 6,306 1.3 % 9.7 % 22.2 % n/a
1994 263.3 6,492 3.2 % 8.8 % 22.9 % n/a
1995 277.2 6,690 3.1 % 8.8 % 16.5 % n/a
1996 294.3 6,973 4.3 % 7.4 % 20.3 % n/a
1997 307.2 7,157 2.6 % 8.6 % 22.0 % n/a
1998 312.1 7,161 0.5 % 7.0 % 26.1 % n/a
1999 324.4 7,335 2.4 % 5.1 % 23.3 % n/a
2000 345.8 7,701 4.2 % 5.4 % 23.0 % 42.2 %
2001 363.2 7,968 2.7 % 5.6 % 26.0 % 42.4 %
2002 382.4 8,327 3.7 % 9.1 % 27.8 % 35.5 %
2003 401.5 8,642 2.9 % 5.9 % 27.7 % 35.4 %
2004 431.4 9,174 4.6 % 1.4 % 25.2 % 34.4 %
2005 468.7 9,847 5.3 % 3.4 % 24.7 % 33.2 %
2006 510.2 10,584 5.6 % 4.6 % 23.6 % 31.3 %
2007 551.9 11,302 5.4 % 5.4 % 23.0 % 27.1 %
2008 580.7 11,735 3,2 % 11.0 % 22.5 % 26.5 %
2009 576.1 11,486 −1.5 % 7.1 % 23.6 % 30.1 %
2010 600.8 11,816 3.0 % 4.3 % 24.9 % 34.7 %
2011 633.4 12,281 3.3 % 5.0 % 24.8 % 38.2 %
2012 659.3 12,600 2.3 % 5.6 % 24.9 % 41.0 %
2013 686.6 12,930 2.5 % 5.8 % 24.7 % 44.1 %
2014 711.8 13,204 1.8 % 6.1 % 25.1 % 46.7 %
2015 728.8 13,311 1.3 % 4.6 % 25.4 % 49.3 %
2016 742.2 13,345 0.6 % 6.3 % 26.7 % 51.6 %
2017 765.6 13,544 1.3 % 5.3 % 27.5 % 52.7 %

This is a chart of the trend of South Africa's gross domestic product (GDP) at market prices estimated by the International Monetary Fund: [45]

Year GDP, US$ bln US dollar exchange in early January Unemployment rate Per capita income, in US$
1980 80.547 0.8267 Rand [46] 9.2 2764
1985 57.273 2.0052 Rand [46] 15.5 1736
1990 111.998 2.5419 Rand [46] 16.0 3039
1995 151.117 3.5486 Rand [46] 16.7 3684
2000 132.964 6.1188 Rand [46] 25.6 2986
2005 246.956 5.6497 Rand [46] 26.7 5267
2010 363.655 7.462 Rand [47] 24.9 7274
2015 510.937 15.52 Rand [48] 22.8 5744 [49]

South Africa has a comparative advantage in the production of agriculture, mining and manufacturing products relating to these sectors. [50] South Africa has shifted from a primary and secondary economy in the mid-twentieth century to an economy driven primarily by the tertiary sector in the present day which accounts for an estimated 65% of GDP or $230 billion in nominal GDP terms. The country's economy is reasonably diversified with key economic sectors including mining, agriculture and fisheries, vehicle manufacturing and assembly, food processing, clothing and textiles, telecommunication, energy, financial and business services, real estate, tourism, manufacturing, IT, transportation, and wholesale and retail trade. [51]

Seasonally adjusted and annualised quarterly value added (Q1 2013) [52]
Industry Value added
(R billion, 2004 prices)
Agriculture, forestry and fishing 43.382
Mining and quarrying 97.096
Manufacturing (incl Space industry) 296.586
Electricity, gas and water 33.951
Construction 59.943
Wholesale and retail trade, hotels and restaurants 246.584
Transport, storage and communication 178.591
Finance, real estate and business services 422.850
General government services 271.209
Personal services 107.690
Taxes less subsidies on products 215.668
GDP at market prices 1,973.552

Natural resources Edit

In 2019, the country was the world's largest producer of platinum [53] the world's largest producer of chromium [54] the world's largest producer of manganese [55] the 2nd largest world producer of titanium [56] the world's 11th largest producer of gold [57] the 3rd worldwide producer of vanadium [58] the 6th largest world producer of iron ore [59] the 11th largest world producer of cobalt [60] and the 15th largest world producer of phosphate. [61] It was the world's 12th largest producer of uranium in 2018. [62]

Mining has been the main driving force behind the history and development of Africa's most advanced economy. Large-scale and profitable mining started with the discovery of a diamond on the banks of the Orange River in 1867 by Erasmus Jacobs and the subsequent discovery and exploitation of the Kimberley pipes a few years later. Gold rushes to Pilgrim's Rest and Barberton were precursors to the biggest discovery of all, the Main Reef/Main Reef Leader on Gerhardus Oosthuizen's farm Langlaagte, Portion C, in 1886, the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the subsequent rapid development of the goldfield there, the biggest of them all.

South Africa is one of the world's leading mining and mineral-processing countries. [63] Though mining's contribution to the national GDP has fallen from 21% in 1970 to 6% in 2011, it still represents almost 60% of exports. [64] The mining sector accounts for up to 9% of value added. [65]

In 2008, South Africa's estimated share of world platinum production amounted to 77% kyanite and other materials, 55% chromium, 45% palladium, 39% vermiculite, 39% vanadium, 38% zirconium, 30% manganese, 21% rutile, 20% ilmenite, 19% gold, 11% fluorspar, 6% aluminium, 2% antimony, 2% iron ore, 2% nickel, 2% and phosphate rock, 1%. [63] South Africa also accounted for nearly 5% of the world's polished diamond production by value. [63] The country's estimated share of world reserves of platinum group metals amounted to 89% hafnium, 46% zirconium, 27% vanadium, 23% manganese, 19% rutile, 18% fluorspar, 18% gold, 13% phosphate rock, 10% ilmenite, 9% and nickel, 5%. [63] It is also the world's third largest coal exporter. [66]

The mining sector has a mix of privately owned and state-controlled mines, the latter including African Exploration Mining and Finance Corporation. [67]

Agriculture and food processing Edit

In 2018, South Africa produced 19.3 million tonnes of sugarcane (14th largest producer in the world), 12.5 million tonnes of maize (12th largest producer in the world) 1.9 million tons of grape (11th largest producer in the world), 1.7 million tons of orange (11th largest producer in the world) and 397 thousand tons of pear (7th largest producer in the world). In addition, in the same year, it produced 2.4 million tons of potato, 1.8 million tons of wheat, 1.5 million tons of soy, 862 thousand tons of sunflower seed, 829 thousand tons of apple, 726 thousand tons of onion, 537 thousand tons of tomato, 474 thousand tons of lemon, 445 thousand tons of grapefruit, 444 thousand tons of banana, 421 thousand tons of barley, in addition to smaller productions of other agricultural products, such as avocado, pineapple, peach, tangerine, pumpkin, cabbage, carrot, rapeseed, sorghum etc. [68]

The agricultural industry contributes around 5% of formal employment, relatively low compared to other parts of Africa, as well as providing work for casual labourers and contributing around 2.8% of GDP for the nation. [6] [69] 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. [70] 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 either putting in too much effort, [71] or not enough effort, [72] to tackle the problem of farm attacks as opposed to other forms of violent crime.

Maize production, which contributes to a 36% majority of the gross value of South Africa's field crops, has also experienced negative effects due to climate change. [73] The estimated value of loss, which takes into consideration scenarios with and without the carbon dioxide fertilisation effect, [74] ranges between tens and hundreds of millions of Rands. [75]

According to FAOSTAT, South Africa is one of world's largest producers of: chicory roots (4th) grapefruit (4th) cereals (5th) green maize and maize (7th) castor oil seed (9th) pears (9th) sisal (10th) fibre crops (10th). [76] In the first quarter of 2010, the agricultural sector earned export revenues for R10.1 billion and used R8.4 billion to pay for imported agricultural products, therefore earning a positive trade balance of R1.7 billion. [77]

The most important agricultural exports of South Africa include: edible fruit and nuts, beverages, preserved food, tobacco, cereals, wool not carded or combed, miscellaneous food, sugar, meat, milling products, malt and starch. [77] These products accounted for over 80% of agricultural export revenue in the first quarter of 2010. [77] The most important agricultural imports, which accounted for over 60% of agricultural import value during the same period, include: cereals, meat, soya-bean oil cake, beverages, soya-bean oil and its fractions, tobacco, palm oil and its fractions, miscellaneous food, spices, coffee, tea, and preserved food. [77]

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. [78]

The food sub-sector is the largest employer within the agro-processing sector – contributing 1.4% to total employment, and 11.5% within the manufacturing sector. [79] In 2006, the agro-processing sector represented 24.7% of the total manufacturing output. [79] Although the economy as a whole gained 975,941 jobs between 1995 and 2006, the agro-processing sector lost 45,977 jobs. [79] The competitive pressures from abroad, particularly from China and India, played a role in the decline of exports for the food, textiles and paper sub-sectors, as firms in these sectors increasingly compete with lower cost producers. [79] Increased exports from the beverages, tobacco, wood and leather sub-sectors over the period are probably due to the presence of large dominant firms within these sectors in South Africa, that have managed to remain competitive. [79]

Manufacturing Edit

The manufacturing industry's contribution to the economy is relatively small, providing just 13.3% of jobs and 15% of GDP. There are growing sectors of manufacturing, however, such as in the Space industry. Labour costs are low, but not nearly as low as in most other emerging markets, and the cost of the transport, communications and general living is much higher. [80]

The South African automotive industry accounts for about 10% of South Africa's manufacturing exports, contributes 7.5% to the country's GDP and employs around 36,000 people. Annual production in 2007 was 535,000 vehicles, out of a global production of 73 million units in the same year. Vehicle exports were in the region of 170,000 units in 2007, exported mainly to Japan (about 29% of the value of total exports), Australia (20%), the UK (12%) and the US (11%). South Africa also exported ZAR 30.3 billion worth of auto components in 2006. [81]

BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors, Nissan and Toyota all have production plants in South Africa. Large component manufacturers with bases in the country are Arvin Exhaust, Bloxwitch, Corning and Senior Flexonics. There are also about 200 automotive component manufacturers in South Africa, and more than 150 others that supply the industry on a non-exclusive basis. The industry is concentrated in two provinces, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng. [81] Companies producing in South Africa can take advantage of the low production costs and the access to new markets as a result of trade agreements with the European Union and the Southern African Development Community. [81]

After a steep decline of 10.4% in 2009, the manufacturing sector performed well in 2010, growing by 5%, though this rebound was primarily limited to the automotive, basic chemicals, iron and steel and food and beverages industries. [82] The performance of this sector remains curtailed by the low demand in South Africa's main export markets in the developed world. [82] There is growth in some areas, such as the Space industry in South Africa, which is expected to see an increase in Space industry jobs, and jobs in supporting technology and manufacturing sectors.

Service industry Edit

Tourism Edit

Telecommunications Edit

The domestic telecommunications infrastructure provides modern and efficient service to urban and rural areas. This includes cellular and internet services from 5G to Gigabit Broadband.

In 1997, Telkom, the South African telecommunications parastatal, was partly privatised and entered into a strategic equity partnership with a consortium of SBC (AT&T), in exchange for a monopoly to provide certain services for 5 years. Telkom assumed an obligation to facilitate network modernisation and expansion into the unserved areas. [ citation needed ] A Second Network Operator, Neotel was to be licensed to compete with Telkom across its spectrum of services in 2002. Licensing officially began in late 2005. [ citation needed ]

Five mobile-phone companies provide service to over 50 million subscribers, with South Africa considered to have the 4th most advanced mobile telecommunications network worldwide. [ citation needed ] The five major cellular providers are Vodacom, MTN, Cell C(Vodacom), Telkom Mobile(8.ta) and Rain, with Neotel owned by Liquid Telecoms not offering mobile service anymore.

South African companies which provide services related to the Space industry, also increasing, and with the correct government legislation and support, this sector is expected to grow in South Africa.

Business process outsourcing Edit

Over the last few decades, South Africa and particularly the Cape Town region has established itself as a successful call centre and business process outsourcing destination. With a highly talented pool of productive labour and with Cape Town sharing cultural affinity with Britain, large overseas firms such as Lufthansa,, ASDA, The Carphone Warehouse, Delta Airlines and many more have established inbound call centres within Cape Town as a means of utilising Cape Town's low labour costs and talented labour force. [ citation needed ]

Tourism Edit

South Africa is a popular tourist destination, with around 860,000 arrivals per month (March 2008) of which around 210,000 is from outside the African continent. [83] In 2012 South Africa received 9.2 million international arrivals. [84] In August 2017 3.5 million travellers came to South Africa. [85] According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, travel and tourism directly contributed ZAR102 billion to South African GDP in 2012 and supports 10.3% of jobs in the country. [86] Among the main attractions are the diverse and picturesque landscape, the game reserves and the highly regarded local wines.

The country's borders were reopened on 1 October 2020, with some exceptions to tourists travelling from specific European countries and the US, due to high levels of COVID-19 activity taking place there.

Financial services Edit

South Africa has a sophisticated financial structure, with the JSE Limited, the largest stock exchange on the African continent, ranking 17th in the world in terms of total market capitalisation, which is $1,005 Trillion as of August 2020. [87] [88]

The banking industry, overseen by the South African Reserve Bank, is dominated by four local players: Nedbank, ABSA, Standard Bank and First Rand. [89] These banks provide both retail and investment banking services as the sector has become highly competitive with the re-entry of many experienced foreign banks, which returned to the market in the mid-1990s, having left in the late 1980s. [89] Banks operating in South Africa, when left short of liquidity, need to borrow from the SARB at a fluctuating repo rate, which, in turn, allows the central bank to monitor liquidity positions. [89]

Informal sector Edit

South Africa's informal sector contributes 8% of the country's GDP and supports 27% of all working people. The South African Local Economic Development Network values the informal economy at 28% of SA's GDP. [90] Given the relevance of this input, there is a constant interest in developing actions on an inclusive urban planning for the working poor. [91]

Principal international trading partners of South Africa—besides other African countries—include Germany, the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh and Spain. [92] Chief exports include corn, diamonds, fruits, gold, metals and minerals, sugar, and wool. Machinery and transportation equipment make up more than one-third of the value of the country's imports. Other imports include chemicals, manufactured goods, and petroleum.

As a result of a November 1993 bilateral agreement, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) can assist US investors in the South African market with services such as political risk insurance and loans and loan guarantees. In July 1996, the US and South Africa signed an investment fund protocol for a $120 million OPIC fund to make equity investments in South and Southern Africa. OPIC is establishing an additional fund – the Sub-Saharan Africa Infrastructure Fund, capitalised at $350 million – to investment in infrastructure projects. The Trade and Development Agency also has been actively involved in funding feasibility studies and identifying investment opportunities in South Africa for U.S. businesses.

Despite the numerous positive economic achievements since 1994, South Africa has struggled to attract significant foreign direct investment. The situation may have started to change however, with 2005 seeing the largest single FDI into South Africa when Barclays bought a majority share in local bank Absa Group Limited. Deals between the British-based Vodafone and South Africa's Vodacom have taken place in 2006. In 2010, two multibillion-dollar deals, one by HSBC to acquire Nedbank and one by Walmart to acquire Massmart Holdings, fell through. (Walmart did buy Massmart in 2011)

Nationalisation of mines debate Edit

South Africa has been riven by arguments over whether the state should take over mineral resources. [93] A study commissioned by the African National Congress recommended against the policy, saying nationalisation would be an "economic disaster." [93] However, the ANC Youth Employment supporters disagree and state that it will give the government direct control over the mining sector which is also in alignment with the Freedom Charter signed in 1995. [ citation needed ]

Land redistribution Edit

The government aimed to transfer 30% of the 82 million hectares estimated to be in the hands of white farmers by Gugile Nkwinti, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, amounting to 24.5 million hectares, to black farmers by 2014. 6.7 million hectares had been transferred by early 2012 via redistribution and restitution. [94]

The land reform program 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 anti white racist treatment with threats of genocide, voiced openly on multiple occasions by the ANC, including the former president Zuma, and expressing concerns that a similar situation to Zimbabwe's land reform policy may develop, [95] a fear exacerbated by comments made by former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. [96] [97]

South Africa has an extreme and persistent high unemployment rate of over 30%, which interacts with other socioeconomic problems such as: inadequate education, poor health and high levels of crime. [98] The poorest have limited access to economic opportunities and basic services. [99] According to a 2013 Goldman Sachs report, that number increases to 35% when including people who have given up looking for work. [25] A quarter of South Africans live on less than US$1.25 a day. [100]

South Africa's mass unemployment dates back to the 1970s, and continued to rise throughout the 1980s and 1990s. [101] Unemployment has increased substantially since the African National Congress came to power in 1994, increasing from 15.6% in 1995 to 30.3% in 2001. [102] In the second quarter of 2010, the jobless rate increased to 25.3%, and the number of people with work fell by 61,000 to 12,700,000. The biggest decline in employment was recorded in the manufacturing industry, which lost 53,000 jobs. Agriculture lost 32,000 jobs, employment in the construction industry fell by 15,000. [103] In the third quarter of 2010, 29.80% of Blacks were recorded as unemployed, compared with 22.30% of Coloureds, 8.60 of Asians and 5.10% of Whites. [104]

The official unemployment rate, though very high by international standards, understates its magnitude because it includes only adults who are actively looking for work. Therefore, excluding those who have given up looking for employment. [105] Only 41% of the population of working age have any kind of job (formal or informal). [105] This rate is 30% points lower than that of China, and about 25% lower than that of Brazil or Indonesia. [105] The relatively generous social grants reduces the political cost of unemployment. [106] There is some evidence that households view paid employment and social grants as substitutes at the margin: households that lose a pension-eligible member subsequently report increased labour force participation. [106]

The unemployment problem is characterised by its lengthy duration. In the mid-1990s, nearly two-thirds of unemployed people had never worked for a salary. [101] The 2005 Labour Force Survey found that 40% of unemployed individuals have been unemployed for more than three years, while 59% had never had a job at all. [101] The unemployment rate has fuelled crime, inequality and social unrest. The global economic downturn made the problem worse, wiping out more than one million jobs. In September 2010, over one-third of South Africa's workforce were out of work, and so were more than half of Blacks aged 15–34, three times the level than Whites. [107]

Some experts contend that higher wages negotiated by politically powerful trade unions have suppressed job growth. [107] According to a study by Dani Rodrik, the shrinkage of the non-mineral tradable sector since the early-1990s and the weakness of the export-oriented manufacturing were more to blame for the low level of employment. [108]

Knowledge Edit

There has been a large degree of human capital flight from South Africa in recent years. [109] [110] South Africa's Bureau of Statistics estimates that between 1 million and 1.6 million people in skilled, professional, and managerial occupations have emigrated overseas between 1994 and 2004 and that, for every emigrant, 10 unskilled people lose their jobs. [109] There are a range of causes cited for the migration of skilled South Africans.

In mid-1998, the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) undertook a study to examine and assess the range of factors that contribute to skilled South Africans’ desire to leave the country: over two-thirds of the sample said that they had given the idea of emigration some thought while 38% said they had given it a "great deal of thought". Among the reasons cited for wishing to leave the country was the declining quality of life and high levels of crime. Furthermore, the government's affirmative action policy was identified as another factor influencing the emigration of skilled White South Africans. The results of the survey indicate that skilled Whites are strongly opposed to this policy and the arguments advanced in support of it, due to the negative impact it has had on South Africa. [110]

However, flight of human capital in South Africa should not be attributed solely to regional factors. For example, the demand for skilled labourers in the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia has led to active recruitment programs by those countries in South Africa. These countries accounted for 75% (by volume) of recent skilled emigration with the UK receiving approximately half of annual skilled South African emigration from 1990 to 1996. [110] It has been suggested that the role of domestic socio-political variables may be negligible. [110] The health sector has been hit particularly hard. [111]

A widespread skills drain in South Africa and in the developing world in general is generally considered to be a cause for concern. [112]

For the medical sector, the loss of returns from investment for all doctors emigrating is $1.41bn for South Africa. The benefit to destination countries is huge: $2.7bn for the United Kingdom alone. [113]

In a case of reverse brain drain a net 359,000 high-skilled South Africans have returned to South Africa from foreign work assignments over a five-year period from 2008 to 2013. This was catalysed by the global financial crisis of 2007-8 and perceptions of higher quality of life in South Africa relative to the countries from which they first emigrated to. It is estimated that around 37% of those returning are professionals such as lawyers, doctors, engineers and accountants. [114]

Immigration Edit

Refugees from poorer neighbouring countries include many immigrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 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 South Africans 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. [115] However, many immigrants to South Africa continue to live in poor conditions, and the South African immigration policy has become increasingly restrictive since 1994. [116]

Trade unions Edit

Since 2007 the South African unions representing public sector workers recurrently went on strike, demanding pay rises significantly above inflation, in a practice that some experts argue is suppressing job growth, harming millions of South Africans who are out of a job. [107]

In August and September 2010, South African unions organised a crippling four-week national strike involving 1.3 million public sector workers, demanding an 8.6% wage increase. The strike ended after the government had raised its 5.2% wage increase to 7.5%. The deal swelled state spending by about 1%. [117]

Protesters sought to block hospitals, and South African media have reported numerous acts of violence against health and education staff who insisted on going to work. Volunteers and army medics were called in to help at hospitals, and some patients were moved to private medical facilities. [117]

There is a persistent wage differential between unionised and non-unionised workers in South Africa, suggesting that unions are keeping wages higher for their members, thereby posing additional challenges to the unemployment problem. [102]

In July 2014, amidst a national strike by 220,000 metalworkers, General Motors temporarily shut down its vehicle assembly plant, frustrating its plans to build 50,000 cars a year in the country. "The ongoing labour disruptions are harming the South African economy and are affecting the country's image around the globe," the company said in a statement at the time. [118]

Black Economic Empowerment Edit

The demise of apartheid in 1994 left a skewed racial economic hierarchy that placed Whites firmly at the top, followed by Indians, Coloureds, and then Blacks. Since then, the African National Congress government has made Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) a policy centre-piece, but by the party's own admission it has failed to improve the lot of the vast majority of Black South Africans and has taken much opportunity from the White minority, who are mainly a skilled minority. [119] As of 2014 roughly ten percent of the Top 100 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange were directly held by black investors though Black Economic Empowerment schemes. Black Economic Empowerment policies have been credited with creating a class of Black South Africans with a level of wealth on the same order of magnitude as very rich White South Africans. [26] : 2

Black Economic Empowerment—its purpose the "economic empowerment of all black people, including women, workers, youth, people with disabilities and people living in rural areas"—requires the Minister of Trade and Industry to develop and publish Codes of Good Practice, aimed at setting guidelines for the process of BEE in the whole economy. [120] A scorecard is used by the Department to measure compliance with the BEE requirements, and is used for public procurement, public-private partnerships, sale of state-owned enterprises, when licenses are applied for, and for any other relevant economic activity. [120]

The government's Black Economic Empowerment policies have drawn criticism from the Development Bank of Southern Africa for focusing "almost exclusively on promoting individual ownership by black people (which) does little to address broader economic disparities, though the rich may become more diverse." The System has also been criticised for placing lesser educated people in more important positions in the workplace and their failure to perform to the standards required has had an immense impact on the economy. Another criticism also includes that the system goes against the constitution's preaching of equality by having preference over people, not on merit, but for their skin colour and is considered the opposite of what many people fought for during the Apartheid era. [121] Official affirmative action policies have seen a rise in black economic wealth and an emerging black middle class. [122] An increasing number of black candidates who are supposed to be beneficiaries of affirmative action are dissociating themselves from it, largely because of the perception that the appointments are not based on merit. [123] The policy has also been criticised for having a negative impact on employment levels as it is viewed as being more of an additional burden for employees than as a transformative agent for the unemployed. [26] : 2 Particularity in an economy where a major cause of inequality has been a growing disparity of income within the majority black population divided along lines of employment. [26] : 12

Gender Equality Edit

South Africans in general, regardless of race, hold what would be considered "traditional" stances on gender roles for men and women. The majority of the workforce is composed of males, while the majority of women do not participate. [124] This viewpoint on males as "breadwinners" is very much in line with traditional African values across the continent. Additionally, females face a problem in terms of earnings, with 77% of women earning the same as their male counterparts. [125] However, more women are becoming part of the agricultural workforce (55%) as of 2012, marking a move towards modernisation for women's participation in the economy. [126]

South African legislation is strongly geared to promoting gender equality in the workplace. This is characterised by several comprehensive government programs and organisations that provide resources and services to females, both adult and adolescent. Such initiatives include the Employment Equity Act, No. 55 of 1988 (aimed at promoting women's participation in mainly private sector jobs). [127] UNFPA South Africa is one such promoter of these policies and programs. [128] Internally, the South African government has founded the Commission for Gender Equality. [129] The commissions main focus is on securing adequate education and job training for women who are disenfranchised or otherwise at a disadvantage when attempting to enter the workforce.

Not uncommon in Africa, gender equality seems to be a very cogent problem in the South African workforce. According to Bain & Company, around 31% of companies have no form of female leadership, either in management or executive positions. [130] 22% of board directors are women, however, only 7% were designated as "executives", lower than the global average of 12%. [131] Additionally, the eNPE (Employee Net Promoter Score) for women is a net negative (- 4) as compared to men (8), according to a survey conducted of 1000 participants. [132] This indicated a low level of actual economic promotion for women, despite public and international initiative towards the contrary.

Energy Edit

RScheduled rolling blackouts are a part of daily life. Electricity theft is widespread. [1] After years of sub-standard maintenance and the South African government's inability to manage strategic resources, the state-owned power supplier Eskom started experiencing deficiency in capacity in the electrical generating and reticulation infrastructure in 2007. Such lack led to 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 a general lack of capacity due to increased demand and lack of government planning soon came to light. The supplier and the South African government has been widely criticised for failing to adequately plan for and construct sufficient electrical generating capacity, [133] although ultimately the government has admitted that it was at fault for refusing to approve funding for investment in infrastructure. [134]

The margin between national demand and available capacity is still low or negative (particularly in peak hours), and power stations are under strain, such that surges in demand, which are common during winter, or drops in supply, often a result of a lack of coal for power plants, result in another phase of rolling blackouts. [ citation needed ] The government and Eskom are currently planning new power stations, at cost to the South African consumer. The power utility plans to have 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power in its grid by 2025. [135] [136]

Water Edit

Some predictions show surface water supply could decrease by 60% by the year 2070 in parts of the Western Cape. [137]

The South African government planned to spend R69 billion on water infrastructure between 2008 and 2015. [138] This involves building new dams and ancillary infrastructure, and repairing existing infrastructure. [138] South Africa has an estimated total water capacity of 38 billion cubic metres, but will need 65 billion by 2025 if the economy is to keep on growing. [138] The massive urban migration has placed further strain on the country's ageing water infrastructure and created a large backlog. [138]

Developments and Maintenance Edit

As part of an international attempt to modernize infrastructure, South Africa has faced increasing pressure to invest government funds into its water and electricity sectors. At current, these sectors are underfunded by approximately US$464 billion (This is according to the G20 GI Hub).

Annual per capita personal income by race group relative to white levels [139]
Year White Coloured Asian Black
1917 100 22.0 22.1 9.1
1924 100 20.0 19.4 7.9
1936 100 15.6 23.1 7.6
1946 100 16.3 23.0 8.9
1956 100 16.9 21.9 8.6
1960 100 15.9 17.1 8.1
1970 100 17.3 20.2 6.8
1975 100 19.4 25.4 8.6
1980 100 19.1 25.5 8.5
1987 100 20.9 30.2 8.5
1993 100 19.3 42.0 10.9
1995 100 20.0 48.4 13.5
2000 100 23.0 41.0 15.9
2008 100 22.0 60.0 13.0
Gini coefficient by race in 2004 [140]
White Coloured Asian Black Total
Rural 0.37 0.38 0.43 0.51
Urban 0.36 0.45 0.43 0.53 0.56
Overall 0.36 0.47 0.43 0.51 0.59

South Africa has extreme differences in incomes and wealth. [99] The good level of economic growth in the post-apartheid period has led to a measurable decline in income poverty, but inequality has increased. [99] The high level of overall income inequality has further accentuated: the country's Gini coefficient increased by four percentage points, from 0.66 to 0.70, between 1993 and 2008, and income has become increasingly concentrated in the top decile. [139] Inequality between urban and rural areas is changing: while rural poverty rates remain substantially higher than those in urban areas, urban poverty rates are rising and rural rates seem to be falling. [139]

While between-race inequality is slowly falling, an increase in intra-race inequality is preventing the aggregate measures from declining. Despite that, between-race inequality remains a central issue: real incomes have been rising for all groups, but many blacks in the country still live in poverty. At any poverty line, blacks are very much poorer than coloureds, who are very much poorer than Indians, who are poorer than whites. [139] [141] In 2002, according to one estimate, 62% of Black Africans, 29% of Coloureds, 11% of Asians, and 4% of Whites lived in poverty. [142] [143]

The mean per-capita income has risen from R10,741 in 1993 to R24,409 in 2008, but these figures hide large differences in household welfare, both within and across population groups: the average Black income increased from R6,018 in 1993 to R9,718 in 2008 for Coloured households, the increase was from R7,498 to R25,269 for Whites, the increase was from R29,372 to R110,195. [144] While mean income rose about 130% from 1993 to 2008, the median income rose just 15% over the same period, from R4,444 to R5,096, indicating that the increases are being driven by a small number of very large incomes, especially for Whites. [144]

In 2000 the average white household was earning six times more than the average black household. [145] In 2004, 29.8% of all households had an income (at constant 2001 prices) of less than R9,600 per annum, while 10.3% of all households enjoyed an annual income (at constant 2001 prices) of more than R153,601 per annum. [146]

One study using calculations based on National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) data suggests that 47% of South Africans live below the poverty line: 56% of blacks live in poverty compared to 2% of whites, using an arbitrary income poverty line of R502 per capita. [147] Although, it should also be noted that black South Africans make up the majority of the population at 79.2% while white South Africans make up only 8.9% of the population according to the Statistics South Africa census released in 2011. The United Nations Development Program's Human Development Index (HDI) ranked South Africa 110 out of 169 countries in 2010. The report notes, however, that the region's assessment has improved slowly since 1980. The HDI includes a Human Poverty Index (HPI-1), which ranked South Africa 85 out of 135 countries.

The number of South Africans living below the poverty line, identified according to Apartheid-era social categories, was calculated in one study as 56% "black", 27% "coloured", 9% "Indian", and 2% "white". [147] In the past inequality in South Africa was largely defined along race lines, but it has become increasingly defined by inequality within population groups as the gap between rich and poor within each group has increased substantially. [148]

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development proposals for addressing income inequality included: encouraging more saving and investment a liberalisation of product-market regulation easier access to credit for small businesses greater co-ordination in wage bargaining and measures to tackle the high level of youth unemployment. Some proposals have included wage subsidies for people being trained, a minimum wage differentiated by age, and extended periods of probation for young workers. [149]

A 2011 study published by the University of Cape Town about the richest 10% found that nearly 40% are black, where this group had once been almost exclusively white. [150] While only 29% of the absolute wealthiest [ vague ] South Africans are black, this jumps to 50% among the "entry-level" rich (defined as earning more than $4,000 per month). [150] Factors that were found to be common among those in the entry-level rich group include being young, entrepreneurial and having some post-secondary education. [150]

According to one estimate, 10.4% of South Africans belonged to the "higher middle class" in 2004, defined as having a per capita income of over R40,000 (in 2000 Rand). [151]

Taxation Edit

The top rate of personal income tax rate in South Africa is 45% the corporate tax rate is 28%. [152] Other taxes include a value-added tax and a capital gains tax, with the overall tax burden amounting to 23.4% of total domestic income. [152]

Social benefits Edit

South Africa has about three times as many recipients of social benefits as it has income tax-payers, an extremely high ratio by international standards. [39] After 1994 resources have been rapidly reallocated to black households: while approximately 40% of aggregate social spending was directed to whites and 43% to blacks in the mid-1980s, by the late 1990s fully 80% of total social spending was assigned to blacks and less than 10% to whites. [153] At present, blacks contribute some 50% of total government transfers, while receiving roughly 80%. [154]

The Unemployment Insurance Fund is financed out of premiums, contributions and benefits depend on earnings, and focuses on insuring workers against the risk of income loss. [155]

Social assistance grants Edit

Social assistance grants are non-contributory, income-tested benefits provided by the state to the poor, and are financed out of general tax revenues without any links between contributions and benefits. [155] They are provided in the form of: grants for older persons disability grants war veterans grants care dependency grants foster child grants child support grants grant-in-aid social relief of distress. [156]

The state old age pension, received by over 80% of the elderly, [157] is a non-contributory pension and pays more than twice median per capita Black income, thus representing an important source of income for a third of all Black households in the country. [158] It pays a maximum of R1,780 (as of July 2019) [159] to people who reach pension age without access to private pensions. [158]

The child support grant provides R420 per month, per child (as of July 2019) [160] for every child in the household younger than 18, [160] and benefited 9.1 million children by April 2009. [157]

The war veterans grant is provided to former soldiers who fought in the Second World War or the Korean War, and pays a maximum amount of R1,800 per month (as of July 2019). [161]

According to a December 2010 article by the South African Government Communication and Information System's now-defunct BuaNews news service, South Africa was said to compare well to other emerging markets on affordability and availability of capital, financial market sophistication, business tax rates and infrastructure, but to fare poorly on the cost and availability of labour, education, and the use of technology and innovation. [162] South Africa does have expertise in the Space industry, and students learning more through the South African SEDS. With the correct government support, South Africa can increase the jobs in the manufacturing, testing, and analysis sectors of the growing Space industry.

Released in early December 2010 and no longer available online, the survey by Brazil's National Confederation of Industry, “Competitividade Brasil 2010: Comparaçao com Paises Selecionados“, (Competition Brazil: A comparison with selected countries), found South Africa to have the second most sophisticated financial market and the second-lowest effective business tax rate (business taxes as a percentage of company profits), out of 14 surveyed countries. The country was also ranked fourth for ease of accessing capital, fourth for cost of capital, sixth for its transport infrastructure (at the time considered better than that of China, India, Mexico, Brazil and Poland, but behind that of Korea and Chile), and seventh for foreign direct investment as a percentage of GDP: in 2008 it was over 3% of the GDP. [162]

Nevertheless, South Africa is falling behind other emerging markets, such as India and China, owing to several factors: the country is relatively small, without the advantage of a huge domestic customer base it has had for decades an unusually low rate of saving and investment, partly because of low disposable income an inadequate education system results in an acute shortage of skilled manpower a strong and volatile currency deters investors and makes its exports less competitive the infrastructure, though far better than in the rest of Africa, suffers from severe bottlenecks, including scheduled power shortages, and urgently needs upgrading. [80]

In 2011, after a year of observer status, South Africa officially joined the BRICS group of now-five emerging-market nations at the summit held in Sanya, Hainan, China. [163]


South Africa is a popular tourist destination due to a spectacular coastline and many well-developed nature parks.

Some of the most popular attractions include Cape Town and the surrounding area, including Table Mountain and the Western Cape wine region, the south coast, and the game parks, like the Kruger Park, Shamwari, and many more.

South Africa attracts many big game hunters every year. Many travel agencies specialize in putting together safari packages for tourists.

An airline flight from Europe takes approximately 10 – 12 hours, and a flight from the U.S. directly to Johannesburg takes approximately 18 hours. South Africa is serviced by several major airlines, like South African Airways, Delta Airlines, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Air France.


The name "South Africa" is derived from the country's geographic location at the southern tip of Africa. Upon formation, the country was named the Union of South Africa in English and Unie van Zuid-Afrika in Dutch, reflecting its origin from the unification of four formerly separate British colonies. Since 1961, the long formal name in English has been the "Republic of South Africa" and Republiek van Suid-Afrika in Afrikaans. Since 1994, the country has had an official name in each of its 11 official languages.

Mzansi, derived from the Xhosa noun uMzantsi meaning "south", is a colloquial name for South Africa, [27] [28] while some Pan-Africanist political parties prefer the term "Azania". [29]

Prehistoric archaeology

South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological and human-fossil sites in the world. [30] [31] [32] Archaeologists have recovered extensive fossil remains from a series of caves in Gauteng Province. The area, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has been branded "the Cradle of Humankind". The sites include Sterkfontein, one of the richest sites for hominin fossils in the world. Other sites include Swartkrans, Gondolin Cave, Kromdraai, Coopers Cave and Malapa. Raymond Dart identified the first hominin fossil discovered in Africa, the Taung Child (found near Taung) in 1924. Further hominin remains have come from the sites of Makapansgat in Limpopo Province, Cornelia and Florisbad in the Free State Province, Border Cave in KwaZulu-Natal Province, Klasies River Mouth in Eastern Cape Province and Pinnacle Point, Elandsfontein and Die Kelders Cave in Western Cape Province.

These finds suggest that various hominid species existed in South Africa from about three million years ago, starting with Australopithecus africanus. [33] There followed species including Australopithecus sediba, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo helmei, Homo naledi and modern humans (Homo sapiens). Modern humans have inhabited Southern Africa for at least 170,000 years.

Various researchers have located pebble tools within the Vaal River valley. [34] [35]

Bantu expansion

Settlements of Bantu-speaking peoples, who were iron-using agriculturists and herdsmen, were already present south of the Limpopo River (now the northern border with Botswana and Zimbabwe) by the 4th or 5th century CE (see Bantu expansion). They displaced, conquered, and absorbed the original Khoisan speakers, the Khoikhoi and San peoples. The Bantu slowly moved south. 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. The Xhosa reached the Great Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. As they migrated, these larger Iron Age populations displaced or assimilated earlier peoples. In Mpumalanga Province, several stone circles have been found along with the stone arrangement that has been named Adam's Calendar, and the ruins are thought to be created by the Bakone, a Northern Sotho people. [36] [37]

Portuguese exploration

At the time of European contact, the dominant ethnic group was Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated from other parts of Africa about one thousand years before. The two major historic groups were the Xhosa and Zulu peoples.

In 1487, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias led the first European voyage to land in southern Africa. [38] On 4 December, he landed at Walfisch Bay (now known as Walvis Bay in present-day Namibia). This was south of the furthest point reached in 1485 by his predecessor, the Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão (Cape Cross, north of the bay). Dias continued down the western coast of southern Africa. After 8 January 1488, prevented by storms from proceeding along the coast, he sailed out of sight of land and passed the southernmost point of Africa without seeing it. He reached as far up the eastern coast of Africa as, what he called, Rio do Infante, probably the present-day Groot River, in May 1488, but on his return he saw the Cape, which he first named Cabo das Tormentas ('Cape of Storms'). His King, John II, renamed the point Cabo da Boa Esperança, or Cape of Good Hope, as it led to the riches of the East Indies. [39] Dias' feat of navigation was later immortalised in Luís de Camões' Portuguese epic poem, The Lusiads (1572).

Dutch colonisation

By the early 17th century, Portugal's maritime power was starting to decline, and English and Dutch merchants competed to oust Lisbon from its lucrative monopoly on the spice trade. [40] Representatives of the British East India Company did call sporadically at the Cape in search of provisions as early as 1601, but later came to favour Ascension Island and St. Helena as alternative ports of refuge. [41] Dutch interest was aroused after 1647, when two employees of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) were shipwrecked at the Cape for several months. The sailors were able to survive by obtaining fresh water and meat from the natives. [41] They also sowed vegetables in the fertile soil. [42] Upon their return to Holland, they reported favourably on the Cape's potential as a "warehouse and garden" for provisions to stock passing ships for long voyages. [41]

In 1652, a century and a half after the discovery of the Cape sea route, Jan van Riebeeck established a victualling station at the Cape of Good Hope, at what would become Cape Town, on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. [43] [44] In time, the Cape became home to a large population of vrijlieden, also known as vrijburgers (lit. 'free citizens'), former company employees who stayed in Dutch territories overseas after serving their contracts. [44] Dutch traders also brought thousands of enslaved people to the fledgling colony from Indonesia, Madagascar, and parts of eastern Africa. [45] Some of the earliest mixed race communities in the country were formed between vrijburgers, enslaved people, and indigenous peoples. [46] This led to the development of a new ethnic group, the Cape Coloureds, most of whom adopted the Dutch language and Christian faith. [46]

The eastward expansion of Dutch colonists ushered in a series of wars with the southwesterly migrating Xhosa tribe, known as the Xhosa Wars, as both sides competed for the pastureland near the Great Fish River, which the colonists required to graze their cattle. [47] Vrijburgers who became independent farmers on the frontier were known as Boers, with some adopting semi-nomadic lifestyles being denoted as trekboers. [47] The Boers formed loose militias, which they termed commandos, and forged alliances with Khoisan peoples to repel Xhosa raids. [47] Both sides launched bloody but inconclusive offensives, and sporadic violence, often accompanied by livestock theft, remained common for several decades. [47]

British colonisation and the Great Trek

Great Britain occupied Cape Town between 1795 and 1803 to prevent it from falling under the control of the French First Republic, which had invaded the Low Countries. [47] After briefly returning to Dutch rule under the Batavian Republic in 1803, the Cape was occupied again by the British in 1806. [48] Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, it was formally ceded to Great Britain and became an integral part of the British Empire. [49] British emigration to South Africa began around 1818, subsequently culminating in the arrival of the 1820 Settlers. [49] The new colonists were induced to settle for a variety of reasons, namely to increase the size of the European workforce and to bolster frontier regions against Xhosa incursions. [49]

In the first two decades of the 19th century, the Zulu people grew in power and expanded their territory under their leader, Shaka. [50] Shaka's warfare indirectly led to the Mfecane ('crushing'), in which 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 people were killed and the inland plateau was devastated and depopulated in the early 1820s. [51] [52] An offshoot of the Zulu, the Matabele people created a larger empire that included large parts of the highveld under their king Mzilikazi.

During the early 1800s, many Dutch settlers departed from the Cape Colony, where they had been subjected to British control, in a series of migrant groups who came to be known as Voortrekkers, meaning "pathfinders" or "pioneers". They migrated to the future Natal, Free State, and Transvaal regions. The Boers founded the Boer Republics: the South African Republic (now Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West provinces), the Natalia Republic (KwaZulu-Natal), and the Orange Free State (Free State).

The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1884 in the interior started the Mineral Revolution and increased economic growth and immigration. This intensified British efforts to gain control over the indigenous peoples. The struggle to control these important economic resources was a factor in relations between Europeans and the indigenous population and also between the Boers and the British. [53]

On 16 May 1876, President Thomas François Burgers of the South African Republic (Transvaal) declared war against Sekhukhune and the Pedi. Sekhukhune managed to defeat the Transvaal army on 1 August 1876. Another attack by the Lydenburg Volunteer Corps was also repulsed. On 16 February 1877, the two parties signed a peace treaty at Botshabelo. [54] The Boers' inability to subdue Sekhukhune and the Pedi led to the departure of Burgers in favour of Paul Kruger and the British annexation of the South African Republic (Transvaal) on 12 April 1877 by Theophilus Shepstone, secretary for native affairs of Natal. In 1878 and 1879 three British attacks were successfully repelled until Garnet Wolseley defeated Sekhukhune in November 1879 with an army of 2,000 British soldiers, Boers and 10,000 Swazis.

The Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the United Kingdom and the Zulu Kingdom. Following Lord Carnarvon's successful introduction of federation in Canada, it was thought that similar political effort, coupled with military campaigns, might succeed with the African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa. In 1874, Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as the British High Commissioner to bring such plans into being. Among the obstacles were the presence of the independent states of the Boers, and the Kingdom of Zululand's army. The Zulu nation defeated the British at the Battle of Isandlwana. Eventually, though, the war was lost, resulting in the termination of the Zulu nation's independence.

Boer Wars

The Boer Republics successfully resisted British encroachments during the First Boer War (1880–1881) using guerrilla warfare tactics, which were well-suited to local conditions. The British returned with greater numbers, more experience, and new strategy in the Second Boer War (1899–1902) but suffered heavy casualties through attrition nonetheless, they were ultimately successful. Over 27,000 Boer women and children died in the British concentration camps. [55]


Within the country, anti-British policies among white South Africans focused on independence. During the Dutch and British colonial years, racial segregation was mostly informal, though some legislation was enacted to control the settlement and movement of indigenous people, including the Native Location Act of 1879 and the system of pass laws. [56] [57] [58] [59] [60]

Eight years after the end of the Second Boer War and after four years of negotiation, an act of the British Parliament (South Africa Act 1909) granted nominal independence, while creating the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910. The Union was a dominion that included the former territories of the Cape, Transvaal and Natal colonies, as well as the Orange Free State republic. [61]

The Natives' Land Act of 1913 severely restricted the ownership of land by blacks at that stage they controlled only seven percent of the country. The amount of land reserved for indigenous peoples was later marginally increased. [62]

In 1931, the union was fully sovereign from the United Kingdom with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, which abolished the last powers of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate on the country. In 1934, the South African Party and National Party merged to form the United Party, seeking reconciliation between Afrikaners and English-speaking whites. In 1939, the party split over the entry of the Union into World War II as an ally of the United Kingdom, a move which the National Party followers strongly opposed.

Beginning of apartheid

In 1948, the National Party was elected to power. It strengthened the racial segregation begun under Dutch and British colonial rule. Taking Canada's Indian Act as a framework, [63] the nationalist government classified all peoples into three races and developed rights and limitations for each. The white minority (less than 20%) [64] controlled the vastly larger black majority. The legally institutionalised segregation became known as apartheid. While whites enjoyed the highest standard of living in all of Africa, comparable to First World Western nations, the black majority remained disadvantaged by almost every standard, including income, education, housing, and life expectancy. The Freedom Charter, adopted in 1955 by the Congress Alliance, demanded a non-racial society and an end to discrimination.


On 31 May 1961, the country became a republic following a referendum (only open to white voters) which narrowly passed [65] the British-dominated Natal province largely voted against the proposal. Queen Elizabeth II lost the title Queen of South Africa, and the last Governor-General, Charles Robberts Swart, became State President. As a concession to the Westminster system, the appointment of the president remained an appointment by parliament, and virtually powerless until P. W. Botha's Constitution Act of 1983, which eliminated the office of Prime Minister and instated a near-unique "strong presidency" responsible to parliament. Pressured by other Commonwealth of Nations countries, South Africa withdrew from the organisation in 1961 and rejoined it only in 1994.

Despite opposition both within and outside the country, the government legislated for a continuation of apartheid. The security forces cracked down on internal dissent, and violence became widespread, with anti-apartheid organisations such as the African National Congress (ANC), the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO), and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) carrying out guerrilla warfare [66] and urban sabotage. [67] The three rival resistance movements also engaged in occasional inter-factional clashes as they jockeyed for domestic influence. [68] Apartheid became increasingly controversial, and several countries began to boycott business with the South African government because of its racial policies. These measures were later extended to international sanctions and the divestment of holdings by foreign investors. [69] [70]

In the late 1970s, South Africa initiated a programme of nuclear weapons development. In the following decade, it produced six deliverable nuclear weapons. [71] [72]

End of apartheid

The Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith, signed by Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Harry Schwarz in 1974, enshrined the principles of peaceful transition of power and equality for all, the first of such agreements by black and white political leaders in South Africa. Ultimately, FW de Klerk opened bilateral discussions with Nelson Mandela in 1993 for a transition of policies and government.

In 1990, the National Party government took the first step towards dismantling discrimination when it lifted the ban on the ANC and other political organisations. It released Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years' serving a sentence for sabotage. A negotiation process followed. With approval from the white electorate in a 1992 referendum, the government continued negotiations to end apartheid. South Africa also destroyed its nuclear arsenal and acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. South Africa held its first universal elections in 1994, which the ANC won by an overwhelming majority. It has been in power ever since. The country rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations and became a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In post-apartheid South Africa, unemployment remained high. While many blacks have risen to middle or upper classes, the overall unemployment rate of black people worsened between 1994 and 2003 by official metrics, but declined significantly using expanded definitions. [73] Poverty among whites, which was previously rare, increased. [74] In addition, the current government has struggled to achieve the monetary and fiscal discipline to ensure both redistribution of wealth and economic growth. The United Nations (UN) Human Development Index (HDI) of South Africa fell from 1995 to 2005, while it was steadily rising until the mid-1990s, [75] before recovering its 1995 peak in 2013. [76] This is in large part attributable to the South African HIV/AIDS pandemic which saw South African life expectancy fall from a high point of 62.25 years in 1992 to a low of 52.57 in 2005, [77] and the failure of the government to take steps to address the pandemic in its early years. [78]

In May 2008, riots left over 60 people dead. [79] The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions estimated that over 100,000 people were driven from their homes. [80] The targets were mainly legal and illegal migrants, and refugees seeking asylum, but a third of the victims were South African citizens. [79] In a 2006 survey, the South African Migration Project concluded that South Africans are more opposed to immigration than any other national group. [81] The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2008 reported over 200,000 refugees applied for asylum in South Africa, almost four times as many as the year before. [82] These people were mainly from Zimbabwe, though many also come from Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. [82] Competition over jobs, business opportunities, public services and housing has led to tension between refugees and host communities. [82] While xenophobia in South Africa is still a problem, recent violence has not been as widespread as initially feared. [82] Nevertheless, as South Africa continues to grapple with racial issues, one of the proposed solutions has been to pass legislation, such as the pending Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, to uphold South Africa's ban on racism and commitment to equality. [83] [84]

South Africa is located at the southernmost region of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km (1,553 mi) and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian). At 1,219,912 km 2 (471,011 sq mi), [85] South Africa is the 24th-largest country in the world. [86] It is about the same size as Colombia, twice the size of France, three times as big as Japan, four times the size of Italy and five times the size of the United Kingdom. [87]

Mafadi in the Drakensberg at 3,450 m (11,320 ft) is the highest peak in South Africa. Excluding the Prince Edward Islands, the country lies between latitudes 22° and 35°S, and longitudes 16° and 33°E.

The interior of South Africa consists of a vast, in most places almost flat, plateau with an altitude of between 1,000 m (3,300 ft) and 2,100 m (6,900 ft), highest in the east and sloping gently downwards towards the west and north, and slightly less noticeably so to the south and south-west. [88] This plateau is surrounded by the Great Escarpment [89] whose eastern, and highest, stretch is known as the Drakensberg. [90]

The south and south-western parts of the plateau (at approximately 1,100–1,800 m above sea level), and the adjoining plain below (at approximately 700–800 m above sea level – see map on the right) is known as the Great Karoo, which consists of sparsely populated scrubland. To the north, the Great Karoo fades into the even drier and more arid Bushmanland, which eventually becomes the Kalahari desert in the very north-west of the country. The mid-eastern, and highest part of the plateau is known as the Highveld. This relatively well-watered area is home to a great proportion of the country's commercial farmlands and contains its largest conurbation (Gauteng). To the north of Highveld, from about the 25° 30' S line of latitude, the plateau slopes downwards into the Bushveld, which ultimately gives way to the Limpopo lowlands or Lowveld. [89]

The coastal belt, below the Great Escarpment, moving clockwise from the northeast, consists of the Limpopo Lowveld, which merges into the Mpumalanga Lowveld, below the Mpumalanga Drakensberg (the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment). [91] This is hotter, drier and less intensely cultivated than the Highveld above the escarpment. [89] The Kruger National Park, located in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in northeastern South Africa, occupies a large portion of the Lowveld covering 19,633 square kilometres (7,580 sq mi.) [92] South of the Lowveld the annual rainfall increases as one enters KwaZulu-Natal Province, which, especially near the coast, is subtropically hot and humid. The KwaZulu-Natal–Lesotho international border is formed by the highest portion of the Great Escarpment, or Drakensberg, which reaches an altitude of over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). [93] The climate at the foot of this part of the Drakensberg is temperate.

The coastal belt below the south and south-western stretches of the Great Escarpment contains several ranges of Cape Fold Mountains which run parallel to the coast, separating the Great Escarpment from the ocean. [94] [95] (These parallel ranges of fold mountains are shown on the map, above left. Note the course of the Great Escarpment to the north of these mountain ranges.) The land (at approximately 400–500 m above sea level) between two of these ranges of fold mountains in the south (i.e. between the Outeniqua and Langeberg ranges to the south and the Swartberg range to the north) is known as the Little Karoo, [89] which consists of semi-desert scrubland similar to that of the Great Karoo, except that its northern strip along the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains, has a somewhat higher rainfall and is, therefore, more cultivated than the Great Karoo. The Little Karoo is historically, and still, famous for its ostrich farming around the town of Oudtshoorn. The lowland area (700–800 m above sea level) to the north of the Swartberg mountain range up to the Great Escarpment is the lowland part of the Great Karoo (see map at top right), which is climatically and botanically almost indistinguishable from the Karoo above the Great Escarpment. The narrow coastal strip between the most seaward Cape Fold Mountain range (i.e., the Langeberg–Outeniqua mountains) and the ocean has a moderately high year-round rainfall, especially in the George-Knysna-Plettenberg Bay region, which is known as the Garden Route. It is famous for the most extensive areas of indigenous forests in South Africa (a generally forest-poor country).

In the south-west corner of the country, the Cape Peninsula forms the southernmost tip of the coastal strip which borders the Atlantic Ocean and ultimately terminates at the country's border with Namibia at the Orange River. The Cape Peninsula has a Mediterranean climate, making it and its immediate surrounds the only portion of Africa south of the Sahara which receives most of its rainfall in winter. [96] [97] The greater Cape Town metropolitan area is situated on the Cape Peninsula and is home to 3.7 million people according to the 2011 population census. It is the country's legislative capital.

The coastal belt to the north of the Cape Peninsula is bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and the first row of north–south running Cape Fold Mountains to the east. The Cape Fold Mountains peter out at about the 32° S line of latitude, [95] after which the Great Escarpment itself bounds the coastal plain. The most southerly portion of this coastal belt is known as the Swartland and Malmesbury Plain, which is an important wheat growing region, relying on winter rains. The region further north is known as Namaqualand, [98] which becomes more and more arid as one approaches the Orange River. The little rain that falls tends to fall in winter, [97] which results in one of the world's most spectacular displays of flowers carpeting huge stretches of veld in spring (August–September).

South Africa also has one possession, the small sub-Antarctic archipelago of the Prince Edward Islands, consisting of Marion Island (290 km 2 or 110 sq mi) and Prince Edward Island (45 km 2 or 17 sq mi) (not to be confused with the Canadian province of the same name).


South Africa has a generally temperate climate because it is surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, because it is located in the climatically milder Southern Hemisphere, and because its average elevation rises steadily toward the north (toward the equator) and further inland. This varied topography and oceanic influence result in a great variety of climatic zones. The climatic zones range from the extreme desert of the southern Namib in the farthest northwest to the lush subtropical climate in the east along the border with Mozambique and the Indian Ocean. Winters in South Africa occur between June and August.

The extreme southwest has a climate remarkably similar to that of the Mediterranean Sea with wet winters and hot, dry summers, hosting the famous fynbos biome of shrubland and thicket. This area also produces much of the wine in South Africa. 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 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 because 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 m (5,709 ft) above sea level and receives an annual rainfall of 760 mm (29.9 in). Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.

The high Drakensberg mountains, which form the south-eastern escarpment of the Highveld, offer limited skiing opportunities in winter. The coldest place on mainland South Africa is Buffelsfontein in the Eastern Cape, where a temperature of −20.1 °C (−4.2 °F) was recorded in 2013. [99] The Prince Edward Islands have colder average annual temperatures, but Buffelsfontein has colder extremes. The deep interior of mainland South Africa has the hottest temperatures: a temperature of 51.7 °C (125.06 °F) was recorded in 1948 in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington, [100] but this temperature is unofficial and was not recorded with standard equipment, the official highest temperature is 48.8 °C (119.84 °F) at Vioolsdrif in January 1993. [101]


South Africa signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity on 4 June 1994, and became a party to the convention on 2 November 1995. [106] It has subsequently produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which was received by the convention on 7 June 2006. [107] The country is ranked sixth out of the world's seventeen megadiverse countries. [108] Ecotourism in South Africa has become more prevalent in recent years, as a possible method of maintaining and improving biodiversity.


Numerous mammals are found in the Bushveld including lions, African leopards, South African cheetahs, southern white rhinos, blue wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotamuses and South African giraffes. A significant extent of the Bushveld exists in the north-east including Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, as well as in the far north in the Waterberg Biosphere. South Africa houses many endemic species, among them the critically endangered riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticullaris) in the Karoo.


Up to 1945, more than 4900 species of fungi (including lichen-forming species) had been recorded. [109] In 2006, the number of fungi in South Africa was estimated at about 200,000 species, but did not take into account fungi associated with insects. [110] If correct, then the number of South African fungi dwarfs that of its plants. In at least some major South African ecosystems, an exceptionally high percentage of fungi are highly specific in terms of the plants with which they occur. [111] The country's Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan does not mention fungi (including lichen-forming fungi). [107]


With more than 22,000 different higher plants, or about 9% of all the known species of plants on Earth, [112] South Africa is particularly rich in plant diversity. The most prevalent biome in South Africa is the grassland, particularly on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs, and acacia trees, mainly camel-thorn (Vachellia erioloba). 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 denser growth. There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park. [113]

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 plant diversity. Most of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous plants. Another uniquely South African flowering plant group is the genus Protea. There are around 130 different species of Protea in South Africa.

While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, only one percent of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal, where there are also areas of Southern Africa mangroves in river mouths. Even smaller reserves of forests are out of the reach of fire, known as montane forests. Plantations of imported tree species are predominant, particularly the non-native eucalyptus and pine.

Conservation issues

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 19th century. The country had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 4.94/10, ranking it 112th globally out of 172 countries. [114] 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 willow, Hakea, Lantana and Jacaranda) posing a significant threat to the native biodiversity and the already scarce water resources. The original temperate forest found by the first European settlers 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. Statistics from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs show a record 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014. [115]

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 heat waves, flooding and drought. According to computer-generated climate modelling produced by the South African National Biodiversity Institute, [116] parts of southern Africa will see an increase in temperature by about 1 °C (1.8 °F) along the coast to more than 4 °C (7.2 °F) in the already hot hinterland such as the Northern Cape in late spring and summertime by 2050. The Cape Floral Region, being identified as one of the global biodiversity hotspots, will be hit very hard by climate change. Drought, increased intensity and frequency of fire, and climbing temperatures are expected to push many rare species towards extinction. South Africa has published two national climate change reports in 2011 and 2016. [117]

South Africa is a parliamentary republic, although unlike most such republics the President is both head of state and head of government, and depends for his tenure on the confidence of Parliament. The executive, legislature and judiciary are all subject to the supremacy of the Constitution, and the superior courts have the power to strike down executive actions and acts of Parliament if they are unconstitutional.

The National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, consists of 400 members and is elected every five years by a system of party-list proportional representation. The National Council of Provinces, the upper house, consists of ninety members, with each of the nine provincial legislatures electing ten members.

After each parliamentary election, the National Assembly elects one of its members as president hence the President serves a term of office the same as that of the Assembly, normally five years. No President may serve more than two terms in office. [118] The President appoints a Deputy President and Ministers, who form the Cabinet which consists of Departments. The National Assembly may remove the President and the Cabinet by a motion of no confidence.

In the most recent election, held on 8 May 2019, the ANC won 57.5% of the vote and 230 seats, while the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) won 20.77% of the vote and 84 seats. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), founded by Julius Malema, former President of the ANC's Youth Wing (ANC Youth League) who was later expelled from the ANC, won 10.79% of the vote and 44 seats. The ANC has been the governing political party in South Africa since the end of apartheid.

South Africa has no legally defined capital city. The fourth chapter of the Constitution of South Africa, states that "The seat of Parliament is Cape Town, but an Act of Parliament enacted in accordance with section 76(1) and (5) may determine that the seat of Parliament is elsewhere." [119] The country's three branches of government are split over different cities. Cape Town, as the seat of Parliament, is the legislative capital Pretoria, as the seat of the President and Cabinet, is the administrative capital and Bloemfontein, as the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal, is the judicial capital, while the Constitutional Court of South Africa sits in Johannesburg. Most foreign embassies are located in Pretoria.

Since 2004, South Africa has had many thousands of popular protests, some violent, making it, according to one academic, the "most protest-rich country in the world". [120] There have been a number of incidents of political repression as well as threats of future repression in violation of the constitution, leading some analysts and civil society organisations to conclude that there is or could be a new climate of political repression, [121] [122] or a decline in political tolerance. [123]

In 2008, South Africa placed fifth out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. South Africa scored well in the categories of Rule of Law, Transparency and Corruption, and Participation and Human Rights, but was let down by its relatively poor performance in Safety and Security. [124] In November 2006, South Africa became the first and only African country to legalise same-sex marriage. [125]

The Constitution of South Africa is the supreme rule of law in the country. The primary sources of South African law are Roman-Dutch mercantile law and personal law with English Common law, as imports of Dutch settlements and British colonialism. [126] 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 Scots law. This was followed in the 19th century by English law, both common and statutory. After unification in 1910, South Africa had its own parliament which passed laws specific for South Africa, building on those previously passed for the individual member colonies.

The judicial system consists of the magistrates' courts, which hear lesser criminal cases and smaller civil cases the High Court, which has divisions that serve as the courts of general jurisdiction for specific areas the Supreme Court of Appeal, and the Constitutional Court, which is the highest court.

From April 2017 to March 2018, on average 57 murders were committed each day in South Africa. [127] In the year ended March 2017, there were 20,336 murders and the murder rate was 35.9 per 100,000 – over five times higher than the global average of 6.2 per 100,000. [128] Middle-class South Africans seek security in gated communities. [129] The private security industry in South Africa is the largest in the world, [130] with nearly 9,000 registered companies and 400,000 registered active private security guards, more than the South African police and army combined. [131] Many emigrants from South Africa also state that crime was a major factor in their decision to leave. [132] Crime against the farming community has continued to be a major problem. [133] In an attempt to reduce crime rate, the police arrested over 500 undocumented foreigners in a raid in August 2019. [134]

South Africa has a high rape rate, with 43,195 rapes reported in 2014/15, and an unknown number of sexual assaults going unreported. [135] A 2009 survey of 1,738 men in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape by the Medical Research Council found one in four men admitted to raping someone [136] and another survey of 4,000 women in Johannesburg by CIET Africa found one in three said they had been raped in the past year. [137] Rape occurs most commonly in relationships, but many men and women say that rape cannot occur in relationships however, one in four women reported having been abused by an intimate partner. [138] Rapes are also perpetrated by children (some as young as ten). [139] The incidence of child and infant rape is among the highest in the world, largely as a result of the virgin cleansing myth, and a number of high-profile cases (sometimes as young as eight months) [139] have outraged the nation. [140]

Between 1994 and 2018, there were more than 500 xenophobic attacks against foreigners in South Africa. [141] The 2019 Johannesburg riots were similar in nature and origin to the 2008 xenophobic riots that also occurred in Johannesburg. [142]

Foreign relations

As the Union of South Africa, the country was a founding member of the UN. The then Prime Minister Jan Smuts wrote the preamble to the UN Charter. [143] [144] South Africa is one of the founding members of the African Union (AU), and has the third largest economy of all the members. It is also a founding member of the AU's New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

South Africa has played a key role as a mediator in African conflicts over the last decade, such as in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Comoros, and Zimbabwe. After apartheid ended, South Africa was readmitted to the Commonwealth of Nations. The country is a member of the Group of 77 and chaired the organisation in 2006. South Africa is also a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, Southern African Customs Union (SACU), Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), G20, G8+5, and the Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma and former Chinese President Hu Jintao upgraded bilateral ties between the two countries on 24 August 2010, when they signed the Beijing Agreement, which elevated South Africa's earlier "strategic partnership" with China to the higher level of "comprehensive strategic partnership" in both economic and political affairs, including the strengthening of exchanges between their respective ruling parties and legislatures. [145] [146] In April 2011, South Africa formally joined the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRICS) grouping of countries, identified by Zuma as the country's largest trading partners, and also the largest trading partners with Africa as a whole. Zuma asserted that BRICS member countries would also work with each other through the UN, the Group of Twenty (G20) and the India, Brazil South Africa (IBSA) forum. [147]


The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was created in 1994, [148] [149] as an all-volunteer military composed of the former South African Defence Force, the forces of the African nationalist groups ( uMkhonto we Sizwe and Azanian People's Liberation Army), and the former Bantustan defence forces. [148] 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 Service. [150] In recent years, the SANDF has become a major peacekeeping force in Africa, [151] and has been involved in operations in Lesotho, the DRC, [151] and Burundi, [151] amongst others. It has also served in multinational UN Peacekeeping forces such as the UN Force Intervention Brigade for example.

South Africa is the only African country to have successfully developed nuclear weapons. It became the first country (followed by Ukraine) with nuclear capability to voluntarily renounce and dismantle its programme and in the process signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991. [152] South Africa undertook a nuclear weapons programme in the 1970s [152] According to former state president FW de Klerk, the decision to build a "nuclear deterrent" was taken "as early as 1974 against a backdrop of a Soviet expansionist threat." [153] South Africa is alleged to have conducted a nuclear test over the Atlantic in 1979, [154] although this is officially denied. Former president de Klerk maintained that South Africa had "never conducted a clandestine nuclear test." [153] Six nuclear devices were completed between 1980 and 1990, but all were dismantled before South Africa signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991. [153] In 2017, South Africa signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. [155]

Administrative divisions

Each of the nine provinces is governed by a unicameral legislature, which is elected every five years by party-list proportional representation. The legislature elects a Premier as head of government, and the Premier appoints an Executive Council as a provincial cabinet. The powers of provincial governments are limited to topics listed in the Constitution these topics include such fields as health, education, public housing and transport.

The provinces are in turn divided into 52 districts: 8 metropolitan and 44 district municipalities. The district municipalities are further subdivided into 205 local municipalities. The metropolitan municipalities, which govern the largest urban agglomerations, perform the functions of both district and local municipalities.

Province Provincial capital Largest city Area (km 2 ) [156] Population (2016) [157]
Eastern Cape Bhisho Port Elizabeth 168,966 6,996,976
Free State Bloemfontein Bloemfontein 129,825 2,834,714
Gauteng Johannesburg Johannesburg 18,178 13,399,724
KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg Durban 94,361 11,065,240
Limpopo Polokwane Polokwane 125,754 5,799,090
Mpumalanga Mbombela Mbombela 76,495 4,335,964
North West Mahikeng Klerksdorp 104,882 3,748,435
Northern Cape Kimberley Kimberley 372,889 1,193,780
Western Cape Cape Town Cape Town 129,462 6,279,730

South Africa has a mixed economy, the second largest in Africa after Nigeria. It also has a relatively high gross domestic product (GDP) per capita compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa (US$11,750 at purchasing power parity as of 2012). Despite this, South Africa is still burdened by a relatively high rate of poverty and unemployment, and is also ranked in the top ten countries in the world for income inequality, [158] [159] [160] measured by the Gini coefficient. In 2015, 71 percent of net wealth are held by 10 percent richest of the population, whereas 60 percent of the poorest held only 7 percent of the net wealth and the Gini coefficient was 0.63, whereas in 1996 was 0.61. [161]

Unlike most of the world's poor countries, South Africa does not have a thriving informal economy. Only 15% of South African jobs are in the informal sector, compared with around half in Brazil and India and nearly three-quarters in Indonesia. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) attributes this difference to South Africa's widespread welfare system. [162] World Bank research shows that South Africa has one of the widest gaps between per capita GDP versus its Human Development Index (HDI) ranking, with only Botswana showing a larger gap. [163]

After 1994, government policy brought down inflation, stabilised public finances, and some foreign capital was attracted, however growth was still subpar. [164] From 2004 onward, economic growth picked up significantly both employment and capital formation increased. [164] During the presidency of Jacob Zuma, the government increased the role of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Some of the biggest SOEs are Eskom, the electric power monopoly, South African Airways (SAA), and Transnet, the railroad and ports monopoly. Some of these SOEs have not been profitable, such as SAA, which has required bailouts totaling R30 billion ($2.08 billion) over the 20 years preceding 2015. [165]

Principal international trading partners of South Africa—besides other African countries—include Germany, the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and Spain. [166]

The South African 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. [167] Due to the aridity of the land, only 13.5% can be used for crop production, and only 3% is considered high potential land. [168]

In August 2013, South Africa was ranked as the top African Country of the Future by fDi magazine based on the country's economic potential, labour environment, cost-effectiveness, infrastructure, business friendliness, and foreign direct investment strategy. [169]

The 2020 Financial Secrecy Index (FDI) ranks South Africa as the 58th safest tax haven in the world. [170]


South Africa is a popular tourist destination, and a substantial amount of revenue comes from tourism. [171]


South Africa has always been a mining powerhouse. Diamond and gold production were in 2013 well down from their peaks, though South Africa is still number five in gold [172] and remains a cornucopia of mineral riches. It is the world's largest producer [173] of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium and vermiculite. It is the second largest producer [173] of ilmenite, palladium, rutile and zirconium. It is also the world's third largest coal exporter. [174] South Africa is also a huge producer of iron ore in 2012, it overtook India to become the world's third-biggest iron ore supplier to China, the world's largest consumers of iron ore. [175]

Labour market

During 1995–2003, the number of formal jobs decreased and informal jobs increased overall unemployment worsened. [73]

The government's Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) policies have drawn criticism from Neva Makgetla, lead economist for research and information at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, for focusing "almost exclusively on promoting individual ownership by black people [which] does little to address broader economic disparities, though the rich may become more diverse." [176] Official affirmative action policies have seen a rise in black economic wealth and an emerging black middle class. [177] Other problems include state ownership and interference, which impose high barriers to entry in many areas. [178] Restrictive labour regulations have contributed to the unemployment malaise. [73]

Along with many African nations, South Africa has been experiencing a brain drain in the past 20 years. [179] and is almost certainly detrimental for the wellbeing of those reliant on the healthcare infrastructure. [180] The skills drain in South Africa tends to demonstrate racial contours given the skills distribution legacy of South Africa and has thus resulted in large white South African communities abroad. [181] However, the statistics which purport to show a brain drain are disputed and also do not account for repatriation and expiry of foreign work contracts. According to several surveys, [182] [183] there has been a reverse in brain drain following the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 and expiration of foreign work contracts. In the first quarter of 2011, confidence levels for graduate professionals were recorded at a level of 84% in a Professional Provident Society (PPS) survey. [184] Illegal immigrants are involved in informal trading. [185] Many immigrants to South Africa continue to live in poor conditions, and the immigration policy has become increasingly restrictive since the year 1994. [186]

The Human Rights Watch reported on 26 August 2019 about foreign national truck drivers being subjected to deadly attacks carried out by South African truck drivers. The organization urged the South African government to take immediate actions ensuring the safety of the foreign national truck drivers putting up with violence, harassment, intimidation, stoning, bombing, and shooting, by local truck drivers in the country. [187]

Science and technology

Several important scientific and technological developments have originated in South Africa. The first human-to-human heart transplant was performed by cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967, Max Theiler developed a vaccine against yellow fever, Allan McLeod Cormack pioneered X-ray computed tomography (CT scan), and Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques. With the exception of that of Barnard, all of these advancements were recognised with Nobel Prizes. Sydney Brenner won most recently, in 2002, for his pioneering work in molecular biology.

Mark Shuttleworth founded an early Internet security company Thawte, that was subsequently bought out by world-leader VeriSign. It is the expressed objective of the government to transition the economy to be more reliant on high technology, based on the realisation that South Africa cannot compete with Far Eastern economies in manufacturing, nor can the republic rely on its mineral wealth in perpetuity.

South Africa has cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the €1.5 billion Square Kilometre Array project. [188] On 25 May 2012, it was announced that hosting of the Square Kilometer Array Telescope will be split over both the South African and the Australia and New Zealand sites. [189]

Water supply and sanitation

Two distinctive features of the South African water sector are the policy of free basic water and the existence of water boards, which are bulk water supply agencies that operate pipelines and sell water from reservoirs to municipalities. These features have led to significant problems concerning the financial sustainability of service providers, leading to a lack of attention to maintenance. Following the end of apartheid, the country had made improvements in the levels of access to water as those with access increased from 66% to 79% from 1990 to 2010. [190] Sanitation access increased from 71% to 79% during the same period. [190] However, water supply and sanitation in South Africa has come under increasing pressure in recent years despite a commitment made by the government to improve service standards and provide investment subsidies to the water industry. [191]

The eastern parts of South Africa suffer from periodic droughts linked to the El Niño weather phenomenon. [192] In early 2018, Cape Town, which has different weather patterns to the rest of the country, [192] faced a water crisis as the city's water supply was predicted to run dry before the end of June. Water-saving measures were in effect that required each citizen to use less than 50 litres (13 US gal) a day. [193]

Different methods of transport in South Africa include roads, railways, airports, water, and pipelines for petroleum oil. The majority of people in South Africa use informal minibus taxis as their main mode of transport. BRT has been implemented in some South African cities in an attempt to provide more formalised and safer public transport services. These systems have been widely criticised due to their large capital and operating costs. A "freeway" is different from most countries as certain things are forbidden which include certain motorcycles, no hand signals, and motor tricycles. South Africa has many major ports including Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth that allow ships and other boats to pass through, some carrying passengers and some carrying petroleum tankers.

South Africa is a nation of about 55 million (2016) people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions. The last census was held in 2011, with a more recent intercensal national survey conducted in 2016. [194] South Africa is home to an estimated five million illegal immigrants, including some three million Zimbabweans. [195] [196] [197] A series of anti-immigrant riots occurred in South Africa beginning on 11 May 2008. [198] [199]

Statistics South Africa asks people to describe themselves in the census in terms of five racial population groups. [200] The 2011 census figures for these groups were: Black African at 79.2%, White at 8.9%, Coloured at 8.9%, Indian or Asian at 2.5%, and Other/Unspecified at 0.5%. [9] : 21 The first census in South Africa in 1911 showed that whites made up 22% of the population this had declined to 16% by 1980. [201]

South Africa hosts a sizeable refugee and asylum seeker population. According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, this population numbered approximately 144,700 in 2007. [202] Groups of refugees and asylum seekers numbering over 10,000 included people from Zimbabwe (48,400), the DRC (24,800), and Somalia (12,900). [202] These populations mainly lived in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth. [202]


South Africa has 11 official languages: [203] Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English, Pedi, [204] Tswana, Southern Sotho, Tsonga, Swazi, Venda, and Southern Ndebele (in order of first language speakers). In this regard it is fourth only to Bolivia, India, and Zimbabwe in number. While all the languages are formally equal, some languages are spoken more than others. According to the 2011 census, the three most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%), Xhosa (16.0%), and Afrikaans (13.5%). [9] Although English is recognised as the language of commerce and science, it is only the fourth most common home language, that of only 9.6% of South Africans in 2011 nevertheless, it has become the de facto lingua franca of the nation. [9] Estimates based on the 1991 census suggest just under half of South Africans can speak English. [205] It is the second most commonly spoken language outside of the household, after Zulu. [206]

The country also recognises several unofficial languages, including Fanagalo, Khoe, Lobedu, Nama, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, and South African Sign Language. [207] These unofficial languages may be used in certain official uses in limited areas where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent.

Many of the unofficial languages of the San and Khoekhoe peoples contain regional dialects stretching northwards into Namibia and Botswana, and elsewhere. These people, who are a physically distinct population from the Bantu people who make up most of the Black Africans in South Africa, have their own cultural identity based on their hunter-gatherer societies. They have been marginalised to a great extent, and the remainder of their languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

White South Africans may also speak European languages, including Italian, Portuguese (also spoken by black Angolans and Mozambicans), Dutch, German, and Greek, while some Indian South Africans speak Indian languages, such as Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. French is spoken in South Africa by migrants from Francophone Africa.

Urban centres

One online database [208] lists South Africa having more than 12,600 cities and towns. The following are the largest cities and towns in South Africa.


According to the 2001 census, Christians accounted for 79.8% of the population, with a majority of them being members of various Protestant denominations (broadly defined to include syncretic African initiated churches) and a minority of Roman Catholics and other Christians. Christian category includes Zion Christian (11.1%), Pentecostal (Charismatic) (8.2%), Roman Catholic (7.1%), Methodist (6.8%), Dutch Reformed (Afrikaans: Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk 6.7%), and Anglican (3.8%). Members of remaining Christian churches accounted for another 36% of the population. Muslims accounted for 1.5% of the population, Hindus 1.2%, [212] traditional African religion 0.3% and Judaism 0.2%. 15.1% had no religious affiliation, 0.6% were "other" and 1.4% were "unspecified." [166] [212] [213]

African initiated churches formed the largest of the Christian groups. It was believed that many of the persons who claimed no affiliation with any organised religion adhered to traditional African religion. There are an estimated 200,000 traditional healers in South Africa, and up to 60% of South Africans consult these healers, [214] generally called sangoma ('diviner') or inyanga ('herbalist'). These healers use a combination of ancestral spiritual beliefs and a belief in the spiritual and medicinal properties of local fauna and flora, commonly known as muti ('medicine'), to facilitate healing in clients. Many peoples have syncretic religious practices combining Christian and indigenous influences. [215]

South African Muslims comprise mainly of those who are described as Coloureds and those who are described as Indians. They have been joined by black or white South African converts as well as those from other parts of Africa. [216] South African Muslims describe their faith as 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. [216] [217]

South Africa is also home to a substantial Jewish population, descended from European Jews who arrived as a minority among other European settlers. This population peaked in the 1970s at 120,000, though only around 67,000 remain today, the rest having emigrated, mostly to Israel. Even so, these numbers make the Jewish community in South Africa the twelfth largest in the world. [218]


The adult literacy rate in 2007 was 88.7%. [219] South Africa has a three-tier system of education starting with primary school, followed by high school, and tertiary education in the form of (academic) universities and universities of technology. Learners have twelve years of formal schooling, from grade 1 to 12. Grade R, or grade 0, is a pre-primary foundation year. [220] Primary schools span the first seven years of schooling. [221] High school education spans a further five years. The National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination takes place at the end of grade 12 and is necessary for tertiary studies at a South African university. [220]

Public universities in South Africa are divided into three types: traditional universities, which offer theoretically-oriented university degrees universities of technology (formerly called technikons), which offer vocationally-oriented diplomas and degrees and comprehensive universities, which offer both types of qualification. There are 23 public universities in South Africa: 11 traditional universities, 6 universities of technology and 6 comprehensive universities.

Under apartheid, schools for black people were subject to discrimination through inadequate funding and a separate syllabus called Bantu Education which only taught skills sufficient to work as labourers. [222]

In 2004, South Africa started reforming its tertiary education system, merging and incorporating small universities into larger institutions, and renaming all tertiary education institutions "university". By 2015, 1.4 million students in higher education have benefited from a financial aid scheme which was promulgated in 1999. [223]


According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, the life expectancy in 2009 was 71 years for a white South African and 48 years for a black South African. [224] The healthcare spending in the country is about 9% of GDP. [225]

About 84% of the population depends on the public healthcare system, [225] which is beset with chronic human resource shortages and limited resources. [226]

About 20% of the population uses private healthcare. [227] Only 16% of the population is covered by medical aid schemes. [228] The rest pay for private care out-of-pocket or through in-hospital-only plans. [227] The three dominant hospital groups, Mediclinic, Life Healthcare and Netcare, together control 75% of the private hospital market. [227]


According to the 2015 UNAIDS Report, South Africa has an estimated seven million people living with HIV – more than any other country in the world. [229] In 2018, HIV prevalence—the percentage of people living with HIV—among adults (15–49 years) was 20.4% and in the same year 71,000 people died from an AIDS-related illness. [230]

A 2008 study revealed that HIV/AIDS infection in South Africa is distinctly divided along racial lines: 13.6% of blacks are HIV-positive, whereas only 0.3% of whites have the virus. [231] Most deaths are experienced by economically active individuals, resulting in many AIDS orphans who in many cases depend on the state for care and financial support. [232] It is estimated that there are 1,200,000 orphans in South Africa. [232]

The link between HIV, a virus spread primarily by sexual contact, and AIDS was long denied by former president Thabo Mbeki and his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who insisted that the many deaths in the country are due to malnutrition, and hence poverty, and not HIV. [233] In 2007, in response to international pressure, the government made efforts to fight AIDS. [234]

After the 2009 general elections, former president Jacob Zuma appointed Dr Aaron Motsoaledi as the new health minister and committed his government to increasing funding for and widening the scope of HIV treatment, [235] and by 2015, South Africa had made significant progress, with the widespread availability of antiretroviral drugs resulted in an increase in life expectancy from 52.1 years to 62.5 years. [236]

The South African black majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished lives. It is among these people that cultural traditions survive most strongly as blacks have become increasingly urbanised and Westernised, aspects of traditional culture have declined. Members of the middle class, who are predominantly white but whose ranks include growing numbers of Black, Coloured and Indian people, [237] have lifestyles similar in many respects to that of people found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia.

South African art includes the oldest art objects in the world, which were discovered in a South African cave, and dated from 75,000 years ago. [238] The scattered tribes of Khoisan peoples moving into South Africa from around 10,000 BC had their own fluent art styles seen today in a multitude of cave paintings. They were superseded by Bantu/Nguni peoples with their own vocabularies of art forms. New forms of art evolved in the mines and townships: a dynamic art using everything from plastic strips to bicycle spokes. The Dutch-influenced folk art of the Afrikaner trekboers and the urban white artists, earnestly following changing European traditions from the 1850s onwards, also contributed to this eclectic mix which continues to evolve today.

South African literature emerged from a unique social and political history. One of the first well known novels written by a black author in an African language was Solomon Thekiso Plaatje's Mhudi, written in 1930. During the 1950s, Drum magazine became a hotbed of political satire, fiction, and essays, giving a voice to urban black culture.

Notable white South African authors include Alan Paton, who published the novel Cry, the Beloved Country in 1948. Nadine Gordimer became the first South African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1991. JM Coetzee won the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 2003. When awarding the prize, the Swedish Academy stated that Coetzee "in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider." [239]

The plays of Athol Fugard have been regularly premiered in fringe theatres in South Africa, London (Royal Court Theatre) and New York. Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm (1883) was a revelation in Victorian literature: it is heralded by many as introducing feminism into the novel form.

Breyten Breytenbach was jailed for his involvement with the guerrilla movement against apartheid. André Brink was the first Afrikaner writer to be banned by the government after he released the novel A Dry White Season.

Popular culture

The South African media sector is large, and South Africa is one of Africa's major media centres. While South Africa's many broadcasters and publications reflect the diversity of the population as a whole, the most commonly used language is English. However, all ten other official languages are represented to some extent or another.

There is great diversity in South African music. Black musicians have developed a unique style called Kwaito, that is said to have taken over radio, television, and magazines. [240] 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 classical music with an African flavour. 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, the punk rock band Fokofpolisiekar, and the singer-songwriter Jeremy Loops. South African popular musicians that have found international success include Johnny Clegg, rap-rave duo Die Antwoord, and rock band Seether.

Although few South African film productions are known outside South Africa itself, many foreign films have been produced about South Africa. Arguably, the most high-profile film portraying South Africa in recent years was District 9. Other notable exceptions are the film Tsotsi, which won the Academy Award for Foreign Language Film at the 78th Academy Awards in 2006, as well as U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, which won the Golden Bear at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival. In 2015, the Oliver Hermanus film The Endless River became the first South African film selected for the Venice Film Festival.


South African cuisine is highly diverse foods from a many different cultures and backgrounds are enjoyed by all, and especially marketed to tourists who wish to sample the large variety available.

South African cuisine is heavily meat-based and has spawned the distinctively South African social gathering known as the braai, a variation of the barbecue. South Africa has also developed into a major wine producer, with some of the best vineyards lying in valleys around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl and Barrydale. [242]


South Africa's most popular sports are association football, rugby union and cricket. [243] Other sports with significant support are swimming, athletics, golf, boxing, tennis, ringball, and netball. Although football (soccer) commands the greatest following among the youth, other sports like basketball, surfing and skateboarding are increasingly popular.

Association football is the most popular sport in South Africa. [244] [245] [246] Footballers who have played for major foreign clubs include Steven Pienaar, Lucas Radebe and Philemon Masinga, Benni McCarthy, Aaron Mokoena, and Delron Buckley. South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and FIFA president Sepp Blatter awarded South Africa a grade 9 out of 10 for successfully hosting the event. [247]

Famous boxing personalities include Baby Jake Jacob Matlala, Vuyani Bungu, Welcome Ncita, Dingaan Thobela, Gerrie Coetzee and Brian Mitchell. Durban surfer Jordy Smith won the 2010 Billabong J-Bay Open making him the highest ranked surfer in the world. South Africa produced Formula One motor racing's 1979 world champion Jody Scheckter. Famous current cricket players include AB de Villiers, Kagiso Rabada, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Dale Steyn, David Miller, Vernon Philander and Faf du Plessis most also participate in the Indian Premier League.

South Africa has also produced numerous world class rugby players, including Francois Pienaar, Joost van der Westhuizen, Danie Craven, Frik du Preez, Naas Botha, and Bryan Habana. South Africa has won the Rugby World Cup three times, tying New Zealand for the most Rugby World Cup wins. South Africa first won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which it hosted. They went on to win the tournament again in 2007 and in 2019. It followed the 1995 Rugby World Cup by hosting the 1996 African Cup of Nations, with the national team, Bafana Bafana, going on to win the tournament. It also hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the 2007 World Twenty20 Championship. South Africa's national cricket team, the Proteas, has also won the inaugural edition of the 1998 ICC KnockOut Trophy by defeating West Indies in the final. South Africa's national blind cricket team also went on to win the inaugural edition of the Blind Cricket World Cup in 1998.

In 2004, the swimming team of Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens, simultaneously breaking the world record in the 4×100 Freestyle Relay. Penny Heyns won Olympic Gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. In 2012, Oscar Pistorius became the first double amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympic Games in London. In golf, Gary Player is generally regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all time, having won the Career Grand Slam, one of five golfers to have done so. Other South African golfers to have won major tournaments include Bobby Locke, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Brief history

Between 200 000 and 100 000 years ago, modern humans began to evolve throughout Africa &ndash including South Africa. They became the San, who later met up with south-bound Khoi pastoralists from the north and became known collectively as the KhoiSan.

The San were South Africa's first people

The KhoiSan drifted down into the Western Cape at about the same time (300AD) that early Iron Age groups crossed the Limpopo &ndash whose descendants, about 1 000 years later, formed the African kingdom of Mapungubwe and began to trade with India, Arabia and China.

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck and his 90-strong party arrived from The Netherlands and set up a ship-refuelling station at Cape Town &ndash an important stop both geographically and politically, as it was on the only early trade route from Europe and the Americas to India, the &lsquoSpice Islands&rsquo of the East Indies, and the East. Over the next 200 years, various waves of other European and Indian settlers also arrived.

Subsequently, the Dutch, British and to an extent, the French, fought for control of the Cape, with the British finally triumphant in 1806. Dutch Boers prepared to trek into the hinterland to escape British rule.

This was also the start of the Mfecane (&lsquothe scattering, the crushing&rsquo) of Africans that began in Zululand, crossed the Drakensberg and swept through the present Free State province. Spurred on by the Zulu warrior king Shaka&rsquos growing militarism, it became a confusing maelstrom of movement and massacre. Adding the land-hungry Voortrekkers and the newly arrived 1820 British Settlers into this mix brought further conflict.

The late 1800s saw the discovery of South Africa&rsquos immense gold and diamond wealth, and later, the great platinum finds.

The 20 th century saw the end of the South African War (also known as the Second Anglo-Boer War), which was fought from 1899 to 1902 the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910 the involvement in World War I and World War II on the side of the Allies a narrow victory for the mostly Afrikaner National Party in 1948 and, in the years to come, the formulation of apartheid.

Apartheid was a nearly 50-year period of institutionalised racism and the suppression of non-whites, during which the African National Congress was banned and its leaders, including Nelson Mandela, banished to prison on Robben Island.

The unbanning of the ANC, the release of Mandela and his fellow prisoners, and the 1994 democratic elections heralded the birth of the new South Africa.

Culture and Customs

South Africa is one of the world's most beautiful destinations however, many travelers are put off by concerns about safety. While it's true that South Africa does have a higher crime rate than many first world countries   , most visits are without incident. You can increase your chances of a hassle-free experience by following a few simple rules. These include keeping your windows and doors locked when driving through big cities, and never leaving valuables visible in your car when parked. Don't walk alone in remote areas or in urban areas at night, especially if you are a woman. Leave your expensive jewelry at home. Book accommodation in a reputable part of town, and if you want to experience life in a township, join a guided tour rather than exploring by yourself.

Discussing local history and culture with people that you meet along the way is an important part of traveling. However, remember that race and politics continue to be sensitive subjects in a country still trying to recover from the apartheid era, and foreign input is not always welcome. Judge the situation carefully before giving your opinions.

Tipping is expected for good service in South African restaurants. The amount is up to you, but 10 to 15 percent is standard. Don't forget to tip fuel attendants and car guards, too. A few rand is normal in this case.

Read these articles for in-depth advice about staying safe in South Africa and tipping in Africa.


► The apartheid era had a lot in common with other autocratic societies, which included Nazi Germany or several nations under European colonial rule.

► However, with the culmination of WWII, which also coincided with the collapse of colonialism, a lot of nations began to move towards a democratic setup.

► As the world had begun to realize the futility of racial discrimination and beginning to outlaw it entirely, that South Africa introduced the more rigid racial policy of apartheid.

► By 1973, the United Nations General Assembly had denounced apartheid, followed by vote by the UN Security Council in 1976 imposing a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms to South Africa. In 1985, the United Kingdom and United States imposed trade sanctions on the country.

► The National Party government led by Pieter Botha was under tremendous pressure from the international community to relegate the reins of the nation to a more suitable F.W. de Klerk. In due time, De Klerk’s government repealed the highly controversial Population Registration Act, along with most of the other legislation that formed the legal basis for apartheid.

► Free and fair elections were conducted for the first time in 1994. A coalition government with a non-white majority was formed under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, marking the official end of the apartheid system.

The People of South Africa

Languages Spoken: IsiZulu 23.8%, IsiXhosa 17.6%, Afrikaans 13.3%, Sepedi 9.4%, English 8.2%, Setswana 8.2%, Sesotho 7.9%, Xitsonga 4.4%, other 7.2% (2001 census)

Nationality: South African(s)

Religions: Zion Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Catholic 7.1%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%, other Christian 36%, Islam 1.5%, other 2.3%, unspecified 1.4%, none 15.1% (2001 census)

Origin of the name South Africa: South Africa gets its name from being at the southernmost point in Africa.

  • F.W. de Klerk - Prime Minister who helped end apartheid - World leader, civil rights activist
  • Dave Matthews - Singer
  • Thabo Mbeki - President of South Africa
  • Steve Nash - Basketball player
  • Francois Pienaar - Rugby player
  • Oscar Pistorius - Track and field runner known as the "Blade Runner"
  • Gary Player - Professional golfer
  • Charlize Theron - Actress
  • J.R.R. Tolkien - Author who wrote The Lord of the Rings
  • Desmond Tutu - Religious leader who fought against apartheid
  • Jacob Zuma - President of South Africa

** Source for population (2019 est.) is United Nations. GDP (2011 est.) is CIA World Factbook.