South Africa is scenically beautiful, has a sunny climate (between 7.5 – 9.5 hours of sunshine daily), more kinds of wild animals than North and South America, or Europe and Asia combined. The country is the world’s leading producer of platinum, chromium and other minerals.
The economy is in good shape and its currency, the Rand (ZAR), is stable. SA’s GNP is the largest in Africa.
South Africa comprises a diverse collection of cultures, languages, beliefs and backgrounds. The country celebrated its 18th year of democracy in April 2012. South Africans are optimistic about the future, and the country has made remarkable progress in transitioning from the dark days of apartheid, and from white minority rule to majority rule without serious upheaval and violence.
Although it only occupies 4% of the total landmass of Africa, South Africa is bigger than Germany, France and Italy combined. It extends from the Limpopo River in the north, to Cape Agulhas at the southern-most tip of Africa. The country’s landscapes range from highveld grassland, and semi-desert scrubland, to sub-tropical wetlands. It is home to some of the world’s most diverse animal and plant kingdoms.
It is divided, broadly, into two main regions: a huge inland plateau, with a narrow coastal plain on three sides. Separating the two is an escarpment of mountains and hills, dominated by the mighty Drakensberg range.
There are comparatively few large rivers (none of which are commercially navigable) resulting in limited water resources. The largest river is the Orange River; which flows westwards through the centre of the country, from the Drakensberg in the south-east to the Atlantic Ocean. The main harbours are at Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London.
Due to the wide expanses of ocean surrounding it, the country enjoys a generally temperate climate, although weather patterns and rainfall vary widely. Eighty percent of the country’s rain falls in the summer months of October to March. The Western Cape (Cape Town) differs in that it enjoys a Mediterranean-style climate, with winter rains brought by
north-westerly winds. Other coastal areas experience some rainfall throughout the year.
In the north east of the country the coastal areas of KwaZulu Natal on the Indian Ocean have a sub-tropical climate. National rainfall average is half the world average, and sunshine is plentiful.
Johannesburg and Tswane/Pretoria are on the highveld where summers are warm to hot, broken by brief heavy downpours of rain. Daytime temperatures in summer average between 26°C and 30°C (79°F - 86°F) but can reach as high as 36°C in Tswane/Pretoria, cooling to between 15°C and 20°C at night. Humidity is low on this high plain, making the heat less exhausting. Winters are bright and dry, with sparkling days – the average daytime temperature is 19°C (66°F). It can get pretty cold at night though, with temperatures dropping to around freezing.
Johannesburg is one of the world’s high altitude cities. At some 5,500 feet above sea level, visitors may experience mild fatigue when they first arrive. That will soon pass, and most people love the climate in Gauteng and the other highveld provinces of South Africa.
In Cape Town weather patterns are complex and variable – at times the city seems to pass through all four seasons in a day
prompting humorists to remark that “Cape Town doesn’t have a climate – just weather!” The average temperature during the summer months (October toApril) range from 18°C to 25°C but can reach 30°C and more from January to
March. Rain is brought in by the north-westerly winds, and winter temperatures range from 8°C to 18°C although the wet weather is regularly broken by unexpected intervals of warmth and sunshine.
The African sun is notorious for its intensity, especially on the highveld, where visitors are advised to use hats and sunscreen liberally when outdoors at any time of the year.
US - EST + 6 hrs in Northern Hemisphere
UK - GMT + 2 hrs in Northern Hemisphere Winter
UK - BST + 1 hr in Northern Hemisphere Summer
South Africa does not observe any form of daylight-saving time
The present day population of nearly 50 million is broadly made up of 80% African; 8% White; 12% peoples of mixed race and Asian extraction.
Most of South Africa’s people live in the eastern regions of the country where the higher rainfall, better soil and rich minerals offer more employment opportunities.
The majority of the black population live in urban townships such as Soweto outside Johannesburg.
The white community is predominantly urban-based and widely spread, while most Coloured people live in the Western and Northern Cape, and Asians mostly reside in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
The structure of government follows the basic lines of most other liberal democracies. Parliament and provincial councils are
elected on the basis of proportional representation.
There are nine provinces: Eastern Cape; Free State; Gauteng; KwaZulu Natal; Limpopo; Mpumalanga; Northern Cape; Northwest Province and Western Cape, all with their own regional government
Since South Africa’s history may not be a priority for you right now, we have included some key historical facts in our Practical Guide to Living in South Africa.
In regional terms, South Africa is an economic powerhouse. It dominates the continent in terms of its infrastructure, financial resources and sophistication. In global terms, however, its economy is small - accounting for only 0.5% of global GDP.