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South Africa Today

Area

South Africa lies at the southern-most end of the African continent, stretching from latitude 22 to 35 S and from longitude 17 to 33 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.

Map of Southern Africa

Infrastructure

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.

Major Cities

City Skyline

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!

Industry

Gold Miners Underground

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 and gas.

South Africa's main revenue earners are the fishing, wine, fruit, sugar and tourism industries.

Coastal Diversity

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.

Sedgefield Beach

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 to February.

South Africa's Eastern shores experience a subtropical climate, with high summer humidity caused by the warm seas, and year round rainfall.

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 days.

Average maximum temperatures (Celsius) in some major places of interest:

January April July October
Cape Town 26.5 23 17.2 21.5
Johannesburg 26.3 22.1 16.4 25
Durban 27.2 25.6 22 23.6
Kruger Park 31.4 28.6 25 29

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, Thabo Mbeki.

Nelson Mandela

The Rainbow Nation

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.

Religion

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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