About South Africa

The Flag of South Africa
The Flag of South Africa

The Republic of South Africa (RSA) as this southernmost African country is officially known is one of the three most economically powerful countries of Africa. The other two are Nigeria, the continents powerhouse both economically and in population as well Egypt. Nigeria is a West African Country, while Egypt is a North Africa country. South Africa has a significant population as well, its world 24th most populous country, with a population, shy of 60 million people. According to the United Nations mid-2020 estimates, the country population is 59,308,690.  

The country has an area measuring 1,221,037 square kilometers equal to 471,445 square miles, making it the world 24th largest country.  The majority of the population are people of African origin, though it has a significant number of people of European and Indian origin. Those of African ancestry accounts for about 80% of the population, the whites accounts for 8.9%, the coloured are 8.8% while the Asian, mainly form the Indian Subcontinent accounts for 2.6%. The country boasts the largest communities of European, Asians and well as multiracial in Africa. As a result of this racial diversity, the country is known as “The Rainbow Nation”.

South Africa is the only country in the continental Africa with a coastline that stretches from the Indian Ocean in the east and south east to the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest and west of the country.  This two oceans coastline has a length of 2,798 kilometers or 1,739 miles. Key ports city in the Indian Ocean end Durban, while Cape Town is the key port in the country’s Atlantic Ocean. South Africa completely surrounds and enclaves the small mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho.

To South Africa’s northeast lies former Portuguese colony Mozambique as well as the Kingdom of Eswatini formerly known as Swaziland until 2018. To the north the country’s neighbors from east to west are the landlocked Zimbabwe and Botswana as well as Namibia.

South Africa is the only African country with three capital cities. These are Pretoria is the seat of the executive; Cape Town is where the legislature sits while Bloemfontein is the capital for the judiciary.

A Street in South African Largest City; Johannesburg. Picture by Francis Kimani
A Street in South African Largest City; Johannesburg

The largest city in South Africa is Johannesburg which is the commercial center for the country. Besides, South Africa has 11 official languages with English and Afrikaner being the only none native languages in that list. The 11 official languages are either from European or Niger- Saharan; Bantu family languages.  These are English and Afrikaans which are of European origin.

English is spoken because the country was a British Colony, while Afrikaans was developed from Dutch and developed by the Boers who came and settled in South Africa in the 19th century. The other nine official languages are all from the Bantu family, mainly from the Nguni branch. These are the isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, siSwati, Tshivenda and isiNdebele. 

Therefore South Africa ranks fourth globally in number of official languages, however its northern neighbor; the landlocked Zimbabwe has 16 official languages.  South America’s Bolivia has the highest number of official languages; it has 37, while India ranks third with 23 official languages. Third is Africa’s Zimbabwe with 16 official languages. According to South Africa’s 2011 census, Zulu is the most spoken by 22.7% of the population, followed by Xhosa by 16.0% of the citizens. Additionally, Afrikaans is spoken by 13.5%. The Afrikaans has its originating from Dutch, while English speakers accounts are 9.6%.

Its currency is known as South African Rand. South Africa is one world chief producers of gold and diamond besides it one of the top tourist destination in Africa. Additionally, service and manufacturing play key role in its economy.  The country is world’s 33rd largest economy and Africa’s second largest after West Africa’s Nigeria. The country estimated

The country pride itself as the Cradle for Mankind, claiming the origin of the entire human race. This fact is also claimed by Eastern Africa’s Kenya and Tanzania, based on archeological finding of the Turkana Boy and the Olduvai George. The Khoisan, a hunting gathering community occupied the country and most of the eastern, central and southern Africa before the great and disruptive Bantu Migration also known historically as the Bantu Expansion.  

The Bantu Expansion brought new immigrants into the country between 400 and 500 BC.  The new people were agrarian, had acquired iron technology and were more organized than the Khoisan. Consequently, the hunters and gatherers were dispossessed their land, annihilated, assimilated and pushed from the fertile lands to the dry Kalahari Desert and other drier areas.  The Bantus established great such as Kingdom of Mapungubwe.

The Portuguese were the first European to come to South Africa. This was in 1487, explorer Bartolomeu Dias made its past the Cape of Good Hope, only to sight it on his return journey naming it Cape of Storms in Portuguese Cabo das Tormentas, that was in May of 1488. This name was short-lived and was renamed to Cape of Good Hope in Portuguese Cabo da Boa Esperança by the Portuguese King John II.   

The coming of the European, just like the Bantus before, brought great social, cultural and political changes. The Portuguese lost their naval supremacy and the English and Dutch took control of the lucrative Atlantic – Indian Oceans spices trade route. The Dutch quickly colonized and settled along the Cape area after 1647, when two of their compatriots were shipwrecked and survived with help of the local people who provide food and water.

Since they were there for months, they managed to plant vegetables hence identifying agriculture potential of the country, a matter they reported back home upon their return. This was the start of the colonization process of this Southern African nation. Jan van Riebeeck who worked for the Dutch East India Company established Europeans first settlement which grew as time passed.

The Dutch brought with them slaves mainly from their East Indies colonies like Indonesia, Eastern Africa and Madagascar creating a new ethnic group; the coloured. The Dutch incursion westwards form the Cape touched on Xhosa territory, they too were expanding and this led to the Xhosa wars.  To prevent the Cape area from getting occupied by the forces of the French First Republic, the British occupied the territory and the Dutch lost it to English speakers with a short return in 1803, only to lose it for good in 1806.

From then the country became a British Colony and joined the great British Empire. The English started settling in the country in 1818, they too helped stop the Xhosa expansion.

However something else was emerging, the Zulu in the east were becoming very powerful, and this led to 1815 to 1840 destructive Mfecane claiming about 2 million lives. Furthermore, its created chaos dispersed many people, through wars among the indigenous people. Shaka had just created a Zulu militaristic state. As the Zulus were dispersing other African people, the Dutch were displaced by the British from Cape Colony. They also dispersed to Natal, Free Sate as well as the Transvaal regions, consequently creating the Boer Republics. These Boer Republics were in today’s Provinces of Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West. Other areas occupied by the Boers were KwaZulu –Natal then known as Natalia Republic as well as Orange Free State today known as the Free Sate.

The Kimberly discovery 1867 of diamonds in 1867 and the Johannesburg discovery of gold in 1884, created yet another dynamic in this volatile environment. This mineral revolution brought great immigration, economic prosperity as well as conflict. When the Europeans and the Africans were not fighting, the British and the Boers were fighting each other. Everybody wanted to control the newly found wealth.

The British suppressed the Zulus and other Africa states as well as the Boer Republics, consolidating under the British Rule.  The Boers were suppressed after two wars; First Boer War with the British from 1880 to 1881 and Second Boer War from 1899 to 1902. The wars were due to the discovery of the diamonds and gold both in the Boers occupied territories.

The white minority declaring a Union on the 31st of May, 1910 and created a single unit known as the Union of South Africa,  gaining its self-governance on the 11th of November 1931. A month later; on the 31st of May, 1931, it became a republic. With the minority whites mainly Boers originally from Holland and remnants of the British in power, the country adopted the racial segregation policy of Apartheid. The Apartheid system enfranchised the majority black population who accounts for about 80%, people of Asian origin mainly from India and the coloured until 1994. Despite, its many political challenges, the country remains one of the few in coup d’état prone Africa which has never experienced any coup.

Since the democratization process started on the 27th of April, 1994 and a new constitution adopted on the 4th of February, 1997, the country has an all-inclusive liberal democratic system of government made of parliamentary republic. Additionally the country has nine provinces each with its own elected legislative assembly.

Nelson Mandela became the country’s first democratically elected president from the 10th of May 1994  to the 16th of June 1999.

A portrait of Nelson Mandela in an advert in a Johannesburg  Street. Picture by Francis Kimani
A portrait of Nelson Mandela in an advert in a Johannesburg Street.

This Southern Africa multiethnic country is considered a developing country, ranking 113 in Human Development Index (HDI). However despite the HDI world’s low ranks it is seventh in Africa. South Africa is a member of the United Nations. Additionally, it is a member of the BRICS. BRICS are seven newly industrialized countries. There are South America’s Brazil, Europe’s Russia, Asia’s India and China and South Africa’s.

Diplomatically the country is considered a middle power, member of G20 and Commonwealth of Nations. Regionally, the country is a member of the African Union and SADC.

SADC stands for Southern African Development Community. This is a 16 members’ regional economic block dominated by Southern Africa countries.  Except for Eastern African Comoro, Tanzanian and the Seychelles as well as Central Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo, all the other members are from the Southern Africa geopolitical region. SADC was established in on the 1st of April, 1980. Its initial name was Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) and had its headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. The organization became SADC on the 17th of August, 1992. Its headquarters are in the landlocked Botswana’s capital city; Gaborone’s SADC House.

The country faces many challenges. South Africa has a very high crime rate especially in its largest cities including Johannesburg. Additionally, the country has high levels of inequality with about 25% of its population unemployed and living below the poverty line of less than US$ 1.25 daily.

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