The Republic of South Africa is a country located at the southern tip of Africa, with a 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) coastline on the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. To the north lie Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe; to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland; while Lesotho is an independent country wholly surrounded by South African territory.
Modern humans have inhabited Southern Africa for more than 100,000 years. At the time of European contact, the dominant indigenous peoples were tribes who had migrated from other parts of Africa about one thousand years before. From the 4th-5th century CE, Bantu-speaking tribes had steadily moved south, where they displaced, conquered and assimilated original Khoikhoi and San peoples of southern Africa. At the time of European contact, the two major groups were the Xhosa and Zulu peoples.
In 1652, a century and a half after the discovery of the Cape Sea Route, the Dutch East India Company founded a refreshment station at what would become Cape Town. Cape Town became a British colony in 1806. European settlement expanded during the 1820s as the Boers (original Dutch, Flemish, German and French settlers) and the British 1820 Settlers claimed land in the north and east of the country. Conflicts arose among the Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaner groups who competed for territory.
The discovery of diamonds and later gold triggered the 19th-century conflict known as the Anglo-Boer War, as the Boers and the British fought for the control of the South African mineral wealth. Although the British defeated the Boers, they gave limited independence to South Africa in 1910 as a British dominion. Within the country, anti-British policies among white South Africans focused on independence. During the Dutch and British colonial years, racial segregation was mostly informal, though some legislation were enacted to control the settlement and movement of native people, including the Native Location Act of 1879 and the system of pass laws. Power was held by the European colonists.
In the Boer republics, from as early as the Pretoria Convention (chapter XXVI), and subsequent South African governments, the system became legally institutionalised segregation, later known as apartheid. The government established three classes of racial stratification: white, coloured, and black, with rights and restrictions for each.
South Africa achieved the status of a republic in 1961. Despite opposition both in and outside of the country, the government legislated for a continuation of apartheid. As the 20th century went on, some Western nations and institutions began to boycott doing business with the country because of its racial policies and oppression of civil rights. After years of internal protests, activism and insurgency by black South Africans and their allies, finally in 1990, the South African government began negotiations that led to dismantling of discriminative laws, and democratic elections in 1994. The country then rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations.
South Africa is known for a diversity in cultures, languages, and religious beliefs. Eleven official languages are recognised in the constitution. English, despite having a large role in public and commercial life, is only the fifth most-spoken home language. South Africa is ethnically diverse, with the largest European, Indian, and racially mixed communities in Africa. Although 79.5% of the South African population is black, the people are from a variety of ethnic groups speaking different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. About a quarter of the population is unemployed and lives on less than US $1.25 a day.
South Africa is one of the founding members of the African Union, and has the largest economy of all the members. It is also a founding member of the United Nations and NEPAD. South Africa is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Antarctic Treaty System, Group of 77, South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, Southern African Customs Union, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, G20 and G8+5.
South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological sites in the world. Extensive fossil remains at the Sterkfontein, Kromdraai and Makapansgat caves suggest that various australopithecines existed in South Africa from about three million years ago. These were succeeded by various species of Homo, including Homo habilis, Homo erectus and modern humans, Homo sapiens.
Settlements of Bantu-speaking peoples, who were iron-using agriculturists and herdsmen, were already present south of the Limpopo River by the fourth or fifth century CE. (see Bantu expansion). They displaced, conquered and absorbed the original Khoisan speakers. The Bantu slowly moved south. The earliest ironworks in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal Province are believed to date from around 1050. The southernmost group was the Xhosa people, whose language incorporates certain linguistic traits from the earlier Khoisan people. The Xhosa reached the Great Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. As they migrated, these larger Iron Age populations displaced or assimilated earlier peoples, who often had hunter-gatherer societies.
In 1487, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to reach the southernmost point of Africa. Initially named the Cape of Storms, The King of Portugal, John II, renamed it the Cabo da Boa Esperança or Cape of Good Hope, as it led to the riches of India. Dias' great feat of navigation was later immortalised in Camões' epic Portuguese poem, The Lusiads (1572). In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch transported slaves from Indonesia, Madagascar, and India as labour for the colonists in Cape Town. As they expanded east, the Dutch settlers met the south-westerly expanding Xhosa people in the region of the Fish River. A series of wars, called the Cape Frontier Wars, ensued, mainly caused by conflicting land and livestock interests.
Great Britain took over the Cape of Good Hope area in 1795, ostensibly to stop it from falling under Revolutionary French control. Given its standing interests in Australia and India, Great Britain wanted to use Cape Town as an interim port for its merchants' long voyages. The British returned Cape Town to the Dutch in 1803, but soon afterwards the Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy.
The British annexed the Cape Colony in 1806. The British continued the frontier wars against the Xhosa, pushing the eastern frontier eastward through a line of forts established along the Fish River. They consolidated the territory by encouraging British settlement. Due to pressure of abolitionist societies in Britain, the British parliament first stopped its global slave trade with the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807, then abolished slavery in all its colonies with the Slavery Abolition Act 1833.
n the first two decades of the 19th century, the Zulu people grew in power and expanded their territory under their leader, Shaka. Shaka’s depredations led indirectly to the Mfecane (“Crushing”) that devastated the inland plateau in the early 1820s. An offshoot of the Zulu, the Matabele, created an even larger empire under their king Mzilikazi, including large parts of the highveld.
During the 1830s, approximately 12,000 Boers (later known as Voortrekkers), departed from the Cape Colony, where they had been subjected to British control. They migrated to the future Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal regions. The Boers founded the Boer Republics: the South African Republic (now Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West provinces) and the Orange Free State (Free State).
The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1884 in the interior encouraged economic growth and immigration. This intensified the European-South African subjugation of the indigenous people. The struggle to control these important economic resources was a factor between Europeans and the indigenous population, and also between the Boers and the British.
The Boer Republics successfully resisted British encroachments during the First Boer War (1880–1881) using guerrilla warfare tactics, which were well suited to local conditions. However, the British returned with greater numbers, more experience, and more suitable tactics in the Second Boer War (1899–1902), which was won by the British.
Government and politics-
South Africa has three capital cities: Cape Town, the largest of the three, is the legislative capital; Pretoria is the administrative capital; and Bloemfontein is the judicial capital. South Africa has a bicameral parliament: the National Council of Provinces (the upper house) has 90 members, while the National Assembly (the lower house) has 400 members.
Members of the lower house are elected on a population basis by proportional representation: half of the members are elected from national lists and the other half are elected from provincial lists. Ten members are elected to represent each province in the National Council of Provinces, regardless of the population of the province. Elections for both chambers are held every five years. The government is formed in the lower house, and the leader of the majority party in the National Assembly is the President.
The primary sources of South Africa law are Roman-Dutch mercantile law and personal law with English Common law, as imports of Dutch settlements and British colonialism. The first European based law in South Africa was brought by the Dutch East India Company and is called Roman-Dutch law. It was imported before the codification of European law into the Napoleonic Code and is comparable in many ways to Scots law. This was followed in the 19th century by English law, both common and statutory. Starting in 1910 with unification, South Africa had its own parliament which passed laws specific for South Africa, building on those previously passed for the individual member colonies. During the years of apartheid, the country's political scene was dominated by figures like B. J. Vorster and P. W. Botha, as well as opposition figures such as Harry Schwarz, Joe Slovo and Helen Suzman.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, South African politics have been dominated by the African National Congress (ANC), which has been the dominant party with 60–70% of the vote. The main challenger to the rule of the ANC is the Democratic Alliance party, which received 16.7% of the vote in the 2009 election and 14.8% in the 2006 election.
The formerly dominant New National Party, which introduced apartheid through its predecessor, the National Party, chose to merge with the ANC on 9 April 2005. Other major political parties represented in Parliament are the Congress of the People, which split from the ANC and won 7.4% of the vote in 2009, and the Inkatha Freedom Party, which mainly represents Zulu voters and took 4.6% of the vote in the 2009 election.
Since 2004, the country has had many thousands of popular protests, some violent, making it, according to one academic, the "most protest-rich country in the world". Many of these protests have been organised from the growing shanty towns that surround South African cities.
In 2008, South Africa placed 5th out of 48 sub-Saharan African countries on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. South Africa scored well in the categories of Rule of Law, Transparency & Corruption and Participation & Human Rights, but was let down by its relatively poor performance in Safety & Security. The Ibrahim Index is a comprehensive measure of African governance, based on a number of different variables which reflect the success with which governments deliver essential political goods to its citizens.
After the end of apartheid in 1994, the "independent" and "semi-independent" Bantustans were integrated into the political structure of South Africa by the abolition of the four former provinces (Cape Province, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal) and the creation of nine fully integrated new provinces. The generally smaller size of the new provinces theoretically means that local governments have more resources to distribute over smaller areas. The provinces are subdivided into 52 districts: 6 metropolitan and 46 district municipalities. The district municipalities are further subdivided into 231 local municipalities. The metropolitan municipalities perform the functions of both district and local municipalities.
Foreign relations and military-
Since the end of apartheid, the South African foreign policy has focused on its African partners particularly in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union. South Africa has played a key role as a mediator in African conflicts over the last decade, such as in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Comoros, and Zimbabwe. After apartheid ended, South Africa was readmitted to the Commonwealth of Nations.
As the Union of South Africa, South Africa was a founding member of the United Nations. The then Prime Minister Jan Smuts wrote the preamble to the United Nations Charter. South Africa was a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council between 2007 and 2008, and has attracted controversy by voting against a resolution criticising the Burmese government in 2006 and against the implementation of sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2008. South Africa is a member of the Group of 77 and chaired the organisation in 2006. South Africa is a member of the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, Southern African Customs Union, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, G20 and G8+5.
The South African National Defence Force was created in 1994, as an all volunteer force composed of as the former South African Defence Force, the forces of the African nationalist groups (Umkhonto we Sizwe and Azanian People's Liberation Army), and the former Bantustan defence forces. The SANDF is subdivided into four branches, the South African Army, the South African Air Force, the South African Navy, and the South African Medical Service.
In recent years, the SANDF has become a major peacekeeping force in Africa, and has been involved in operations in Lesotho, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi, amongst others. It has also participated as a part of multi-national UN peacekeeping forces.
South Africa undertook a nuclear weapons programme in the 1970s and may have conducted a nuclear test over the Atlantic in 1979. It is the only African country to have successfully developed nuclear weapons. It has become the first country (followed by Ukraine) with nuclear capability to voluntarily renounce and dismantle its programme and in the process signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991.
South Africa is located at the southernmost region of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km (1,553 mi) and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian). At 1,219,912 km2 (471,011 sq mi), South Africa is the 25th-largest country in the world and is comparable in size to Colombia. Njesuthi in the Drakensberg at 3,408 m (11,181 ft) is the highest peak in South Africa.
South Africa has a generally temperate climate, due in part to being surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, by its location in the climatically milder southern hemisphere and due to the average elevation rising steadily towards the north (towards the equator) and further inland. Due to this varied topography and oceanic influence, a great variety of climatic zones exist.
The climatic zones vary, from the extreme desert of the southern Namib in the farthest northwest to the lush subtropical climate in the east along the Mozambique border and the Indian ocean. From the east, the land quickly rises over a mountainous escarpment towards the interior plateau known as the Highveld. Even though South Africa is classified as semi-arid, there is considerable variation in climate as well as topography.
The interior of South Africa is a vast, flat, and sparsely populated scrubland, the Karoo, which is drier towards the northwest along the Namib desert. In contrast, the eastern coastline is lush and well-watered, which produces a climate similar to the tropics.
The extreme southwest has a climate remarkably similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers, hosting the famous Fynbos Biome of grassland and thicket. This area also produces much of the wine in South Africa. This region is also particularly known for its wind, which blows intermittently almost all year. The severity of this wind made passing around the Cape of Good Hope particularly treacherous for sailors, causing many shipwrecks. Further east on the south coast, rainfall is distributed more evenly throughout the year, producing a green landscape. This area is popularly known as the Garden Route.
The Free State is particularly flat due to the fact that it lies centrally on the high plateau. North of the Vaal River, the Highveld becomes better watered and does not experience subtropical extremes of heat. Johannesburg, in the centre of the Highveld, is at 1,740 m (5,709 ft) and receives an annual rainfall of 760 mm (29.9 in). Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.
To the north of Johannesburg, the altitude drops beyond the escarpment of the Highveld, and turns into the lower lying Bushveld, an area of mixed dry forest and an abundance of wildlife. East of the Highveld, beyond the eastern escarpment, the Lowveld stretches towards the Indian Ocean. It has particularly high temperatures, and is also the location of extended subtropical agriculture.
The high Drakensberg mountains, which form the south-eastern escarpment of the Highveld, offer limited skiing opportunities in winter. The coldest place in South Africa is Sutherland in the western Roggeveld Mountains, where midwinter temperatures can reach as low as −15 °C (5.0 °F). The deep interior has the hottest temperatures: a temperature of 51.7 °C (125.06 °F) was recorded in 1948 in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington.
Flora and fauna-
South Africa is ranked sixth out of the world’s seventeen megadiverse countries, with more than 20,000 different plants, or about 10% of all the known species of plants on Earth, making it particularly rich in plant biodiversity. The most prevalent biome in South Africa is the grassland, particularly on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs, and acacia trees, mainly camel-thorn and whitethorn. Vegetation becomes even more sparse towards the northwest due to low rainfall. There are several species of water-storing succulents like aloes and euphorbias in the very hot and dry Namaqualand area. The grass and thorn savannah turns slowly into a bush savannah towards the north-east of the country, with denser growth. There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park.
The Fynbos Biome, which makes up the majority of the area and plant life in the Cape floristic region, one of the six floral kingdoms, is located in a small region of the Western Cape and contains more than 9,000 of those species, making it among the richest regions on earth in terms of floral biodiversity. The majority of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous plants. Another uniquely South African plant is the protea genus of flowering plants. There are around 130 different species of protea in South Africa.
While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, only 1% of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal, where there are also areas of Southern Africa mangroves in river mouths. There are even smaller reserves of forests that are out of the reach of fire, known as montane forests. Plantations of imported tree species are predominant, particularly the non-native eucalyptus and pine. South Africa has lost a large area of natural habitat in the last four decades, primarily due to overpopulation, sprawling development patterns and deforestation during the nineteenth century. South Africa is one of the worst affected countries in the world when it comes to invasion by alien species with many (e.g. Black Wattle, Port Jackson, Hakea, Lantana and Jacaranda) posing a significant threat to the native biodiversity and the already scarce water resources. The original temperate forest found by the first European settlers was exploited ruthlessly until only small patches remained. Currently, South African hardwood trees like Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), stinkwood (Ocotea bullata), and South African Black Ironwood (Olea laurifolia) are under government protection.
Numerous mammals are found in the bushveld including lions, leopards, white rhinos, blue wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotamus and giraffes. A significant extent of the bushveld exists in the north-east including Kruger National Park and the Mala Mala Reserve, as well as in the far north in the Waterberg Biosphere.
Climate change is expected to bring considerable warming and drying to much of this already semi-arid region, with greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flooding and drought. According to computer generated climate modelling produced by the South African National Biodiversity Institute parts of southern Africa will see an increase in temperature by about one degree Celsius along the coast to more than four degrees Celsius in the already hot hinterland such as the Northern Cape in late spring and summertime by 2050.
The Cape Floral Kingdom has been identified as one of the global biodiversity hotspots since it will be hit very hard by climate change and has such a great diversity of life. Drought, increased intensity and frequency of fire and climbing temperatures are expected to push many of these rare species towards extinction.
By UN classification South Africa is a middle-income country with an abundant supply of resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors, a stock exchange that ranks among the top twenty in the world, and a modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centres throughout the entire region. South Africa is ranked 25th in the world in terms of GDP (PPP) as of 2008.
Advanced development is significantly localised around four areas: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, and Pretoria/Johannesburg. Beyond these four economic centres, development is marginal and poverty is still prevalent despite government efforts. Consequently the vast majority of South Africans are poor. However, key marginal areas have experienced rapid growth recently. Such areas include Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay; Rustenburg area; Nelspruit area; Bloemfontein; Cape West Coast; and the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast.
Unemployment is extremely high and income inequality is approximately equal to Brazil. During 1995–2003, the number of formal jobs decreased and informal jobs increased; overall unemployment worsened. The average South African household income decreased considerably between 1995 and 2000. As for racial inequality, Statistics South Africa reported that in 1995 the average white household earned four times as much as the average black household. In 2000 the average white household was earning six times more than the average black household. The affirmative action policies have seen a rise in black economic wealth and an emerging black middle class. Other problems are crime, corruption, and HIV/AIDS. South Africa suffers from relatively heavy overall regulation burden compared to developed countries. State ownership and interference impose high barriers to entry in many areas. Restrictive labour regulations have contributed to the unemployment malaise.
The 1994 government inherited an economy wracked by long years of internal conflict and external sanctions. The government refrained from resorting to economic populism. Inflation was brought down, public finances were stabilised, and some foreign capital was attracted. However, growth was still subpar. At the start of 2000, then President Thabo Mbeki vowed to promote economic growth and foreign investment by relaxing restrictive labour laws, stepping up the pace of privatisation, and cutting unneeded governmental spending. His policies face strong opposition from organised labour. From 2004 onward economic growth picked up significantly; both employment and capital formation increased.
South Africa is the largest energy producer and consumer on the continent. South Africa is a popular tourist destination, and a substantial amount of revenue comes from tourism. Among the main attractions are the diverse and picturesque culture, the game reserves and the highly regarded local wines.
The South African rand (ZAR), is the most actively traded emerging market currency in the world. It has joined an elite club of fifteen currencies, the Continuous linked settlement (CLS), where forex transactions are settled immediately, lowering the risks of transacting across time zones. The rand was the best-performing currency against the United States dollar (USD) between 2002 and 2005, according to the Bloomberg Currency Scorecard.
South Africa has a large agricultural sector and is a net exporter of farming products. There are almost a thousand agricultural cooperatives and agribusinesses throughout the country, and agricultural exports have constituted 8% of South African total exports for the past five years. The agricultural industry contributes around 10% of formal employment, relatively low compared to other parts of Africa, as well as providing work for casual labourers and contributing around 2.6% of GDP for the nation. However, due to the aridity of the land, only 13.5% can be used for crop production, and only 3% is considered high potential land.
Although the commercial farming sector is relatively well developed, people in some rural areas still survive on subsistence agriculture. It is the eighth largest wine producer in the world, and the eleventh largest producer of sunflower seed. South Africa is a net exporter of agricultural products and foodstuffs, the largest number of exported items being sugar, grapes, citrus, nectarines, wine and deciduous fruit. The largest locally produced crop is maize (corn), and it has been estimated that 9 million tons are produced every year, with 7.4 million tons being consumed. Livestock are also popular on South African farms, with the country producing 85% of all meat consumed. The dairy industry consists of around 4,300 milk producers providing employment for 60,000 farm workers and contributing to the livelihoods of around 40,000 others.
In recent years, the agricultural sector has introduced several reforms, some of which are controversial, such as land reform and the deregulation of the market for agricultural products. The South African government has set a target of transferring 30% of productive farmland from whites to previously disadvantaged blacks by 2014. Land reform has been criticised both by farmers' groups and by landless workers, the latter alleging that the pace of change has not been fast enough, and the former alleging racist treatment and expressing concerns that a similar situation to Zimbabwe's land reform policy may develop, a fear exacerbated by comments made by former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. The sector continues to face problems, with increased foreign competition and crime being two of the major challenges for the industry. The government has been accused of either putting in too much effort, or not enough effort, to tackle the problem of farm attacks as opposed to other forms of violent crime.
Another issue which affects South African agriculture is environmental damage caused by misuse of the land and global climate change. South Africa is unusually vulnerable to climate change and resultant diminution of surface waters. Some predictions show surface water supply could decrease by 60% by the year 2070 in parts of the Western Cape. To reverse the damage caused by land mismanagement, the government has supported a scheme which promotes sustainable development and the use of natural resources. Maize production, which contributes to a 36% majority of the gross value of South Africa’s field crops, has also experienced negative effects due to climate change. The estimated value of loss, which takes into consideration scenarios with and without the carbon dioxide fertilisation effect, ranges between 10’s to 100’s of millions of Rands.
South Africa houses many endemic species, among them the critically endangered Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticullaris) in the Karoo.
South Africa also has one possession, the small sub-Antarctic archipelago of the Prince Edward Islands, consisting of Marion Island (290 km2/110 sq mi) and Prince Edward Island (45 km2/17 sq mi) (not to be confused with the Canadian province of the same name).
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