Total: 1,219,090 sq km
Land: 1,214,470 sq km
Water: 4,620 sq km
Area comparison map:
Total: 5,244 km
border countries (6):
Botswana 1,969 km,
Lesotho 1,106 km,
Mozambique 496 km,
Namibia 1,005 km,
Swaziland 438 km,
Coastline: 798 km
Total: 4,477 km
People and Society
Bantu-speaking people of South Africa By far the major part of the population classifies itself as African or black, but it is not culturally or linguistically homogeneous. Major ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho(South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi Khoisan, San Khoi, Khoikhkho, and Ndebele, all of which speak Bantu languages.
Some of these peoples are unique to South Africa. Other groups are distributed across the borders with neighbors of South Africa. The Basotho group is also the major ethnic group in Lesotho. The Tswana ethnic group constitute the majority of the population of Botswana. The Swazi ethnic group is the major ethnic group in Swaziland. A part of the Zulu ethnic group is also found in Matabeleland in Zimbabwe, where they are known as the Matabele. These Ndebele people are the descendants of a Zulu faction under the warrior Mzilikazi that escaped persecution from Shaka during the Mfecane by migrating to their current territory. The Tsonga ethnic group is also found in southern Mozambique, where they are known as the Shangaan.
black African 80.2%, white 8.4%, colored 8.8%, Indian/Asian 2.5%
Zulu 22.7%, Xhosa 16%, Afrikaans 13.5%, English 9.6%, Sepedi 9.1%, Setswana 8%, Sesotho 7.6%, Xitsonga 4.5%, Swati 2.5%, Tshivenda 2.4%, Ndebele 2.1%, sign language 0.5%, other 1.6% (2011 est.)
Protestant 36.6% (Zionist Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%), Catholic 7.1%, Muslim 1.5%, other Christian 36%, other 2.3%, unspecified 1.4%, none 15.1% (2001 est.)
The right to a basic education is guaranteed in the constitution. The country has a national educational system, which oversees the education implemented in the provinces. The school system contains both private and public schools. School education is compulsory for all children between 7 and 16 years of age or through ninth grade, whichever is reached first and begins in one of the 11 official languages. After second grade, students begin learning another language.
During the apartheid era, schools run by white education departments had the best resources in the public school system, and white-oriented private schools received substantial public subsidies. Although some of these schools began to admit black pupils after 1990, informal white resistance, capacity limitations, and fees (often newly imposed with apparent exclusionary intent) generally have kept blacks out of historically white public schools. Private schools, many of which offer superior educational programs, remain largely inaccessible to most blacks because of the high cost. In an effort to rectify past inequalities, the government has pledged significant resources toward improving the physical and learning environment of the school system. To that end, the government implemented a new national curriculum in the early 21st century.
The adult literacy rate in 2007 was 88.7%. South Africa has a 3 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 is a pre-primary foundation year. Primary schools span the first seven years of schooling. High School education spans a further five years. The Senior Certificate examination takes place at the end of grade 12 and is necessary for tertiary studies at a South African university.
Public universities in South Africa are divided into three types: traditional universities, which offer theoretically oriented university degrees; universities of technology (“Technikons”), which offer vocational 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 blacks were subject to discrimination through inadequate funding and a separate syllabus called Bantu Education which was only designed to give them sufficient skills to work as laborers. In 2004 South Africa started reforming its higher education system, merging and incorporating small universities into larger institutions, and renaming all higher education institutions “university” to redress these imbalances. By 2015, 1.4 million students in higher education have benefited from a financial aid scheme which was promulgated in 1999.
Even though the country’s modern infrastructure supports a relatively efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region, unstable electricity supplies retard growth. Eskom, the state-run power company, is building three new power stations and is installing new power demand management programs to improve power grid reliability but has been plagued with accusations of mismanagement and corruption and faces an increasingly high debt burden.
South Africa’s economic policy has focused on controlling inflation while empowering a broader economic base; however, the country faces structural constraints that also limit economic growth, such as skills shortages, declining global competitiveness, and frequent work stoppages due to strike action. The government faces growing pressure from urban constituencies to improve the delivery of basic services to low-income areas, to increase job growth, and to provide university level-education at affordable prices. Political infighting among South Africa’s ruling party and the volatility of the rand risks economic growth. International investors are concerned about the country’s long-term economic stability; in late 2016, most major international credit ratings agencies downgraded South Africa’s international debt to junk bond status.
Agriculture in South Africa contributes around 10% of formal employment, relatively low compared to other parts of Africa, as well as providing work for casual laborers and contributing around 2.6 percent of GDP for the nation. Due to the aridity of the land, only 13.5 percent can be used for crop production, and only 3 percent is considered high potential land.
South Africa is one of the 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); fiber crops (10th). 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.
The South African government has set a target of transferring 30% of productive farmland from whites to ‘previously disadvantaged’ blacks by 2014. Land reform has been criticised both by farmers’ groups and by landless workers, the latter alleging that the pace of change has not been fast enough. On 27 February 2018, the National Assembly voted to set in motion a process to amend the Constitution so as to allow for the expropriation of land from white farmers without compensation.
The manufacturing industry’s contribution to the economy is relatively small, providing just 13.3% of jobs and 15% of GDP. Labor 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. The major manufacturing sectors are food processing and the production of textiles, metals, and chemicals. Agriculture and fisheries provide the basis for substantial activity in meat, fish, and fruit canning, sugar refining, and other processing; more than half these products are exported. A large and complex chemical industry has developed from early beginnings in the manufacture of explosives for use in mining. A coal-based petrochemical industry produces a wide range of plastics, resins, and industrial chemicals. The metal industry, centered in Gauteng, draws much of its raw material from the iron and steel producing firms located in the area. Imported materials supply aluminum manufacturers located mainly in KwaZulu-Natal. Manufacturing encompasses automobiles, ships, building materials, electronics, and many other products, notably armaments. Though the weapons industry has begun to diversify into nonmilitary production, the post-apartheid government has also promoted a controversial export trade in arms, after military sanctions were lifted.
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%). 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.
South Africa is rich in a variety of minerals. In addition to diamonds and gold, the country also contains reserves of iron ore, platinum, manganese, chromium, copper, uranium, silver, beryllium, and titanium. No commercially exploitable deposits of petroleum have been found, but there are moderate quantities of natural gas located off the southern coast, and synthetic fuel is made from coal at two large plants in the provinces of Free State and Mpumalanga.
Mining has remained the 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 known to be one of the world’s leading mining and mineral-processing countries. 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. The mining sector accounts for up to 9% of value added.
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%. South Africa also accounted for nearly 5% of the world’s polished diamond production by value. 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%. It is also the world’s third largest coal exporter.
Banking and Finance
South Africa has a sophisticated financial structure with the JSE Securities Exchange, a large and active stock exchange that ranks 18th in the world in terms of total market capitalization as of March 2009. The banking industry, overseen by the South African Reserve Bank, is dominated by four local players including Nedbank, ABSA, Standard Bank and First Rand. South Africa has a well-developed financial system, centered on the South African Reserve Bank, which is the sole issuing authority for the rand, the national currency. It formulates and implements monetary policy and manages foreign-exchange transactions. There are many registered banking institutions, a number of which concentrate on commercial banking, as well as merchant, savings, investment, and discount banks. One such bank, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, is a quasi-governmental company created to promote development projects. Private pension and provident funds and more than two dozen insurance companies play significant roles in the financial sector. An active capital market exists, organized around the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
South Africa is a tourist destination and the industry accounts for a substantial amount of the country’s revenue. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the tourism industry directly contributed ZAR102 billion to South African GDP in 2012 and supports 10.3% of jobs in the country. South Africa offers both domestic and international tourists a wide variety of options, among others the picturesque natural landscape and game reserves, diverse cultural heritage and highly regarded wines. Some of the most popular destinations include several national parks, such as the expansive Kruger National Park in the north of the country, the coastlines and beaches of the KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces, and the major cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.
South Africa received around 860,000 arrivals per month, of which around 210,000 is from outside the African continent. In 2012 South Africa received 9.2 million international arrivals. In August 2017 3.5 million travelers came to South Africa. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, travel and tourism directly contributed ZAR 102 billion to South African GDP in 2012 and supports 10.3% of jobs in the country.
Among the most popular tourist attractions are the wine regions in Western Cape province, Table Mountain, Robben Island(designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999; the location of an infamous prison), and historic sites such as the former diamond mine in Kimberley, the Vredefort Dome (designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005; the world’s oldest and largest meteorite impact site), and the Mapungubwe settlement area (designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003; the ruins of an important kingdom of the Iron Age). Ecotourism is increasing in popularity, as is village tourism, in which visitors can learn about the traditional rural culture.
The prehistory and history of South Africa span nearly the entire known existence of human beings and their ancestors—some three million years or more—and include the wandering of small bands of hominins through the savanna, the inception of herding and farming as ways of life, and the construction of large urban centres. Through this diversity of human experience, several trends can be identified: technological and economic change, shifting systems of belief, and, in the earlier phases of humanity, the interplay between physical evolution and learned behaviour, or culture.
The territory of what is now referred to generically as South Africa was one of the important centres of human evolution. It was inhabited by Australopithecines since at least 2.5 million years ago. Modern human settlement occurred around 125,000 years ago in the Middle Stone Age, as shown by archaeological discoveries at Klasies River Caves. The first human habitation is associated with a DNA group originating in a northwestern area of southern Africa and still prevalent in the indigenous Khoisan (Khoi and San). Southern Africa was reached later by the migration of the ethnically different, dark-skinned, Bantu-speaking or African people originating in the northwestern region of southern Africa during the early centuries AD.
The Blombos cave discovery of 1924 was the first, where the skull of a 2.51 million-year-old found. Following Blombos cave discovery, a new much more robust hominid was discovered in 1938 Paranthropus robustus at Kromdraai, and in 1947 uncovered several more examples of Australopithecus africanus at Sterkfontein. Many more species of early hominid have come to light in recent decades. The oldest is Little Foot, a collection of footbones of an unknown hominid between 2.2 and 3.3 million years old, discovered at Sterkfontein by Ronald J. Clarke. An important recent find was that of 1.9 million-year-old Australopithecus sediba, discovered in 2008. In 2015, the discovery near Johannesburg of a previously unknown species of Homo was announced, named Homo naledi. It has been described as one of the most important paleontological discoveries in modern times.
San and Khoikhoi tribes and the Bantu People
The descendants of the Middle Paleolithic populations are thought to be the original San and Khoikhoi tribes. The settlement of southern Africa by the ancestors of the Khoisan corresponds to the earliest separation of the extant Homo sapiens populations altogether. The San and Khoikhoi are grouped under the term Khoisan and are essentially distinguished only by their respective occupations. Whereas the San were hunter-gathers, the Khoikhoi were pastoral herders. Archaeological discoveries of livestock bones on the Cape Peninsula indicate that the Khoikhoi began to settle there by about 2000 years ago. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Portuguese mariners, who were the first Europeans at the Cape, encountered pastoral Khoikhoi with livestock.
The Bantu expansion was one of the major demographic movements in human prehistory, sweeping much of the African continent during the 2nd and 1st millennia BC. Bantu-speaking communities would have reached southern Africa from the Congo basin by the early centuries AD. The advancing Bantu encroached on the Khoikhoi territory, forcing the original inhabitants of the region to move to more arid areas. Some of the migrant groups, ancestral to today’s Nguni peoples (the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, and Ndebele), preferred to live near the eastern coast of what is present-day South Africa. Others, now known as the Sotho–Tswana peoples (Tswana, Pedi, and Sotho), settled in the interior on the plateau known as the Highveld, while today’s Venda, Lemba, and Shangaan-Tsonga peoples made their homes in the north-eastern areas of present-day South Africa
The establishment of the staging post by the Dutch East India Company at the Cape in 1652 soon brought the Khoikhoi into conflict with Dutch settlers over land ownership. Cattle rustling and livestock theft ensued, with the Khoikhoi being ultimately expelled from the peninsula by force, after a succession of wars. The first Khoikhoi-Dutch War broke out in 1659, the second in 1673, and the third 1674–1677. By the time of their defeat and expulsion from the Cape Peninsula and surrounding districts, the Khoikhoi population was decimated by a smallpox epidemic, against which the Khoikhoi had no natural resistance or indigenous medicines. The disease had been brought to the Cape by Dutch sailors.
The Arrival of the Dutch
The first Portuguese ships rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, their occupants intent on gaining a share of the lucrative Arab trade with the East. Over the following century, numerous vessels made their way around the South African coast, but the only direct African contacts came with the bands of shipwreck survivors who either set up camp in the hope of rescue or tried to make their way northward to Portuguese settlements in present-day Mozambique.
The Dutch East India Company (in the Dutch of the day: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) decided to establish a permanent settlement at the Cape. The VOC, one of the major European trading houses sailing the spice route to the East, had colonising the area, and establish a secure base camp where passing ships could shelter and be serviced, and where hungry sailors could stock up on fresh supplies of meat, fruit, and vegetables.
In the initial years of Dutch settlement at the Cape, pastoralists had readily traded with the Dutch. However, as the garrison’s demand for cattle and sheep continued to increase, the Khoekhoe became more wary. The Dutch offered tobacco, alcohol, and trinkets for livestock. Numerous conflicts followed, and, beginning in 1713, many Khoekhoe communities were ravaged by smallpox. At the same time, colonial pastoralists—the Boers, also called trekboers—began to move inland beyond the Hottentots Holland Mountains with their own herds. The Khoekhoe chiefdoms were largely decimated by the end of the 18th century, their people either dead or reduced to conditions close to serfdom on colonial farms. The San—small bands of hunter-gatherers—fared no better. Pushed back into marginal areas, they were forced to live by cattle raiding, justifying in colonial eyes their systematic eradication. The men were slaughtered, and the women and children were taken into servitude.
In the 19th century, the infrastructure of the colony began to change: English replaced Dutch as the language of administration; the British pound sterling replaced the Dutch rix-dollar, and newspaper publishing began in Cape Town in 1824. After Britain began appointing colonial governors, an advisory council for the governor was established in 1825, which was upgraded to a legislative council in 1834 with a few “unofficial” settler representatives. A virtual freehold system of landownership gradually replaced the existing Dutch tenant system, under which European colonists had paid a small annual fee to the government but had not acquired land ownership.
A large group of British settlers arrived in 1820; this, together with a high European birth rate and wasteful land usage, produced an acute land shortage, which was alleviated only when the British acquired more land through massive military intervention against Africans on the eastern frontier. Until the 1840s the British vision of the colony did not include African citizens (referred to pejoratively by the British as “Kaffirs”), so, as Africans lost their land, they were expelled across the Great Fish River, the unilaterally proclaimed eastern border of the colony.
Long-standing Boer resentment became a full-blown rebellion in the Transvaal and the first Anglo-Boer War, known by Afrikaners as the War of Independence, broke out. It was over almost as soon as it began, with a crushing Boer victory at the Battle of Majuba Hill in 1881, and the republic regained its independence as the ZAR (Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek – South African Republic).
During the earlier diamond rush of 1899, the British demanded that voting rights be given to the 60,000 foreign whites on the Witwatersrand. Paul Kruger (ZAR president 1883–1900) refused and demanded that British troops be withdrawn from the republic’s borders, leading to the second Anglo-Boer War.The conflict was more protracted than its predecessor, as the British were better prepared. By mid-1900, Pretoria, the last of the major Boer towns, had surrendered.
The Union of South Africa
The Union of South Africa was established in 1910. The British High Commission Territories of Basotholand (now Lesotho), Bechuanaland (now Botswana), Swaziland and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) continued to be ruled directly by Britain. English and Dutch became the official languages – Afrikaans was not recognised as an official language until 1925. The first government of the new Union was the South African National Party (later known as the South African Party, or SAP). A diverse coalition of Boer groups under General Louis Botha, with General Jan Smuts as his deputy, the party followed a generally pro-British, white-unity line.
General Barry Hertzog raised divisive issues, championing Afrikaner interests, advocating separate development for the two white groups and independence from Britain. He and his supporters formed the National Party (NP). Soon after the union was established a barrage of repressive legislation was passed. It became illegal for black workers to strike; skilled jobs were reserved for whites; blacks were barred from military service; and pass laws, restricting black freedom of movement, were tightened.
In 1912, Pixley ka Isaka Seme formed a national democratic organisation to represent blacks. It was initially called the South African Native Congress, but from 1923 it was known as the African National Congress (ANC). In 1913 the Natives Land Act set aside 8% of South Africa’s land for black occupancy. Blacks were not allowed to buy, rent or even become sharecroppers outside their designated areas. Thousands of squatters were evicted from farms and forced into increasingly overcrowded reserves, or into the cities.
In 1914 South Africa, as a part of the British Empire was drawn into war with Germany and saddled with the responsibility of dealing with German South West Africa (now Namibia). After the war, South West Africa became part of South Africa under ‘mandate’ from the League of Nations.
In 1924 Hertzog and the NP came to power in a coalition government, and Afrikaner nationalism gained a greater hold. The dominant issue of the 1929 election was the swaart gevaar (black threat). Although Hertzog’s National Party held a majority of the seats in the House of Assembly and dominated the South African cabinet in the early 1930s, its mismanagement of problems created by the Great Depression led him to form a coalition with his rival Smuts in 1933. Smuts was the leader of the South African Party, whose support came from the major industrialists and which was the party of most of the English-speaking whites (who made up less than half of the white population). In contrast, the National Party derived its main support from Afrikaner farmers and intellectuals. By 1934 the two organizations had merged to form the United Party, with Hertzog as prime minister and Smuts his deputy. The two parties and the two leaders had a common interest in favouring the enfranchised population, nearly all of whom were white, over the unenfranchised, all of whom were black. They agreed to provide massive support for white farmers, to assist poor whites by providing them with jobs protected from black competition, and to curb the movement of blacks from the reserves into the towns.
The NP, led by DF Malan in a coalition with the Afrikaner Party (AP), won the 1948 election on a platform of establishing Apartheid (literally, the state of being apart). With the help of creative electoral boundaries, the NP held power right up to the first democratic election in 1994. Apartheid was a political and social system in South Africa while it was under white minority rule. This was used in the 20th century, from 1948 to the early 1990s. The word apartheid means “apartness” in Afrikaans. Racial segregation had been used for centuries but when the new policy started in 1948 it was strict and more systematic. In the system, the people of South Africa were divided by their race and the races were forced to live apart from each other. There were laws that kept the racial separation. The system of apartheid in South Africa was banned in 1994. The last president under apartheid was Frederik Willem de Klerk.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013 was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist, who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid by tackling institutionalised racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Ideologically an African nationalist and socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997.
Mandela was born to the Thembu royal family in Mvezo, British South Africa. He studied law at the University of Fort Hare and the University of the Witwatersrand before working as a lawyer in Johannesburg. There he became involved in anti-colonial and African nationalist politics, joining the ANC in 1943 and co-founding its Youth League in 1944. After the National Party’s white-only government-established ‘apartheid’, a system of racial segregation that privileged whites, he and the ANC committed themselves to its overthrow. Mandela was appointed President of the ANC’s Transvaal branch, rising to prominence for his involvement in the 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People. He was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the 1956 Treason Trial. Influenced by Marxism, he secretly joined the banned South African Communist Party (SACP). Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SACP he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961 and led a sabotage campaign against the government. In 1962, he was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the state and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.
Mandela served 27 years in prison, initially on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. Amid growing domestic and international pressure, and with fears of a racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk negotiated an end to apartheid and organised the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became President. Leading a broad coalition government which promulgated a new constitution, Mandela emphasised reconciliation between the country’s racial groups and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. He declined a second presidential term and in 1999 was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Mandela became an elder statesman and focused on combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the charitable Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Mandela was a controversial figure for much of his life. Although critics on the right denounced him as a communist terrorist and those on the radical left deemed him too eager to negotiate and reconcile with apartheid’s supporters, he gained international acclaim for his activism. Widely regarded as an icon of democracy and social justice, he received more than 250 honours—including the Nobel Peace Prize—and became the subject of a cult of personality. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, and described as the “Father of the Nation”.