South Africa, one finds the the world's most dramatic
landscapes, a unique wealth of animal and plant life, a treasure
of gold, diamonds and other minerals, and a kaleidoscope of
Nature's tools of creation, the wind, sun, ice and rain, have
worked a special magic. There are extremes of deserts,
savannas, snow-covered mountains, grasslands, high forests and
tropical mangrove swamps. Within these climatic zones,
Earth's most diverse plant population flourishes. South
Africa is also the home of big game, a hosts birds as varied as
the vast range of habitats and foods that nature has prepared
is this variety of South Africa's fascinating and diverse
peoples that is its great asset. South Africa is often
called the cradle of civilization, for this is where
archaeologists discovered 2.5 million-year-old fossils of our
earliest ancestors, as well as 100,000 year old remains of
Although South Africans come from many cultural traditions, they
belong to one nation, a dynamic blend of age-old customs and
modern ways, building a new South African society to create a
better life for all
The results of the second
democratic Census (Census 2001) were released in July 2003.
On the night of 10 October 2001
there were 44.819.778 people in South Africa. Of these, 79%
classified themselves as African; 9,6% as white; 8.9% as
coloured; and 2.5% as Indian/Asian.
A total of 21.685.415 people in
South Africa are male, and 23.662.839 female.
The South African population
consists of the following groups: the Nguni people (consisting
of the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi); the Sotho-Tswana people;
who include the Southern, Northern and Western Sotho (Tswana);
the Tsonga; the Venda; Afrikaners; the English; Coloureds;
Indians; and those who have immigrated to South Africa from the
rest of Africa, Europe and Asia and maintain a strong cultural
identity. A few members of the Khoi and San also live in South
Almost 80% of South Africa'
population adheres to the Christian faith. Other major religious
groups are the Hindus, Muslims and Jews. A minority of South
Africa's population does not belong to any of the major
religions, but regard themselves as traditionalists or of no
specific religious affiliation. Freedom of worship is
guaranteed by the Constitution, and official policy is one of
non-interference in religious practices.
The South African Constitution,
1996 (Act 108 of 1996), states that everyone has the right to
use the language and to participate in the cultural life of his
or her choice. but no one may do so in a manner inconsistent
with any provision of the Bill of Rights. Each person has a
right to instruction in the language of his or her choice where
this is reasonably practicable.
To cater for South Africa's
diverse peoples, the Constitution provides for 11 official
languages, namely Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa,
isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and
Recognizing the historically
diminished use and status of the indigenous languages, the
Constitution expects the Government to take positive measures to
elevate the status and advance the use of these languages.
According to the Census figures, the five most commonly-spoken
home languages are IsiZulu (22.9%); IsiXhosa (17.9%); Afrikaans
(14.4%); Sepedi (9.2%) and English (8.6%).
The Republic of South Africa
occupies the southernmost part of the African continent,
stretching latitudinally from 22° to 35°S and longitudinally
from 17° to 33° E.
Its surface area is 1,219,090 km².
It has common boundaries with the republics of Namibia, Botswana
and Zimbabwe, while the Republic of Mozambique and the Kingdom
of Swaziland lie to the north-east. Completely enclosed by South
African territory in the south-east, is the Kingdom of Lesotho.
To the west, south and east, South
Africa borders on the Atlantic and southern Indian oceans.
Isolated, 1,920 km. south-east of Cape Town in the Atlantic, lie
Prince Edward and Marion islands, annexed by South Africa in
South Africa is surrounded by sea
to the west, south and east and has a lengthy coastline. This
coastline is swept by two major ocean currents – the Mozambique
Agulhas and the Benguela systems. The former is a warm,
south-flowing current skirting the east and south coasts as far
as Cape Agulhas. The Benguela Current is cold and flows
northwards as far as southern Angola along the west coast.
The contrast in temperature
between these two currents partly accounts for important
differences in climate and vegetation between the east and west
coasts of South Africa. It also causes big differences in marine
life, because the cold waters of the west coast are much richer
in oxygen, nitrates, phosphates and plankton than those of the
For this reason, the South African
fishing industry is centered on the west coast.
The coastline itself is an even,
closed one with few bays or indentations naturally suitable for
harbors. The only ideal natural harbor along some 3,000 km. of
coastline is Saldanha Bay on the west coast. However, the area
lacks fresh water and offers no natural lines of penetration to
Most river mouths are unsuitable
for use as harbors because large sand bars block entry for most
of the year. These bars are formed by the action of waves and
currents, and the intermittent flow, heavy sediment load and
steep gradients of most South African rivers. Only the largest
rivers, such as the Orange and Limpopo, maintain narrow
permanent channels through the bars. For much the same reasons,
the country has no navigable rivers.
The surface area of South Africa
falls into two major physiographic features: the interior
plateau, and the land between the plateau and the coast.
Forming the boundary between these
two areas is the Great Escarpment, the most prominent and
continuous relief feature in the country. Its height above sea
level varies from approximately 1,500 m in the dolerite-capped
Roggeveld scarp in the south-west to a height of 3,482 m in the
Inland from the Escarpment lies
the interior plateau, which is the southern continuation of the
great African plateau stretching north to the Sahara. The
plateau itself is characterized by wide plains with an average
height of 1,200 m above sea level.
The subtropical location, on
either side of 30°S, accounts for the warm temperate conditions
so typical of South Africa.
The country also falls squarely
within the subtropical belt of high pressure, making it dry,
with an abundance of sunshine.
The wide expanses of ocean on
three sides of South Africa have a moderating influence on its
climate. More apparent, however, are the effects of the warm
Agulhas and cold Benguela currents along the east and west
coasts respectively. While Durban (east coast) and Port Nolloth
(west coast) lie more or less on the same latitude, there is a
difference of at least 6ºC in their mean annual
Gale-force winds are frequent on
the coasts, especially in the south-western and southern coastal
Temperature conditions in South
Africa are characterized by three main features. Firstly,
temperatures tend to be lower than in other regions at similar
latitudes, for example, North Africa and Australia. This is
primarily due to the greater elevation above sea level of the
Secondly, despite a latitudinal
span of 13 degrees, average annual temperatures are remarkably
uniform throughout the country. Owing to the increase in the
height of the plateau towards the north-east, there is hardly
any increase in temperature from south to north as might be
expected. The third feature is the striking contrast between
temperatures on the east and west coasts.
Temperatures above 32ºC
are fairly common in summer, and frequently exceed 38ºC
in the lower Orange River valley and the Mpumalanga Lowveld.
Frost, Humidity and Fog
Frost often occurs on the interior
plateau during cold, clear winter nights, with ice forming on
still pools and in water-pipes.The frost season is longest (from
April to October) over the eastern and southern plateau areas
bordering on the Escarpment. Frost decreases to the north, while
the coast is virtually frost-free.
Average annual relative humidity
readings show that, in general, the air is driest over the
western interior and over the plateau. Along the coast, the
humidity is much higher and at times may rise to 85%. Low
stratus clouds and fog frequently occur over the cool west
coast, particularly during summer.
The only other area that commonly
experiences fog is in the "mist belt" along the eastern
foothills of the Escarpment.
South Africa is famous for its
sunshine. Generally speaking, April and May are usually the most
pleasant months. The rainy season over the summer-rainfall
region has then ended, while it has not yet really begun in the
winter-rainfall area. The hot summer weather has abated and the
winds are lighter than during the rest of the year. In certain
areas, however, notably the hot, humid KwaZuluNatal coast,
Mpumalanga and the Northern Province, June and July are the
ideal holiday months.