South Africa facts for kids

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Flag of South Africa
Motto: "!ke e: ǀxarra ǁke(ǀXam)
"Unity In Diversity"
Location of  South Africa  (dark blue)– in Africa  (light blue & dark grey)– in the African Union  (light blue)
Location of  South Africa  (dark blue)

– in Africa  (light blue & dark grey)
– in the African Union  (light blue)

Largest city Johannesburg (2006)
Official languages
Ethnic groups
Demonym(s) South African
Government Constitutional parliamentary republic
Jacob Zuma
• Deputy President
[Cyril Ramaphosa]]
• NCOP Chairman
M. J. Mahlangu
• Speaker of the National Assembly
Max Sisulu
• Chief Justice
Mogoeng Mogoeng
Legislature Parliament
National Council of Provinces
National Assembly
• Union
31 May 1910
11 December 1931
• Republic
31 May 1961
• Total
1,221,037 km2 (471,445 sq mi) (25th)
• Water (%)
• 2013 estimate
52,982,000 (24)
• 2011 census
• Density
42.4/km2 (109.8/sq mi) (169th)
GDP (PPP) 2013 estimate
• Total
$604.103 billion
• Per capita
$11,659 (105)
GDP (nominal) 2013 estimate
• Total
$402.152 billion
• Per capita
Gini (2009) 63.1
very high · 2nd
HDI (2012) Increase 0.629
medium · 121st
Currency South African rand (ZAR)
Time zone UTC+2 (SAST)
Driving side left
Calling code +27
ISO 3166 code ZA
Internet TLD .za

The Republic of South Africa is a country in the southern region of Africa. About fifty-five million people live there. South Africa is next to Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland.

The biggest city of South Africa is Johannesburg. The country has three capitals for different purposes. They are Cape Town, Pretoria, and Bloemfontein. This is because the government is based in Pretoria, the parliament is in Cape Town and the Supreme Court is in Bloemfontein.

There are 11 national languages. They are Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Swati, Setswana, Sesotho, Sesotho sa Leboa, Venda and Tsonga. They are also known as National Lexicography Units (NLUs). Because of all the languages, the country has an official name in each language.

One of South Africa's most well known people is Nelson Mandela. He was its president from 1994 until 1999. He died in 2013. The current president is Jacob Zuma.


The first European people to come to South Africa were Portuguese explorers. In 1487, Bartolomeu Dias found what he called the "Cape of Storms". The king of Portugal changed it to "Cape of Good Hope". He called it this because the cape gave the Portuguese a new chance to find a sea route to India.

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck colonized the Cape. He started the camp for the Dutch East India Company. This was so that they could give fresh food to ships on their way to the south of Asia. There were very few native people living in the Cape. Because of this, slaves were brought from Indonesia, Madagascar and India to work at the colony. In 1795, Great Britain took the Cape from the Dutch East India Company, to stop France from taking it. The British gave it back in 1803 but then annexed the Cape in 1807 when the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt.

Diamonds were found in South Africa in 1867. Gold was found in 1884. This made a great number of people to come to South Africa from Europe. They were hoping to make money.

The First Boer War happened in 1880-1881. The war was between the British and the Boers Republics. At that time, the British had the Cape. The Boer Republics were established when Dutch settlers moved north in the Great Trek. The British lost the war and came back 8 years later in 1899. They won this Second Boer War in 1902. The British had brought many more soldiers the second time. The Boers had no chance of winning. On May 31, 1910 the Union of South Africa was made from the Cape and Natal colonies. It was also made from Orange Free State and the Transvaal. These were two Boer Republics.


South Africa sat
Satellite picture of South Africa

South Africa is found at the southernmost region of Africa, with a long coastline that reaches more than 2,500 km (1,553 mi) and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian). At 1,219,912 km2 (471,011 sq mi), South Africa is the 25th-largest country in the world and is almost the size of Colombia. Njesuthi in the Drakensberg at 3,408 m (11,181 ft) is the highest part in South Africa.

The Drakensberg mountains, the highest mountain range in South Africa

The back of South Africa is a big and flat. It is a very populated scrubland, the Karoo, which is drier towards the northwest along the Namib desert. The eastern coastline however, is well-watered, which makes a climate kind of like the tropics.

To the north of Johannesburg, the altitude drops beyond the escarpment of the Highveld. It then turns into the lower lying Bushveld, an area of mixed dry forest and a lot of wildlife. East of the Highveld, beyond the eastern escarpment, the Lowveld reaches towards the Indian Ocean. It has mostly high temperatures, and is also the location of subtropical agriculture.


South Africa has a mostly temperate climate. It is surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, and is located in the climatically milder southern hemisphere. Average elevation is higher towards the north (towards the equator) and further inland. Because of this varied topography and oceanic influence, different parts of South Africa have different climates.

There is a desert in the southern Namib in the farthest northwest and subtropical climate in the east along the Mozambique border and the Indian ocean. From the east, the land quickly rises over mountains towards the back plateau known as the Highveld. Even though South Africa is thought as semi-arid, there is a difference in climate as well as topography.

The southwest has a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean with mild, moderately wet winters and hot, dry summers. This area also makes much of the wine in South Africa. This region is also mostly known for its wind, which blows almost all year. The wind can sometimes be severe when passing around the Cape of Good Hope mostly gets bad for sailors, making many shipwrecks. Further east on the south coast, rainfall falls more evenly throughout the year, making a green landscape. This area is popularly known as the Garden Route.

The Orange Free State is mostly flat, because it lies in the center of the high plateau. North of the Vaal River, the Highveld becomes better watered and does not get subtropical heat. Johannesburg, in the center of the Highveld, is at 1,740 m (5,709 ft) and gets a yearly rainfall of 740 mm (29.9 in). Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.


South Africa signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity on 4 June 1994, and became a party to the convention on 2 November 1995. It has subsequently produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which was received by the convention on 7 June 2006. The country is ranked sixth out of the world's seventeen megadiverse countries.


South African Giraffes, fighting
South African giraffe, Kruger National Park
African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) male with Oxpecker
African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) male with red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus), Phinda Private Game Reserve, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

Numerous mammals are found in the Bushveld including lions, African leopards, South African cheetahs, southern white rhinos, blue wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotamuses and South African giraffes. A significant extent of the Bushveld exists in the north-east including Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, as well as in the far north in the Waterberg Biosphere. South Africa houses many endemic species, among them the critically endangered riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticullaris) in the Karoo.


Up to 1945, more than 4900 species of fungi (including lichen-forming species) had been recorded. In 2006, the number of fungi in South Africa was estimated at about 200,000 species, but did not take into account fungi associated with insects. If correct, then the number of South African fungi dwarfs that of its plants. In at least some major South African ecosystems, an exceptionally high percentage of fungi are highly specific in terms of the plants with which they occur. The country's Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan does not mention fungi (including lichen-forming fungi).


Forest outside of Durban
Subtropical forest near Durban
KNP Landscape
Lowveld vegetation of the Kruger National Park

With more than 22,000 different higher plants, or about 9% of all the known species of plants on Earth, South Africa is particularly rich in plant diversity. The most prevalent biome in South Africa is the grassland, particularly on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs, and acacia trees, mainly camel-thorn (Vachellia erioloba) and whitethorn (V. constricta). Vegetation becomes even more sparse towards the northwest due to low rainfall. 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 north-east of the country, with denser growth. There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park.

The fynbos biome, which makes up the majority of the area and plant life in the Cape floristic region, 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 richest regions on earth in terms of plant diversity. Most of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous plants. Another uniquely South African flowering plant group is the genus Protea. There are around 130 different species of Protea in South Africa.

While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, only 1% of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal, where there are also areas of Southern Africa mangroves in river mouths. 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.


South Africa's economy is divided. It is divided between First World and Third World standards. The developed part of the economy is similar to that of most nations with wealth (for example, Britain or Australia). The rest of the economy is closer to that of poor nations, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The main companies in South Africa are mining (mostly for gold and diamonds), car making, and service industries, such as insurance.

Unemployment is very high. Income inequality is about the same as Brazil. During 1995–2003, the number of older jobs went down. Informal jobs went up. Overall unemployment got worse. The average South African household income went down a lot between 1995 and 2000. As for racial inequality, Statistics South Africa said that in 1995 the average white household earned four times as much as the average black household. In 2000 the average white family was earning six times more than the average black household. The action policies have seen a rise in black economic wealth. There is a developing black middle class. Other problems are crime, corruption, and HIV/AIDS. South Africa suffers from mostly heavy overall regulation compared to developed countries. . Restrictive labor rules have added to the unemployment weakness.


South Africa is a nation of about 50 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions. The last census was held in 2001 and the next will be in 2011. Statistics South Africa had five racial categories by which people could classify themselves, the last of which, "unspecified/other" drew "not needed" responses, and these results were not sounted. The 2009 middle-year estimated figures for the other categories were Black African at 79.3%, White at 9.1%, Colored at 9.0%, and Asian at 2.6%.

Even though the population of South Africa has grown in the past decade (mostly because of immigration), the country had an yearly population growth rate of −0.501% in 2008 (CIA est.), counting immigration. The CIA thinks that in 2009 South Africa's population started to grow again, at a rate of 0.281%. South Africa is home to an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants, counting about 3 million Zimbabweans. A series of anti-immigrant riots happened in South Africa beginning on 11 May 2008.


Map of South Africa with English labels
Provinces of South Africa

South Africa is divided into 9 provinces. The provinces are in turn divided into 52 districts: 8 metropolitan and 44 district municipalities. The district municipalities are further divided into 226 local municipalities.

Province Provincial capital Largest city Area (km²) Population (2011 est.)
Eastern Cape Bhisho Port Elizabeth 168,966 6,829,958
Free State Bloemfontein Bloemfontein 129,825 2,759,644
Gauteng Johannesburg Johannesburg 18,178 11,328,203
KwaZulu-Natal Pietermaritzburg Durban 94,361 10,819,130
Limpopo Polokwane Polokwane 125,754 5,554,657
Mpumalanga Nelspruit Nelspruit 76,495 3,657,181
North West Mafikeng Rustenburg 104,882 3,253,390
Northern Cape Kimberley Kimberley 372,889 1,096,731
Western Cape Cape Town Cape Town 129,462 5,287,863

Society and culture

Traditional South African cuisine
Decorated houses, Drakensberg Mountains

It may be suggested that there is no single South African culture because of its ethnic diversity. Today, the diversity in foods from many cultures is enjoyed by all and marketed to tourists who wish to taste South African food. Food is not the only thing, music and dance is there too.

South African food is mostly meat-based and has spawned the South African social gathering known as a braai, or barbecue. South Africa has also developed into a big wine maker. It has some of the best vineyards lying in valleys around Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl and Barrydale.

South Africa is the only Western country of Africa. Most South African blacks still have poor lives. It is among these people, however, that cultural traditions live most strongly. This is because blacks have become urbanised and Westernised, much parts of traditional culture have fallen. Urban blacks normally speak English or Afrikaans in addition to their native tongue. There are smaller but still important groups of speakers of Khoisan languages who are not in the eleven official languages, but are one of the eight other officially recognized languages.

Members of middle class, who are mostly white but whose ranks are growing numbers of black, colored and Indian people, have lifestyles similar in many ways to that of people found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia. Members of the middle class often study and work from foreign countries for greater exposure to the markets of the world.


Graaff-Reinet GR3
Church in Graaff Reinet

According to the 2001 national census, Christians accounted for 79.7% of the population. This has Zion Christian (11.1%), Pentecostal (Charismatic) (8.2%), Roman Catholic (7.1%), Methodist (6.8%), Dutch Reformed (6.7%), Anglican (3.8%); members of other Christian churches accounted for another 36% of the population. Muslims accounted for 1.5% of the population, Hinduism about 1.3%, and Judaism 0.2%. 15.1% had no religious affiliation, 2.3% were other and 1.4% were unspecified.


South Africa's most liked sports are soccer, rugby union and cricket. Other sports that are popular are swimming, athletics, golf, boxing, tennis and netball. Soccer is the most liked among youth. There are other sports like basketball, surfing and skateboarding that are becoming more liked.

Graeme Smith, South Africa national cricket team's current captain

Famous boxers from South Africa are Baby Jake Jacob Matlala, Vuyani Bungu, Welcome Ncita, Dingaan Thobela, Gerrie Coetzee and Brian Mitchell. There are football players who have played for major foreign clubs. Some of them are Lucas Radebe and Philemon Masinga (both were of Leeds United), Quinton Fortune (Atletico Madrid and Manchester United), Benni McCarthy (Ajax Amsterdam, F.C. Porto and Blackburn Rovers), Aaron Mokoena (Ajax Amsterdam, Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth), Delron Buckley (Borussia Dortmund) and Steven Pienaar (Ajax Amsterdam and Everton). South Africa made Formula One motor racing's 1979 world champion Jody Scheckter. Famous current cricket players are Herschelle Gibbs, Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy and more. Most of them also participate in the Indian Premier League.

South Africa has also made many world class rugby players. Some of them are Francois Pienaar, Joost van der Westhuizen, Danie Craven, Frik du Preez, Naas Botha, and Bryan Habana. South Africa hosted and won the 1995 Rugby World Cup at their first try. They won the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. South Africa was only allowed to participate from 1995 since the end of Apartheid. It followed the 1995 Rugby World Cup by hosting the 1996 African Cup of Nations. It had the national team, 'Bafana Bafana,' going on to win the tournament. It also hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup. and the 2007 World Twenty20 Championship. Both of them were a great success.

In 2010, South Africa became the first African nation to host the FIFA World Cup. The national team has competed in three World Cups. It bid for the right to stage the 2004 Olympic Games, but finished third to Athens. South Africa is also well known for their cricket team. They are right now the world's number one in test match cricket.


Schoolchildren in Mitchell's Plain

South Africa has a three-tier system of education starting with primary school, followed by high school and tertiary education.

Learners have twelve years of formal schooling, from grade 1 to 12. Grade R, or grade 0, is a pre-primary foundation year.

Primary schools span the first seven years of schooling. High school education spans a further five years. The National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination takes place at the end of grade 12 and is necessary for tertiary studies at a South African university.

Under apartheid, schools for blacks were subject to discrimination through inadequate funding and a separate syllabus called Bantu Education which was only designed to give them sufficient skills to work as labourers.


South Africa's military is the most powerful in southern Africa. South Africa spends more on its military than any of its neighboring countries do. They have very advanced weapons as a result. South Africa used to have nuclear weapons, but they were taken apart in 1993.

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