Learn More about South Africa

Learn More about the Republic of South Africa
About the Republic of South Africa

Overview of South Africa

The Republic of South Africa (RSA) is the southernmost African country. It is one of the three most economically powerful countries in Africa. Economically, it’s the second-largest on the continent. Other powerhouses in Africa are Nigeria, the continent’s powerhouse. Nigeria is the largest both economically and in population. The economy of Egypt ranks third in Africa.

South Africa is in Southern Africa, Nigeria is a West African country, while Egypt is in North Africa.

About South Africa’s People, Population, and Demography

South Africa has a significant population as well. Its population is shy of 60 million people. Therefore, it is the world’s 24th most populous country. According to the United Nations mid-2020 estimates, the country’s population is 59,308,690.  

The majority of its population is made by people of African origin. Additionally, it has a significant number of people of European and Asian origin.

Those of African ancestry account for about 80% of the population. Additionally, the whites account for 8.9%, while the colored account for 8.8%. There is a significant number of people of Asian origin who mainly came from the Indian Subcontinent. These Asians of Indian origin account for 2.6%.

Consequently, the country boasts the largest communities of Europeans and Asians. It is therefore one of the most multiracial in Africa. As a result of this racial diversity, the country is known as “The Rainbow Nation”.

Brief Geography of South Africa

The country has an area measuring 1,221,037 square kilometers, equal to 471,445 square miles. In terms of its area, it is the world’s 24th largest country.  

South Africa is the only country in continental Africa with the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean coastline. Its coastline stretches from the Indian Ocean in the east and south east to the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest and west of the country.  These two oceans’ coastline spans to a length of 2,798 kilometers or 1,739 miles. A key port city in the Indian Ocean part is Durban. Additionally, Cape Town is the key port in the country’s the Atlantic Ocean.

About South Africa Neighbors

South Africa completely surrounds and enclaves the small mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho.

South Africa’s northeast neighbor is the former Portuguese colony; Mozambique. Additionally, the Kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland until 2018 I also located in South Africa’s northeast. To the north, the country’s neighbors from east to west are the landlocked Zimbabwe and Botswana. Namibia is South Africa’s northwestern neighbor.

About South Africa three capital Cities

South Africa is the only African country with three capital cities. Pretoria is the seat of the executive and Cape Town is where the legislature sits. Additionally, Bloemfontein is the judiciary capital for South Africa.

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.

About South Africa’s Eleven (11) official Languages

Since the country was a British Colony, English is one of the country’s official languages. Afrikaans is another official language. It was developed from the Dutch language and by the Boers. The Boers were farmers who settled in South Africa in the 19th century. The other nine official languages are all from the Bantu language family. These are derived mainly from the Nguni branch. The languages are isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, siSwati, Tshivenda, and isiNdebele. 

Therefore South Africa ranks fourth globally in a number of official languages. However, its northern neighbor; landlocked Zimbabwe has 16 official languages.  South America’s Bolivia has the highest number of official languages; it has 37. India ranks third with 23 official languages. The third country in the world with many official languages is Africa’s Zimbabwe. According to South Africa’s 2011 census. Zulu is the most spoken. 22.7% of the population speak it. It is followed by Xhosa, spoken by 16.0% of the citizens. Afrikaans is spoken by 13.5%. The English speakers account for 9.6% of the population

About South Africa’s Economy

South Africa is the world’s 33rd largest economy and Africa’s second-largest after West Africa’s Nigeria.

The country’s currency is known as the South African Rand. South Africa is one world’s chief producers of gold. Additionally, is a chief diamond producer. Besides, it one of the top tourist destinations in Africa.

Furthermore, service and manufacturing play a key role in its economy.  

Brief History of South Africa

Pre-History of South Africa

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. Kenya and Tanzania’s claim is based on the archeological findings of the Turkana Boy and the Olduvai George. Therefore, the Eastern African claim comes close to the truth. Despite, the disputed claim of the Cradle for Mankind, the country has been home to humanoids for millions of years.

The Khoisan, a hunting-gathering community occupied the country thousands of years ago. The Khoisans settled in most of eastern, central, and southern Africa. They were the only inhabitants back then. This was before the great and disruptive Bantu Migration also known historically as the Bantu Expansion.  

The Coming of Bantus into South Africa and the impact

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. Furthermore, they were annihilated, assimilated, and pushed from the fertile lands to the dry Kalahari Desert and other drier areas.  The Bantus established great such as the Kingdom of Mapungubwe.

The Coming of Europeans in South Africa

The Portuguese were the first European to come to South Africa. This was in 1487. Explorer Bartolomeu Dias made it past the Cape of Good Hope, the first European to so. He however did not see the land but only to sighted it on his return journey. The land he saw he named it Cape of Storms. Therefore, the sighted land’s name Portuguese was Cabo das Tormentas. The return journey and naming were in May of 1488.

However, the name Cabo das Tormentas was short-lived. it was renamed Cape of Good Hope. This naming was also by the Portuguese. Therefore, back then the Cape of Good Hope name was Cabo da Boa Esperança.

South Africa Colonization Process

The coming of the Europeans, just like the Bantus before, brought great social, cultural, and political changes. When the Portuguese lost their naval supremacy. 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. The Dutch settlement started when two of their compatriots were shipwrecked and survived.

The survivors made with help of the local people who provide food and water. Since the Dutch crew was there for months, they managed to plant vegetables. This led to the identification agriculture potential of the country. They reported the matter when they eventually went back home; in Europe. 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. Other slaves brought were from Eastern Africa and Madagascar. The introduction of slaves created a new ethnic group; the coloured.

As time passed there was more Dutch incursion westwards. They from the Cape touched on Xhosa territory. The Xhosas 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. This resulted in the Dutch losing the land to the English. The Dutch made a short return in 1803, only to lose it for good in 1806.

From 1806 the country became a British Colony and joined the great British Empire. The English started settling in the country in 1818. Like the Dutch, the English too helped stop the Xhosa expansion.

Shaka and Mfecane

Something else was emerging. The Zulus in the east were becoming very powerful. This led to 1815 to 1840 destructive Mfecane. Mfecane claimed about 2 million lives. Furthermore, it created chaos and dispersed many people. Additionally, there were 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. The Dutch were dispersed to Natal, Free State as well as the Transvaal regions. This consequently created 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. Back then it was known as the Natalia Republic. Another Boer Republics was the Orange Free State. Today it’s known as the Free State.

Diamond and Gold Discoveries in South Africa and their impact

Diamonds were discovered in Kimberly in 1867. This created a new wave of movement in South Africa. Shortly after came the Johannesburg discovery of gold in 1884. this added more to the 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. On the other hand, the Boer Republics were consolidating power. There were not yet under 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 diamonds and gold. Both discoveries were in the Boers occupied territories.

South Africa Union

The white minority declared the country a Union on the 31st of May, 1910. This created a single unit known as the Union of South Africa. This new entity gaining its self-governance on the 11th of November 1931. A month later; on the 31st of May, 1931, it became a republic. The minority whites mainly Boers originally from Holland and remnants of the British took power.

As a result, the country adopted the racial segregation policy of Apartheid. The Apartheid system enfranchised the majority black population who accounts for about 80%. Other enfranchised were people of Asian origin mainly from India and the colored until 1994. Despite, politics, the country remains one of the few in coup d’état prone Africa which has never experienced any coup.

The apartheid system ended and the democratization process started on the 27th of April, 1994. First, a new constitution was adopted on the 4th of February, 1997. Today, the country has an all-inclusive liberal democratic system of government. The country follows a parliamentary system of electing its leader. Additionally, the country has nine provinces each with its own elected legislative assembly.

South Africa Today

AfricaNelson Mandela became the country’s first democratically elected president of South Africa. He led the country after 27 years in prison. He was in the office 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 Johannesburg Street.

This Southern Africa multiethnic country. South Africa is considered a developing country. It ranks 113 on 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. The BRICS countries 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, a member of G20 and Commonwealth of Nations. Regionally, the country is a member of the African Union and SADC.

Southern African Development Community

SADC stands for Southern African Development Community. This is a 16 members’ regional economic block dominated by Southern Africa countries.  Non-Southern Africa members of SADC include Comoro, Tanzanian, and Seychelles from the Eastern African region. Other nations in SADC not in Southern Africa are the Central Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo. Apart from the above mentioned, all the other members are from the Southern Africa geopolitical region.

Established on the 1st of April, 1980 its initial name was the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC). Its headquarters then was in Lusaka, Zambia. The organization became SADC on the 17th of August, 1992. today, its headquarters is in landlocked Botswana’s capital city. The 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. About 25% of its population is unemployed and living below the poverty line of less than US$ 1.25 daily.

I hope now you know more about South Africa.

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