South Africa

The most southern country in Africa offers everything from over 3,000 kilometers of mostly white sandy beaches to one of the highest mountain ranges on the continent. From spectacular scenery, exquisite wildlife viewing, a climate ranging from searing hot deserts to snow-capped peaks, and a first world infrastructure, are found in South Africa. Its tremendous variety in landscapes and natural splendor makes South Africa a truly unique and inspiring experience for the visitor. These qualities make it a destination not to be missed.

The real heart of this vibrant country and its diverse cultures go back to the beginning of time. Known for the Cradle of Humankind, it was here that archaeologists discovered 2,5 million year old hominid fossils as well as the 100 000 year old remains of modern humankind. Many of South Africa’s cultures have their roots in an ancient world.

In more recent times, world famous people like Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi, Cecil John Rhodes, Nelson Mandela, Emily Hobhouse, Jan Smuts, Louis Botha, Chris Barnard and many others, have all influenced and helped shape the South African society to what it is today.

Fast Facts

Location: Southern tip of Africa
Neighbours: Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia
Geography: Coastal belt, mountain range, central high plateau
Vegetation: Savanna, grasslands, Karoo, sub-tropical, Fynbos
Biodiversity: Ranked sixth out of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, with more than 20,000 different plants, or about 10% of all the known species of plants on Earth.
Climate: Days – mild to cold in winter, hot in summer, mostly sunshine
Nights – very cold in winter, mild in summer
Capital cities: Pretoria (administrative), Cape Town (legislative), Bloemfontein (judicial)
Main cities: Johannesburg (economic capital), Durban, Port Elizabeth
Population: 47,432 million est. (2005)
Population density: 39.0/km²
Languages: English, Afrikaans, 12 native languages
Religions: Predominantly Christian, Muslim, some tribal beliefs
Currency: South African Rand
Economy and trade: Agriculture, mining, industry, fisheries, tourism
History: First European settlement (1652), British colony (1795 – 1910) and Boer republics (until 1910), Second Boer War (1899 – 1902), Union of South Africa (1910 – 1961), Republic of South Africa (1961 – 1994), First democratic elections (1994)
Government: Democratically elected
Time Zone: SAST (UTC +2)
Calling Code: +27
Internet TLD: .za
Drives on the: Left

Country Highlights

Addo N.P.
Situated in the Eastern Cape, the 164,000 ha Addo National Elephant Park is being expanded into a 360,000 ha mega-park. Some of its unique features already include: Unrivalled natural diversity, with five of South Africa’s seven major vegetation zones (biomes); The Big 7 (Elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, leopard, whales and great white sharks) in their natural habitat; and a rich heritage of archaeological and historical sites.

Cape
Generally referred to as the southern part of the country, it is famous for the fynbos vegetation. As one of the 6 plant kingdoms in the world, it boasts over 8,000 different plant species. The Cape is also well known for the Garden Route that runs along the beautiful coast line and the mountains. The southern Cape has a Mediterranean climate, receiving most of its rain in winter.

Cape Point
The most southwesterly point of Africa, where the cold Benguela current on the West coast and the warm Agulhas current on the East coast merge. One of the highest sea cliffs in the world – 249 m a.s.l., it forms part of the 22,100 ha Table Mountain National Park, a natural World Heritage Site. Cape Point offers a spectacular view over False Bay and the ocean.

Cities
Bloemfontein (Mangaung) – It is the capital of the Free State province and serves as the judicial capital of South Africa

Cape Town – One of the most beautiful coastal cities in the world with Table Mountain as a backdrop. Tourists can also visit the world famous Robben Island from here. The legislative capital of South Africa where the parliament sits, is also the capital of the Western Cape province.

Durban (Ethekwini) – The second largest city in South Africa is also the busiest port in Africa.

Johannesburg – business and financial centre of South Africa

Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Metropole) – Home of South Africa’s motor vehicle industry, it is an important harbour and the capital of the Eastern Cape province

Pretoria (Tshwane) – executive (administrative) capital of South Africa

Drakensberg
The Drakensberg mountains of South Africa or uKhahlamba (Barrier of Spears) is a 200 km long mountain range and world heritage site. The highest peak Mount-aux-Sources (3,282 m; 10,768 ft) regularly receives snow in winter.

Fynbos
Fynbos is the natural shrubland vegetation occurring in a small coastal and mountainous belt (100 to 200 km wide) of the southern Cape, mainly a winter rainfall area with a Mediterranean climate. Fynbos is one of the 6 floral kingdoms in the world and is the smallest, but richest floral kingdom. With over 8,000 species of plants, it has a higher diversity (1,300 species per 10,000 km²) than tropical rainforests (South American rainforest has 400 plant species per 10,000 km²). The characteristic fynbos plant families are proteas, ericas and restios.

Garden Route
This scenic area stretches between the cities of Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, a distance of about 700 km. Magnificent landscapes, ranging from rocky and sandy beaches, estuaries, deep gorges, mountain streams, forests to steep mountains can be seen along the route.

Golden Gate Highlands N.P.
Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains, the park derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs. This 11,600 ha of unique environment is true highland habitat.

Greater St Lucia Wetland Park
This World Heritage Site in Zululand comprises of Lake St Lucia and its estuary, the largest coastal wetland in South Africa. It boasts one of the highest concentrations of Nile crocodiles in Africa as well as many hippos.

Karoo
The Karoo is a system of rocks laid down over central and southern Africa during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. A semi-arid plateau in the interior of the country with vast open plains is covered by low scrub vegetation.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Lying in the southern Kalahari Desert, this park comprises an area of over 3,6 million ha – one of very few conservation areas of this magnitude left in the world. The dry riverbeds of the Nossob and Auob in the otherwise sparse vegetation on the red sand dunes attract antelope and predator species and provide excellent photographic opportunities. Kgalagadi T.P. is also a haven for birders.

Kruger N.P.
Nearly 2 million ha in the Lowveld of South Africa, the world-renowned Kruger National Park offers a wildlife experience that ranks with the best in Africa. It is home to an impressive number of species: 336 trees, 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, 507 birds and 147 mammals.

Lowveld
A low lying bush savanna in the north east of the country of great historical significance, scenic landscapes and high biodiversity. A large part of the Lowveld is protected by the Kruger National Park.

Pilanesberg N.P.
Nestled in an ancient volcanic crater that erupted some 1,300 million years ago, Pilanesberg rates high amongst the world’s outstanding geological phenomena. Lying in the transition zone between the western dry Kalahari and eastern, wetter Bushveld vegetation, this unique overlap of mammals, birds and vegetation offers the visitor a high diversity of species.

Robben Island
A small island, just 15 km from Cape Town, Robben Island used to be a natural safe haven for seals, penguins and many sea birds. From 1836 to 1931 it was used as a leper colony and later, due to its isolated location as a high security prison. Notable amongst the political prisoners were Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Tokyo Sexwale, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Brutus and Robert Sobukwe.

Table Mountain
The flat-topped Table Mountain ( 1,086 m; 3,563 ft) forms a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town, the bay and the ocean. The top of the mountain is often shrouded by clouds to form the “table cloth”. This World Heritage Site forms part of the Table Mountain National Park.

Umfolozi/Hluhluwe Game Park
Set in the heart of Zululand, the oldest game reserve in Africa where the Zulu kings used to hunt on their royal lands. It is here where the southern White Rhino was saved from extinction and through concerted efforts by conservationists changed into a rhino stronghold. The Park covers some 96,000 ha and contains a high diversity of fauna and flora.

Waterberg
The Waterberg, a mountainous region in the north west of South Africa is a premier wildlife area. Some 150,000 ha of this ecosystem are protected through the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve.

Links

South Africans in Austin