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The circle of South Africa




South Africa occupies the most southern tip of Africa with its long coastline stretching more than 3 000 km from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast southwards around the tip of Africa and then north to the border of subtropical Mozambique on the Indian Ocean.

South Africa has more than 290 conservation parks. It is home to almost 300 mammal species, about 860 bird species and 8 000 plant species. The annual sardine run is the biggest migration on the planet.

South Africa comprises eight world heritage sites and is divided into eight biomes.

The heritage sites are:

  1. Cradle of Humankind
  2. Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape
  3. Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape
  4. Robben Island
  5. Cape Floral Region Protected Areas
  6. iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  7. Vredefort Dome
  8. uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park

The biomes are:

  1. Grassland
  2. Savanna
  3. Succulent Karoo
  4. Nama Karoo
  5. Forest
  6. Fynbos
  7. Desert
  8. Thicket.

The country is considered to be the cradle of humankind and boasts 40% of all hominid finds on Earth.

Land in South Africa

Stretching latitudinally from 22°S to 35°S and longitudinally from 17°E to 33°E, South Africa’s surface area covers 1 219 602 km2.

Physical features range from bushveld, grasslands, forests, deserts and majestic mountain peaks, to wide unspoilt beaches and coastal wetlands.

The country shares common boundaries with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland, while the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is landlocked by South African territory in the south-east.

The Prince Edward and Marion islands, annexed by South Africa in 1947, lie some 1 920 km south-east of Cape Town.

South Africa Coast and Coastline

The warm Mozambique-Agulhas Current skirts the east and south coasts as far as Cape Agulhas, while the cold Benguela Current flows northwards along the west coast as far as southern Angola. The contrast in temperature between these two currents partly accounts for significant differences in climate and vegetation, as well as differences in marine life.

Owing to the cold waters of the west coast being much richer in oxygen, nitrates, phosphates and plankton than those of the east coast, the South African fishing industry is centred on the west coast.

Saldanha Bay on the west coast is the only ideal natural harbour.

Rivers and Lakes in South Africa

None of the country’s rivers are commercially navigable and most river mouths are unsuitable as harbours because large sandbanks block entry for most of the year.

South Africa has no significant natural lakes. Artificial lakes are used mostly for crop irrigation.

The Orange River is South Africa’s largest river. Rising in the Drakensberg Mountains, it traverses through the Lesotho Highlands and joins the Caledon River between the Eastern Cape and the Free State before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, it forms the border with Namibia.

Other major rivers include the Vaal, Breede, Komati, Lepelle (previously Olifants), Tugela, Umzimvubu, Limpopo and Molopo.

Relief features
South Africa’s surface area falls into two major physiographic categories: the interior plateau, and the land between the plateau and the coast.

Forming the boundary between these two areas is the Great Escarpment, the most prominent and continuous relief feature of the country. Its height above sea level varies from about 1 500 m in the dolerite-capped Roggeveld scarp in the south-west, to a height of 3 482 m in the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg.

Inland from the escarpment lies the interior plateau, which is the southern continuation of the great African plateau stretching north to the Sahara Desert. The plateau is characterised by wide plains with an average height of 1 200 m above sea level. The dissected Lesotho plateau, which is more than 3 000 m above sea level, is the most prominent.

Between the Great Escarpment and the coast lies an area which varies in width from 80 km to 240 km in the east and south, and 60 km to 80 km in the west. At least three major subdivisions are recognised: the eastern plateau slopes, the Cape folded belt and adjacent regions and the western plateau slopes.

Climate and Weather South Africa

A subtropical location, moderated by ocean on three sides of the country and the altitude of the interior plateau, account for the warm temperate conditions. South Africa is a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of about 464 mm. While the Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region.

Temperatures in South Africa tend to be lower than in other countries at similar latitudes owing mainly to greater elevation above sea level.

On the interior plateau the altitude – Johannesburg lies at 1 694 m – keeps the average summer temperatures below 30°C. In winter, for the same reason, night-time temperatures can drop to freezing point or lower in some places. South Africa’s coastal regions are therefore relatively warm in winter. There is a striking contrast between temperatures on the country’s east and west coasts, owing respectively to the warm Agulhas Current and cold Benguela Current that sweep the coastlines.

South Africa Facts

  • Official name: Republic of South Africa
  • Population: 51.8-million (Census 2011) • 56.5-million (2017 mid-year population estimates)
  • Currency: Rand (ZAR). One rand (R) = 100 cents
  • Time: Two hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)
  • Measures: metric system
  • Internet domain: .za

Geography of South Africa

  • Capital cities: Pretoria (administrative), Cape Town (legislative), Bloemfontein (judicial)
  • Land area: 1,219,090 square kilometres
  • Coastline: 2,798 kilometres
  • Neighbouring countries: Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho
  • Oceans: Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean
  • Climate: Temperate

South Africa Population

According to the most recent census, Census 2011, South Africa’s population stands at 51,770,560 people. The 2017 mid-year population estimate puts it at 56.5-million.

Population group Number % of total
African 41 000 938 79.2%
Coloured 4 615 401 8.9%
White 4 586 838 8.9%
Indian/Asian 1 286 930 2.5%
TOTAL 51 770 560 100%

People of South Africa – Languages Spoken in South Africa

The distinctive charm of South Africa comes from its history and also by moments of great change and strides of progress brought about by a people united in a diversity of religious beliefs, cultures and languages.

South Africa’s Constitution recognises 11 official languages, to which it guarantees equal status.

Language Number of speakers* % of total
Afrikaans 6 855 082 13.5%
English 4 892 623 9.6%
isiNdebele 1 090 223 2.1%
isiXhosa 8 154 258 16%
isiZulu 11 587 374 22.7%
Sepedi 4 618 576 9.1%
Sesotho 3 849 563 7.6%
Setswana 4 067 248 8%
Sign language 234 655 0.5%
SiSwati 1 297 046 2.5%
Tshivenda 1 209 388 2.4%
Xitsonga 2 277 148 4.5%
Other 828 258 1.6%
TOTAL 50 961 443** 100%

South African Provinces

South Africa has nine provinces, which vary considerably in size.

Province Area % of total
Eastern Cape 169 580 km² 13.9%
Free State 129 480 km² 10.6%
Gauteng 17 010 km² 1.4%
KwaZulu-Natal 92 100 km² 7.6%
Limpopo 123 910 km² 10.2%
Mpumalanga 79 490 km² 6.5%
Northern Cape 361 830 km² 29.7%
North West 116 320 km² 9.5%
Western Cape 129 370 km² 10.6%
TOTAL 1 219 090 km² 100%


Province Population % of total
Eastern Cape 6 562 053 12.7%
Free State 2 745 590 5.3%
Gauteng 12 272 263 23.7%
KwaZulu-Natal 10 267 300 19.8%
Limpopo 5 404 868 10.4%
Mpumalanga 4 039 939 7.8%
Northern Cape 1 145 861 2.2%
North West 3 509 953 6.8%
Western Cape 5 822 734 11.3%
TOTAL 51 770 560 100%

Government of South Africa

  • Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
  • National legislature: Bicameral Parliament elected every five years, comprising a 400-seat National Assembly and a 90-seat National Council of Provinces.
  • Electoral system: List-system of proportional representation based on universal adult suffrage.
  • Elections: National elections were held in 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014. The next national election will take place in 2019.
  • Head of state: The President is elected by the National Assembly. Under the Constitution, the President is permitted to serve a maximum of two five-year terms.
  • Highest court: Constitutional Court

Education in South Africa

School life spans 13 years or grades, from grade 0, otherwise known as grade R or “reception year”, through to grade 12 or “matric” – the year of matriculation.

Under the South African Schools Act of 1996, education is compulsory for all South Africans from the age of seven (grade 1) to age 15, or the completion of grade 9.

According to Census 2011, the percentage of people aged 20 or older who have higher education increased from 8.4% in 2001 to 12.1% in 2011 The number of those who matriculated increased from 20.4% to 28.5%. Those who had no schooling at all decreased from 17.9% to 8.6%.

South Africa Map

South Africa Map
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