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South Africa

South Africa

The Republic of South Africa is a country located at the southern tip of the continent of Africa. The South African coast stretches 2,798 kilometres and borders both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. To the north of South Africa lie Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland, while the Kingdom of Lesotho is an independent enclave surrounded by South African territory.

Background History

Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of modern day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the Dutch settlers (the Boers) trekked north to found their own republics. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration and intensified the subjugation of the native inhabitants. The Boers resisted British encroachments but were defeated in the Boer War (1899-1902); however, the British and the Afrikaners, as the Boers became known, ruled together beginning in 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a whites-only referendum. In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid - the separate development of the races - which favored the white minority at the expense of the black majority. The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 brought an end to apartheid and ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. South Africa since then has struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in decent housing, education, and health care. ANC infighting, which has grown in recent years, came to a head in September 2008 when President Thabo Mbeki resigned, and Kgalema Motlanthe, the party's General-Secretary, succeeded him as interim president. Jacob Zuma became president after the ANC won general elections in April 2009. In January 2011, South Africa assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2011-12 term.


Country Name:

  • conventional long form: Republic of South Africa
  • conventional short form: South Africa
  • former: Union of South Africa


  • name: Pretoria (administrative capital)
  • population: 1,404,000
  • geographic coordinates: 25 42 S, 28 13 E
  • time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
  • note: Cape Town (legislative capital); Bloemfontein (judicial capital)


  • 31 May 1910 (Union of South Africa formed from four British colonies: Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State); 31 May 1961 (republic declared); 27 April 1994 (majority rule)

Government Type:

  • republic

Executive Branch:

  • chief of state: President Jacob Zuma (since 9 May 2009); Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe (since 11 May 2009)
  • head of government: President Jacob Zuma (since 9 May 2009); Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe (since 11 May 2009)
  • elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 6 May 2009 (next to be held in 2014)

Legislative Branch:

  • structure: bicameral Parliament consists the National Council of Provinces and the National Assembly

Judicial Branch:

  • structure: Constitutional Court; Supreme Court of Appeals; High Courts; Magistrate Courts

People & Society


  • 48,810,427 (global rank: 26)
  • growth rate: -0.412% (global rank: 217)


  • noun: South African(s)
  • adjective: South African

Major Cities:

  • Johannesbug: 3.607 million, Cape Town: 3.353 million, Ekurhuleni (East Rand): 3.144 million, Durban: 2.837 million, Pretoria (capital): 1.404 million

Ethnic Groups:

  • black African 79%, white 9.6%, colored 8.9%, Indian/Asian 2.5%


  • Protestant 36.6% (Zionist Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%), Catholic 7.1%, Muslim 1.5%, other Christian 36%, other 2.3%, unspecified 1.4%, none 15.1%


  • IsiZulu 23.82%, IsiXhosa 17.64%, Afrikaans 13.35%, Sepedi 9.39%, English 8.2%, Setswana 8.2%, Sesotho 7.93%, Xitsonga 4.44%, siSwati 2.66%, Tshivenda 2.28%, isiNdebele 1.59%, other 0.5%

Life Expectancy at Birth:

  • total population: 49.41 years (global rank: 219)
  • male: 50.34 years
  • female: 48.45 years

Infant Mortality:

  • total population: 42.67 deaths/1,000 live births (global rank: 55)
  • male: 46.54 deaths/1,000 live births
  • female: 38.73 deaths/1,000 live births

HIV/AIDS (2009 est.):

  • adult prevalence rate: 17.8% (global rank: 4)
  • people living with AIDS: 5.6 million (global rank: 1)


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 86.4%
  • male: 87%
  • female: 85.7%


Overview: South Africa is a middle-income, emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors; a stock exchange that is the 18th largest in the world; and modern infrastructure supporting a relatively efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region. Growth was robust from 2004 to 2007 as South Africa reaped the benefits of macroeconomic stability and a global commodities boom, but began to slow in the second half of 2007 due to an electricity crisis and the subsequent global financial crisis' impact on commodity prices and demand. GDP fell nearly 2% in 2009, but recovered in 2010-11. Unemployment remains high and outdated infrastructure has constrained growth. State power supplier Eskom encountered problems with aging plants and meeting electricity demand, necessitating "load-shedding" cuts in 2007 and 2008 to residents and businesses in the major cities. Daunting economic problems remain from the apartheid era - especially poverty, lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups, and a shortage of public transportation. South Africa's economic policy is fiscally conservative, focusing on controlling inflation and attaining a budget surplus. The current government largely follows the these prudent policies, but must contend with the impact of the global crisis and is facing growing pressure from special interest groups to use state-owned enterprises to deliver basic services to low-income areas and to increase job growth.
Gross Domestic Product:
  • GDP (PPP): $554.6 billion (global rank: 26)
  • GDP per capita (PPP): $11,000 (global rank: 104)
  • real growth rate: 3.4% (global rank: 118)
  • composition by sector: agriculture: 2.5%, industry: 31.6%, services: 65.9%


  • currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
  • exchange rate (per US Dollar): 7.164


  • unemployment rate: 23.9%
  • population below poverty line: 50%

Agricultural Products:

  • corn, wheat, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables; beef, poultry, mutton, wool, dairy products


  • mining (world's largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, metalworking, machinery, textiles, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilizer, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair

Export Commodities:

  • gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment

Import Commodities:

  • machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, scientific instruments, foodstuffs



  • Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa


  • total: 1,219,090 sq km (global rank: 25)
  • land: 1,214,470 sq km
  • water: 4,620 sq km
  • comparative: slightly less than twice the size of Texas


  • mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights

Land Use:

  • arable land: 12.1%
  • permanent crops: 0.79%
  • other: 87.11%

Natural Resources:

  • gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas

Current Environmental Issues:

  • lack of important arterial rivers or lakes requires extensive water conservation and control measures; growth in water usage outpacing supply; pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and urban discharge; air pollution resulting in acid rain; soil erosion; desertification

Transnational Issues

  • international disputes: South Africa has placed military along the border to apprehend the thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing economic dysfunction and political persecution; as of January 2007, South Africa also supports large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (33,000), Somalia (20,000), Burundi (6,500), and other states in Africa (26,000); managed dispute with Namibia over the location of the boundary in the Orange River; in 2006, Swazi king advocates resort to ICJ to claim parts of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal from South Africa
  • refugees (country of origin): 10,772 (Democratic Republic of Congo); 7,818 (Somalia); 5,759 (Angola)
  • illicit drugs: transshipment center for heroin, hashish, and cocaine, as well as a major cultivator of marijuana in its own right; cocaine and heroin consumption on the rise; world's largest market for illicit methaqualone, usually imported illegally from India through various east African countries, but increasingly producing its own synthetic drugs for domestic consumption; attractive venue for money launderers given the increasing level of organized criminal and narcotics activity in the region and the size of the South African economy

Published: Monday, September 08, 2008