South Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline that stretch along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans;[14][15][16] to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini. It also completely enclaves the country Lesotho.[17] It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World, and the second-most populous country located entirely south of the equator, after Tanzania. South Africa is a biodiversity hotspot, with unique biomes, plant and animal life. With over 60 million people, the country is the world's 24th-most populous nation and covers an area of 1,221,037 square kilometres (471,445 square miles). South Africa has three capital cities, with the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government based in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, and Cape Town respectively. The largest city is Johannesburg.

Republic of South Africa
10 other official names[1]
  • Zulu:iRiphabhuliki yaseNingizimu Afrika
    Xhosa:iRiphabhlikhi yoMzantsi Afrika
    Afrikaans:Republiek van Suid-Afrika
    Pedi:Repabliki ya Afrika-Borwa
    Southern Sotho:Rephaboliki ya Afrika Borwa
    Tswana:Rephaboliki ya Aforika Borwa
    Tsonga:Riphabliki ya Afrika Dzonga
    Swati:iRiphabhulikhi yaseNingizimu-Afrika
    Venda:Riphabuḽiki ya Afurika Tshipembe
    Southern Ndebele:iRiphabliki yeSewula Afrika
Motto: "ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke" (ǀXam)
"Unity in diversity"
Anthem: "National anthem of South Africa"
Largest cityJohannesburg[3]
Official languages11 languages[1]
Ethnic groups
    • 78.0% Christianity
  • 10.9% No religion
  • 4.4% Traditional faiths
  • 1.6% Islam
  • 1.0% Hinduism
  • 2.7% Others
  • 1.4% Undetermined
Demonym(s)South African
GovernmentUnitary dominant-party parliamentary republic with an executive presidency
Cyril Ramaphosa
David Mabuza
Amos Masondo
Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula
Raymond Zondo
National Council
National Assembly
31 May 1910
11 December 1931
31 May 1961
27 April 1994
1,221,037 km2 (471,445 sq mi) (24th)
 Water (%)
 2022 estimate
60 604 992 (2022 est.)[7] (24th)
 2011 census
42.4/km2 (109.8/sq mi) (169th)
GDP (PPP)2022 estimate
$949 billion [9] (33rd)
 Per capita
$15,556[9] (95th)
GDP (nominal)2022 estimate
$411 billion[9] (39th)
 Per capita
$6,739[9] (92th)
Gini (2014) 63.0[10]
very high
HDI (2021) 0.713[11]
high · 109th
CurrencySouth African rand (ZAR)
Time zoneUTC+2 (SAST)
Date formatShort formats:
Driving sideleft
Calling code+27
ISO 3166 codeZA

About 80% of the population are Black South Africans.[16] The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (White South Africans), Asian (Indian South Africans and Chinese South Africans), and multiracial (Coloured South Africans) ancestry. South Africa is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, the fourth-highest number in the world.[16] According to the 2011 census, the two most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%) and Xhosa (16.0%).[8] The two next ones are of European origin: Afrikaans (13.5%) developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most Coloured and White South Africans; English (9.6%) reflects the legacy of British colonialism and is commonly used in public and commercial life.

The country is one of the few in Africa never to have had a coup d'état, and regular elections have been held for almost a century. However, the vast majority of Black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994. During the 20th century, the black majority sought to claim more rights from the dominant white minority, which played a large role in the country's recent history and politics. The National Party imposed apartheid in 1948, institutionalising previous racial segregation. After a long and sometimes violent struggle by the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, the repeal of discriminatory laws began in the mid-1980s. Since 1994, all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in the country's liberal democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is often referred to as the "rainbow nation" to describe the country's multicultural diversity, especially in the wake of apartheid.[18]

South Africa is a middle power in international affairs; it maintains significant regional influence and is a member of both the Commonwealth of Nations and the G20.[19][20] It is a developing country, ranking 109th on the Human Development Index, the 7th highest on the continent. It has been classified by the World Bank as a newly industrialised country and has the third-largest economy in Africa and the most industrialized, technologically advanced economy in Africa overall[21] as well as the 39th-largest in the world.[22][23] South Africa has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa. Since the end of apartheid, government accountability and quality of life have substantially improved.[24] However, crime, poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about two-fifths of the total population being unemployed as of 2021,[25] while some three-fifths of the population lived under the poverty line in 2014 and a quarter under $2.15 a day.[26][27]


The name "South Africa" is derived from the country's geographic location at the southern tip of Africa. Upon formation, the country was named the Union of South Africa in English and Unie van Zuid-Afrika in Dutch, reflecting its origin from the unification of four formerly separate British colonies. Since 1961, the long formal name in English has been the "Republic of South Africa" and Republiek van Suid-Afrika in Afrikaans. Since 1994, the country has had an official name in each of its 11 official languages.

Mzansi, derived from the Xhosa noun uMzantsi meaning "south", is a colloquial name for South Africa,[28][29] while some Pan-Africanist political parties prefer the term "Azania".[30]


Prehistoric archaeology

Front of Maropeng at the Cradle of Humankind

South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological and human-fossil sites in the world.[31][32][33] Archaeologists have recovered extensive fossil remains from a series of caves in Gauteng Province. The area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been branded "the Cradle of Humankind". The sites include Sterkfontein, one of the richest sites for hominin fossils in the world, as well as Swartkrans, Gondolin Cave, Kromdraai, Cooper's Cave and Malapa. Raymond Dart identified the first hominin fossil discovered in Africa, the Taung Child (found near Taung) in 1924. Other hominin remains have come from the sites of Makapansgat in Limpopo Province; Cornelia and Florisbad in Free State Province; Border Cave in KwaZulu-Natal Province; Klasies River Caves in Eastern Cape Province; and Pinnacle Point, Elandsfontein and Die Kelders Cave in Western Cape Province.

These finds suggest that various hominid species existed in South Africa from about three million years ago, starting with Australopithecus africanus,[34] followed by Australopithecus sediba, Homo ergaster, Homo erectus, Homo rhodesiensis, Homo helmei, Homo naledi and modern humans (Homo sapiens). Modern humans have inhabited Southern Africa for at least 170,000 years. Various researchers have located pebble tools within the Vaal River valley.[35][36]

Bantu expansion

Mapungubwe Hill, the site of the former capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe

Settlements of Bantu-speaking peoples, who were iron-using agriculturists and herdsmen, were present south of the Limpopo River (now the northern border with Botswana and Zimbabwe) by the 4th or 5th century CE. They displaced, conquered, and absorbed the original Khoisan, Khoikhoi and San peoples. The Bantu slowly moved south. The earliest ironworks in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal Province are believed to date from around 1050. The southernmost group was the Xhosa people, whose language incorporates certain linguistic traits from the earlier Khoisan people. The Xhosa reached the Great Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. As they migrated, these larger Iron Age populations displaced or assimilated earlier peoples. In Mpumalanga Province, several stone circles have been found along with a stone arrangement that has been named Adam's Calendar, and the ruins are thought to be created by the Bakone, a Northern Sotho people.[37][38]

Portuguese exploration

Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias planting the cross at Cape Point after being the first to successfully round the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1487, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias led the first European voyage to land in southern Africa.[39] On 4 December, he landed at Walfisch Bay (now known as Walvis Bay in present-day Namibia). This was south of the furthest point reached in 1485 by his predecessor, the Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão (Cape Cross, north of the bay). Dias continued down the western coast of southern Africa. After 8 January 1488, prevented by storms from proceeding along the coast, he sailed out of sight of land and passed the southernmost point of Africa without seeing it. He reached as far up the eastern coast of Africa as, what he called, Rio do Infante, probably the present-day Groot River, in May 1488. On his return he saw the cape, which he named Cabo das Tormentas ('Cape of Storms'). King John II renamed the point Cabo da Boa Esperança, or Cape of Good Hope, as it led to the riches of the East Indies.[40] Dias' feat of navigation was immortalised in Luís de Camões' 1572 epic poem Os Lusíadas.

Dutch colonisation

Charles Davidson Bell's 19th-century painting of Jan van Riebeeck, who founded the first European settlement in South Africa, arrives in Table Bay in 1652

By the early 17th century, Portugal's maritime power was starting to decline, and English and Dutch merchants competed to oust Portugal from its lucrative monopoly on the spice trade.[41] Representatives of the British East India Company sporadically called at the cape in search of provisions as early as 1601 but later came to favour Ascension Island and Saint Helena as alternative ports of refuge.[42] Dutch interest was aroused after 1647, when two employees of the Dutch East India Company were shipwrecked at the cape for several months. The sailors were able to survive by obtaining fresh water and meat from the natives.[42] They also sowed vegetables in the fertile soil.[43] Upon their return to Holland, they reported favourably on the cape's potential as a "warehouse and garden" for provisions to stock passing ships for long voyages.[42]

In 1652, a century and a half after the discovery of the cape sea route, Jan van Riebeeck established a victualling station at the Cape of Good Hope, at what would become Cape Town, on behalf of the Dutch East India Company.[44][45] In time, the cape became home to a large population of vrijlieden, also known as vrijburgers (lit.'free citizens'), former company employees who stayed in Dutch territories overseas after serving their contracts.[45] Dutch traders also brought thousands of enslaved people to the fledgling colony from Indonesia, Madagascar, and parts of eastern Africa.[46] Some of the earliest mixed race communities in the country were formed between vrijburgers, enslaved people, and indigenous peoples.[47] This led to the development of a new ethnic group, the Cape Coloureds, most of whom adopted the Dutch language and Christian faith.[47]

The eastward expansion of Dutch colonists ushered in a series of wars with the southwesterly migrating Xhosa tribe, known as the Xhosa Wars, as both sides competed for the pastureland near the Great Fish River, which the colonists desired for grazing cattle.[48] Vrijburgers who became independent farmers on the frontier were known as Boers, with some adopting semi-nomadic lifestyles being denoted as trekboers.[48] The Boers formed loose militias, which they termed commandos, and forged alliances with Khoisan peoples to repel Xhosa raids.[48] Both sides launched bloody but inconclusive offensives, and sporadic violence, often accompanied by livestock theft, remained common for several decades.[48]

British colonisation and the Great Trek

Great Britain occupied Cape Town between 1795 and 1803 to prevent it from falling under the control of the French First Republic, which had invaded the Low Countries.[48] After briefly returning to Dutch rule under the Batavian Republic in 1803, the cape was occupied again by the British in 1806.[49] Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, it was formally ceded to Great Britain and became an integral part of the British Empire.[50] British emigration to South Africa began around 1818, subsequently culminating in the arrival of the 1820 Settlers.[50] The new colonists were induced to settle for a variety of reasons, namely to increase the size of the European workforce and to bolster frontier regions against Xhosa incursions.[50]

Depiction of a Zulu attack on a Boer camp in February 1838

In the first two decades of the 19th century, the Zulu people grew in power and expanded their territory under their leader, Shaka.[51] Shaka's warfare indirectly led to the Mfecane ('crushing'), in which one to two million people were killed and the inland plateau was devastated and depopulated in the early 1820s.[52][53] An offshoot of the Zulu, the Matabele people created a larger empire that included large parts of the highveld under their king Mzilikazi.

During the early 19th century, many Dutch settlers departed from the Cape Colony, where they had been subjected to British control, in a series of migrant groups who came to be known as Voortrekkers, meaning "pathfinders" or "pioneers". They migrated to the future Natal, Free State, and Transvaal regions. The Boers founded the Boer republics: the South African Republic, the Natalia Republic, and the Orange Free State.

The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1884 in the interior started the Mineral Revolution and increased economic growth and immigration. This intensified British efforts to gain control over the indigenous peoples. The struggle to control these important economic resources was a factor in relations between Europeans and the indigenous population and also between the Boers and the British.[54]

On 16 May 1876, President Thomas François Burgers of the South African Republic declared war against the Pedi people. King Sekhukhune managed to defeat the army on 1 August 1876. Another attack by the Lydenburg Volunteer Corps was also repulsed. On 16 February 1877, the two parties signed a peace treaty at Botshabelo.[55] The Boers' inability to subdue the Pedi led to the departure of Burgers in favour of Paul Kruger and the British annexation of the South African Republic. In 1878 and 1879 three British attacks were successfully repelled until Garnet Wolseley defeated Sekhukhune in November 1879 with an army of 2,000 British soldiers, Boers and 10,000 Swazis.

The Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the British and the Zulu Kingdom. Following Lord Carnarvon's successful introduction of federation in Canada, it was thought that similar political effort, coupled with military campaigns, might succeed with the African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa. In 1874, Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as the British High Commissioner to bring such plans into being. Among the obstacles were the presence of the independent states of the Boers, and the Zululand army. The Zulu nation defeated the British at the Battle of Isandlwana. Eventually, though, Zululand lost the war, resulting in the termination of the Zulu nation's independence.

Boer Wars

Boer victory over the British at the Battle of Majuba Hill of the First Boer War, 1881
Boer women and children in a British concentration camp during the Second Boer War

The Boer republics successfully resisted British encroachments during the First Boer War (1880–1881) using guerrilla warfare tactics, which were well-suited to local conditions. The British returned with greater numbers, more experience, and new strategy in the Second Boer War (1899–1902) and, although they suffered heavy casualties through attrition, they were ultimately successful. Over 27,000 Boer women and children died in the British concentration camps.[56]

South Africa's urban population grew rapidly from the end of the 19th century onward. After the devastation of the wars, Dutch-descendant Boer farmers fled into cities from the devastated Transvaal and Orange Free State territories to become the class of the white urban poor.[57]


Anti-British policies among white South Africans focused on independence. During the Dutch and British colonial years, racial segregation was mostly informal, though some legislation was enacted to control the settlement and movement of indigenous people, including the Native Location Act of 1879 and the system of pass laws.[58][59][60][61][62]

Eight years after the end of the Second Boer War and after four years of negotiation, the South Africa Act 1909 granted nominal independence while creating the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910. The union was a dominion that included the former territories of the Cape, Transvaal and Natal colonies, as well as the Orange Free State republic.[63] The Natives' Land Act of 1913 severely restricted the ownership of land by blacks; at that stage they controlled only 7% of the country. The amount of land reserved for indigenous peoples was later marginally increased.[64]

In 1931, the union became fully sovereign from the United Kingdom with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, which abolished the last powers of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate on the country. Only three other African countries—Liberia, Ethiopia, and Egypt—had been independent prior to that point. In 1934, the South African Party and National Party merged to form the United Party, seeking reconciliation between Afrikaners and English-speaking whites. In 1939, the party split over the entry of the union into World War II as an ally of the United Kingdom, a move which the National Party followers strongly opposed.

Beginning of apartheid

"For use by white persons" – apartheid sign in English and Afrikaans

In 1948, the National Party was elected to power. It strengthened the racial segregation begun under Dutch and British colonial rule. Taking Canada's Indian Act as a framework,[65] the nationalist government classified all peoples into three races (Whites, Blacks, Indians and Coloured people (people of mixed race)) and developed rights and limitations for each. The white minority (less than 20%)[66] controlled the vastly larger black majority. The legally institutionalised segregation became known as apartheid. While whites enjoyed the highest standard of living in all of Africa, comparable to First World Western nations, the black majority remained disadvantaged by almost every standard, including income, education, housing, and life expectancy.[67] The Freedom Charter, adopted in 1955 by the Congress Alliance, demanded a non-racial society and an end to discrimination.


On 31 May 1961, the country became a republic following a referendum (only open to white voters) which narrowly passed;[68] the British-dominated Natal province largely voted against the proposal. Elizabeth II lost the title Queen of South Africa, and the last Governor-General, Charles Robberts Swart, became state president. As a concession to the Westminster system, the appointment of the president remained an appointment by parliament and was virtually powerless until P. W. Botha's Constitution Act of 1983, which eliminated the office of prime minister and instated a unique "strong presidency" responsible to parliament. Pressured by other Commonwealth of Nations countries, South Africa withdrew from the organisation in 1961 and rejoined it in 1994.

Despite opposition to apartheid both within and outside the country, the government legislated for a continuation of apartheid. The security forces cracked down on internal dissent, and violence became widespread, with anti-apartheid organisations such as the African National Congress (ANC), the Azanian People's Organisation, and the Pan-Africanist Congress carrying out guerrilla warfare[69] and urban sabotage.[70] The three rival resistance movements also engaged in occasional inter-factional clashes as they jockeyed for domestic influence.[71] Apartheid became increasingly controversial, and several countries began to boycott business with the South African government because of its racial policies. These measures were later extended to international sanctions and the divestment of holdings by foreign investors.[72][73]

End of apartheid

F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shake hands in January 1992

The Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith, signed by Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Harry Schwarz in 1974, enshrined the principles of peaceful transition of power and equality for all, the first of such agreements by black and white political leaders in South Africa. Ultimately, F.W. de Klerk opened bilateral discussions with Nelson Mandela in 1993 for a transition of policies and government.

In 1990, the National Party government took the first step towards dismantling discrimination when it lifted the ban on the ANC and other political organisations. It released Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years of serving a sentence for sabotage. A negotiation process followed. With approval from the white electorate in a 1992 referendum, the government continued negotiations to end apartheid. South Africa held its first universal elections in 1994, which the ANC won by an overwhelming majority. It has been in power ever since. The country rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations and became a member of the Southern African Development Community.

In post-apartheid South Africa, unemployment remained high. While many blacks have risen to middle or upper classes, the overall unemployment rate of black people worsened between 1994 and 2003 by official metrics but declined significantly using expanded definitions.[74] Poverty among whites, which was previously rare, increased.[75] The government struggled to achieve the monetary and fiscal discipline to ensure both redistribution of wealth and economic growth. The United Nations Human Development Index rose steadily until the mid-1990s[76] then fell from 1995 to 2005 before recovering its 1995 peak in 2013.[77] The fall is in large part attributable to the South African HIV/AIDS pandemic which saw South African life expectancy fall from a high point of 62 years in 1992 to a low of 53 in 2005,[78] and the failure of the government to take steps to address the pandemic in its early years.[79]

Supporters watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup with vuvuzelas in the township of Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg
March in Johannesburg against xenophobia in South Africa, 23 April 2015

In May 2008, riots left over 60 people dead.[80] The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions estimated that over 100,000 people were driven from their homes.[81] The targets were mainly legal and illegal migrants, and refugees seeking asylum, but a third of the victims were South African citizens.[80] In a 2006 survey, the South African Migration Project concluded that South Africans are more opposed to immigration than any other national group.[82] The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2008 reported over 200,000 refugees applied for asylum in South Africa, almost four times as many as the year before.[83] These people were mainly from Zimbabwe, though many also come from Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.[83] Competition over jobs, business opportunities, public services and housing has led to tension between refugees and host communities.[83] While xenophobia in South Africa is still a problem, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2011 reported that recent violence had not been as widespread as initially feared.[83] Nevertheless, as South Africa continues to grapple with racial issues, one of the proposed solutions has been to pass legislation, such as the pending Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, to uphold South Africa's ban on racism and commitment to equality.[84][85]

By 2020, numerous warnings have been issued that South Africa is heading towards failed state status [86][87] with unsustainable government spending, high unemployment, high crime rates, corruption, failing government owned enterprises and collapsing infrastructure.[88][89][90] In 2022, the World Economic Forum said that South Africa risks state collapse and identified five major risks facing the country.[91] The Director-General of the South African Treasury, Dondo Mogajane, has said that, "SA is showing the signs of a failing state more common in countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia".[92] Former minister Jay Naidoo has said that South Africa is in serious trouble and is showing signs of a failed state, with record unemployment levels and the fact that many young people will not find a job in their lifetime.[93] Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt said the country is in deep trouble, "South Africans have been getting poorer for a decade". He said he is very concerned because "32 million people get an income from the state. The state cannot afford this anymore".[94] Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater, said that crime is out of control, with 'mafia-style shakedowns' for procurement contracts becoming the norm. "Government leadership has created this problem and they are doing nothing. The government can't deal with it because it goes against their ideology."[95] Professor Eddy Maloka, from the Institute of Risk Management, "The ANC has left us in a mess. They've turned their crisis into ours... Government has collapsed in areas across the country. We are seeing inner-cities collapse and degenerate".[96] Professor David Himbara said that "South Africa is a classic case of a de facto one-party state with mismanaged institutions and endemic crime and corruption".[97]


Satellite image of South Africa

South Africa is in southernmost Africa, with a coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km (1,553 mi) and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian). At 1,219,912 km2 (471,011 sq mi),[98] South Africa is the 24th-largest country in the world.[99] Excluding the Prince Edward Islands, the country lies between latitudes 22° and 35°S, and longitudes 16° and 33°E. The interior of South Africa consists of a large, in most places almost flat plateau with an altitude of between 1,000 m (3,300 ft) and 2,100 m (6,900 ft), highest in the east and sloping gently downwards towards the west and north, and slightly so to the south and south-west.[100] This plateau is surrounded by the Great Escarpment[101] whose eastern, and highest, stretch is known as the Drakensberg.[102] Mafadi in the Drakensberg at 3,450 m (11,320 ft) is the highest peak. The KwaZulu-Natal–Lesotho international border is formed by the highest portion of the Great Escarpment which reaches an altitude of over 3,000 m (9,800 ft).[103]

The south and south-western parts of the plateau (at approximately 1,1001,800 m above sea level) and the adjoining plain below (at approximately 700800 m above sea level  see map on the right) is known as the Great Karoo, which consists of sparsely populated shrubland. To the north, the Great Karoo fades into the more arid Bushmanland, which eventually becomes the Kalahari Desert in the north-west of the country. The mid-eastern and highest part of the plateau is known as the Highveld. This relatively well-watered area is home to a great proportion of the country's commercial farmlands and contains its largest conurbation (Gauteng). To the north of Highveld, from about the 25° 30' S line of latitude, the plateau slopes downwards into the Bushveld, which ultimately gives way to the Limpopo River lowlands or Lowveld.[101]

The coastal belt, below the Great Escarpment, moving clockwise from the northeast, consists of the Limpopo Lowveld, which merges into the Mpumalanga Lowveld, below the Mpumalanga Drakensberg (the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment).[104] This is hotter, drier and less intensely cultivated than the Highveld above the escarpment.[101] The Kruger National Park, located in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in north-eastern South Africa, occupies a large portion of the Lowveld covering 19,633 square kilometres (7,580 sq mi.)[105]

Drakensberg, the eastern and highest portion of the Great Escarpment which surrounds the east, south and western borders of the central plateau.
Spring flowers in Namaqualand

The coastal belt below the south and south-western stretches of the Great Escarpment contains several ranges of Cape Fold Mountains which run parallel to the coast, separating the Great Escarpment from the ocean.[106][107] (These parallel ranges of fold mountains are shown on the map, above left. Note the course of the Great Escarpment to the north of these mountain ranges.) The land between the Outeniqua and Langeberg ranges to the south and the Swartberg range to the north is known as the Little Karoo,[101] which consists of semi-desert shrubland similar to that of the Great Karoo, except that its northern strip along the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains has a somewhat higher rainfall and is, therefore, more cultivated than the Great Karoo. The Little Karoo is famous for its ostrich farming around Oudtshoorn. The lowland area to the north of the Swartberg range up to the Great Escarpment is the lowland part of the Great Karoo, which is climatically and botanically almost indistinguishable from the Karoo above the Great Escarpment. The narrow coastal strip between the Outeniqua and Langeberg ranges and the ocean has a moderately high year-round rainfall, which is known as the Garden Route. It is famous for the most extensive areas of forests in South Africa (a generally forest-poor country).

In the south-west corner of the country, the Cape Peninsula forms the southernmost tip of the coastal strip which borders the Atlantic Ocean and ultimately terminates at the country's border with Namibia at the Orange River. The Cape Peninsula has a Mediterranean climate, making it and its immediate surrounds the only portion of Sub-Saharan Africa which receives most of its rainfall in winter.[108][109] The coastal belt to the north of the Cape Peninsula is bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and the first row of north–south running Cape Fold Mountains to the east. The Cape Fold Mountains peter out at about the 32° S line of latitude,[107] after which the Great Escarpment bounds the coastal plain. The most southerly portion of this coastal belt is known as the Swartland and Malmesbury Plain, which is an important wheat growing region, relying on winter rains. The region further north is known as Namaqualand,[110] which becomes more arid near the Orange River. The little rain that falls tends to fall in winter,[109] which results in one of the world's most spectacular displays of flowers carpeting huge stretches of veld in spring (AugustSeptember).

South Africa also has one offshore possession, the small sub-Antarctic archipelago of the Prince Edward Islands, consisting of Marion Island (290 km2 or 110 sq mi) and Prince Edward Island (45 km2 or 17 sq mi) (not to be confused with the Canadian province of the same name).


Köppen climate types of South Africa

South Africa has a generally temperate climate because it is surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, because it is located in the climatically milder Southern Hemisphere, and because its average elevation rises steadily toward the north (toward the equator) and further inland. This varied topography and oceanic influence result in a great variety of climatic zones. The climatic zones range from the extreme desert of the southern Namib in the farthest northwest to the lush subtropical climate in the east along the border with Mozambique and the Indian Ocean. Winters in South Africa occur between June and August. The extreme southwest has a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers, hosting the famous fynbos biome of shrubland and thicket. This area produces much of the wine in South Africa and is known for its wind, which blows intermittently almost all year. The severity of this wind made passing around the Cape of Good Hope is particularly treacherous for sailors, causing many shipwrecks. Further east on the south coast, rainfall is distributed more evenly throughout the year, producing a green landscape. The annual rainfall increases south of the Lowveld, especially near the coast, which is subtropical. The Free State is particularly flat because it lies centrally on the high plateau. North of the Vaal River, the Highveld becomes better watered and does not experience subtropical extremes of heat. Johannesburg, in the centre of the Highveld, is at 1,740 m (5,709 ft) above sea level and receives an annual rainfall of 760 mm (29.9 in). Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.

The coldest place on mainland South Africa is Buffelsfontein in the Eastern Cape, where a temperature of −20.1 °C (−4.2 °F) was recorded in 2013.[111] The Prince Edward Islands have colder average annual temperatures, but Buffelsfontein has colder extremes. The deep interior of mainland South Africa has the hottest temperatures: a temperature of 51.7 °C (125.06 °F) was recorded in 1948 in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington,[112] but this temperature is unofficial and was not recorded with standard equipment; the official highest temperature is 48.8 °C (119.84 °F) at Vioolsdrif in January 1993.[113]

Climate change in South Africa is leading to increased temperatures and rainfall variability. Extreme weather events are becoming more prominent.[114] This is a critical concern for South Africans as climate change will affect the overall status and wellbeing of the country, for example with regards to water resources. Speedy environmental changes are resulting in clear effects on the community and environmental level in different ways and aspects, starting with air quality, to temperature and weather patterns, reaching out to food security and disease burden.[115] South Africa contributes considerable carbon dioxide emissions, being the 14th largest emitter of carbon dioxide,[116] primarily from its heavy reliance on coal and oil for energy production.[116] As part of its international commitments, South Africa has pledged to peak emissions between 2020 and 2025.[116]


South African giraffes, Kruger National Park
The female African Leopard "Thandi" in the Djuma concession of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve

South Africa signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity on 4 June 1994 and became a party to the convention on 2 November 1995.[117] It has subsequently produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which was received by the convention on 7 June 2006.[118] The country is ranked sixth out of the world's seventeen megadiverse countries.[119] Ecotourism in South Africa has become more prevalent in recent years, as a possible method of maintaining and improving biodiversity.

Numerous mammals are found in the Bushveld including lions, African leopards, South African cheetahs, southern white rhinos, blue wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotamuses and South African giraffes. A significant extent of the Bushveld exists in the north-east including Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, as well as in the far north in the Waterberg Biosphere. South Africa houses many endemic species, among them the critically endangered riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticullaris) in the Karoo.

Up to 1945, more than 4,900 species of fungi (including lichen-forming species) had been recorded.[120] In 2006, the number of fungi in South Africa was estimated at 200,000 species but did not take into account fungi associated with insects.[121] If correct, then the number of South African fungi dwarfs that of its plants. In at least some major South African ecosystems, an exceptionally high percentage of fungi are highly specific in terms of the plants with which they occur.[122] The country's Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan does not mention fungi (including lichen-forming fungi).[118]

With more than 22,000 different vascular plants, or about 9% of all the known species of plants on Earth,[123] South Africa is particularly rich in plant diversity. The most prevalent biome is the grassland, particularly on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs, and acacia, mainly camel-thorn (Vachellia erioloba). Vegetation is sparse towards the north-west because of low rainfall. There are numerous species of water-storing succulents, like aloes and euphorbias, in the very hot and dry Namaqualand area (According to the World Wildlife Fund, South Africa is home to around a third of all succulent species).[124] The grass and thorn savanna turns slowly into a bush savanna towards the north-east of the country, with denser growth. There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park.[125]

The fynbos biome, which makes up the majority of the area and plant life in the Cape Floristic Region, is located in a small region of the Western Cape and contains more than 9,000 of those species, or three times more plant species than found in the Amazon rainforest,[126] making it among the richest regions on earth in terms of plant diversity. Most of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous plants. Another uniquely South African flowering plant group is the genus Protea, with around 130 different species. While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, only 1% of the land is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal, where there are also areas of Southern Africa mangroves in river mouths. Even smaller reserves of forests are out of the reach of fire, known as montane forests. Plantations of imported tree species are predominant, particularly the non-native eucalyptus and pine.

Conservation issues

South Africa has lost a large area of natural habitat in the last four decades, primarily because of overpopulation, sprawling development patterns, and deforestation during the 19th century. The country had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 4.94/10, ranking it 112th globally out of 172 countries.[127] South Africa is one of the worst affected countries in the world when it comes to invasion by alien species with many (e.g., black wattle, Port Jackson willow, Hakea, Lantana and Jacaranda) posing a significant threat to the native biodiversity and the already scarce water resources. The original temperate forest found by the first European settlers was exploited until only small patches remained. Currently, South African hardwood trees like real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), stinkwood (Ocotea bullata), and South African black ironwood (Olea capensis) are under strict government protection. Statistics from the Department of Environmental Affairs show a record 1,215 rhinos were killed in 2014.[128] Because South Africa is home to a third of all succulent species, many endemic to the Karoo, it makes it a hotspot for plant poaching, leading to many species to be threatened with extinction.[124]

Climate change is expected to bring considerable warming and drying to much of this already semi-arid region, with greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves, flooding and drought. According to computer-generated climate modelling produced by the South African National Biodiversity Institute,[129] parts of southern Africa will see an increase in temperature by about 1 °C (1.8 °F) along the coast to more than 4 °C (7.2 °F) in the already hot hinterland such as the Northern Cape in late spring and summertime by 2050. The Cape Floral Region is predicted to be hit very hard by climate change. Drought, increased intensity and frequency of fire, and climbing temperatures are expected to push many rare species towards extinction. South Africa has published two national climate change reports in 2011 and 2016.[130]


Map of population density in South Africa
  •   <1 /km2
  •   1–3 /km2
  •   3–10 /km2
  •   10–30 /km2
  •   30–100 /km2
  •   100–300 /km2
  •   300–1000 /km2
  •   1000–3000 /km2
  •   >3000 /km2

South Africa is a nation of about 60 million (as of 2021) people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions.[131] The last census was held in 2011, with estimates produced on an annual basis. South Africa is home to an estimated five million illegal immigrants, including some three million Zimbabweans.[132][133][134] A series of anti-immigrant riots occurred beginning in May 2008.[135][136]

Statistics South Africa asks people to describe themselves in the census in terms of five racial population groups.[137] The 2011 census figures for these groups were: Black African at 79.2%, White at 8.9%, Coloured at 8.9%, Indian or Asian at 2.5%, and Other/Unspecified at 0.5%.[8]:21 The first census in 1911 showed that whites made up 22% of the population; this had declined to 16% by 1980.[138]

South Africa hosts a sizeable refugee and asylum seeker population. According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, this population numbered approximately 144,700 in 2007.[139] Groups of refugees and asylum seekers numbering over 10,000 included people from Zimbabwe (48,400), the DRC (24,800), and Somalia (12,900).[139] These populations mainly lived in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth.[139]


Map showing the dominant South African languages by area

South Africa has 11 official languages:[140] Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English, Pedi,[141] Tswana, Southern Sotho, Tsonga, Swazi, Venda, and Southern Ndebele (in order of first language speakers). In this regard it is fourth only to Bolivia, India, and Zimbabwe in number. While all the languages are formally equal, some languages are spoken more than others. According to the 2011 census, the three most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%), Xhosa (16.0%), and Afrikaans (13.5%).[8] Although English is recognised as the language of commerce and science, it is only the fourth most common home language, that of only 9.6% of South Africans in 2011; nevertheless, it has become the de facto lingua franca of the nation.[8] Estimates based on the 1991 census suggest just under half of South Africans can speak English.[142] It is the second most commonly spoken language outside of the household, after Zulu.[143]

The country also recognises several unofficial languages, including Fanagalo, Khoe, Lobedu, Nama, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, and South African Sign Language.[144] These unofficial languages may be used in certain official uses in limited areas where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent. Many of the unofficial languages of the San and Khoekhoe peoples contain regional dialects stretching northwards into Namibia and Botswana, and elsewhere. These people, who are a physically distinct population from the Bantu people who make up most of the Black Africans in South Africa, have their own cultural identity based on their hunter-gatherer societies. They have been marginalised to a great extent, and the remainder of their languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

White South Africans may also speak European languages, including Italian, Portuguese (also spoken by black Angolans and Mozambicans), Dutch, German, and Greek, while some Indian South Africans speak Indian languages, such as Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. French is spoken by migrants from Francophone Africa.


Religion in South Africa (2010)[145]
religion percent
No religion
Other faith

According to the 2001 census, Christians accounted for 79.8% of the population, with a majority of them being members of various Protestant denominations (broadly defined to include syncretic African-initiated churches) and a minority of Roman Catholics and other Christians. Christian category includes Zion Christian (11.1%), Pentecostal (Charismatic) (8.2%), Roman Catholic (7.1%), Methodist (6.8%), Dutch Reformed (6.7%), and Anglican (3.8%). Members of remaining Christian churches accounted for another 36% of the population. Muslims accounted for 1.5% of the population, Hindus 1.2%,[146] traditional African religions 0.3% and Judaism 0.2%. 15.1% had no religious affiliation, 0.6% were "other" and 1.4% were "unspecified."[147][146][148]

African-initiated churches formed the largest of the Christian groups. It was believed that many of the persons who claimed no affiliation with any organised religion adhered to a traditional African religion. There are an estimated 200,000 traditional healers, and up to 60% of South Africans consult these healers,[149] generally called sangoma ('diviner') or inyanga ('herbalist'). These healers use a combination of ancestral spiritual beliefs and a belief in the spiritual and medicinal properties of local fauna and flora, commonly known as muti ('medicine'), to facilitate healing in clients. Many peoples have syncretic religious practices combining Christian and indigenous influences.[150]

South African Muslims comprise mainly Coloureds and Indians. They have been joined by black or white South African converts as well as those from other parts of Africa.[151] South African Muslims describe their faith as the fastest-growing religion of conversion in the country, with the number of black Muslims growing sixfold, from 12,000 in 1991 to 74,700 in 2004.[151][152]

There is a substantial Jewish population, descended from European Jews who arrived as a minority among other European settlers. This population peaked in the 1970s at 120,000, though only around 67,000 remain today, the rest having emigrated, mostly to Israel. Even so, these numbers make the Jewish community in South Africa the twelfth largest in the world.[153]


Schoolchildren in Mitchell's Plain

The adult literacy rate in 2007 was 88.7%.[154] South Africa has a three-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, or grade 0, is a pre-primary foundation year.[155] Primary schools span the first seven years of schooling.[156] High school education spans a further five years. The National Senior Certificate examination takes place at the end of grade 12 and is necessary for tertiary studies at a South African university.[155] Public universities are divided into three types: traditional universities, which offer theoretically oriented university degrees; universities of technology (formerly called technikons), which offer vocationally-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 black people were subject to discrimination through inadequate funding and a separate syllabus called Bantu Education which only taught skills sufficient to work as labourers.[157]

In 2004, South Africa started reforming its tertiary education system, merging and incorporating small universities into larger institutions, and renaming all tertiary education institutions "university". By 2015, 1.4 million students in higher education have benefited from a financial aid scheme which was promulgated in 1999.[158]


Life expectancy in select Southern African countries, 1950–2019. HIV/AIDS has caused a fall in life expectancy.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, the life expectancy in 2009 was 71 years for a white South African and 48 years for a black South African.[159] The healthcare spending in the country is about 9% of GDP.[160] About 84% of the population depends on the public healthcare system,[160] which is beset with chronic human resource shortages and limited resources.[161] About 20% of the population use private healthcare.[162] Only 16% of the population are covered by medical aid schemes;[163] The rest pay for private care out-of-pocket or through in-hospital-only plans.[162] The three dominant hospital groups, Mediclinic, Life Healthcare and Netcare, together control 75% of the private hospital market.[162]


According to the 2015 UNAIDS medical report, South Africa has an estimated seven million people that are living with HIV – more than any other country in the world.[164] In 2018, HIV prevalence—the percentage of people living with HIV—among adults (15–49 years) was 20.4%, and in the same year 71,000 people died from an AIDS-related illness.[165]

A 2008 study revealed that HIV/AIDS infection is distinctly divided along racial lines: 13.6% of blacks are HIV-positive, whereas only 0.3% of whites have the virus.[166] Most deaths are experienced by economically active individuals, resulting in many AIDS orphans who in many cases depend on the state for care and financial support.[167] It is estimated that there are 1,200,000 orphans in South Africa.[167]

The link between HIV, a virus spread primarily by sexual contact, and AIDS was long denied by President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who insisted that the many deaths in the country are caused by malnutrition, and hence poverty, and not HIV.[168] In 2007, in response to international pressure, the government made efforts to fight AIDS.[169] After the 2009 general elections, President Jacob Zuma appointed Aaron Motsoaledi as the health minister and committed his government to increasing funding for and widening the scope of HIV treatment,[170] and by 2015, South Africa had made significant progress, with the widespread availability of antiretroviral drugs resulted in an increase in life expectancy from 52.1 years to 62.5 years.[171]


One online database[172] lists South Africa having more than 12,600 cities and towns. The following are the largest cities and towns in South Africa.

Largest cities or towns in South Africa
2016 Community Survey [173], World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision [174]
Rank Name Province Pop.


Cape Town

2Cape TownWestern Cape4,004,793
5GqeberhaEastern Cape1,263,051
8East LondonEastern Cape810,528
9BloemfonteinFree State759,693

Government and politics

Union Buildings in Pretoria, seat of the executive
Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, seat of the legislature
Constitutional Court in Johannesburg

South Africa is a parliamentary republic, but unlike most such republics, the president is both head of state and head of government and depends for his tenure on the confidence of Parliament. The executive, legislature and judiciary are all subject to the supremacy of the Constitution of South Africa, and the superior courts have the power to strike down executive actions and acts of Parliament if they are unconstitutional. The National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, consists of 400 members and is elected every five years by a system of party-list proportional representation. The National Council of Provinces, the upper house, consists of ninety members, with each of the nine provincial legislatures electing ten members.

After each parliamentary election, the National Assembly elects one of its members as president; hence the president serves a term of office the same as that of the Assembly, normally five years. No president may serve more than two terms in office.[175] The president appoints a deputy president and ministers (each representing a department) who form the cabinet. The National Assembly may remove the president and the cabinet by a motion of no confidence. In the most recent election, held on 8 May 2019, the ANC won 58% of the vote and 230 seats, while the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, won 21% of the vote and 84 seats. The Economic Freedom Fighters, founded by Julius Malema, former president of the ANC Youth League who was later expelled from the ANC, won 11% of the vote and 44 seats. The ANC has been the governing political party in South Africa since the end of apartheid.[176]

South Africa has no legally defined capital city. The fourth chapter of the constitution states "The seat of Parliament is Cape Town, but an Act of Parliament enacted in accordance with section 76(1) and (5) may determine that the seat of Parliament is elsewhere."[177] The country's three branches of government are split over different cities. Cape Town, as the seat of Parliament, is the legislative capital; Pretoria, as the seat of the president and cabinet, is the administrative capital; and Bloemfontein is the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal, is the judicial capital; while the Constitutional Court of South Africa sits in Johannesburg. Most foreign embassies are located in Pretoria.

Since 2004, South Africa has had many thousands of popular protests, some violent, making it, according to one academic, the "most protest-rich country in the world".[178] There have been numerous incidents of political repression as well as threats of future repression in violation of the constitution, leading some analysts and civil society organisations to conclude that there is or could be a new climate of political repression.[179][180]

In 2008, South Africa placed fifth out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. South Africa scored well in the categories of Rule of Law, Transparency and Corruption, and Participation and Human Rights, but score low in Safety and Security.[181] In 2006, South Africa became the first and only African country to legalise same-sex marriage.[182]

The Constitution of South Africa is the supreme rule of law in the country. The primary sources of South African law are Roman-Dutch mercantile law and personal law and English Common law, as imports of Dutch settlements and British colonialism.[183] The first European-based law in South Africa was brought by the Dutch East India Company and is called Roman-Dutch law. It was imported before the codification of European law into the Napoleonic Code and is comparable in many ways to Scots law. This was followed in the 19th century by English law, both common and statutory. After unification in 1910, South Africa had its own parliament which passed laws specific for South Africa, building on those previously passed for the individual member colonies. The judicial system consists of the magistrates' courts, which hear lesser criminal cases and smaller civil cases; the High Court, which has divisions that serve as the courts of general jurisdiction for specific areas; the Supreme Court of Appeal; and the Constitutional Court, which is the highest court.

Foreign relations

President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa (far left), poses with the BRICS heads of state and government during the 11th BRICS summit, 2019

As the Union of South Africa, the country was a founding member of the United Nations (UN), with Prime Minister Jan Smuts writing the preamble to the UN Charter.[184][185] South Africa is one of the founding members of the African Union (AU) and has the third largest economy of all the members. It is a founding member of the AU's New Partnership for Africa's Development. After apartheid ended, South Africa was readmitted to the Commonwealth of Nations. The country is a member of the Group of 77 and chaired the organisation in 2006. South Africa is also a member of the Southern African Development Community, South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, Southern African Customs Union, Antarctic Treaty System, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, G20, G8+5, and the Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa.

South Africa has played a key role as a mediator in African conflicts over the last decade, such as in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Comoros, and Zimbabwe.

President Jacob Zuma and Chinese President Hu Jintao upgraded bilateral ties between the two countries in 2010 when they signed the Beijing Agreement which elevated South Africa's earlier "strategic partnership" with China to the higher level of "comprehensive strategic partnership" in both economic and political affairs, including the strengthening of exchanges between their respective ruling parties and legislatures.[186][187] In 2011, South Africa joined the Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRICS) grouping of countries, identified by Zuma as the country's largest trading partners and also the largest trading partners with Africa as a whole. Zuma asserted that BRICS member countries would also work with each other through the UN, G20, and the India, Brazil South Africa (IBSA) forum.[188]


South African Airforce Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighter.
SANDF Denel Badger AFV.
Heroine-class submarine of the South African Navy.
The Denel Rooivalk attack helicopter.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was created in 1994[189][190] as a volunteer military composed of the former South African Defence Force, the forces of the African nationalist groups (uMkhonto we Sizwe and Azanian People's Liberation Army), and the former Bantustan defence forces.[189] The SANDF is subdivided into four branches, the South African Army, the South African Air Force, the South African Navy, and the South African Military Health Service.[191] In recent years, the SANDF has become a major peacekeeping force in Africa,[192] and has been involved in operations in Lesotho, the DRC,[192] and Burundi,[192] amongst others. It has also served in multinational UN Peacekeeping forces such as the UN Force Intervention Brigade. According to global firepower South Africa is ranked the 33rd out of 145 nations in terms of military strength and it is the 3rd strongest in Africa.[14]

South Africa is the only country in Africa and one of the few in the world with an Arms industry capable of producing sophisticated military equipment such as Attack helicopters, armoured fighting vehicles, infantry weapons, missiles and UAV's which puts it on par with those of USA, Germany, Russia and China giving it a big advantage in the military field.[193]

South Africa is the only African country to have successfully developed nuclear weapons. It became the first country (followed by Ukraine) with nuclear capability to voluntarily renounce and dismantle its programme and in the process signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991.[194] South Africa undertook a nuclear weapons programme in the 1970s[194] According to President F.W. de Klerk, the decision to build a "nuclear deterrent" was taken "as early as 1974 against a backdrop of a Soviet expansionist threat."[195] South Africa is alleged to have conducted a nuclear test over the Atlantic in 1979,[196] although this is officially denied; de Klerk maintained that South Africa had "never conducted a clandestine nuclear test."[195] Six nuclear devices were completed between 1980 and 1990 but all were dismantled by 1991.[195] In 2017, South Africa signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.[197]

Law enforcement and crime

Officers of the South African Police Service with Vektor R5 rifles on parade in Johannesburg, 2010

Law enforcement in South Africa is primarily the responsibility of the South African Police Service (SAPS), South Africa's national police force. SAPS is responsible for investigating crime and security throughout the country. From April 2017 to March 2018, on average 57 murders were committed each day in South Africa.[198] In the year ended March 2017, there were 20,336 murders and the murder rate was 35.9 per 100,000 – over five times higher than the global average of 6.2 per 100,000.[199] More than 526,000 South Africans were murdered from 1994 to 2019.[200] Middle-class South Africans seek security in gated communities.[201] The private security industry in South Africa is the largest in the world,[202] with nearly 9,000 registered companies and 400,000 registered active private security guards, more than the South African police and army combined.[203] Many emigrants from South Africa state that crime was a major factor in their decision to leave.[204] Crime against the farming community has continued to be a major problem.[205] In an attempt to reduce crime rate, the police arrested over 500 undocumented foreigners in a raid in August 2019.[206]

South Africa has a high rape rate, with 43,195 rapes reported in 2014/15, and an unknown number of sexual assaults going unreported.[207] A 2009 survey of 1,738 men in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape by the Medical Research Council found one in four men admitted to raping someone,[208] and another survey of 4,000 women in Johannesburg by CIET Africa found one in three said they had been raped in the past year.[209] Rape occurs most commonly within relationships, but many men and women say that rape cannot occur in relationships; however, one in four women reported having been abused by an intimate partner.[210] Rapes are also perpetrated by children (some as young as ten).[211] The incidence of child and infant rape is among the highest in the world, largely as a result of the virgin cleansing myth, and a number of high-profile cases (sometimes as young as eight months)[211] have outraged the nation.[212]

Between 1994 and 2018, there were more than 500 xenophobic attacks against foreigners in South Africa.[213] The 2019 Johannesburg riots were similar in nature and origin to the 2008 xenophobic riots that also occurred in Johannesburg.[214]

Administrative divisions

Each of the nine provinces is governed by a unicameral legislature, which is elected every five years by party-list proportional representation. The legislature elects a premier as head of government, and the premier appoints an Executive Council as a provincial cabinet. The powers of provincial governments are limited to topics listed in the constitution; these topics include such fields as health, education, public housing and transport.

The provinces are in turn divided into 52 districts: 8 metropolitan and 44 district municipalities. The district municipalities are further subdivided into 205 local municipalities. The metropolitan municipalities, which govern the largest urban agglomerations, perform the functions of both district and local municipalities.

Province Provincial capital Largest city Area (km2)[215] Population (2016)[216] Population (2020)[217]
Eastern CapeBhishoGqeberha168,9666,996,9766,734,000
Free StateBloemfonteinBloemfontein129,8252,834,7142,929,000
North WestMahikengKlerksdorp104,8823,748,4354,109,000
Northern CapeKimberleyKimberley372,8891,193,7801,293,000
Western CapeCape TownCape Town129,4626,279,7307,006,000


The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) is the largest stock exchange on the African continent

South Africa has a mixed economy, the third largest in Africa, after Nigeria and Egypt. It also has a relatively high gross domestic product (GDP) per capita compared to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa (US$11,750 at purchasing power parity as of 2012). Despite this, South Africa is still burdened by a relatively high rate of poverty and unemployment and is ranked in the top ten countries in the world for income inequality,[218][219][220] measured by the Gini coefficient. In 2015, 71% of net wealth are held by 10% of the population, whereas 60% of the population held only 7% of the net wealth, and the Gini coefficient was 0.63, whereas in 1996 was 0.61.[221]

Unlike most of the world's poor countries, South Africa does not have a thriving informal economy. Only 15% of South African jobs are in the informal sector, compared with around half in Brazil and India and nearly three-quarters in Indonesia. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) attributes this difference to South Africa's widespread welfare system.[222] World Bank research shows that South Africa has one of the widest gaps between per capita GDP versus its Human Development Index ranking, with only Botswana showing a larger gap.[223]

After 1994, government policy brought down inflation, stabilised public finances, and some foreign capital was attracted, however growth was still subpar.[224] From 2004 onward, economic growth picked up significantly; both employment and capital formation increased.[224] During the presidency of Jacob Zuma, the government increased the role of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Some of the biggest SOEs are Eskom, the electric power monopoly, South African Airways (SAA), and Transnet, the railroad and ports monopoly. Some of these SOEs have not been profitable, such as SAA, which has required bailouts totaling R30 billion ($2.03 billion) over the 20 years preceding 2015.[225]

Principal international trading partners of South Africa—besides other African countries—include Germany, the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and Spain.[147] The 2020 Financial Secrecy Index ranked South Africa as the 58th safest tax haven in the world.[226]

The South African agricultural industry contributes around 10% of formal employment, relatively low compared to other parts of Africa, as well as providing work for casual labourers and contributing around 2.6% of GDP for the nation.[227] Due to the aridity of the land, only 13.5% can be used for crop production, and only 3% is considered high potential land.[228]

In August 2013, South Africa was ranked as the top African Country of the Future by fDi Intelligence based on the country's economic potential, labour environment, cost-effectiveness, infrastructure, business friendliness, and foreign direct investment strategy.[229]


An aerial view of the Two Rivers mine in Steelpoort, Limpopo, owned by both African Rainbow Minerals and Impala Platinum holdings limited.

South Africa has always been a mining powerhouse. Diamond and gold production were in 2013 well down from their peaks, though South Africa is still number five in gold[230] and remains a cornucopia of mineral riches. It is the world's largest producer[231] of chrome, manganese, platinum, vanadium and vermiculite. It is the second largest producer[231] of ilmenite, palladium, rutile and zirconium. It is the world's third largest coal exporter.[232] It is a huge producer of iron ore; in 2012, it overtook India to become the world's third-biggest iron ore supplier to China, the world's largest consumers of iron ore.[233]

Labour market

Workers packing pears for export in the Ceres Valley, Western Cape

From 1995 to 2003, the number of formal jobs decreased and informal jobs increased; overall unemployment worsened.[74] According to data published by the University of Cape Town, between 2017 and the end of 2020, South Africa had lost 56% of its middle-class earners, and the number of ultra-poor who earn below minimum wage had increased by 6.6 million individuals (54%).[234]

The government's Black Economic Empowerment policies have drawn criticism from Neva Makgetla, previous lead economist for research and information at the Development Bank of Southern Africa, for focusing "almost exclusively on promoting individual ownership by black people [which] does little to address broader economic disparities, though the rich may become more diverse."[235] Official affirmative action policies have seen a rise in black economic wealth and an emerging black middle class.[236] Other problems include state ownership and interference, which impose high barriers to entry in many areas.[237] Restrictive labour regulations have contributed to the unemployment malaise.[74]

Along with many African nations, South Africa has been experiencing a brain drain in the past 20 years[238] and is almost certainly detrimental for the wellbeing of those reliant on the healthcare infrastructure.[239] The skills drain in South Africa tends to demonstrate racial contours given the skills distribution legacy of South Africa and has thus resulted in large white South African communities abroad.[240] However, the statistics which purport to show a brain drain are disputed and also do not account for repatriation and expiry of foreign work contracts. According to several surveys,[241][242] there was a reverse in brain drain following the global financial crisis of 2007–2008 and expiration of foreign work contracts. In the first quarter of 2011, confidence levels for graduate professionals were recorded at a level of 84% in a Professional Provident Society survey.[243] Illegal immigrants are involved in informal trading.[244] Many immigrants to South Africa continue to live in poor conditions, and the immigration policy has become increasingly restrictive since 1994.[245]

Human Rights Watch reported in August 2019 that foreign national truck drivers were being subjected to deadly attacks carried out by South African truck drivers. The organization urged the South African government to take immediate actions ensuring the safety of the foreign national truck drivers putting up with violence, harassment, intimidation, stoning, bombing, and shooting, by local truck drivers in the country.[246]


Tourists taking in the view of Cape Town and Table Mountain from Robben Island

South Africa is a tourist destination with the tourist industry accounting for 2.34% of GDP[247] in 2019 followed by a sharp drop in 2020 to 0.81% of GDP[247] due to lack of travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The official marketing agency for the country South African Tourism is responsible for marketing South Africa to the world. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the tourism industry directly contributed ZAR 102 billion to South African GDP in 2012, and supports 10.3% of jobs in the country.[248] The official national marketing agency of the South African government, with the goal of promoting tourism in South Africa both locally and globally is known as South African Tourism.[249]

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.

According to Statistics South Africa's latest Tourism and Migration Survey, almost 3,5 million travellers passed through the country's ports of entry in August 2017.[250] The top five overseas countries with the largest number of tourists visiting South Africa were the USA, UK, Germany, the Netherlands and France. Most of the tourists arriving in South Africa from elsewhere in Africa came from SADC countries. Zimbabwe tops the list at 31%, followed by Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini and Botswana. In addition, Nigeria was the country of origin for nearly 30% of tourists arriving in South Africa.[251]



The N2 highway in Cape Town

South Africa has a total road network of 750 000 kilometres which makes it the largest road network in Africa and the 10th largest in the world. According to SANRAL, the road network is valued at more than R2.1 trillion. SANRAL manages national roads and has a network of 22 197 kilometres of paved roads. Provinces are responsible for 222 951 kilometres while, according to the DoT, the municipal network is estimated at 275 661 kilometres of the proclaimed network. The rest are unproclaimed gravel roads (mainly serving rural communities) and are therefore not owned or maintained by any road authority. The country has more than 12 million motor vehicles with an average density of 16 motor vehicles per kilometre. The provincial road network is about 222 951 kilometres in length, consisting of 170 837 kilometres of unpaved and 52 114 kilometres of paved roads.[252]


The Kusile Power Station, once completed it will be the 4th largest coal-fired power plant in the world[253]

South Africa has a very large energy sector and is currently the only country on the African continent that possesses a Nuclear power plant.[254] The country is also the largest producer of electricity in Africa and the 21th largest in the world.[255] South Africa produces in excess of 248 million tonnes of coal and consumes almost three-quarters of that domestically. Around 77% of South Africa's energy needs are directly derived from coal and 92% of coal consumed on the African continent is mined in South Africa. Despite being the largest electricity producer of Africa, the country faces an energy crisis which causes a drastic effect on the country's economy, most notability manifesting in the form of successive rounds of Loadshedding, is an ongoing period of widespread national level rolling blackouts as state-owned power utility Eskom's ageing coal power-station fleet suffers major breakdowns and also the construction delay's of the 2 of the world's biggest coal-fired power plants that were supposed to solve the energy crisis the Kusile Power Station and the Medupi Power Stations as the completion date had been moved to 2023-2026 of the 2 plants due to cost overruns. The energy crisis began in the later months of 2007 and continues to this day.[256][257]

Science and technology

Several important scientific and technological developments have originated in South Africa. South Africa was ranked 61st in the Global Innovation Index in 2021, up from 63rd in 2019.[258][259][260][261] The first human-to-human heart transplant was performed by cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967; Max Theiler developed a vaccine against yellow fever, Allan MacLeod Cormack pioneered X-ray computed tomography (CT scan); and Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques. Cormack and Klug received Nobel Prizes for their work. Sydney Brenner won most recently, in 2002, for his pioneering work in molecular biology.

Mark Shuttleworth founded an early Internet security company Thawte, that was subsequently bought out by world leader Verisign. It is the expressed objective of the government to transition the economy to be more reliant on high technology, based on the realisation that South Africa cannot compete with Far Eastern economies in manufacturing, nor can the republic rely on its mineral wealth in perpetuity.

South Africa has cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the €1.5 billion Square Kilometre Array project.[262]


Different methods of transport in South Africa include roads, railways, airports, water, and pipelines for petroleum oil. The majority of people in South Africa use informal minibus taxis as their main mode of transport. Bus rapid transit has been implemented in some cities in an attempt to provide more formalised and safer public transport services. These systems have been widely criticised because of their large capital and operating costs. South Africa has many major ports including Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth that allow ships and other boats to pass through, some carrying passengers and some carrying petroleum tankers.

Water supply and sanitation

Two distinctive features of the South African water sector are the policy of free basic water and the existence of water boards, which are bulk water supply agencies that operate pipelines and sell water from reservoirs to municipalities. These features have led to significant problems concerning the financial sustainability of service providers, leading to a lack of attention to maintenance. Following the end of apartheid, the country had made improvements in the levels of access to water as those with access increased from 66% to 79% from 1990 to 2010.[263] Sanitation access increased from 71% to 79% during the same period.[263] However, water supply and sanitation has come under increasing pressure in recent years despite a commitment made by the government to improve service standards and provide investment subsidies to the water industry.[264]

The eastern parts of South Africa suffer from periodic droughts linked to the El Niño weather phenomenon.[265] In early 2018, Cape Town, which has different weather patterns to the rest of the country,[265] faced a water crisis as the city's water supply was predicted to run dry before the end of June. Water-saving measures were in effect that required each citizen to use less than 50 litres (13 US gal) per day.[266] Cape Town rejected an offer from Israel to help it build desalination plants.[267][268][269][270]


The South African black majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished lives. It is among these people that cultural traditions survive most strongly; as blacks have become increasingly urbanised and Westernised, aspects of traditional culture have declined. Members of the middle class, who are predominantly white but whose ranks include growing numbers of Black, Coloured and Indian people,[271] have lifestyles similar in many respects to that of people found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia.


South African art includes the oldest art objects in the world, which were discovered in a South African cave and dated from roughly 75,000 years ago.[272] The scattered tribes of the Khoisan peoples moving into South Africa from around 10,000 BC had their own fluent art styles seen today in a multitude of cave paintings. They were superseded by the Bantu/Nguni peoples with their own vocabularies of art forms. Forms of art evolved in the mines and townships: a dynamic art using everything from plastic strips to bicycle spokes. The Dutch-influenced folk art of the Afrikaner trekboers and the urban white artists, earnestly following changing European traditions from the 1850s onwards, also contributed to this eclectic mix which continues to evolve to this day.

The South African media sector is large, and South Africa is one of Africa's major media centres. While the many broadcasters and publications reflect the diversity of the population as a whole, the most commonly used language is English. However, all ten other official languages are represented to some extent or another.

Zulus performing a traditional dance

There is great diversity in South African music. Black musicians have developed unique styles called Kwaito and Amapiano, that is said to have taken over radio, television, and magazines.[273] Of note is Brenda Fassie, who launched to fame with her song "Weekend Special", which was sung in English. More famous traditional musicians include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, while the Soweto String Quartet performs classical music with an African flavour. South Africa has produced world-famous jazz musicians, notably Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba, Jonathan Butler, Chris McGregor, and Sathima Bea Benjamin. Afrikaans music covers multiple genres, such as the contemporary Steve Hofmeyr, the punk rock band Fokofpolisiekar, and the singer-songwriter Jeremy Loops. South African popular musicians that have found international success include Manfred Mann, Johnny Clegg, rap-rave duo Die Antwoord, rock band Seether and rappers such as AKA, Nasty C and Cassper Nyovest gained notoriety in other avenues like the BET Awards for best African acts.

Although few South African film productions are known outside South Africa, many foreign films have been produced about South Africa. Arguably, the most high-profile film portraying South Africa in recent years was District 9 and its upcoming sequel. Other notable exceptions are the film Tsotsi, which won the Academy Award for Foreign Language Film at the 78th Academy Awards in 2006, as well as U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, which won the Golden Bear at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival. In 2015, the Oliver Hermanus film The Endless River became the first South African film selected for the Venice Film Festival.


Alan Paton, anti-apartheid activist and writer

South African literature emerged from a unique social and political history. One of the first well known novels written by a black author in an African language was Solomon Thekiso Plaatje's Mhudi, written in 1930. During the 1950s, Drum magazine became a hotbed of political satire, fiction, and essays, giving a voice to the urban black culture.

Notable white South African authors include Alan Paton, who published the novel Cry, the Beloved Country in 1948. Nadine Gordimer became the first South African to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1991. J.M. Coetzee won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003. When awarding the prize, the Swedish Academy stated that Coetzee "in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider."[274]

The plays of Athol Fugard have been regularly premiered in fringe theatres in South Africa, London (Royal Court Theatre) and New York. Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm (1883) was a revelation in Victorian literature: it is heralded by many as introducing feminism into the novel form.

Breyten Breytenbach was jailed for his involvement with the guerrilla movement against apartheid. André Brink was the first Afrikaner writer to be banned by the government after he released the novel A Dry White Season.


A plate of freshly prepared Babotie, a meat-based meal which originated within South Africa.[275][276]

The cuisine of South Africa is immensely diverse, and foods from a many different cultures and backgrounds are enjoyed by all communities, and especially marketed to tourists who wish to sample the large variety available. The cuisine is mostly meat-based and has spawned the distinctively South African social gathering known as the braai, a variation of the barbecue. South Africa has also developed into a major wine producer, with some of the best vineyards lying in valleys around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl and Barrydale.[277]


Cape Town Stadium is the 5th-largest stadium in South Africa, with a capacity of 55,000

South Africa's most popular sports are association football, rugby union and cricket.[278] Other sports with significant support are swimming, athletics, golf, boxing, tennis, rugby league, ringball, field hockey, surfing and netball. Although football (soccer) commands the greatest following among the youth, other sports like basketball, judo, softball and skateboarding are becoming increasingly popular amongst the populace.[279]

Association football is the most popular sport in South Africa.[280][281][282] Footballers who have played for major foreign clubs include Steven Pienaar, Lucas Radebe and Philemon Masinga, Benni McCarthy, Aaron Mokoena, and Delron Buckley. South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and FIFA president Sepp Blatter awarded South Africa a grade 9 out of 10 for successfully hosting the event.[283] Player Benni McCarthy is also a first-team coach for the English football club Manchester United.[284]

Famous boxing personalities include Baby Jake Jacob Matlala, Vuyani Bungu, Welcome Ncita, Dingaan Thobela, Corrie Sanders, Gerrie Coetzee and Brian Mitchell. Durban surfer Jordy Smith won the 2010 Billabong J-Bay Open making him the highest ranked surfer in the world. South Africa produced Formula One motor racing's 1979 world champion Jody Scheckter. Famous active cricket players include Kagiso Rabada, David Miller, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Reeza Hendricks and Rilee Rossouw; some also participate in the Indian Premier League.

The Springboks on their tour of the country after winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup

South Africa has produced numerous world class rugby players, including Francois Pienaar, Joost van der Westhuizen, Danie Craven, Frik du Preez, Naas Botha, and Bryan Habana. South Africa has won the Rugby World Cup three times, tying New Zealand for the most Rugby World Cup wins. South Africa first won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which it hosted. They went on to win the tournament again in 2007 and in 2019. It followed the 1995 Rugby World Cup by hosting the 1996 African Cup of Nations, with the national team Bafana Bafana going on to win the tournament. In 2022, the women's team also won the Women's Africa Cup of Nations, beating Morocco 2–1 in the final. It also hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the 2007 World Twenty20 Championship. South Africa's national cricket team, the Proteas, have also won the inaugural edition of the 1998 ICC KnockOut Trophy by defeating West Indies in the final. South Africa's national blind cricket team also went on to win the inaugural edition of the Blind Cricket World Cup in 1998.

In 2004, the swimming team of Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens, simultaneously breaking the world record in the 4×100 Freestyle Relay. Penny Heyns won Olympic Gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, and more recently, swimmers Tatjana Schoenmaker and Lara van Niekerk have both broken world records and won gold medals at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. In 2012, Oscar Pistorius became the first double amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympic Games in London. In golf, Gary Player is generally regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all time, having won the Career Grand Slam, one of five golfers to have done so. Other South African golfers to have won major tournaments include Bobby Locke, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Tim Clark, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

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Further reading

  • A History of South Africa, Third Edition. Leonard Thompson. Yale University Press. 2001. 384 pages. ISBN 0-300-08776-4.
  • Economic Analysis and Policy Formulation for Post-Apartheid South Africa: Mission Report, Aug. 1991. International Development Research Centre. IDRC Canada, 1991. vi, 46 p. Without ISBN.
  • Emerging Johannesburg: Perspectives on the Postapartheid City. Richard Tomlinson, et al. 2003. 336 pages. ISBN 0-415-93559-8.
  • Making of Modern South Africa: Conquest, Segregation and Apartheid. Nigel Worden. 2000. 194 pages. ISBN 0-631-21661-8.
  • South Africa: A Narrative History. Frank Welsh. Kodansha America. 1999. 606 pages. ISBN 1-56836-258-7.
  • South Africa in Contemporary Times. Godfrey Mwakikagile. New Africa Press. 2008. 260 pages. ISBN 978-0-9802587-3-8.
  • The Atlas of Changing South Africa. A. J. Christopher. 2000. 216 pages. ISBN 0-415-21178-6.
  • The Politics of the New South Africa. Heather Deegan. 2000. 256 pages. ISBN 0-582-38227-0.
  • Twentieth-Century South Africa. William Beinart Oxford University Press 2001, 414 pages, ISBN 0-19-289318-1.

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