Location: Southern Africa
Capital City: Pretoria (administrative); Bloemfontein (judicial); Cape Town (legislative)
Population: 50.1 Million
Government: Parliamentary Democracy
Currency: Rand (ZAR)
Main Languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu.
Main Religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Indigenous religions.
South Africa is the southernmost country on the African Continent. It is a multi-ethnic, constitutional democracy which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is governed from three official capitals, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town. Despite not being a capital city, Johannesburg, situated in the inland province of Gauteng, is the country’s largest city and has a population of almost 4.5 million people. South Africa has a turbulent history, but since 1994, has been governed by the African National Congress (ANC) which scored its 5th election victory in 2014, and as a result, the lives of many citizens have improved significantly. However, despite having one of the largest economies in the African continent, the country continues to experience poverty, crime and unemployment.
South Africa is one of the most geographically varied countries on the continent, with a coastline that stretches 1,600 miles, vast desert plains and mountainous terrain. It is the world's leader in mining and minerals and has nearly 90% of the platinum metals and 41% of the gold on earth. South Africa is also home to four of the five fastest land animals in the world - the cheetah, wildebeest, lion and Thomson’s gazelle and the country’s wildlife attracts millions of tourists each year.
South Africa is often referred to as the 'Rainbow Nation' - a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu - because of its cultural and racial diversity. Over 70% of South Africans identify themselves as black African, descended from tribal cultures from all over the African continent. The rest of the population is made up of Afrikaners (descended from Dutch settlers) and those of Indian and Asian heritage. The country’s colonial past means that Afrikaans and English is widely spoken compared with the rest of the continent. South Africa has a rich cultural legacy, with tribal traditions mixing with the more Westernised population. This melting pot of cultures has created a fascinating range of languages, music, cuisine, religion and art in one country.
Food and Drink
South Africa’s many nationalities and cultures are reflected in its cuisine, which has African, Asian and European influences. The South African diet tends to be meat-based but a wide variety of seafood dishes are available in coastal areas. Regional specialities include ‘bobotie’ (minced meat and baked eggs), potjiekos (slow cooked meat and vegetable stew) and ‘smoorvis’ (a type of fish kedgeree). Side dishes include ‘pap’ a traditional porridge and ‘chakalaka’ which is made with sliced green peppers and chilli. Street food is immensely popular and affordable all over South Africa, including bunny chow - a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry – to be found mainly in the city of Durban, which has a large Indian population. At weekends, South Africans like to relax by grilling chops, sosaties (spicy kebabs) and boerewors (spicy sausage) over a braaii (Afrikaans for barbeque).
South Africans are passionate beer drinkers and the sorghum-based Maheu is by far the most popular brand. In addition, the Western Cape vineyards produce some excellent wines, including Pinotage, a deep fruity blend of the pinot noir and hermitage grapes which is unique to South Africa.
With its diverse geography, wildlife and temperate climate, outdoor pursuits make up the most popular activities in South Africa. The country is home to a number of wildlife reserves, where the ‘Big Five’ (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino) can be observed on safari, or there is Great White shark cage-diving and bungee-jumping from the country’s numerous gorges for the more adventurous.
South Africans are extremely passionate about sport, particularly rugby, and the Springbok national team have near God-like status across the country. Cricket is also a favourite sport and a trip to a day-night game is a popular activity with South Africans of all ages. For more sedate activities, the country has a 1600-mile stretch of dramatic coastline for hiking, water sports and sunbathing.
In the larger cities a thriving art and theatre scene can be found, where traditional African meets modern, as well as rich mix of cuisines and raucous all-night bars and shebeens (traditional South African drinking houses). South Africans have no shortage of events with traditional and modern music and arts festivals held throughout the year. For more information consult the South African Tourist Board.
South Africa has 11 official languages with geographical variations in each. The most widely spoken languages are Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans (a derivative of Dutch) and English. The African National Congress (ANC) promote English as the main language of government, although indigenous languages are still widely used in commerce and inter-province relations. Different languages are attributed to ancestral tribal areas, for instance Zulu is mainly spoken by the Bantu people, who make up the largest ethnic group in South Africa.
Accents and dialects
With so many languages being spoken in one country, there are variations in the accent and dialects of each. There is also social and geographical variation in South African English, which is spoken by many in urban areas and has been adapted to suit each community. How English is spoken is considered an indicator of class and social status in South Africa, for instance, middle to upper classes speak with a cultivated English based on Received Pronunciation whereas in more impoverished areas there exists a ‘post-creole’ English dialect, which is often mixed with other languages.
South Africa has a temperate climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. It is a sunny country (8-10 hours of sunshine a day) and has a lower than average annual rainfall of 450mm. During the summer months (October to February) temperatures can reach 35°C, with brief but intense thunderstorms. In the winter months (May to July) temperatures drop to around -2°C. Winters are crisp and dry but heavy snowfall can be expected in the mountainous areas of the Western and Northern Capes.
Safety and Security
South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world, and although the crime rate has slowed in recent years, problems persist in the densely populated urban areas on the edge of cities (called townships). The tourist zones of Cape Town and Durban are more heavily policed, making them significantly safer for travellers. It is advised never to stop for people in the road and also to keep valuables out of sight at all times. It is also wise not to stray out of the main metropolitan areas and only venture out in groups after dark.