- This article is about the country called South Africa. For information about the region of southern Africa, see Southern Africa
The Republic of South Africa (Safoffname.mp3) is a large republic in Southern Africa. It is located at the southern tip of the continent, and borders Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland. The small nation of Lesotho is entirely contained within South African territory. Its economy is the largest and most well developed of the entire African continent, with modern infrastructure common in nearly all of the country.
South Africa has the largest population of people of European descent in Africa, the largest Indian population outside of Asia, as well as the largest Coloured community in Africa, making it one of the most ethnically diverse countries on the continent. Racial and ethnic strife between the white minority and the black majority have played a large part in the country's history and politics. The National Party began introducing the policy of apartheid after winning the general election of 1948; however, it was the same party under the leadership of F.W. de Klerk who started to dismantle it in 1990 after a long struggle by the black majority, as well as many white, coloured and Indian South Africans.
The country is one of the few in Africa never to have had a coup d'état, and regular free and fair elections are held since 1994, making it a regional power and among the most stable democracies in Africa.
South Africa has 11 official languages, second only to India in number. As a result, there are many official names for the country. It also recognises eight non-official languages: Fanagalo, Lobedu , Northern Ndebele, Phuthi , South African Sign Language , Khoe, Nama and San . These non-official languages may be used in certain official uses in limited areas where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent, but their populations are not as such that they require nationwide recognition.
There are 11 official names for South Africa, one for each of the official national languages. While each language is technically equal to every other, English has emerged recently as the chief-among-peers as it is the most widely spoken language across racial barriers, even though it is not the most widely spoken language by population. The South African passport currently has only French and English on the front cover and lists the other official names of South Africa on an inner page.
Many of these "unofficial languages" of the San and Khoikhoi people contain regional dialects stretching northward into Namibia and Botswana, and elsewhere. These people, who are a physically distinct population from other Africans, have their own cultural identity based on being hunter-gatherers. They have been marginalized, and many languages may become extinct.
- Main article: History of South Africa
South Africa is one of the oldest nations in Africa. Extensive fossil remains at the Sterkfontein, Kromdraai and Makapansgat caves suggest that various australopithecines existed in South Africa from about three million years ago. These were succeeded by various species of Homo, including Homo habilis, Homo erectus and modern man, Homo sapiens. Bantu iron-using agriculturists and herdsmen moved south of the Limpopo River into modern-day South Africa by the 4th or 5th century CE (the Bantu expansion). They slowly moved south and the earliest ironworks in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal Province are believed to date from around 1050. The furthest south they reached was the Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. These Iron Age populations displaced earlier hunter-gatherer peoples as they migrated.
The written history of South Africa began on April 6, 1652, when a victualing station was established at the Cape of Good Hope by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. For most of the 17th and 18th centuries, the slowly expanding settlement was a Dutch possession. The Dutch settlers initiated a series of wars called Cape Frontier Wars against the Xhosa people, and imported slaves from Indonesia, Madagascar, and India. Descendants of these slaves, who often married with Dutch settlers, later became known as Cape Coloureds and "Cape Malays", constituting roughly 50 percent of the population in the Western Cape Province.
Great Britain seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1797 during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War. The Dutch declared bankruptcy, and the British annexed the Cape Colony in 1805.
The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886 encouraged economic growth and immigration, intensifing the subjugation of the natives. The Boers successfully resisted British encroachments during the First Boer War (1880–1881) basing their tactics much better on local conditions. For example, the Boers wore khaki clothing, which was the same colour as the earth, whereas the British wore bright red uniforms, making them easy targets for Boer sharpshooters. The British returned in greater numbers without their red jackets in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), which was largely opposed by the Liberal Party in the British Parliament. The Boers' attempt to ally themselves with German South West Africa provided the British with yet another excuse to take control of the Boer Republics. The Boers resisted fiercely, but the British eventually overwhelmed the Boer forces using their superior numbers and external supply chains. The Treaty of Vereeniging specified full British sovereignty over the South African republics, and the British government agreed to assume the £3,000,000 war debt owed by the Afrikaner governments. One of the main provisions of the treaty ending the war was that blacks would not be allowed to vote, except in the Cape Colony.
After four years of negotiations, the Union of South Africa was created from the colonies of Cape Colony, Natal Colony, and the republics of Orange Free State, and Transvaal on May 31, 1910, exactly eight years after the end of the Second Boer War. In 1934 the South African Party and National Parties merged to form the United Party, seeking reconciliation between Afrikaners and English-speaking whites, but split in 1939 over the Union's entry in World War II as an ally of the United Kingdom. The right-wing rump National Party sympathised with Nazi Germany during the war, and sought greater racial segregation, or apartheid after it.
After World War II, the whites were able to maintain their rule by implementing the policies that would become known collectively as apartheid, a series of harsh laws segregating the country along racial lines. Apartheid became increasingly controversial in the late 20th century, leading to widespread sanctions and divestment abroad and growing unrest and oppression by the National Party within South Africa. In 1990, after a long period of resistance, strikes, and unrest by various anti-apartheid movements, most notably the African National Congress (ANC), the National Party government took the first step towards negotiating itself out of power when it lifted the ban on the African National Congress and other left-wing political organisations, and released Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years. Apartheid legislation was gradually removed from the statute books, and the first multi-racial elections were held in 1994. The ANC won by an overwhelming majority, and has been in power ever since.
Despite the official end of apartheid, a form of economic apartheid continues as millions of South Africans, mostly black, continue to live in poverty. A series of voluntary and legislative moves under the controversial Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programme  have helped to redress decades of racial imbalance in the management and ownership of South African business and industry.
Many non-black people have criticised the ANC for its policies concerning the racial imbalances in the South African workforce. Many feel that it is now harder for non-black people to get jobs, and this is creating a sort of reverse apartheid.
- Main article: Government of South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a constitutional democracy with a three-tiered system of government and an independent judiciary, operating under a Westminster-style parliamentary system. Unlike many other Commonwealth nations, South Africa does not have the British monarch as head of state, which makes the nation a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy. The minimum age for voting in South Africa is 18, and unlike most other nations, permanent residents as well as citizens are allowed to vote.
The government is federalist: the national, provincial, and local levels of government all have legislative and executive authority in their own spheres, and is defined in the South African constitution as "distinctive, interdependent, and interrelated"—a system of separation of powers.
Operating at both national and provincial levels are advisory bodies drawn from South Africa's traditional leaders. It is a stated intention in the Constitution that the country be run on a system of cooperative governance.
There are three main branches which comprise the body of the government and performs all its tasks:
All bodies of the South African government are subject to the rule of the constitution, which is the supreme law in South Africa.
- Main article: Politics of South Africa
South Africa has a bicameral Parliament, comprising the National Council of Provinces (or upper house) with 90 members, and a National Assembly (or lower house) with 400 members. Members of the lower house are elected on a population basis from single-member constituencies, known formally as "divisions". Ten members are elected to represent each province in the National Council of Provinces, regardless of the population of the province. Elections for both chambers are held every five years. The government is formed in the lower house, and the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly is the President.
Current South African politics is dominated by the ANC, who received 69.7 percent of the vote during the 2004 general election. The main challenger to the ANC's rule is the Democratic Alliance party, which received only 12.4 percent of the vote. The formerly dominant New National Party, who introduced apartheid through its predecessor, the National Party, has suffered increasing humiliation at election polls since 1994, and finally voted to disband on 9 April 2005.
- Main article: Provinces of South Africa
When apartheid ended in 1994, the South African government had to integrate the formerly independent and semi-independent Bantustans into the political structure of South Africa. To this end, it abolished the four former provinces of South Africa (Cape Province, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal) and replaced them with nine fully integrated neutrally named provinces. The new provinces are much smaller than the former provinces, which theoretically is in order to give local governments more resources to distribute over smaller areas. The new provinces are:
- Main article: Geography of South Africa
South Africa is located at the extreme south of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km and across two oceans (the Atlantic and the Indian). South Africa has a great variety of climate zones, from the extreme desert of the Kalahari near Namibia to lush subtropical climate along the border with Mozambique. It quickly rises over a mountainous escarpment towards the interior plateau known as the Highveld. Even though South Africa is classified as semi-arid, there is considerable variation in climate as well as topography.
The interior of South Africa is a giant, mountainous, and sparsly populated scrubland Karoo plateau, which is more dry towards the north-west along the Kalahari desert. In contrast, the eastern coastline is lush and well-watered which produces a climate similar to the tropics. The southern coast, a part of which is known as the Garden Route has a climate remarkably similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers. This area also produces much of South Africa's wine. 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.
The Free State is particularly flat due to the fact that the eastern region of the Highveld does not extend as far north as the western region. North 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 and receives an annual rainfall of 760 mm. Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.
To the north and east of Johannesburg, the altitude drops beyond the Highveld's escarpment, and turns into the Lowveld . The Lowveld has particularly high temperatures, and is also the location of traditional South African Bushveld. The high Drakensberg mountains, which form the eastern escarpment of the Highveld, offer limited skiing opportunities in winter. The coldest place in South Africa is Sutherland in the western Roggeveld Mountains , where midwinter temperatures can reach as low as –15 degrees Celsius. The deep interior has the hottest temperatures: A temperature of 51.7°C was recorded in 1948 in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington.
Flora and fauna
South Africa has more than 20,000 different plants, or about 10 percent of all the known species of plants on earth, making it particularly verdant. The Fynbos Biome, one of the six floral kingdoms, is located in a small region of the Western Cape and contains more than 9,000 of those species, making it among the most green places on earth. The majority of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous. Another particularly South African plant is the protea, which is a genus of blooming plants. There are 130 different species recorded in South Africa.
While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, it has a dearth of forest resources. Only one percent of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain along the Indian Ocean in KwaZulu-Natal. There are even smaller reserves of forests that 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. The original temperate forest that met the first European settlers to South Africa was extinguished ruthlessly until only small patches remained. Currently, South African hardwood trees like yellowwood, stinkwood , and ironwood are under constant supervision and protection by governmental environmental agencies.
South Africa's most prevalent biome is grassland, which is particularly present on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs, and acacia trees, mainly camel-thorn and whitethorn. Vegetation becomes even more sparse towards the northwest due to low precipitation. There are several species of water-storing succulents like aloes and euphorbias in the very hot and dry Namaqualand area. The grass and thorn savannah turns slowly into a bush savannah towards the northeast of the country, with more dense growth. There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park. 
- Main article: Economy of South Africa
South Africa is a middle-income, developed country with an abundant supply of resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors, a stock exchange, JSE Securities Exchange, that ranks among the 10 largest in the world, and a modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centres throughout the region. However, although growth has been positive for ten consecutive years, it has not cut into the 40 percent unemployment, and daunting economic problems remain from the apartheid era, especially the problems of poverty and lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups. Other problems are crime, corruption, and HIV/AIDS. At the start of 2000, President Thabo Mbeki vowed to promote economic growth and foreign investment by relaxing restrictive labour laws, stepping up the pace of privatization, and cutting unneeded governmental spending. His policies face strong opposition from organized labour.
It is estimated that South Africa accounts for up to 25 percent of the gross domestic product of the entire African continent. South Africa is also the continent's largest energy producer and consumer.
South Africa has an estimated 4.79 million HIV infections. The government has recently, after much delay, devoted substantial resources to fighting the epidemic. A recent study (from the African Journal of AIDS Research, Thomas Rehle and Olive Shisana) showed the infection rate starting to level off, (from 4.2 percent to 1.7 percent infection rate for 15-49 year olds), and AIDS deaths peaking at 487,320 in 2008.
Since South Africa relaxed its border controls after the demise of apartheid, international crime syndicates have entered the country and a large proportion of the world's drug trade flows through the country. South Africa is also the fourth-largest producer of marijuana in the world.
The volatility of the rand has affected economic activity, with the Rand falling sharply during 2001 (hitting an historic low of R13.85 to the Dollar, raising fears of inflation, and causing the Reserve Bank to increase interest rates). The Rand has since dramatically recovered, trading at under R6 to the dollar as of December 2004 (its best level since 1999) while the South African Reserve Bank's policy of inflation targeting has brought inflation under control. The stronger Rand has however put exporters under considerable pressure, with many calling for government to intervene in the exchange rate to help soften the Rand and many others dismissing staff.
Interest rates have been cut to their lowest levels in more than two decades (550 basis points in 2003 alone) fuelling economic growth, with South Africa recording 5.6 percent of economic growth in the third quarter of 2004, the highest quarterly growth reported since 1996. Many economists feel that the country is entering a period of strong growth and may achieve sustained annual growth of five percent or more.
- Main article: Demographics of South Africa
South Africa is a nation of 44.8 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and beliefs. The 2001 Statistics South Africa census provided five racial categories by which people could classify themselves, the last of which, "unspecified/other" drew negligible responses, and these results were omitted. Results for the other categories were:
By far the major part of the population classified itself as African or black, but it is not culturally or linguistically homogenous. The white population descends largely from colonial immigrants: Dutch, German, French Huguenot, and British. Linguistically, it is divided into Afrikaans- and English-speaking groups, although many small communities immigrating over the last century retain the use of other languages.
The label "coloured" is a contentious one, but still largely used for the people of mixed race descended from slaves brought in from the East and central Africa, the indigenous Khoesan who lived in the Cape at the time, indigenous African blacks and whites. The majority speak Afrikaans. Khoesan is a term used to describe two separate groups, physically similar in that they were light-skinned and small in stature. The Khoe, who were called Hottentots by the Europeans, were pastoralists and were effectively annihilated; the San, called Bushmen by the Europeans, were hunter-gatherers.
The major part of the Asian population of the country is Indian in origin, many of them descended from indentured workers brought in the 19th century to work on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal area then known as Natal. There is also a significant group of Chinese South Africans.
In terms of religious affiliation, about three-fourths of South Africans are Christian, mainly Protestant. They belong to a variety of churches, including many that combine Christian and traditional African beliefs. Most of the non-Christian population hold traditional animistic beliefs. Minority religions include Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism.
- Main article: Culture of South Africa
There is no single culture of South Africa because of its ethnic diversity, and thus each racial group has its own cultural identity. This can be seen in differences in food, music, and dance among each of separate groups. However, there are certain unifying traits. South African cuisine is heavily meat-based and has spawned the distinctively South African social gathering known as a braai. South Africa has also developed into a major wine producer, with some of the best vineyards in the world lying in valleys around Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl. The unusual fast food of deep-fried crickets is also common in South Africa.
There is great diversity in music from South Africa. Many black musicians who sung in Afrikaans or English during apartheid have since begun to sing in traditional African languages, and have developed a unique style called Kwaito. 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 classic music with an African flavour. White and Coloured South African singers tend to avoid traditional African musical themes, instead preferring more European musical styles. There is a thriving market for Afrikaans music, covering all the genres of Western music.
The country's black majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished lives. It is among these people, however, that traditional dance and music survive; as blacks have become increasingly urbanised and westernised, aspects of traditional culture have declined. Urban blacks usually speak English or Afrikaans in addition to their native tongue. There are smaller but still significant groups of speakers of Khoi-San languages which are not official languages, but are one of the eight officially recognised languages. There are small groups of speakers of endangered languages, most of which are from the Khoi-San family, that receive no official status; however, some groups within South Africa are attempting to promote their use and revival.
The white minority lead lifestyles similar in many respects to whites found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia. Historical enmity between Afrikaans and English-speaking whites has given way to banter that is purely amiable today.
Despite considerable discrimination under apartheid, Coloureds tend to relate more to white South African culture rather than black South African culture, especially Afrikaans-speaking Coloured people whose language and religious beliefs are similar or identical to white Afrikaners. A small minority of Coloureds, known as Cape Malays are Muslim.
Asians, predominantly of Indian origin, preserve their own cultural heritage, languages and religious beliefs, being either Hindu or Sunni Muslim, and speaking English, with Indian languages like Telugu or Gujarati being spoken less frequently. There is a much smaller Chinese community in South Africa, although its numbers have increased due to immigration from Taiwan. Since the Taiwanese were classified as White, rather than Asian, under apartheid, they tend to be more culturally similar to whites in many ways than they are to other Asians.
Crime is a major problem in South Africa, especially violent crime . According to a survey (see results) compiled by the United Nations, South Africa is ranked first for murder by firearm, manslaughter, rape, and assault. It is number two for murder, and number four for robbery. This has had a pronounced effect on society: many wealthier South Africans moved into gated communities, abandoning the central business districts of some cities for the relative security of suburbs. This effect is most pronounced in Johannesburg, although the trend is noticeable in other cities as well. Many emigrants from South Africa also state that crime was a big motivator for them.
- Main article: South African National Defence Force
South Africa's armed forces are known as the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The SANDF was created in 1994 after the end of apartheid, replacing the South African Defence Force (SADF). The SANDF consists of the original SADF, the various liberation movements armed wings and the armed forces of the now defunct home land states, of 2004, the integration process was considered complete, with the integrated personnel having been incorporated into a slightly modified structure very similar to that of the SADF, with the latter's training standards, tactical doctrine, equipment and officer corps for the most part being retained.
The SANDF is extensively involved in peacekeeping operations in other parts of the continent. South Africa's latest diplomatic success was hosting the negotiations between the rebels and the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to end the Second Congo War.
The commander of the SANDF is appointed by the President from one of the armed services. The commander (currently General Siphiwe Nyanda ) reports to the Minister of Defence (currently Mosiua Lekota ).
- Main article: Media in South Africa
South Africa also has a large, free, and active press that regularly challenges the government. Major scandals have erupted when the press reported charges of corruption that were proven to be true in cases such as Schabir Shaik and the corruption allegations that got Winnie Mandela fired. The government's stance on 2005 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections and AIDS have also attracted plenty of coverage.
Even though South Africa has the most sophisticated media network in Africa, it was one of the last countries in the world to allow television. Yet before the end of apartheid, television networks covered all urban areas and some less populated areas, while radio networks covered almost all of the country.
An African language channel was introduced to the SABC in 1981, and finally the SABC's monopoly was challenged in 1986 when a new television network, M-Net, was launched. South Africa currently has three domestic television networks, as well as access to satellite television.