About South Africa

South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded on the south by 2,798 kilometers (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; on the north by the neighboring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and on the east and northeast by Mozambique and Swaziland; and surrounds the kingdom of Lesotho. South Africa is the 25th-largest country in the world by land area, and with close to 56 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (white), Asian (Indian), and multiracial (colored) 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, which is among the highest number of any country in the world. Two of these languages are of European origin: Afrikaans developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most white and colored South Africans; English reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life, though it is fourth-ranked as a spoken first language. 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 recover its rights from the dominant white minority, with this struggle playing a large role in the country's recent history and politics. The National Party imposed apartheid in 1948, institutionalizing 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Congress and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, discriminatory laws began to be repealed or abolished from 1990 onwards.

Capital Pretoria (executive)
Bloemfontein (judicial)
Cape Town (legislative)
Largest city Johannesburg
Official language and national language Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English
Area 1,221,037 km2 (471,445 sq mi)
Population 54,956,900
Currency South African rand (ZAR)
Time zone SAST (UTC+2)
Calling Code +27

The Do’s and Don’ts of Traveling to South Africa

We list below a few basic Do's and Don'ts to help you along the way. It's all common sense and courtesy but you'd be amazed at the amount of people that need reminding...

DO’s

• DO spend some time reading up and learning about the countries you plan to visit - you will get a far better reception if you take an interest in the people, respect their culture, learn their social etiquettes and at least the basics of the local language. A simple "hello", "please" or "thank you" goes a long way.

• DO respect for local cultures, traditions and holy places and always dress modestly.

• burn all toilet paper, if using "bush toilets"

• DO use water sparingly - it is precious in many countries and the local people may not have sufficient clean water

• DO be prepared for "tourist touts"—young men who hustle up business for safari companies and other local businesses. They are usually very personable but very persistent.

• DO be careful with your belongings particularly in crowded areas.

• DO keep a watch out for fake police officers who want to see your ID; ask for their ID; if you are unsure offer to walk with them to the police station, never get into their car!

• DO watch out for thieves among other travellers, they're often worse than the locals are!

• DO help the local economy of developing countries by buying local produce in preference to imported goods.

• DO help the small local subsidence farmer by purchasing from markets street and road sides stalls where possible.

DON’T

• Don’t discard litter randomly, dispose of it in a proper place. Waste disposal is a major expense in poorer countries

• Don’t become so worried about crime that you forget to enjoy your holiday. It's easy to fall into the habit of worrying so much that the real pleasures of the country and its inhabitants pass you by.

• Don’t be afraid to ask about security when making hotel reservations and when checking into your hotel.

• Don’t display your wealth, don't wear ANY jewellery to poorer countries or areas with a high crime rate, wear a cheap watch.

• Don’t walk around waving a map around - if you get lost go into a shop and take the map out inside.

• Don’t be surprised if water, electricity, internet, mobile connections and other technologies are unavailable from time to time.

• Don’t be surprised if things don't happen as quickly or as efficiently as they do at home.

• Don’t ever take a package, jacket, gift or whatever from somebody, and especially never transport other people's belongings for them, even if they are very nice

Demographics

South Africa is a nation of about 55 million (2016) people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions. The last census was held in 2011. South Africa is home to an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants, including some 3 million Zimbabweans. A series of anti-immigrant riots occurred in South Africa beginning on 11 May 2008.

Statistics South Africa asks people to describe themselves in the census in terms of five racial population groups. The 2011 census figures for these groups were Black African at 79.2%, White at 8.9%, Colored at 8.9%, Asian at 2.5%, and Other/Unspecified at 0.5%. The first census in South Africa in 1911 showed that whites made up 22% of the population; it declined to 16% in 1980.

South Africa hosts a sizeable refugee and asylum seeker population. According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, this population numbered approximately 144,700 in 2007. Groups of refugees and asylum seekers numbering over 10,000 included people from Zimbabwe (48,400), The Democratic Republic of the Congo (24,800), and Somalia (12,900). These populations mainly lived in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth. Many refugees have now also started to work and live in rural areas in provinces such as Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

Largest cities or towns

1. Johannesburg 2. Cape Town
3. EThekwini Metropolitan Municipality 4. Ekurhuleni
5. Tshwane 6. Nelson Mandela Bay
7. Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality 8. Mangaung
9. Emfuleni 10. Polokwane Local Municipality

Languages

South Africa has eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. In this regard it is third only to Bolivia and India 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%). Despite the fact that English is recognized as the language of commerce and science, it ranked fourth, and was listed as the first language of only 9.6% of South Africans in 2011 but remains the de facto lingua franca of the nation.

The country also recognizes several unofficial languages, including Fanagolo, Khoe, Lobedu, Nama, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, and South African Sign Language. 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 Khoikhoi people contain regional dialects stretching northwards into Namibia and Botswana, and elsewhere. These people, who are a physically distinct population from other Africans, have their own cultural identity based on their hunter-gatherer societies. They have been marginalized to a great extent, and the remainder of their languages is in danger of becoming extinct.

Many white South Africans also speak European languages, including Portuguese (also spoken by black Angolans and Mozambicans), German, and Greek, while some Asians in South Africa speak Asian languages, such as Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. French is spoken in South Africa by migrants from Francophone Africa.

Religion

• 79.8 % Christian churches

• 1.5 % Islam

• 1.2% Hinduism

• 0.3% African Traditional Religion

• 0.2% Judaism

• 0.3 %others

• 15.1 % No religion

• 1.4 %Not stated

Culture

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 urbanized and Westernized, aspects of traditional culture have declined. Members of the middle class, who are predominantly white but whose ranks include growing numbers of black, colored and Indian people, have lifestyles similar in many respects to that of people found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia.

The South African Scout Association was one of the first youth organizations to open its doors to youth and adults of all races in South Africa. This happened on 2 July 1977 at a conference known as Quo Vadis.

Festivals

South Africans love a good get-together, and they don’t often need a good reason to enjoy one. However, throw in a great reason and you have the makings of a festival. Mark these top 10 on your calendar.

THE NATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL

Most South Africans have, as a rite of passage, made at least one trip to the Grahams town Festival” — even if it was on an obligatory school trip in a bus full of excitable teens. This ten-day event is undoubtedly the country’s oldest, biggest and most famous arts festival and offers a feast of theatre, music, dance and film for the eager culture vulture. Making the cut for the Grahamstown Festival is the goal of any aspiring creative performer, so you’re guaranteed a line-up of the country’s best. With close on 500 productions being staged this year, it may be tricky to decide how to spend your time. Heading the list of productions is Standard Bank Young Artist for Theatre, Janni Younge, whose Ouroboros is a visually rich and exciting contemporary puppet theatre production about life, death…and tea.” If you’re intent on maintaining the World Cup vibe over this time, don’t miss The Football Diaries or Football.

KNYSNA OYSTER FESTIVAL

Despite being smack bang in the middle of winter, the coastal town of Knysna comes alive for ten days in July over the increasingly famous Oyster Festival period. It may be a bit chilly (especially for that early morning forest start for the popular Knysna Half Marathon) but other than that the skies are clear and restaurant decks are overflowing with visitors flocking to taste oysters, washed down with the odd glass of bubbly. In addition to oyster tasting, oyster braais, oyster-eating competitions and other molluscular sports, the festival programe boasts over 100 events, from live entertainment to Navy displays and an entirely separate programme just for kids.

The two main sporting events, including the afore-mentioned half and full marathon and the Knysna Cycle Tour attract over 13 000 runners and cyclists. 2010 will boast an additional dimension in that the town is playing host to both the French and Danish World Cup teams, so there’ll be some cultural attractions to make these special guests feel at home.

FICKSBURG CHERRY FESTIVAL

This festival, which attracts over 20 000 visitors annually to the small town of Ficksburg in the Free State each year, is apparently one of the longest running festivals in South Africa having first been held in 1969. It is appropriate that Ficksburg, known as the Cherry Capital, should celebrate the crop on which its economy is chiefly based. You can participate in anything and everything from cherry pip spitting and cherry tasting to watching a Friesian horse performance and playing a round of Cherry bowls.

If you hang around long enough, you may even be crowned Miss Cherry Blossom or Mr Cherry Pip. The festival co-coordinator is confident that despite the changing weather patterns they’re guaranteed a good crop this year, and it’s also a great time of year to take in the beautiful scenery of this town that is nestled at the foot of the Imperani Mountain and on the banks of the Caledon River, the border with Lesotho.

SPLASHY FEN MUSIC FESTIVAL

Every Easter weekend, thousands of youngsters and families alike head to a (usually) quiet farm in the Drakensberg, to what may be loosely termed South Africa’s Glastonbury. There are three stages with various alternative rock and pop acts playing throughout the four-day period, muddy spots to pitch your tent, and a decent-sized beer garden — all the crucial elements for a successful music festival! This year marked the 20th Splashy Fen festival since its 1990 inception, and it was a time to reflect on the contribution that it has made in promoting local music.

Well-known South African artists who’ve used it as a platform for public appearance include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Just Jinger, Springbok Nude Girls, Watershed and The Parlotones, to name just a few. Music is not the only draw card to Splashy, however, and some other energetic activities include swimming, tubing and fishing in the river or dams, as well as hiking, horse riding and various nature trails. There are also some lovely guesthouses in nearby towns if you’re a non-mud type.

HERMANUS WHALE FESTIVAL

Every year, the beginning of spring is announced by the arrival of hordes of Southern Right whales in the waters of Walker Bay, Hermanus, where these great creatures end their long travels (thousands of miles) and settle to mate and calve in this pleasant environment. With an equal horde of human visitors arriving to witness this awesome natural event, it made sense to build a festival around it and so the Hermanus Whale Festival was born.

The Whale Festival claims the title of being the only enviro-arts festival in South Africa” and there will be a strong focus on marine life and protection this year. While the whales are always the star performers of the festival, there will be an impressive line-up of musicians and other entertainers, including comedians and sports celebrities. For the adventure-seekers, activities such as shark cage diving, fynbos hikes and kayak trips are on offer.

PRINCE ALBERT OLIVE FESTIVAL

The Karoo village of Prince Albert lies in a fertile valley near the Swartberg mountain range, and has the ideal climate for olive growing. The celebration of their bounty of local olives is enjoyed annually in gourmet style, with two days of foodie fun seasoned with a liberal helping of arts, crafts, history and Culture. From organic olive paste, to olive oils and olive ciabatta, there’s no doubt you’ll be olive’d” out by the end of the weekend, but chances are you’ll leave with bags of produce to enjoy at a later stage. There are of course other fabulous food stalls featuring Guernsey cheeses, figs, dried fruits and other delectable goodies. When you’ve had your fill and wandered the streets of this charming town, you can head to see a local production or take in some live music or, if you’re feeling brave, join a late-night ghost walk tour of the town. Another well-known olive festival is the one in Riebeeck Kasteel, which takes place over the same time of year in this town which is about an hour or so out of Cape Town.

ROBERTSON WACKY WINE WEEKEND

With the Cape Wine lands being one of the most popular destinations in the country, and the wine produced in this area being some of the best in the world, there is little wonder that there are some serious wine festivals at various times of the year. In addition to some excellent wines, the Robertson valley boasts some magnificent scenery to boot — you could be in the South of France, if it weren’t for the distinctly African feel! There are over 50 winemakers that participate in this jolly jamboree and you can meet them personally and taste their wines — some of them also host private barrel-tastings”. Well-known estates in this area include Van Loveren and Bon Courage (try the Vin Doux Blush for a perfectly pink sparkling nectar). Of course, there are a host of other activities on offer to provide entertainment for all, including some more unusual ones such as cheese rolling.

CAPE TOWN JAZZ FESTIVAL

On a distinctly sophisticated note, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival is worth putting in the diary whether you’re an avid jazz fan or simply have an appreciative ear for good music.

Since its inception in 2000, the festival has grown into a hugely successful event, featuring more than 40 international and local artists performing over two days on five stages at Cape Town’s Convention Centre. It has apparently earned the status of being the most prestigious event on the African continent” and is known as Africa’s grandest gathering.” Whether it’s the accolades that’ll draw you, or just the opportunity to hear artists like Vusi Mahlasela or South Africa’s Kwaito stars TKZee, make sure you book your tickets well in advance for this popular festival.

OPPIKOPPI BUSHVELD MUSIC FESTIVAL

The warning attached to this description is that Oppikoppi (derived from op die kop pie” in Afrikaans, or on the hill”) is not for the fainthearted. Situated in the hot, dry and dusty heart of the Bushveld, it started ten years ago as an unassuming but hedonistic rock and roll get-together, and has simply got bigger, louder and wilder over the years.

Music lovers flock to the event which now boasts a line-up of over 60 international and local acts jamming it up for four days straight (across four different stages). There is also a comedy tent and the stage at the top of the hill (koppie) focuses more on chilled music, when you need a bit of a break. In addition to the annual festival in August, the organisers also host a more intimate gathering over the Easter weekend, focusing mostly on rock and jazz

Climate

South Africa has a generally temperate climate, due in part to being surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, by its location in the climatically milder Southern Hemisphere and due to the average elevation rising steadily towards the north (towards the equator) and further inland. Due to this varied topography and oceanic influence, a great variety of climatic zones exist. 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 Mozambique border and the Indian Ocean. Winters in South Africa occur between June and August.

The extreme southwest has a climate remarkably similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers, hosting the famous fynbos biome of shrubland and thicket. This area also produces much of the wine in South Africa. This region is also particularly known for its wind, which blows intermittently almost all year. The severity of this wind made passing around the Cape of Good Hope 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. This area is popularly known as the Garden Route.

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) and receives an annual rainfall of 760 mm (29.9 in). Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.

The high Drakensberg Mountains, which form the south-eastern escarpment of the Highveld, offer limited skiing opportunities in winter. The coldest place on mainland South Africa is Sutherland in the western Roggeveld Mountains, where midwinter temperatures can reach as low as −15 °C (5 °F). The Prince Edward Islands have colder average annual temperatures, but Sutherland 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, 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

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