Facts about South Africa

World Facts Index > South Africa > Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria

Drakensberg, South AfricaDutch 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 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 under the Union of South Africa. In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid - the separate development of the races. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 brought an end to apartheid and ushered in black majority rule.

Geography of South Africa

Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa
29 00 S, 24 00 E
total: 1,219,912 sq km
land: 1,219,912 sq km
note: includes Prince Edward Islands (Marion Island and Prince Edward Island)
water: 0 sq km
Area comparative:
slightly less than twice the size of Texas
Land boundaries:
total: 4,862 km
border countries: Botswana 1,840 km, Lesotho 909 km, Mozambique 491 km, Namibia 967 km, Swaziland 430 km, Zimbabwe 225 km
2,798 km
Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 24 NM
territorial sea: 12 NM
continental shelf: 200 NM or to edge of the continental margin
exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights
vast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Njesuthi 3,408 m
Natural resources:
gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas
Natural hazards:
prolonged droughts
Environment current 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
Geography - note:
South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Swaziland

More Geography

Population of South Africa

48,782,756 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 29.7% (male 6,603,220/female 6,525,810)
15-64 years: 65% (male 13,955,950/female 14,766,843)
65 years and over: 5.3% (male 905,870/female 1,429,944)
Median age:
24.1 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
60.66 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 42.73 years
male: 43.25 years
female: 42.19 years
Fertility rate:
2.2 children born/woman
noun: South African(s)
adjective: South African
Ethnic groups:
black 75.2%, white 13.6%, Colored 8.6%, Indian 2.6%
Christian 68% (includes most whites and Coloreds, about 60% of blacks and about 40% of Indians), Muslim 2%, Hindu 1.5% (60% of Indians), indigenous beliefs and animist 28.5%
11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 86.4%
male: 87%
female: 85.7% 


Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of South Africa
former: Union of South Africa
abbreviation: RSA
Government type:
Pretoria; note - Cape Town is the legislative center and Bloemfontein the judicial center
Administrative divisions:
9 provinces; Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape, Western Cape
31 May 1910 (from UK); note - South Africa became a republic in 1961 following an October 1960 referendum
National holiday:
Freedom Day, 27 April (1994)
10 December 1996; this new constitution was certified by the Constitutional Court on 4 December 1996, was signed by then President MANDELA on 10 December 1996, and entered into effect on 3 February 1997; it is being implemented in phases
Legal system:
based on Roman-Dutch law and English common law; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations
18 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Kgalema MOTLANTHE (since 25 September 2008); Executive Deputy President Baleka MBETE (since 25 September 2008); note - Thabo MBEKI resigned as president effective 25 September 2008; the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Kgalema MOTLANTHE (since 25 September 2008); Executive Deputy President Baleka MBETE (since 25 September 2008)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president
elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term);  Kgalema MOTLANTHE is serving out the term of Thabo MBEKI.
Legislative branch:
bicameral Parliament consisting of the National Assembly (400 seats; members are elected by popular vote under a system of proportional representation to serve five-year terms) and the National Council of Provinces (90 seats, 10 members elected by each of the nine provincial legislatures for five-year terms; has special powers to protect regional interests, including the safeguarding of cultural and linguistic traditions among ethnic minorities); note - following the implementation of the new constitution on 3 February 1997, the former Senate was disbanded and replaced by the National Council of Provinces with essentially no change in membership and party affiliations, although the new institution's responsibilities have been changed somewhat by the new constitution
Judicial branch:
Constitutional Court; Supreme Court of Appeals; High Courts; Magistrate Courts


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 17th largest in the world; and modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region. Growth has been robust since 2004, as South Africa has reaped the benefits of macroeconomic stability and a global commodities boom. However, unemployment remains high and outdated infrastructure has constrained growth. At the end of 2007, South Africa began to experience an electricity crisis because state power supplier Eskom suffered supply problems with aged plants, necessitating "load-shedding" cuts 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 African economic policy is fiscally conservative but pragmatic, focusing on controlling inflation, maintaining a budget surplus, and using state-owned enterprises to deliver basic services to low-income areas as a means to increase job growth and household income.

$467.8 billion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 2.5%
industry: 30.3%
services: 67.1%
Inflation rate:
Labor force:
15.23 million economically active
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture: 30%
industry: 25%
services: 45%
revenues: $65.91 billion
expenditures: $70.62 billion
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 93.5%
hydro: 1.1%
other: 0% 
nuclear: 5.5%
mining (world's largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, metalworking, machinery, textile, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilizer, foodstuffs
corn, wheat, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables; beef, poultry, mutton, wool, dairy products
gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment
Export partners:
UK 10.9%, US 9.3%, Japan 8.5%, Germany 6.4%, China 5.3%, Italy 4.5%
machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, scientific instruments, foodstuffs
Import partners:
Germany 15.2%, US 7.1%, UK 7%, China 7%, Saudi Arabia 6%, Japan 6%, Iran 5.4%, France 4.4% 
rand (ZAR)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress


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