|P1:||Union of South Africa|
|Conventional Long Name:|
|Ethnic Groups:||79.5% Black |
|Common Name:||South Africa|
|National Motto:||!ke e: xarra ke(ǀXam)|
“Unity In Diversity” (literally “Diverse People Unite”)
|National Anthem:||National anthem of South Africa|
Cape Town (legislative)
|Largest City:||Johannesburg(2006) |
|Government Type:||Constitutional democracy|
|Leader Name1:||Kgalema Motlanthe|
|Leader Title2:||Deputy President|
|Leader Name2:||Baleka Mbete|
|Leader Title3:||NCOP Chairman|
|Leader Name3:||M. J. Mahlangu|
|Leader Title4:||National Assembly Speaker|
|Leader Name4:||Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde|
|Leader Title5:||Chief Justice|
|Leader Name5:||Pius Langa|
|Sovereignty Note:||from the United Kingdom|
|Established Date1:||31 May 1910|
|Established Event2:||Statute of Westminster|
|Established Date2:||11 December 1931|
|Established Date3:||31 May 1961|
|Area Magnitude:||1 E12|
|Area Km2:||1 221 037|
|Area Sq Mi:||471 443|
|Population Estimate:||47 900 000|
|Population Estimate Year:||2008|
|Population Estimate Rank:||25th|
|Population Census:||44 819 778|
|Population Census Year:||2001|
|Population Density Km2:||39|
|Population Density Rank:||170th|
|Gdp Ppp Year:||2008|
|Gdp Ppp:||$495.990 billion|
|Gdp Ppp Rank:||25th|
|Gdp Ppp Per Capita:||$10,187|
|Gdp Ppp Per Capita Rank:||76th|
|Gdp Nominal Year:||2008|
|Gdp Nominal:||$300.397 billion|
|Gdp Nominal Rank:||30th|
|Gdp Nominal Per Capita:||$6,169|
|Gdp Nominal Per Capita Rank:||68th|
The Republic of South Africa, also known by other official names, is a country located at the southern tip of the continent of Africa. The South African coast stretches   and borders both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. To the north of South Africa lie Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland, while the Kingdom of Lesotho is an independent enclave surrounded by South African territory.
Modern human beings have inhabited South Africa for more than 100,000 years. 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 in 1652. 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. However, the discovery of diamonds and later gold triggered the 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 Boers were defeated, limited independence was given to South Africa in 1910 as a British dominion. Anti-British policies focused on ultimate independence which was achieved in 1961 when South Africa was declared a republic. The leading National Party legislated for a continuation of racial segregation begun under Dutch and British colonial rule, Boer republics, and subsequent South African governments (and which in 1948 became legally institutionalised segregation known as apartheid), despite opposition both in and outside of the country. In 1990 the then president F.W. de Klerk began to dismantle this legislation, and in 1994 the first democratic election was held in South Africa. This election brought Nelson Mandela and the current ruling party, the African National Congress to power, and the country rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations.
South Africa is known for its diversity in cultures, languages, and religious beliefs, and eleven official languages are recognised in its constitution. English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life, however it is only the fifth most spoken home language. South Africa is ethnically diverse, with the largest Caucasian, Indian, and racially mixed communities in Africa. Although 79.6% of the South African population is Black, this category is neither culturally nor linguistically homogeneous, as people within this classification speak a number of different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. Midyear 2007, the South African population was estimated at 47.9 million.
See main article: History of South Africa. 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 (see Bantu expansion) displacing and absorbing the original KhoiSan speakers. They slowly moved south and 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, reaching the Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. These Iron Age populations displaced earlier people, who often had hunter-gatherer societies, as they migrated.
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. This great feat of navigation was later immortalised in Camões' epic Portuguese poem, The Lusiads (1572). In 1652, a refreshment station was established at the Cape of Good Hope by Jan van Riebeeck on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. Slaves were brought from Indonesia, Madagascar, and India as a labour source for the Dutch immigrants in Cape Town. As they expanded east, the Dutch settlers eventually 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 falling into the hands of the Revolutionary French, but also seeking to use Cape Town in particular as a stop on the route to Australia and India. It was later returned to the Dutch in 1803, but soon afterwards the Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy, and 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 and consolidating it 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. During the 1830s, approximately 12 000 Boers (later known as Voortrekkers), departed from the Cape Colony, where they were subjected to British control, 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, intensifying the subjugation of the indigenous people. These important economic resources did not only play a role between European and the indigenous population but 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, much better suited to local conditions. However, the British returned in greater numbers, more experience, and more suitable tactics in the Second Boer War (1899 - 1902). The Boers' attempt to ally themselves with German South-West Africa provided the British with yet another excuse to take control of the Boer Republics.
After four years of negotiating, the Union of South Africa was created from the Cape and Natal colonies, as well as the republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal, on 31 May 1910, exactly eight years after the end of the Second Boer War. The newly created Union of South Africa was a dominion. The Natives' Land Act of 1913 severely restricted the ownership of land by 'blacks', at that stage to a mere 7% of the country, although this amount was eventually increased marginally. The union was effectively granted independence from the United Kingdom with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, which morphed the British king's position within South Africa into that of the distinct King of South Africa. In 1934, the South African Party and National Party merged to form the United Party, seeking reconciliation between Afrikaners and English-speaking "Whites", but split in 1939 over the entry of the Union into World War II as an ally of the United Kingdom, a move which the National Party strongly opposed.
In 1948, the National Party was elected to power, and intensified the implementation of racial segregation that had begun under Dutch and British colonial rule, and subsequent South African governments since the Union was formed. The Nationalist Government systematised existing segregationist laws, and the system of segregation became known collectively as apartheid. Not surprisingly, this segregation also applied to the wealth acquired during rapid industrialisation of the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. While the White minority enjoyed the highest standard of living in all of Africa, often comparable to First World western nations, the Black majority remained disadvantaged by almost every standard, including income, education, housing, and life expectancy. On 31 May 1961, following a whites-only referendum, the country became a republic and left the (British) Commonwealth. The office of Governor-General was abolished and replaced with the position of State President.
Apartheid became increasingly controversial, leading to widespread sanctions, divestment and growing unrest and oppression within South Africa. (See also the article on the History of South Africa in the apartheid era.) A long period of harsh suppression by the government, and at times violent resistance, strikes, marches, protests, and sabotage by bombing and other means, by various anti-apartheid movements, most notably the African National Congress (ANC), followed. In the late 1970s, South Africa began a programme of nuclear weapons development and in the following decade it produced six deliverable nuclear weapons. The rationale for the nuclear arsenal is disputed, but it is believed that Vorster and P.W. Botha wanted to be able to catalyse American intervention in the event of a war between South Africa and the Cuban-supported MPLA government of Angola.
In 1990 the National Party government took the first step towards negotiating itself out of power when it lifted the ban on the African National Congress and other left-wing political organisations, and released Nelson Mandela from prison after twenty-seven years' incarceration on a sabotage sentence. Apartheid legislation was gradually removed from the statute books, and South Africa also destroyed its nuclear arsenal and acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The first multi-racial elections were held in 1994, which the ANC won by an overwhelming majority. It has been in power ever since.
In post-apartheid South Africa, millions of South Africans, mostly black, continued to live in poverty, though poverty among whites, previously rare, has increased greatly. While some have partly attributed this to the legacy of the apartheid system, increasingly many attribute it to the failure of the current government to tackle social issues, coupled with the monetary and fiscal discipline of the current government to ensure both redistribution of wealth and economic growth. Since the ANC-led government took power, the United Nations Human Development Index of South Africa has fallen, while it was steadily rising until the mid-1990s. Some of this could possibly be attributed to the AIDS pandemic and the failure of the government to take steps to address it, some of it can also be pinpointed to a government policy of redistribution of wealth. As a mitigating factor, the social housing policy of the current government has produced an improvement in living conditions.
See main article: Politics of South Africa, Government of South Africa and Law of South Africa. 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.
Current South African politics are dominated by the African National Congress (ANC), which received 69.7% of the vote during the last 2004 general election and 66.3% of the vote in the 2006 municipal election. The current President of South Africa is Kgalema Motlanthe, who replaced Thabo Mbeki on 25 September 2008. Mbeki succeeded former President Nelson Mandela in 1999, and was re-elected for a second five year term in 2004, but announced his resignation on 20 September 2008.
The main challenger to the rule of the ANC is the Democratic Alliance party, which received 12.4% of the vote in the 2004 election and 14.8% in the 2006 election. Helen Zille, (elected 6 May 2007), is the party leader; the previous leader was Tony Leon. 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 Inkatha Freedom Party, which mainly represents Zulu voters, and the Independent Democrats, who took 6.97% and 1.7% of the vote respectively, in the 2004 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.
See main article: South African National Defence Force, Foreign relations of South Africa and South Africa and weapons of mass destruction. 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 and the then Prime Minister Jan Smuts wrote the preamble to its constitution. South Africa is currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council 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 armed forces, known as the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), was created in 1994.  Previously known as the South African Defence Force (SADF), the new force is an all volunteer army and consists of the forces of the old SADF, as well as the forces of the African nationalist groups, namely Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), 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 Military Health Services.
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.
See main article: Provinces of South Africa, Districts of South Africa and Municipalities of South Africa. When apartheid ended in 1994, the South African government had to integrate the formerly independent and semi-independent Bantustans into the political structure of South Africa. To this end, it abolished the four former provinces of South Africa (Cape Province, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal) and replaced them with nine fully integrated provinces. The new provinces are usually much smaller than the former provinces, which theoretically gives local governments more resources to distribute over smaller areas.
The nine provinces are further subdivided into 52 districts: 6 metropolitan and 46 district municipalities. The 46 district municipalities are further subdivided into 231 local municipalities. The district municipalities also contain 20 district management areas (mostly game parks) that are directly governed by the district municipalities. The six metropolitan municipalities perform the functions of both district and local municipalities. The new provinces are:
See main article: Geography of South Africa.
South Africa is located at the southernmost region of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 kilometres (1,550 mi) and across two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian). At 470,979 sq mi (1,219,912 km²), South Africa is the 25th-largest country in the world (after Mali). It is comparable in size to Colombia. Njesuthi in the Drakensberg at 3,408 m (11,424 ft) is the highest peak in South Africa.
South Africa has a generally temperate climate, due in part to it 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, rather flat, and sparsely populated scrubland, 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. 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 metres (5,709 ft) and receives an annual rainfall of 760 millimetres (30 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 degrees Celsius (5 °F). The deep interior has the hottest temperatures: A temperature of 51.7 °C (125 °F) was recorded in 1948 in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington.
South Africa also has one possession, the small sub-Antarctic archipelago of the Prince Edward Islands, consisting of Marion Island (290 km²/112 sq mi) and Prince Edward Island (45 km²/17.3 sq mi) (not to be confused with the Canadian province of the same name).
|Location:||Cape Town, South Africa|
|Jan Hi °C:||27|
|Feb Hi °C:||28|
|Mar Hi °C:||26|
|Apr Hi °C:||24|
|May Hi °C:||20|
|Jun Hi °C:||18|
|Jul Hi °C:||17|
|Aug Hi °C:||18|
|Sep Hi °C:||19|
|Oct Hi °C:||22|
|Nov Hi °C:||24|
|Dec Hi °C:||26|
|Year Hi °C:||28|
|Jan Lo °C:||16|
|Feb Lo °C:||16|
|Mar Lo °C:||15|
|Apr Lo °C:||13|
|May Lo °C:||10|
|Jun Lo °C:||8|
|Jul Lo °C:||8|
|Aug Lo °C:||8|
|Sep Lo °C:||9|
|Oct Lo °C:||11|
|Nov Lo °C:||14|
|Dec Lo °C:||15|
|Year Lo °C:||8|
|Jan Precip Mm:||16.5|
|Feb Precip Mm:||13|
|Mar Precip Mm:||20|
|Apr Precip Mm:||54|
|May Precip Mm:||92|
|Jun Precip Mm:||111|
|Jul Precip Mm:||96|
|Aug Precip Mm:||87|
|Sep Precip Mm:||56|
|Oct Precip Mm:||40|
|Nov Precip Mm:||24|
|Dec Precip Mm:||18|
|Year Precip Mm:||627|
See also: Wildlife of South Africa.
See also: Protected areas of South Africa.
South Africa is one of only 17 countries worldwide considered megadiverse. It has 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. South Africa is the 6th most biodiverse country, after Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, China, and Mexico. 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, it has few forests. Only 1% of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain along the Indian Ocean in KwaZulu-Natal (see KwaZulu-Cape coastal forest mosaic). There are even smaller reserves of forests that are out of the reach of fire, known as montane forests (see Knysna-Amatole 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 that met the first European settlers to South Africa 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 habitats including lions, leopards, white rhinos, blue wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotamus and giraffes. A significant extent of the bushveld habitat 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.
See main article: Economy of South Africa.
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 (the JSE Limited), 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 2007.
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.
Even though South Africa has the seventh highest per capita income in Africa, only behind Libya, Mauritius it suffers from large income gaps and a dual economy marking it as a developing country. South Africa has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. A decade of continual economic growth has helped to lower unemployment, but daunting economic and social problems remain. 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.
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. South Africa is also 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.
The volatility of the rand has affected economic activity, falling sharply during 2001 and hitting a historic low of 13.85 ZAR to the USD, raising fears of inflation, and causing the Reserve Bank to increase interest rates. The rand has since recovered, trading at 7.13 ZAR to the dollar as of January 2008. However, as exporters are put under considerable pressure from a stronger domestic currency, many call for government intervention to help soften the rand.
Refugees from poorer neighbouring countries include many immigrants from the DRC, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and others, representing a large portion of the informal sector. With high unemployment levels amongst poorer South Africans, xenophobia is prevalent and many people born in South Africa feel resentful of immigrants who are seen to be depriving the native population of jobs, a feeling which has been given credibility by the fact that many South African employers have employed migrants from other countries for lower pay than South African citizens, especially in the construction, tourism, agriculture and domestic service industries. Illegal immigrants are also heavily involved in informal trading. However, many immigrants to South Africa continue to live in poor conditions, and the South African immigration policy has become increasingly restrictive since 1994.
Principal international trading partners of South Africa — besides other African countries — include Germany, the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and Spain.  Chief exports include corn, diamonds, fruits, gold, metals and minerals, sugar, and wool. Machinery and transportation equipment make up more than one-third of the value of the country’s imports. Other imports include chemicals, manufactured goods, and petroleum.
After unsuccessful attempts by the government to encourage private construction of electricity generation capacity, in 2007 the state-owned electricity supplier (Eskom) started experiencing a lack of capacity in the electrical generating and reticulation infrastructure. This led to an inability to meet the routine demands of industry and consumers, resulting in countrywide rolling blackouts. Initially the lack of capacity was triggered by a failure at Koeberg nuclear power station, but since then a general lack of capacity became evident. The supplier has been widely criticised for failing to adequately plan for and construct sufficient electrical generating capacity, although ultimately the government has admitted that it is at fault for refusing to approve funding for investment in infrastructure.
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. 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 deputy president, the deputy president of South Africa.  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 effecthttp://www.fao.org/docrep/w5183e/w5183e06.htm,ranges between 10’s to 100’s of millions of Rands.
See main article: Demographics of South Africa.
South Africa is a nation of more than 48 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions. The last census was held in 2001 and the next will be in 2011. Statistics South Africa provided five racial categories by which people could classify themselves, the last of which, "unspecified/other" drew negligible responses, and these results were omitted. The 2006 midyear estimated figures for the other categories were Black African at 79.5%, White at 9.2%, Coloured at 8.9%, and Indian or Asian at 2.5%. Even though the population of South Africa has increased in the past decade  (primarily due to immigration), the country had an annual population growth rate of −0.501% in 2008 (CIA est.), including immigration. South Africa is home to an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants, including some 3 million Zimbabweans.   A series of anti-immigrant riots occurred in South Africa beginning on 11 May 2008. 
By far the major part of the population classified itself as African or black, but it is not culturally or linguistically homogeneous. Major ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele, all of which speak Bantu languages (see Bantu peoples of South Africa).
Some, such as the Zulu, Xhosa, Bapedi and Venda groups, are unique to South Africa. Other groups are distributed across the borders with neighbours of South Africa: The Basotho group is also the major ethnic group in Lesotho. The Tswana ethnic group constitute the majority of the population of Botswana. The Swazi ethnic group is the major ethnic group in Swaziland. The Ndebele ethnic group is also found in Matabeleland in Zimbabwe, where they are known as the Matabele. These Ndebele people are the descendants of a Zulu faction under the warrior Mzilikazi that escaped persecution from Shaka by migrating to their current territory. The Tsonga ethnic group is also found in southern Mozambique, where they are known as the Shangaan.
The white population is not ethnically homogeneous and descend from many ethnic groups: Dutch, Flemish, Portuguese, German, French Huguenot, English, Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh. Culturally and linguistically, they are divided into the Afrikaners, who speak Afrikaans, and English-speaking groups, many of whom are descended from British and Irish immigrants (see Anglo-African). Many small communities that have immigrated over the last century retain the use of other languages. The white population is on the decrease due to a low birth rate and emigration; as a factor in their decision to emigrate, many cite the high crime rate and the affirmative action policies of the government. Since 1994, approximately 1 000 000 white South Africans have permanently emigrated.    Despite high emigration levels, a high level of non-South African white immigrants have settled in the country, in particular from countries such as Britain and Zimbabwe. For example, by 2005, an estimated 212 000 British citizens were residing in South Africa. Since 2003, the numbers of British migrants coming to South Africa has risen by 50%. An estimated 20 000 British migrants moved to South Africa in 2007. There have also been a significant number of white Zimbabwean arrivals, fleeing their home country in light of the economic and political problems currently facing the country. As well as recent arrivals, a significant number of white Zimbabweans emigrated to South Africa in the wake of independence in Zimbabwe in 1980. Some of the more nostalgic members of the community are known in popular culture as "Whenwes", because of their nostalgia for their lives in Rhodesia "when we were in Rhodesia".
The term Coloured is still largely used for the people of mixed race descended from slaves brought in from East and Central Africa, the indigenous Khoisan who lived in the Cape at the time, Bantus, Whites (mostly the Dutch/Afrikaner and British settlers) as well as an admixture of Javanese, Malay, Indian, Malagasy and Asian blood (such as Burmese). The majority speak Afrikaans. Khoisan is a term used to describe two separate groups, physically similar: light-skinned and small in stature. The Khoikhoi, who were called Hottentots by the Europeans, were pastoralists and were annihilated; the San, called Bushmen by the Europeans, were hunter-gatherers. Within the Coloured community, more recent immigrants will also be found: Coloureds from the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); Namibia and immigrants of mixed descent from India and Burma (Anglo-Indians/Anglo-Burmese) who were welcomed to the Cape when India and Burma received their Independence.
The major part of the South African Asian population is Indian in origin (see Indian South Africans); many of them descended from indentured workers brought in the nineteenth century to work on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal area then known as Natal. There is also a significant group of Chinese South Africans (approximately 100,000 individuals) and Vietnamese South Africans (approximately 50,000 individuals). In 2008, the Pretoria High Court has ruled that Chinese South Africans who arrived before 1994 are to be reclassified as Coloureds. As a result of this ruling, about 12,000 - 15,000  ethnically Chinese citizens who arrived before 1994, numbering 3%-5% of the total Chinese population in the country, will be able to benefit from government BEE policies.
South Africa hosts a sizeable refugee and asylum seeker population. According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, this population numbered approximately 144,700 in 2007. Groups of refugees and asylum seekers numbering over 10,000 included people from Zimbabwe (48,400), The Democratic Republic of the Congo (24,800), and Somalia (12,900). These populations mainly lived in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth.
Several important scientific and technological developments have originated in South Africa.
The first human to human heart transplant was performed by cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard at Groote Schuur Hospital in December 1967
. Max Theiler developed a vaccine against Yellow Fever, Allan McLeod Cormack pioneered x-ray Computed tomography, and Aaron Klug developed crystallographic electron microscopy techniques. These advancements were all recognised with Nobel Prizes. Sydney Brenner won most recently, in 2002, for his pioneering work in molecular biology.
Mark Shuttleworth founded an early Internet security company Thawte, that was subsequently bought out by world-leader VeriSign. Despite government efforts to encourage entrepreneurship in biotechnology, IT and other high technology fields, no other notable groundbreaking companies have been founded in South Africa. However, it is the expressed objective of the government to transition the economy to be more reliant on high technology, based on the realisation that South African cannot compete with Far Eastern economies in manufacturing, nor can the republic rely on its mineral wealth in perpetuity.
South Africa has cultivated a burgeoning astronomy community. It hosts the Southern African Large Telescope, the largest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. South Africa is currently building the Karoo Array Telescope as a pathfinder for the $20 billion Square Kilometer Array project. South Africa is a finalist, with Australia, to be the host of the SKA.
See main article: Culture of South Africa.
It may be argued that there is no "single" culture in South Africa because of its ethnic diversity. Today, the diversity in foods from many cultures is enjoyed by all and especially marketed to tourists who wish to sample the large variety of South African cuisine. In addition to food, music and dance feature prominently.
South African cuisine is heavily meat-based and has spawned the distinctively South African social gathering known as a braai, or barbecue. South Africa has also developed into a major wine producer, with some of the best vineyards lying in valleys around Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl and Barrydale.
There is great diversity in music from South Africa. Many black musicians who sang in Afrikaans or English during apartheid have since begun to sing in traditional African languages, and have developed a unique style called Kwaito. Of note is Brenda Fassie, who launched to fame with her song "Weekend Special", which was sung in English. More famous traditional musicians include Ladysmith Black Mambazo, while the Soweto String Quartet performs classic music with an African flavour. White and Coloured South African singers are historically influenced by European musical styles including such western metal bands such as Seether (formerly Saron Gas). South Africa has produced world-famous jazz musicians, notably Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Abdullah Ibrahim, Miriam Makeba, Jonathan Butler, Chris McGregor, and Sathima Bea Benjamin. Afrikaans music covers multiple genres, such as the contemporary Steve Hofmeyr and the punk rock band Fokofpolisiekar. Crossover artists such as Johnny Clegg and his bands Juluka and Savuka have enjoyed various success underground, publicly, and abroad.
The South African black majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished lives. It is among these people, however, that cultural traditions survive most strongly; as blacks have become increasingly urbanised and westernised, aspects of traditional culture have declined. Urban blacks usually speak English or Afrikaans in addition to their native tongue. There are smaller but still significant groups of speakers of Khoisan languages who are not included in the eleven official languages, but are one of the eight other officially recognised languages. There are small groups of speakers of endangered languages, most of which are from the Khoi-San family, that receive no official status; however, some groups within South Africa are attempting to promote their use and revival.
The middle class lifestyle, predominantly of the white minority but with growing numbers of Black, Coloured and Indian people, is similar in many respects to that of people found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia. Members of the middle class often study and work abroad for greater exposure to the markets of the world.
Asians, predominantly of Indian origin, preserve their own cultural heritage, languages and religious beliefs, being either Christian, Hindu or Sunni Muslim and speaking English, with Indian languages like Hindi, Telugu, Tamil or Gujarati being spoken less frequently, but the majority of Indians being able to understand their mother tongue. The first Indians arrived on the famous Truro ship as indentured labourers in Natal to work the Sugar Cane Fields. There is a much smaller Chinese community in South Africa, although its numbers have increased due to immigration from Republic of China (Taiwan).
South Africa has also had a large influence in the Scouting movement, with many Scouting traditions and ceremonies coming from the experiences of Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of Scouting) during his time in South Africa as a military officer in the 1890s. The South African Scout Association was one of the first youth organisations to open its doors to youth and adults of all races in South Africa. This happened on 2 July 1977 at a conference known as Quo Vadis.
The South African music scene consists of Kwaito, a new music genre that had developed in the mid 80s and has since developed to become the most popular social economical form of representation among the populous. Though some may argue that the political aspects of Kwaito has since diminished after Apartheid, and the relative interest in politics has become a minor aspect of daily life. Some argue that in a sense, Kwaito is in fact a political force that shows activism in its apolitical actions. Today, major corporations like Sony, BMG, and EMI have appeared on the South African scene to produce and distribute Kwaito music. Due to its overwhelming popularity, as well as the general influence of DJs, who are among the top 5 most influential types of people within the country, Kwaito has taken over radio, television, and magazines.
Kwaito, much like most hip-hop has its own local flavor and originality. However, unlike when hip-hop first burst on the scene as a politically driven and rebellious underground movement, South Africans wanted to create a happier vibe. As the post-apartheid fog cleared, South African youth found their "own voice in a style of music known as kwaito, spawning a new (and profitable) industry". According to TIMEeurope magazine, "The kwaito sound now regularly incorporates traditional African music, jazz, gospel, and even rock guitar, most notably on Mandoza's 2000 hit Nkalakatha, one of the few kwaito records to cross over onto traditionally white radio". In the kwaito, the samples from old school Jamaican dancehall, European house, etc., tempos are changed, beats are added, and urban street slang is also incorporated. This local flavour of music more recently has been attacked for its lack of ingenuity and its betrayal of its roots. The melodies and the incorporation of sex and dance have since become very similar to the American standard. In addition Kwaito has been criticised for its absence of influential lyrical content. As Kwaito is still a developing genre, and since the South African population is only around 48 million, sales of only 25,000 CDs are required for "gold" certification in South Africa.
See main article: Religion in South Africa.
According to the latest 2001 national census, Christians accounted for 79.7% of the population. This includes Zion Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal (Charismatic) 8.2%, Roman Catholic 7.1%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%, and other Christian 36%. Islam accounted for 1.5% of the population, Hinduism about 1.3%, and Judaism 0.2%. 15.1% had no religious affiliation, 2.3% were other and 1.4% were unspecified. 
African Indigenous Churches were the largest of the Christian groups. It was believed that many of these persons who claimed no affiliation with any organised religion adhered to traditional indigenous religions. Many peoples have syncretic religious practices combining Christian and indigenous influences.
Islam in South Africa itself is not known to pre-date the colonial period, despite the isolated contact neighbouring Mozambique had with Arab and East African traders. There is no evidence that Islam was known to the Zulu, Swazi, or Xhosa of the east coast prior to the colonial era. Many South African Muslims are described as Coloureds, notably in the Western Cape, especially those whose ancestors came as slaves from the Indonesian archipelago (the Cape Malays). Others are described as Indians, notably in KwaZulu-Natal, including those whose ancestors came as traders from South Asia; they have been joined by others from other parts of Africa as well as white or black South African converts. It is estimated that Islam is the fastest growing religion of conversion in the country, with the number of black Muslims growing sixfold, from 12,000 in 1991 to 74,700 in 2004.
Hinduism dates back to British Colonial period primarily but later waves of continuous immigrants from India have contributed to a sizeable Hindu population. Most Hindus are ethnically South Asian but there are many who come from mixed racial stock and many are converts with the efforts of Hindu missionaries such as ISKCON. Other religions in smaller numbers are Sikhism, Jainism and Bahá'í Faith.
See main article: Languages of South Africa.
South Africa has eleven official languages: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu. In this regard it is second only to India in number. While each language is formally equal to every other, some languages are spoken more than others. According to the 2001 National Census, the three most spoken first home languages are Zulu (23.8%), Xhosa (17.6%) and Afrikaans (13.3%). Despite the fact that English is recognised as the language of commerce and science, it was spoken by only 8.2% of South Africans at home in 2001, an even lower percentage than in 1996 (8.6%).
There are eleven official names for South Africa, one in each of the official national languages. The country also recognises eight non-official languages: Fanagalo, Khoe, Lobedu, Nama, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, San and South African Sign Language. These non-official languages may be used in certain official uses in limited areas where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent. Nevertheless, their populations are not such that they require nationwide recognition.
Many of the "unofficial languages" of the San and Khoikhoi people contain regional dialects stretching northward into Namibia and Botswana, and elsewhere. These people, who are a physically distinct population from other Africans, have their own cultural identity based on their hunter-gatherer societies. They have been marginalised to a great extent, and many of their languages are in danger of becoming extinct.
Many white South Africans also speak other European languages, such as Portuguese (also spoken by Angolan and Mozambican blacks), German, and Greek, while some Asians and Indians in South Africa speak South Asian languages, such as Tamil, Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu and Telugu. French is still widely spoken by French South Africans especially in places like Franschhoek, where many South Africans are of French origin. South African French is spoken by less than 10,000 individuals. Congolese French is also spoken in South Africa by migrants.
The main sports in South Africa are soccer, rugby, cricket, boxing and lawn bowls. Other sports with significant support are swimming, golf and netball. Basketball, surfing and skateboarding are popular among the youth.
Famous boxing personalities include Baby Jake Jacob Matlala, Vuyani Bungu, Welcome Ncita, Dingaan Thobela, Gerrie Coetzee and Brian Mitchell. Football players who have excelled in international clubs include Lucas Radebe of Leeds United and Quinton Fortune, formerly of Manchester United, Benni McCarthy and Aaron Mokoena of Blackburn Rovers and Steven Pienaar of Everton. South Africa produced Formula 1 motor racing's 1979 world champion Jody Scheckter.
South Africa hosted and won the 1995 Rugby World Cup at their first attempt and again won the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France. South Africa was only allowed to participate from 1995 since the end of Apartheid. It followed the 1995 Rugby World Cup by hosting and winning the 1996 African Cup of Nations football tournament. It also hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup and the 2007 World Twenty20 Championship. South Africa will be the host nation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which will be the first time the tournament is held on the African continent.
In 2004, the swim team of Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling won the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, simultaneously breaking the world record in the 4x100 freestyle relay. Penny Heyns won Olympic Gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
In golf, Gary Player is generally regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all time, having won the Career Grand Slam, one of five golfers to have done so. Other South African golfers to have successfully won a major tournament include Bobby Locke, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman.
See main article: HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The spread of AIDS (acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome) is an alarming problem in South Africa with up to 31% of pregnant women found to be HIV infected in 2005 and the infection rate among adults estimated at 20%. The link between HIV, a virus spread primarily by sexual contact, and AIDS was long denied by prior president Thabo Mbeki and then health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who insisted that the many deaths in the country are due to malnutrition, and hence poverty, and not HIV. In 2007, in response to international pressure, the government made efforts to fight AIDS. In September 2008 Thabo Mbeki was ousted by the ANC and Kgalema Motlanthe was appointed for the interim. One of Mr. Motlanthe's first actions was to replace Mrs. Tshabalala-Msimang with the current minister, Barbara Hogan.
AIDS affects mainly those who are sexually active and is far more prevalent in the black population. Most deaths are people who are also economically active, resulting in many families losing their primary wage earners. This has resulted in many 'AIDS orphans' who in many cases depend on the state for care and financial support. It is estimated that there are 1,200,000 orphans in South Africa. Many elderly people also lose the support from lost younger members of their family. Roughly 5 million people are infected with the disease.
See main article: Crime in South Africa.
According to a survey for the period 1998–2000 compiled by the United Nations, South Africa was ranked second for murder and first for assaults and rapes per capita. Total crime per capita is 10th out of the 60 countries in the data set.
Crime has had a pronounced effect on society: many middle-class South Africans moved into gated communities, abandoning the central business districts of some cities for the relative security of suburbs. This effect is most pronounced in Johannesburg, although the trend is noticeable in other cities as well. Many emigrants from South Africa also state that crime was a big motivator for them to leave. Crime against the farming community has continued to be a major problem.
Along with many African nations, South Africa has been experiencing a "brain drain" in the past 20 years. This is believed to be potentially damaging for the regional economy, and is almost certainly detrimental for the well-being of the majority of people reliant on the healthcare infrastructure, given the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The skills drain in South Africa tends to demonstrate racial contours (naturally given the skills distribution legacy of South Africa) and has thus resulted in large white South African communities abroad.