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Full name: Republic of South Africa

Population: 51.77 million (Census 2011) 

Population Breakdown: Male 48.7% Female 51.3%

Capital: Pretoria (Administrative) Cape Town (Legislative)

Provinces: Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumulanga, Limpopo, Northern Cape, North West, Free State, Western Cape             

Area: 1,219,090 sq km ( 470,690 sq miles)

Density Population: 44.52 per km sq

Life Expectancy: 57.1 (Male)  63.6 (Female)

Currency: The Rand ( One rand (R) = 100 cents)

GDP: $350.09 billion (World Records 2012)    

Government: Multiparty Democracy with Independent Judiciary

Language: A Multilingual Country with 11 recognised languages

Major Languages: Afrikaans & English are the most common

Religion: Christianity ( 80%) some Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths

Nationality: South African Citizenship or British (in some cases)***

Freedom Day: 27th April   

International Dialling Code: + 27

Time Zones: GMT + 2 hours                                                                                                  

*** Please see Did You Know Section


South Africa is the southernmost country of the African Continent flanked on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the Indian Ocean. The vast size of the country, measuring approximately 1600km (1000 miles) from north to south and the same from east to west, is illustrated by it being twice the size of France, three times the size of Germany and one eighth the size of the USA.

South Africa has land borders in excess of 3500 km with four countries on its northern borders. Namibia in the north west, then running east, with Botswana and Zimbabwe and lastly Mozambique in its far north east corner and also boasts Africa’s most southerly point, Cape Agulhas. South Africa’s coastline border stretches almost 2800 km from desert terrain in the north west with Namibia, southwards through the Northern and Western Cape regions which are sparsely populated and comparatively infertile, before leading to the Southern Cape and Cape Town itself, and then turning west and northwards through pleasant green fertile zones with many wide beaches, finally becoming more sub tropical as the coastline merges with Mozambique in South Africa’s north east corner.  Within the borders of South Africa there are two separate comparatively small countries, Lesotho and Swaziland. Lesotho is completely landlocked in the north west of South Africa while Swaziland shares borders with South Africa and Mozambique. Much of South Africa’s  coastline is made up of narrow low lying regions before giving way to mountainous escarpments which lead to lands of a high plateau referred to as the ‘Highveld’ located on the eastern side of the country. The Highveld plateau, with an altitude between 2100m and 1500m above sea level, covers roughly 30% of the country’s land area and is home to the country’s most important commercial farming areas, its largest metropolitan concentrations and the Gauteng conurbation which accommodates one third of South Africa’s population. By contrast the Kalahari desert region, located to the west, is a huge sand basin that reaches from the Orange River in the south to borders with Namibia and Botswana at its northernmost points. The Kalahari desert is classified as ‘dry savannah’ so clearly does not sustain large populations nor yield great commercial benefits compared to the fertile Highveld.  However the Kalahari regions do serve to further enhance the vast range of wildlife and landscapes within the country and in so doing enhances the tourism industry, where the visitor rarely fails to be enthralled by the diverse geographical features the country has to offer.


South Africa is a subtropical country which lies in the southern hemisphere, between 22 degrees and 35 degrees latitude south and consequently its seasons are the opposite of northern hemisphere countries. In spring and autumn it is pleasantly warm and sunny and delightfully hot in summer (November-March) with frequent heavy tropical rains and sudden spring and summer hailstorms to cool things down. Whilst categorised as a subtropical climate, the weather is moderated by the Atlantic and Indian oceans covering three sides of the country, as well as the altitude of the inland plateau, both these factors exerting a cooling effect.  However even in winters South Africa’s chill is nothing compared with European standards, with mild frost occasional, and snow a rarity. The thunderstorms over South Africa’s big skies can be quite spectacular and vicious, often causing flooding and turning urban streets into temporary streams, but are short lived usually passing through in an hour or so. Despite the deluge of sudden rainstorms, the climate is largely dry with an annual rainfall only some 50% of the world average.

The country enjoys at least seven months of sunshine. Temperatures above 32°C (90°F) are fairly common in summer, and frequently exceed 38°C (100°F) in the lower Orange River Valley and the Mpumalanga Lowveld, but April and May are more moderate leading to the cooler winter months of May to August. The barren Northern Cape, in the north west of the country, has some of the most extreme temperatures, sometimes reaching 40°C (104°F) in summer and plummeting to below freezing in winter!


South Africa is often referred to as ‘The Rainbow Nation’, a term which was coined by the former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and which succinctly describes the country’s multicultural diversity, a rainbow, a band of many shades and many colours! There can be few countries which such a rich and varied culture.Firstly the population diversity has been a massive contributor to this varied culture. Black South Africans make up around 80% of the population and with these peoples come a huge variety of ethnic groups. Black Africans are famous for their art, dance and music, where a large number of different local tribal songs and rituals demonstrate various art forms being a fusion of ancient and modern. Music styles such as kwaito ( house music), mbube ( Zulu vocal) and kwela (jazz street music) are very prominent. A wide range of colourful textiles adorned with traditional beaded jewellery are often seen at dance rituals further reflecting strong links to traditional black tribal culture. Adornment is important for both men and women with traditional beadwork in head dress and costume reflecting their tribes individual history and experiences. These tribal cultures also have strong oral traditions with storytelling, poetry and epics often recited as chants and over time this has developed into a library of written literature.

French Huguenots, Portuguese and Germans arrived to settle South Africa as far back as the 1600s, bringing with them many slaves from India and modern-day Indonesia and in consequence another range of customs. The colonial years saw many Dutch and English settling in the country resulting in the creation of a large Afrikaan population who have introduced another alternative style of culture. With such a multi cultural range of peoples, illustrated by the country officially recognising as many as 11 different languages, all coming together to form modern day South Africa it was inevitable that the current rich and varied culture would evolve from these differing backgrounds leaving the visitor in no doubt that South Africa is a country overflowing with a rich and vibrant culture!


Almost 80% of the population adhere to some form of the Christian faith with other significant groups being Hindus, Muslims and Jews. The legacy of the Christian missionaries is still alive and a number of Christian organisations across the country still carry out ‘missionary work’ providing aid and educational assistance. Church attendance levels are favourable in both urban and rural areas and there is a healthy circulation of religious magazines and newspapers. To reflect the strength of feeling for religious belief, the right to ‘Freedom of worship’ is guaranteed by the Constitution. Despite a minority of South Africans being unaffiliated to any religious sect, it is undoubtedly true that religion plays a dominant role in many South Africans lives.


South Africa is ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank accounting for 24% of the African continent’s gross domestic product. It is considered to be a newly industrialised country. Its economy is the second-largest in Africa, behind Nigeria, and the 34th largest in the world and the country has the 7th highest per capita income in Africa. The apartheid era brought serious international sanctions, but since 1996 the economy has boomed with the tripling of the GDP to a predicted $400 billion in 2016. Over this same time period, foreign exchange reserves have leapt from $3 billion to $50 billion creating a diversified economy with a growing African middle class population. These massive economic changes have occurred within two decades of establishing democracy and the ending of apartheid.The major driving force behind the history and development of South Africa’s economy is its mining industry so that today South Africa is one of the world's leading mining and mineral-processing countries.  Gold, diamonds, coal and many other metals and minerals flow from the modern day mines earning large export returns and foreign currency. As an example 77% of the world’s platinum production comes from with South Africa. South Africa’s vast areas of fertile land have allowed agriculture and food processing to flourish to rank as the second major economic influence. Manufacturing, telecommunication, service industries and tourism also make significant but smaller economic contributions.However successful economies still have endemic problems and South Africa is not alone in this regard. Poverty and inequality remain widespread, with high levels of unemployment, income inequality, growing public debt, political mismanagement, low levels of education, unreliable access to electricity, and endemic crime presenting serious problems that have negatively impacted on the South African economy.Nevertheless, South Africa has been identified as a middle power in international affairs and maintains significant regional influence and surely with political stability increasing after the 1995 South African Citizenship Act and the death of apartheid, the economic future of the country would seem very healthy.


The History and Politics of South Africa is inexorably linked to a massive struggle for rule over recent centuries leading to the domination of white rule and the rise and fall of apartheid.Since the arrival of the British in 1652, the natives of South Africa suffered greatly under white rule. Under apartheid, which became legalised, the right to equality was denied to the indigenous people of South Africa. The apartheid acts of 1949 and 1970 established separate levels of citizenship, with superior rights to the select ‘white’ races and with reduced and inferior rights bestowed upon the country’s Asian and coloured groups. Much torment and strife ensued throughout the country until South Africa reversed this racial discrimination when on April 27th 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first President of South Africa elected in a fully represented democratic election. In 1944, Mandela helped start the African National Congress Youth League and soon was a high-ranked leader of the group.  He wanted to free South Africa without violence, but the government started killing and hurting protesters. He then started to gain support from other people in the African National Congress that he admired, receiving support from notable people such as Mahatma Gandhi. 

Mandela was put on trial because of his involvement in sabotage and violence in 1962. He was sentenced to life in prison, and was sent to Robben Island, but was transferred to Victor Verster Prison in 1988.  In 1990, he was let out of the Victor Verster Prison after 26.5 years. His release was ordered by African State President , Frederik Willem de Klerk,  when he removed a ban on the African National Congress. Consequently both Mandela and de Klerk  then received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Following the first true democratic elections in 1994, Mandela also became the first black President of his country and the end of apartheid was finally cemented by introducing the 1995 South African Citizenship Act finally signalling the end of years of oppression for the indigenous black South Africans.  Freedom Day, 27th April, now marks the liberation of South Africa from the long period of colonialism and white domination.Mandela’s government focused on throwing out the legacy of apartheid by ending racism, poverty, inequality, and on improving racial understanding in South Africa. Politically a believer in socialism, he served as the President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997 and adopted new Constitution of South African in 1996 that prohibits all discrimination, based on language, religion, handicap and sexual orientation, not only on racism. Internationally, Mandela was the Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999 Mandela received more than 250 honours, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Soviet Order of Lenin. He is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or as Tata ("Father"). Mandela is rightly described as a hero, because his actions have given millions of people hope for a fairer future. So after years of war, internal instability and then of white dominated rule, South Africa has now seen in recent times a blending of its history and politics to form a democratic base which is now leading the country into greater stability for all.


Following South Africa’s return to the Commonwealth in 1994, many South Africans are now treated as Commonwealth Citizens in the UK.

South Africans are also fortunate enough to be allowed to hold more than two nationalities with many having the right to hold dual nationality with Britain. It is, however, important to note that a person must first apply to retain his or her South African citizenship before taking on any other nationality through naturalisation. Should they fail to do so, they will automatically lose your South African citizenship. The exception to this rule is for persons who acquire nationality via descent.

On 27th April 1994, Nelson Mandela was made the first President of South Africa elected in a fully represented democratic election. Mandela was also the first black President of his country.

On ‘Freedom Day’, 27th April, South Africans pledge to re-commit themselves to safeguarding their hard won freedom from apartheid and to completely eradicate the legacy of racism in the country.  

The diamond-mining city of Kimberley lies on the border of the Highveld and the south-eastern Kalahari. The history of the town of diamond city of Kimberley started with the first diamond finds in South Africa in 1867. Erasmus Jacobs, a farm boy, had discovered an unusually glittering stone on the banks of the River Orange and brought it home for his sisters to play with. His parents had it analysed and identified as a diamond leading to the subsequent discovery and exploitation of the Kimberley diamond mines a few years later.But the big diamond rush only broke out three years later, when diamond stones were found on the farm Zandfontein owned by Nicolaas de Beers.  Soon more than 30,000 people came to the area in anticipation of partaking in the riches these diamond discoveries would bring.  Such interest led the de Beers family to sell their otherwise not very profitable farm for a substantial sum.  

Kimberley is home to the World’s largest diamond mine known as the ‘Big hole’. The deepest hole ever dug by man, it is a massive bowl reaching deep below the surface, so large that it is visible from space.  The pit has yielded some of the largest diamonds ever mined and made the name De Beers famous throughout the world.

Visitors to Kimberley can view short films describing the history of diamond mining in South Africa, can walk a high platform to view the ‘Big Hole’, take a ride down a mine shaft and enter a locked vault to view diamonds of all colours.

Until 1883, when searches were introduced, some miners smuggled diamonds out of the Kimberley mines by concealing them in a hollowed out Bible. 

History shows that the De Beers family put these resources to good use and the famous De Beers Group of Companies is a thriving business empire today.

Approximately half of the gold ever mined in the world since 1880 has been mined on the Highveld plateau where the largest deposits are located in the Witwatersrand, which centres on Johannesburg. Smaller gold deposits occur in northern Free State near Virginia and Welkom. 

The Highveld plateau is exceedingly rich in diamonds, coal, vanadium and manganese. 

The Highveld is home to a number of endangered animals, including straw-coloured fruit bats, Africa's largest snake, the African rock python (Python sebae), mountain zebras, and South Africa's national bird, the blue crane (Anthropoides paradiseus).

Many visitors to South Africa are anxious to visit the mystically named region called ‘The Skeleton Coast’ but it is not actually in South Africa.  The term ‘The Skeleton Coast’ refers to the coastline stretching from South Africa’s westernmost border with Namibia and northwards into Angola. The name ‘Skeleton Coast’ was invented by John Henry Marsh as the title for the book he wrote chronicling the shipwreck of the Dunedin Star. Since the book was first published in 1944 it has become so well known that the coastal strip covered by his book is now generally referred to as  ‘The Skeleton Coast’ and is given that name officially  on most maps today. It is so called because it has been a notorious graveyard for countless shipwrecks over the centuries. The Bushmen of the Namibian interior called the region "The Land God Made in Anger", while Portuguese sailors once referred to it as "The Gates of Hell".‘

The Kalahari Desert in South Africa often experiences long drought periods which can last more than 10 months every year. The wild savannah grasses, thorny shrubs and Acacia trees regularly survive these droughts. The remarkable weaver bird, which resembles a sparrow, is frequently seen in the Kalahari Desert. Weaver birds build huge communal nests in the Acacia trees. These nests can be as much as 2 metres in diameter and during the breeding season as many as one hundred weaver birds can be observed breeding and feeding their offspring in a nesting colony.

Gumboot dancing was born in the mines of South Africa where black Africans were given Wellington Boots to protect their feet and communicated in the dark by slapping and thudding their boots. 

Whilst South Africa’s mining industry is its major industry and is a massive foreign currency earner, there is still room for a healthy agricultural industry with the dairy industry alone consisting of around 4,300 milk producers providing employment for 60,000 farm workers and contributing to the livelihoods of around 40,000 others.

Agriculture in South Africa employs 10% of the working population.

South Africa's Rainbow Nation title refers to the incredible diversity of its people, from the original San inhabitants of the land to the people who migrated and settled here over the years. There is hardly a nation on Earth that is not in some way represented in this diverse country.

The genes of the Southern African Bushmen predate the rest of humanity's.

The blue crane (Anthropoides paradiseus), also known as the Stanley crane and the Paradise crane, is the national bird of South Africa. The species is listed as ‘vulnerable’ as numbers have declined significantly over recent decades.The blue crane is culturally significant to the Xhosa people of South Africa. Traditionally, when a man distinguished himself in battle or otherwise, he was often decorated by a chief with blue crane feathers in a ceremony called ukundzabela. Men so honoured, who would wear the feathers sticking out of their hair, were known as men of ugaba (trouble)—the implication being that if trouble arose, they would reinstate peace and order.

The term Rainbow Nation of South Africa found popular appeal from the moment Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu first used it to capture the multicultural nature of the country.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (born 7 October 1931) is a South African social rights activist. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work fighting apartheid in South Africa. He was the first Anglican archbishop in Cape Town. Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. When Tutu was twelve he moved with his family to Johannesburg. Tutu wanted to become a doctor. His family could not afford to send him to medical school, so Tutu studied at the Pretoria Bantu Normal College to become a teacher.

The Kalahari Desert is part of the huge sand basin that reaches from the Orange River up to Angola, in the west to Namibia and in the east to Zimbabwe. The sand masses were created by the erosion of soft stone formations. The wind shaped the sand ridges, which are so typical of the landscape in the Kalahari. Only in recent geological history, 10 to 20,000 years ago, were the dunes stabilised through vegetation, so the area should actually be called a dry savannah. Unlike the dunes of the Namib Desert, those of the Kalahari are stable and not wandering.

Curiously, the tradition of beaded jewellery in African culture relied on European beads. These were brought by traders to barter for African goods such as ivory. Initially, large beads were exchanged, but a century later European traders introduced tiny glass beads which could more easily be strung on threads or sewn onto leather. Traditional Xhosa beadwork, for example, is made by stitching the beads onto backings of cowhide or goatskin.

To illustrate the significance of traditional beadwork to the indigenous black African, Nelson Mandela wore Xhosa Beadwork at his sentencing in 1962 to demonstrate the strength of his historical roots with native black Africa. Cities located on the Highveld include Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Vereeniging, Welkom, Carletonville, and the cities of the West Rand and East Rand. 

South Africa’s Vredefort crater is the largest verified impact crater on Earth, more than 300 km across when it was formed some 2000 million years ago. What remains of it is located in the present-day ‘Free State Province’ of South Africa and named after the town of Vredefort, which is situated near its centre. Although the crater itself has long since eroded away, the remaining geological structures at its centre are known as the Vredefort Dome or Vredefort impact structure. In 2005, the Vredefort Dome was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for its geologic interest.