South Africa lies at the southern-most end
of the African continent, stretching from latitude 22º to
35º S and from longitude 17º to 33º E. The
surface area is over 1.2 million square
kilometres. That's five times the size of Britain!
There are two sovereign states within South
Africa's borders - Lesotho and Swaziland.
On the country's northern borders are the independent states
of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Efficient road, rail, air and sea links make most of the country
easily accessible to visitors and connect us with the rest of Africa
and the world.
South Africa has three capital cities, the legislative
capital being Cape Town. The city is known
as South Africa 's "Mother City" and is also home to Parliament.
The administrative capital is Pretoria and
the judicial capital is Bloemfontein.
The country's largest city is Johannesburg -
South Africa 's powerhouse and business capital. Begun as
a settlement near the newly-discovered Witwatersrand gold
reef in the "Gold Rush" of the late 1800's, Johannesburg
is today an incredibly young, vibrant and sprawling metropolis.
As one moves northwards up the East coast, one is greeted by the
coastal cities of Port Elizabeth and East
London. Both are steeped in early British settler history
and retain much of their historical charm today. On the KwaZulu-Natal
coast lies Durban, South Africa's largest port
and third largest city.
Kimberley, home of De Beers, is the most important
town in the Northern Cape, due to the discovery of diamonds there
in 1867. The 'Big Hole', once the largest open diamond digging
in the world, is now a great tourist attraction!
Apart from diamonds and gold, South African industry has
been blessed with some of the world's richest mineral
deposits. Fertile soils supply food for its burgeoning
population, with plenty left over for export to all the major
nations of the world. South Africa pioneered the extraction
of oil from coal during the years of international
isolation, and today has promising offshore reserves of oil
South Africa's main revenue earners are
the fishing, wine, fruit, sugar and tourism industries.
The coastline, which stretches along some 3000km of golden,
sandy beaches interrupted by rough, rocky sections, is swept
by two major oceans - the Indian Ocean to
the East and the Atlantic Ocean on the Western
side. The two oceans meet at Cape Agulhas,
the most southerly tip of the African continent.
From the Indian Ocean, the south-flowing Mozambique-Agulhas current
carries warm water down the south-eastern coast, while the west
coast is influenced by the cold north-flowing Benguela
Current from the Antarctic.
As a result of these extremes in temperatures, together with the
coastal mountains and winds, South Africa is richly endowed with
an incredible diversity of flora and fauna.
These are also accompanied by rich marine life in the vast Atlantic
and Indian coastlines.
Weather and Climate
Located in the southern hemisphere, South Africa's seasons are
the opposite of Europe and the United States. Winter is
from May to August and summer is from November
South Africa's Eastern shores experience a subtropical climate,
with high summer humidity caused by the warm seas, and year round
The West Coast provides a startling contrast
with the east coast. Colder waters resist evaporation, and the
land becomes more desert-like the further north one travels. Rainfall
occurs rarely (predominantly in the winter months), bringing life
to the desert in an outrageous display of spring flowers that stretch
from the Western Cape coast to Namaqualand in the Northern Cape.
Cape Town itself experiences a Mediterranean climate of hot, windy summers
with endless sunshine and cool, wet winters. This climate makes
for ideal conditions for the fruit and wine production the region
is justly famed for.
The northern provinces of Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumulanga,
and the North-West Province, as well as the Free
State, in the centre of the country, experience hot summers
with rainfall usually in the form of afternoon thunder storms.
The winters are dry, with cold, frosty nights and beautiful sunny
Average maximum temperatures (Celsius) in some major places of
Sunburn and sunstroke can be serious problems. Always use sunscreen
lotion in both winter and summer and a hat is useful. Malaria
protection is needed in some parts of the northern provinces
and should be taken as prescribed.
The New Democracy
South Africa's New Democracy is underpinned by the Constitution,
which was signed into law in 1996. It is
seen as a barricade against racism and any infringement of
individual rights. The first democratically elected government
in 1994 was headed by President Nelson Mandela, South Africa's
much beloved elder statesman and international icon. He was
succeeded in the 1999 elections by our current president,
The Rainbow Nation
The total population of South Africa is 43 million, and
is composed of a diversity of races, cultures, beliefs and
languages arising from a cultural melting pot of the first
Dutch, German, French and British settlers, with a dash of
Italian and Jewish immigrants, spiced with Indonesian slaves
and exiles, Indian and Chinese indentured labourers, Nguni
peoples from the north and local Khoi-San tribes.
In the 1996 census people classified themselves as 77% African,
11% White, 9% Coloured and 3% Indian/Asian
There are 11 official languages, English, Afrikaans and nine African
languages, of which Zulu and Xhosa are the most widely spoken.
The Constitution allows everyone the right to use the language
of his or her choice. English is however widely spoken and understood
by most people and is the language of business and commerce.
Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the Constitution. Almost 80%
of South Africa's population is of the Christian faith, but belong
to a variety of Christian churches. Other major groups are Hindus,
Muslims and Jews. There are also people that regard themselves
as traditionalists or of no specific religion at all.
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