Country Information: South Africa

  • Capital: Pretoria
  • Area total: 1 223 201 km²
  • Population: 54 mio inhabitants
  • Density: 42 inhabitants/km² (2014)
  • Religion: Christians, tribe religions, Muslims
  • Language: 11 official languages
  • Government: Parliamentary democracy
  • Climate: subtropical / Mediterranean
  • Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
  • Unemployment rate: 26.6% (2016)

Dimensions of the country

South Africa is situated in the very south of the African continent. It has a long coastline across two oceans (the Atlantic and the Indian). South Africa is as big as Colombia and the highest peak is Njesuthi in the Drakensberg at 3408m. It borders to Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland. Within the country there is also the kingdom of Lesotho located.

Population

In South Africa there are over 54 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages and beliefs. Statistics provide four racial categories by which people are classified: 

  • Black African (79,3%)
  • White (9,3%)
  • Coloured (8,8%)
  • Indian or Asian (2,7%)

Most of the inhabitants consider themselves as black. But apart from the color of their skin the black population is culturally or linguistically not homogeneous at all.

Major ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho, Bapedi, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele. The white population descends largely from colonial immigrants. Their origins are for example the Netherlands, Germany, France or Great Britain. People of mixed races are generally known as “Coloured”. The majority of the Asian population is Indian in origin. Indians were brought in during the nineteenth century to work on the sugar plantations.

Culturally and linguistically there are two major groups in South Africa. On the one hand there are Afrikaners, who speak Afrikaans. On the other hand there is the English-speaking group.

Religion

Approx. 2/3 of the population are Christians. Additionally, there are believers in tribal religions, Muslims and Hindu.

Official languages

There are 11 official languages in South Africa:

  • Zulu (22,9%)
  • isi Xhosa (17,9%)
  • Afrikaans (14,4%)
  • sePedi (9,2%)
  • English (8,6%)
  • seTswana (8,2%)
  • seSotho (7,7%)
  • xiTsonga (4,4%)
  • siSwati (2,5%)
  • tshiVenda (2,2%)
  • isiNdebele (1,5%)
  • other (0,6%)

Climate

On the whole the South African climate is sub tropical, sunny and dry. But it is not equal in every part of the country. At the west coast it is warm and dry, while at the east coast the weather is more hot and humid. The temperatures range all year round between 20 and 35 degree Celsius.

History

15th century

With European navigators passing South Africa on the East Indies trade routes, the written history of South Africa started. Bartolomeu Dias was the first European navigator who circumnavigated the Cape in 1488.

When he returned to Portugal he called the Cape “Cabo das Tormentas” (Cape of storms). For his sponsor Dias gave the Cape a different name. Due to the fact of promising a sea route to the riches of India Dias called it “Cape of Good Hope”. In the end of the 15th century a few small fishing settlements were made along the coast by Portuguese sailors.

17th century

In 1652 a station which supplied passing ships was founded at the Cape of Good Hope. It was established by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. So in the beginning the settlement was Dutch possession. Between the Dutch and the Xhosa people that where already living there for ages, a series of wars ensued. Reasons were conflicting land as well as livestock interests.  

Cause of labor shortages slaves were brought to the Cape from Indonesia, Madagascar and India. Moreover the Dutch send troublesome leaders from their colonies to South Africa. Descendants of these slaves became known as “Cape Malays”. The European settlers allocated them a higher social status as they allocated the other groups of slaves. Over the years a large number of them became quite wealthy. But as Apartheid started developing many of them were expropriated.

18th century

Great Britain started to use Cape Town as a stop on the route to Australia and India.

19th century

When the Dutch East Indian Company declared bankruptcy, the British annexed the Cape Colony. The discovery of diamonds and gold let the economy and immigration increase.

20th century

With electing the National Party to power in 1948, the implementing of harsh segregationist laws began. On the whole it became known as apartheid. During the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s there was a rapid industrialization in South Africa. While the few White enjoyed a greatly high standard of living, most of the blacks remained disadvantaged by almost every standard. Over the years Apartheid became more and more controversial abroad as well as within South Africa. A long period of suppression by the government, strikes, protests, marches and sabotage, by several anti-apartheid movements, followed. In 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison after twenty-seven-year incarceration. From then Apartheid legislation was step by step removed from the statute books. In 1994 the first multi-racial elections were held and Nelson Mandela was elected president.

21st century

1999 Thabo Mbeki was elected president, followed by Jacob Zuma in 2009. Jacob Zuma was forced to retire from his title as president in 2018 due to corruption accusations. 

Since 2018 Cyril Ramapshosa is president of South Africa, a well-known and successful businessman, who has already been supported by Nelson Mandela. He continues to follow a policy of reconciliation, resulting in higher employment rates. Nevertheless, the crime rate is still increasing in South Africa.

Today South Africa is a country of contrasts, with luxury hotels and Township shacks right next to each other.

Economy and Problems

South Africa is an emerging nation, with a highly developed and industrialized economy in the cities, but rather poorly developed suburbs. There are different levels of living standards, lifestyles and career opportunities among its people. The high poverty rates of the black population, which makes the majority of South Africans, are in strong contrast with the rich white elite. This of course leads to social conflicts.

The economy has flourished enormously in the past 10 years. However, unemployment rates are still comparably high. 

South Africa is rich in natural resources. It is the world's biggest supplier for gold, platin and chrome and produces about 50 % of the electricity, 40 % of the industrial products and 45 % of the mining industry on the whole African continent.

Problems

  • Poverty
  • Effects of Apartheid
  • Corruption
  • HIV
  • Migration into cities
  • Crime
  • Incompetent administration caused by lack of knowledge

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