|Alexander Forbes contact details:
Tel +27 11 269 0439
Fax +27 11 263 0168
Tel +27 11 269 1960
Fax +27 11 263 0802
South Africa – the land and its people
South Africa is a country where various cultures
merge to form a unique nation, proud of its heritage. South
come from many cultural traditions, but belong to one nation.
The country boasts some of the world's most
breathtaking scenery, featuring an amazing display of bird
and wildlife species which
include the well-known Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant,
buffalo and rhino.
South Africa is often called the cradle of humankind,
for this is where archaeologists discovered 2.5-million-year-old
of our earliest ancestors, as well as 100 000-year-old remains
of modern man.
Today, this country is the powerhouse of Africa,
the most advanced, broad-based economy on the continent, with
match any First-World nation.
The phones work, and they dial abroad while
cellular phone users are ever-present and growing by around
9 000 every
day. Visa and Mastercards can be used almost everywhere and
can be done by ATM or online. There’s a sophisticated
financial sector and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is the
world’s 15th largest in terms of market capitalisation.
The legislative capital is Cape Town, the administrative
capital is Pretoria, and the biggest city is Johannesburg.
city is Durban, a fast-growing port on the eastern coast,
and the supply route for most goods to the interior. A good
road and airline system links all major centres.
This is one of earth’s great treasure troves. South Africa
is the world’s leading producer of gold (20% of the
world total), and other minerals, while some of the most
diamonds come from South Africa.
South Africa offers the lowest industrial electricity
rates in the world.
It is a big and beautiful country with a glorious
climate. The long coastline has glorious beaches with sub-tropical
forests in the east and desert in the west. Inland, spectacular
contrast with the open plains of the highveld, the vast
Karoo scrubland and Mediterranean-like Western Cape.
South Africa is a great place to study.
South Africa: position and climate
The total land area of South
Africa is slightly more than 1.2 million square kilometres,
measuring some 1 600km from north
to south and approximately the same from east to west.
South Africa is famous for its sunshine. The
climate is mild – warm
to hot most of the year round with sporadic cold weather
in winter months. Sunshine averages vary from 7.5 to 9.5 hours
a day, depending on the season. Average annual rainfall is
464mm- against a world average of 857mm. Since much rain
and only a tenth reaches rivers, water is scarce.
Inland, South Africa shares borders with Namibia,
Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho, yet
by far its
biggest neighbour is the ocean – in fact two oceans
which meet at the south-western corner.
Most of the country is situated on a high-lying
plateau between these two very different oceans. The Indian
Ocean on the
east is warmed by the Mozambique or Agulhas Current which
down from the tropics. The Atlantic on the west coast is
cooled by the icy Benguela Current which comes up from the
These two currents have a major effect on the country's
South Africa: physical features, the plant and
South Africa has two major physical features: an interior
plateau which stretches north to the Sahara and a long
of nearly 3 000 kilometres. The boundary between the two
is the Great Escarpment which varies in height from 1 500
in the Cape to over 3 000 metres in
the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg mountain range.
Though it has grasslands, savanna and forests,
most of South Africa is thornveld and semi-desert. About 11%
is arable, the same as the world average. Agricultural
potential varies from highly productive in KwaZulu-Natal
to the arid regions of the Northern Cape and the North
South Africa has the third-highest level of
biodiversity in the world and is the only country to contain
kingdom. Some 18 000 species of vascular plant (plants
with vessels for bearing sap) occur within the country’s
boundaries, of which 80% occur nowhere else.
It is also home to more mammal species than
Europe and Asia combined; there are over 900 species of birds,
of snakes and some 5 000 species of spiders. The country’s
22 national parks and 200 or so provincial parks offer excellent
accommodation and some of the best game viewing in the world.
South Africa’s people
Traditional leader of the Khomani San, Dawid Kruiper (left),
with the head
of South Africa’s
Delani Mthembu, in the Kalahari. Members of the Khoi and the
San people also make up the population of South Africa.
South Africa's biggest asset is
its people: a rainbow nation of over 44.5 million people of
rich and diverse cultures. About 79% are black/African, 9,6%
white; nearly 9% coloured (the local label for people of mixed
African, Asian and white descent) and 2.5% are Indian/Asian.
Just over half the population live in the cities.
The South African population consists
of the following groups: the Nguni people (consisting of the
Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and
Swazi); the Sotho-Tswana people, who include the Southern,
Northern and Western Sotho (Tswana); the Tsonga; the Venda;
Afrikaners; the English; coloureds; Indians, and those who
have immigrated to South Africa from the rest of Africa,
Europe and Asia and maintain a strong cultural identity. A
of the Khoi and the San also live in South Africa.
A young girl ties a rakhee – a colourful bracelet – around
her brother’s wrist as a symbol of her love. In return,
she will receive a gift to mark the Hindu festival of Raksha
Left: Energetic, high-kicking dancers from the Iphi INtombi Maskanda group had
the crowd of a cultural music festival held in KwaMashu outside Durban (KwaZulu-Natal
province) leaping out of their chairs with their dynamic routine.
There are 11 officially recognised
languages, most of them indigenous to South Africa. Forty percent
of the population
speak either isiZulu or isiXhosa. Yet many people speak
or understand English. Road signs and official forms are in
English, the President makes his speeches in English and
the language of the cities, banking, road signs and official
documents. Another major language is Afrikaans, a derivative
of Dutch, which Northern Europeans find surprisingly easy
Almost 80% of South Africa's population
follows the Christian faith. Other major religious groups are
the Hindus, Muslims
and Jews. A minority of South Africa's population do
not belong to any of the major religions and regard themselves
or of no specific religious affiliation. Freedom of worship
is guaranteed by the Constitution.
Africa is a vigorous multi-party
democracy with an independent judiciary
and a free and diverse press. Here, the
Independent Electoral Commission
gives a press conference before
South Africa’s third democratic
election held in April 2004.
South African government and politics
Since 1994, South Africa has been engaged in
dismantling apartheid social relations and creating a democratic
society based on
equity, non-racialism and non-sexism. Government policies and
programmes have focused on improving the quality of life of
all people by meeting basic needs, building the economy, democratising
the state and society, developing human resources and nation
Until the remarkable transition of 1994, South
Africa was internationally reviled for its harshly enforced
apartheid policies. The country’s
success in rising above centuries of racial hatred in favour
of reconciliation has been internationally acknowledged as
one of the major political achievements of the 20th century
and has inspired similar peace attempts elsewhere in the
Ten years into its new democracy and with its
international isolation a thing of the past, South Africa plays
international role, most notably on the African continent,
where it has shown leadership in the formation of the new
African Union. Several major world conferences have been
held in South
Africa in recent years, reinforcing the country’s increased
profile on the world stage.
South Africa's constitution, acknowledged as
one of the most progressive in the world, underlies the country's
and legal systems. Racism is outlawed and individual human
rights are guaranteed in a far-reaching Bill of Rights. The
separation of legislative, judiciary and executive powers
is protected by the Constitutional Court. The country is
multi-party democracy with an independent judiciary and a
free and diverse press. The constitution protects both citizens
and visitors. You may not be locked up for shouting out your
legitimate opinions, but be careful about smoking cigarettes
outside designated smoking zones!
South Africa's electoral system allows for two
ballots – one
for the national parliament and the other for provincial parliaments.
General elections are held every five years. Local government
elections are run separately. The national Parliament has a
House of Assembly with 400 members and a National Council of
Provinces (upper house) with 10 delegates per province. There
are nine provincial parliaments, each with 20-80 members, depending
on population. Interestingly, South Africa has one of the world's
highest proportions of women in parliament.
South African food
South African cuisine is world-renowned for its unusual variety,
derived from the culinary traditions of its diverse population.
Many restaurants specialise in some form of authentic traditional
food such as Cape Dutch, Malay, African, Indian, Chinese, French,
Italian or Portugese, and there are also many restaurants serving
Thai, Vietnamese and other cuisine. Of course the ubiquitous
American fast food outets have sprung up in every city, town
and suburb, but the best value for money are still the local
dishes like bunny chow (curry in a half-loaf) or bobotie (curried
mince with onions and eggs). Seafood such as crayfish from
the Cape West Coast and prawns from Mozambique is always in
plentiful supply, but perhaps the most South African of foods
is the braai, a barbecue with steaks, chicken and boerewors
(spicy sausage). To wash it all down, South African wines are
among the best in the world, with wine tourism one of the country’s
major growth industries, and the local beers are proudly drunk
at every opportunity.
Above: Bunny Chow is a traditional Indian
Meal enjoyed by South Africans – and visitors – with
a taste for spicy food. The inside of a loaf of bread is removed
curry placed inside the bread. This is called a Bunny Chow.
The curries for a Bunny Chow include lamb and mutton, chicken,
vegetable and bean. Many restaurants have taken the basic dish
and turned it into a ‘gourmet’ meal.
An adventurous spirit
masterpiece created by sand artists
on one of cape town’s
Camps Bay. South Africa’s beautiful
beaches are just one of the many
explore in their free time.
It is said that South Africa offers some of the best game
viewing in the world. The Kruger National Park, part of the
Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a vast conservation area
that occupies part of the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces
and stretches into Mozambique, is home to a greater diversity
of life forms than any other conservation area in Africa. There
are several other parks where the 'Big Five' – as well
as other large mammals such as cheetah, giraffe, zebra, hippos,
crocodiles and a huge variety of antelope can also be seen.
Game viewing is but one aspect of South African
tourism. For those who are prepared to backpack and venture
off the beaten
track, South Africa offers an amazing variety of opportunities.
For those with lots of energy and a taste for adventure,
extraordinary experiences lie in wait.
A search for ancient paintings in the hidden
caves of the Drakensberg is one such adventure. KwaZulu-Natal’s uKhahlamba-Drakensberg
Park, a World Heritage Site, is renowned for its spectacular
escarpment where some 30 000 paintings by San artists – many
created thousands of years ago – adorn the walls of
over 500 rock shelters. Hiking to these sites, one may encounter
herds of antelope and zebra or troops of baboons amongst
elevated grasslands, while in the mountain gorges dramatic
waterfalls and hidden streams flow through shadowy glades
adorned with tree ferns and other exquisite plants.
Another adventure would be to join a community-hosted
pony ride or hike down the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, stopping
off at estuaries and breathtaking waterfalls carved through
the hillside and within a stone’s throw of the seashore.
For those who prefer wide open spaces, the road
trip through the arid Karoo to the Northern Cape’s Augrabies
Falls is well worth the effort. Here, 19 separate waterfalls
over a granite plateau, dropping nearly 200 metres into a
40m deep pool gouged out by the force of the water. Not far
here is the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, part of the Kgalagadi
Transfrontier Park which continues into Botswana, and home
of the rare black-maned lion.
For the botanically-minded, a hike through the
Cape Peninsula National Park promises riches beyond compare.
An entire floral
kingdom exists here, with more plant species within its 22
000 hectares than in the British Isles or New Zealand. South
Africa has the third-highest level of biodiversity in the
world and it seems to be at its most concentrated here, amongst
hardy yet delicate ‘fynbos’ (fine bush) covering
the mountainous finger that points from the back of Cape Town’s
Table Mountain to the tip of what mariners call the Cape
For the more sophisticated traveller, adventure
enough might be a leisurely drive through the vineyards of
Cape, where the fertile valleys, fringed with mountains
with a winter-rainfall Mediterranean climate, are home
to the world-famous wine farms of Stellenbosch and the Wine
Further up the Cape coast is the Garden Route,
where a variety of adventures await the intrepid traveller,
off the Gourits River Bridge or taking a fairy-like tour
through the heights of the Knysna forest suspended on
a network of
cables that traverse the forest canopy. The Garden Route
provides several spectacular coastal walks such as the
Trail, a five-day hike along breathtaking ocean cliffs
and long beaches, through deep forests and across deep
For surfers, divers and anglers, the entire
coastline presents opportunities for adventure. Famous surf
St Francis and Jeffreys Bay are safe and often crowded,
are literally hundreds of lesser-known breaks and secret
spots. Snorkelling and spearfishing enthusiasts will
be drawn to the
Wild Coast, where big gamefish and bags of crayfish
are guaranteed, while scuba divers are more likely to head
for the spectacular
coral reefs off the Maputaland coast in the north-east
of KwaZulu-Natal, near the Mozambique border.
Maputaland, a remote region of pristine wilderness,
estuaries and coastal lakes, including the Greater
St Lucia Wetland
Park World Heritage Site and the Kosi Lake system,
offers the true
experience of Africa at its most elemental and unspoilt.
Local travel and adventure companies are geared
to the needs of students and backpackers, and wherever
worth visiting there is likely to be some sort
of lodge nearby. Most of these lodges are linked by
There is really no excuse for not taking advantage
myriad travel and adventure opportunities that
South Africa has to offer.