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 Second Anglo 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 came to a head in 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 2009; he was reelected in 2014.


Country Name:

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


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


  • 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 Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa (since 26 May 2014)
  • head of government: President Jacob Zuma (since 9 May 2009); Deputy President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa (since 26 May 2014)
  • elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 21 May 2014 (next to be held on May 2019)
  • election results: Jacob Zuma re-elected president unopposed; he was sworn in on 24 May 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


  • 48,375,645 (global rank: 28)
  • growth rate: -0.48% (global rank: 222)


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

Major Cities:

  • Johannesburg (includes Ekurhuleni) 9.176 million; Cape Town (legislative capital) 3.624 million; Durban 2.89 million; Pretoria (capital) 1.991 million; Port Elizabeth 1.172 million; Vereeniging 1.147 million; Bloemfontein (judicial capital) 496,000

Ethnic Groups:

  • black African 80.2%, white 8.4%, colored 8.8%, 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 (official) 22.7%, IsiXhosa (official) 16%, Afrikaans (official) 13.5%, English (official) 9.6%, Sepedi (official) 9.1%, Setswana (official) 8%, Sesotho (official) 7.6%, Xitsonga (official) 4.5%, siSwati (official) 2.5%, Tshivenda (official) 2.4%, isiNdebele (official) 2.1%, sign language 0.5%, other 1.6%

Life Expectancy at Birth:

  • total population: 49.56 years (global rank: 223)
  • male: 50.52 years
  • female: 48.58 years

Infant Mortality:

  • total population: 41.61 deaths/1,000 live births (global rank: 51)
  • male: 45.25 deaths/1,000 live births
  • female: 37.9 deaths/1,000 live births


  • adult prevalence rate: 19.05% (2013 est.) (global rank: 4)
  • people living with AIDS: 6,274,100 million (2013 est.) (global rank: 2)


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 93.7%
  • male: 95%
  • female: 92.6%



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, and a stock exchange that is Africa’s largest and among the top 20 in the world. Even though the country's modern infrastructure supports a relatively efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region, unstable electricity supplies retard growth. The global financial crisis reduced commodity prices and world demand, and GDP fell nearly 2% in 2009 but has recovered since then, albeit slowly, with 2014 growth less than 2%. Unemployment, poverty, and inequality - among the highest in the world - remain a challenge. Official unemployment is roughly 25% of the work force, and runs significantly higher among black youth. Eskom, the state-run power company, has built two new power stations and installed new power demand management programs to improve power grid reliability. Load shedding and resulting rolling blackouts gripped many parts of South Africa in late 2014 because of electricity supply constraints that resulted from technical problems at some generation units, unavoidable planned maintenance, and an accident at a power station in Mpumalanga province. The rolling black outs were the worst the country faced since 2008. Construction delays at two additional plants, however, mean South Africa will continue to operate on a razor thin margin; economists judge that growth cannot exceed 3% until those plants come on line. South Africa's economic policy has focused on controlling inflation, however, the country faces structural constraints that also limit economic growth, such as skills shortages, declining global competitiveness and frequent work stoppages. The current government faces 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): $683.1 billion (global rank: 31)
  • GDP per capita (PPP): $12,700 (global rank: 115)
  • real growth rate: 1.4% (global rank: 167)
  • composition by sector: agriculture: 2.4%, industry: 28.5%, services: 69.1%


  • currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
  • exchange rate (per US Dollar): 10.79


  • unemployment rate: 25%
  • population below poverty line: 31.3%

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: 9.89%
  • permanent crops: 0.34%
  • other: 89.77%

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 units to assist police operations along the border of Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to control smuggling, poaching, and illegal migration; the governments of South Africa and Namibia have not signed or ratified the text of the 1994 Surveyor's General agreement placing the boundary in the middle of the Orange River
  • refugees (country of origin): 20,504 (Somalia); 14,426 (Democratic Republic of Congo); 7,580 (Ethiopia)
  • 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: Friday, April 24, 2015

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.

South Africa