Geography & Environment
The Republic of South Africa has a total land area of approximately 1.2 million square kilometers, about 1,600 km from north to south and about the same distance from east to west. The entire country is one-eighth the size of the United States.
The climate of South Africa is mostly semiarid but subtropical along the east coast. Days are sunny and nights are cool. On the interior of the country, the terrain is a vast plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plains. The interior plateau is the southern continuation of the great Africa plateau stretching north all the way to the Sahara Desert. South Africa has eight major terrestrial biomes, or habitat types; that is broad ecological life zones with distinct environmental conditions and related sets of plant and animal life. Physical features range from bushveld, grasslands, forests, deserts and majestic mountain peaks, to wide unspoilt beaches and coastal wetlands.
South Africa surrounds the country of Lesotho completely and almost completely surrounds the country of Swaziland. South Africa’s 3,000-km shoreline stretches from the Mozambican border in the east to the Namibian border in the west. The country is surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian oceans, which meet at Cape Point in the continent’s southwestern corner. Prince Edward and Marion islands, annexed by South Africa in 1947, are located approximately 1,920 km southeast of Cape Town.
In terms of environmental issues, a lack of important, usable rivers or lakes increases the necessity of water conservation and control measures in the country. The rivers that do exist are being polluted by agricultural runoff and urban discharge. There are only two major rivers in South Africa: the Limpopo, a stretch of which is shared with Zimbabwe; and the Orange (with its tributary, the Vaal), which runs with a variable flow across the central landscape from east to west. The Orange River empties into the Atlantic Ocean at the border with Namibia. In a country as dry as South Africa, dams and irrigation are extremely important. The largest dam is the Gariep on the Orange River.
Natural resources found in South Africa include gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt and natural gas.
South Africa is famous for its well-known fauna, specifically what is known as the "Big Five" - elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo. Kruger National Park, located in the northeastern part of the country, holds well over 10,000 elephants and 20,000 buffalo. Also present among the 200 mammal species in South Africa are the hippo, giraffe, kudu, wildebeest, and zebra. In South Africa’s waters live the southern right whale (the whale most commonly seen by humans), the killer whale, and the great white shark, along with hundreds of other species of fish and marine life.
During the early 1500s, Portuguese seafarers were regular visitors to the South African coast as they made their way along the long sea route to India. The Dutch East India Company set up a station in what is now Cape Town in 1652 to provide goods to passing ships. In 1657, European settlers received farms distributed by colonial authorities. These farms existed in useable land around Cape Town and wine and wheat became the major products to come out of them. The colonists demanded more labor to help work these farms and the Dutch East India Company imported slaves from East Africa, Madagascar, and possessions from East Asia. By the early 18th century, colonists had begun to spread beyond the near mountain ranges and became relatively independent, mobile farmers.
While these farmers covered more territory––using natural resources such as water and land and increasing their demands for livestock and labor––more indigenous inhabitants were incorporated into this new economy as servants.
In 1713, smallpox was introduced by the Europeans and this wiped out many of the indigenous people, creating an overall cultural decline. A multiracial social order evolved, based on the supremacy of the European settlers, as alliances and conflicts sprang out across color lines. The slave population increased as the need for labor became always more critical. By the mid-18th century, more slaves lived in Cape Town than did European settlers. By the 1770s, a period of intermittent warfare began between the European colonists and different groups of indigenous people. By the late 1800s, the colonists had taken over many communities in the areas they moved through, and this disruption was felt throughout southern Africa and beyond in the rest of the Continent.
In 1795, the British used the Cape as a strategic position against the French so that they could control the sea route to the East. The closed, regulated system of the Dutch dissolved as the Cape Colony was assimilated into Britain’s international trading empire. Protestant missionaries brought evangelical traditions to the Cape believing that indigenous people could be fully assimilated into European Christian culture.
Due to Ordinance 50 of 1828, which assured "people of colour" within the colony equal civil rights, and a growing anti-slavery movement in Britain, a proclamation of emancipation was enacted in 1834. The slaves were required to spend a four-year apprenticeship under their former owners before freedom, which came on December 1, 1838. Once free, however, slaves continued to be exploited and disenfranchised with little chance of improving their status in the wage-based economy of the colony. More and more, they were grouped as "coloured" people–those who were descendants of unions between indigenous and European people, as well as a strong Muslim minority known as the "Cape Malays." The coloured people were discriminated against because of their social and economic status and because of their racial identity. Nevertheless, there continued to be much racial mixing and intermarriage in and around Cape Town throughout the 1800s.
Politics & Government
South Africa is a constitutional democracy with a three-tier system of government and an independent judiciary. The national, provincial and local levels of government all have legislative and executive authority in their own spheres, and are defined in the Constitution as "distinctive, interdependent and interrelated".
Operating at both national and provincial levels are advisory bodies drawn from the old cultural traditions of African leadership. It is a stated intention in the Constitution that the country be run on a system of cooperative governance.
Government is committed to the building of a free, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous South Africa.
The outcomes-based approach to administering the nation which started in 2010, is embedded in and a direct result of the electoral mandate. Priority areas have been identified: decent work and sustainable livelihoods; education; health; rural development; food security and land reform; and the fight against crime and corruption.
Until very recently, South Africa’s economy was the largest in Africa when it was by-passed by Nigeria. It has a well-capitalized banking system, many natural resources, research and development capabilities and a reliable manufacturing base. There is an apparent duality in South Africa’s economy as it has a formal industrial and financial base that has grown alongside an underdeveloped, informal economy. South Africa was ranked second in the world for its private institutions’ accountability and third for its financial development market in the 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum. South Africa’s securities exchange is ranked among the top 20 in the world in terms of volume of transactions.
After the 2009 elections, the Economic Development Department was formed. It was designed to fortify government ability to implement the electoral mandate, specifically in relation to the transformation of the economy. The department aims to promote economic development through participatory, coherent and coordinated economic policy and planning to benefit but the economic disparities put in place by apartheid laws are proving hard to erase.
The green economy is shaping the next wave of industrialization and is a key sector in the New Growth Path. National Treasury has allocated R800 million over the next two years for South Africa's Green Fund, which aims to provide finance for high-quality, high-impact, job-creating green economy projects throughout the country.
About 250 000 solar water heaters have been installed in South Africa, a solid step towards the million target. This has been a partnership between a number of departments and public entities. The department worked with industry to manufacture more of the solar water heaters in South Africa. In January 2013, the South African Bureau of Standards approved a new factory in Alrode with a capacity to produce 8 000 units a month.
The Industrial Development Corporation, IDC, committed about R5 billion in industrial funding for projects in the Department of Environmental Affairs' green energy program, including to support entry of community empowerment groups.
The department unblocked projects in green energy stuck in bureaucratic delays, for example a wind farm in Coega in the Eastern Cape.
Wine is one of South Africa’s largest and most profitable exports. In 2013, South Africa surpassed its previous export record with volumes sold up to 525.7 million liters, a 26% increase from 2012, according to the organization Wines of South Africa. This is because of the relative weakness of the rand and rising prices for bulk wine in other wine-producing areas, which makes South Africa more competitive and attractive to wine buyers.
South Africa has a residence-based tax system, which means residents are – subject to certain exclusions – taxed on their worldwide income, irrespective of where their income was earned. Non-residents are, however, taxed on their income from a South African source, but subject to the provisions of international agreements for the avoidance of double tax.
Most of the state's income is derived from income tax, although nearly a third of total revenue from government taxes comes from indirect taxes, primarily value-added tax (VAT).
Exchange-control regulations are administered by the South African Reserve Bank on behalf of the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Finance has also appointed certain banks to act as authorized dealers in foreign exchange, as well as authorized dealers with limited authority in foreign exchange, which gives them the right to buy and sell foreign exchange, subject to conditions and within limits prescribed by the Financial Surveillance Department of the Reserve Bank.
Authorized dealers are not agents of the department, but act on behalf of their customers. Since 1994, South Africa has considerably reformed its exchange-control policies. There have been gradual exchange-control reforms concerning individuals, corporations and institutional investors.
Nowadays, South Africa is often called the "Rainbow Nation", a term which was coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and neatly describes the country’s cultural diversity.
Because of its colonial past, South Africa has a large number of Afrikaans (descended from Dutch settlers) and English speakers (the British began colonizing the region in the 1800s).
French Huguenots, Germans and Portuguese arrived in the 1600s and brought many slaves from India and modern–day Indonesia. Islam and Hindu traditions and culture are also therefore prominent.
The population of South Africa is between 52-53 million. According to Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) Mid-Year Population Estimates 2011 released in July 2011 of people living in South Africa, 79,5% were African, 9% "coloured", 2,5% Indian and 9% white. Approximately 52% of the population was female. Nearly one third (31,3%) of the population was aged younger than 15 years and approximately 7,7% (3,9 million) were 60 years or older. Of those younger than 15 years, approximately 23% (3,66 million) lived in KwaZulu-Natal and 19,4% (3,07 million) lived in Gauteng (the central province where the economic powerhouse of Johannesburg is located. The South African population consists of the Nguni (comprising the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi people); Sotho-Tswana, who include the Southern, Northern and Western Sotho (Tswana people); Tsonga; Venda; Afrikaners; English; coloured people; Indian people; and those who have immigrated to South Africa from the rest of Africa, Europe and Asia and who maintain a strong cultural identity.
Art, Dance & Music
Black African cultures are most obviously known for their art, dance and music – these have been profoundly influenced by more than two centuries of colonialism and the work of Christian missionaries.
Today, songs reflect a number of different styles such as gospel, jazz and rock, but often have a strong local flavor. Styles such askwaito (house music), mbube (Zulu vocal) and kwela (jazzy street music often with a penny whistle) incorporate indigenous sounds.
Art is also becoming a fusion of traditional and modern. Artists draw inspiration from the masks, statues and figurines of "tribal culture" but also employ Western techniques and mediums.
Art forms such as dancing and textiles perhaps retain the strongest links to traditional black culture, because they express identity and shared history.
Gumboot dancing was born in the mines of South Africa when, black Africans were given Wellingtons to protect their feet and communicated in the dark by slapping and thudding their boots.
Adornment is important in African culture for both men and women. Traditional beadwork reflects not only an individual’s history and experiences – patterns and colors have meanings; for example, blue is for loneliness or saying ‘I will wait for you’ – it also distinguishes a person’s ethnic group, such as Xhosa, Zulu or Ndebele, etc.
In 1962, Nelson Mandela wore Xhosa beads at his sentencing (rather than his usual suit), sending a clear message of a defiant African identity to his racist prosecutors.
World Heritage Sites in South Africa
A World Heritage Site is declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). For a place to be included on the World Heritage List it has to meet certain requirements.
South Africa has 6 places declared as World Heritage Sites. These are:
- The Greater St. Lucia Wetlands Park
- The uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park
- Robben Island
- The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site
- The Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and environs
- The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
They were chosen because they meet the UNESCO requirements for the declaration of a World Heritage Site. There are two types of World Heritage Sites. The first represents cultural and the second natural heritage.
The diversity of the unique cultures of South Africa means that there are 11 official languages. These are English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, isiZulu, isiNdebele, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. The Constitution also requires the Pan South African Language Board to promote the use of the Khoi, Nama and San languages, and Sign Language. Although English is the mother tongue of only 8.2% of the population, it is the language most widely understood, and the second language of the majority of South Africans.
However, government is committed to promoting all the official languages.
According to the Constitution, everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, and opinion. Almost 80% of South Africa’s population follows the Christian faith. Other major religious groups are the Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. A minority of South Africa’s population do not belong to any of the major religions but regard themselves as traditionalists.