South Africa country overview

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

South Africa information index

South Africa summary

Learn about the ethnic groups, the Highlands, and the culture of South Africa

South Africa, positioned at the southern tip of the African continent, is distinguished by its diverse landscapes, stunning natural scenery, and rich cultural mosaic. These attributes have consistently attracted travelers, particularly following the dissolution of apartheid in 1994—a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination.

Geographically remote, South Africa is situated thousands of miles away from major African metropolises such as Lagos and Cairo, and it spans a distance exceeding 6,000 miles (10,000 km) from key economic regions in Europe, North America, and East Asia, which host its principal trade associates. This isolation played a role in perpetuating the apartheid regime through much of the 20th century. Under apartheid, the ruling white minority, predominantly of British and Dutch descent, imposed strict racial segregation across various aspects of society, effectively creating separate communities for whites, blacks, and mixed-race individuals, as well as ethnic Asians.

The international community largely condemned the apartheid system, leading to South Africa’s status as a pariah state by the mid-1980s, accompanied by comprehensive economic and cultural sanctions. During this period, South African poet Mongane Wally Serote highlighted the profound need for self-expression among the oppressed, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging the resilience and creativity that enabled survival under such harsh conditions.

The untenable nature of apartheid eventually led to its dismantling, initiated by the government of F.W. de Klerk between 1989 and 1994. This process paved the way for a transition to universal suffrage and the establishment of a democratic electoral system, culminating in the historic 1994 election. This election brought to power a government led by the majority black population, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, a former political prisoner. South Africa’s journey since then has been marked by significant strides towards social equality within a relatively brief timeframe.

The Republic of South Africa is distinguished by its unique arrangement of having three designated capital cities: Pretoria, which hosts the executive branch of government; Cape Town, the seat of the legislative authority; and Bloemfontein, which is the judicial capital. Johannesburg stands as the most populous metropolis within the nation, serving as a pivotal hub for commerce within the densely populated province of Gauteng. Durban, situated on the coast of the Indian Ocean, is recognized as a significant industrial nexus. Additionally, East London and Port Elizabeth, both positioned on the southern coastline of the country, are recognized for their substantial contributions to the nation’s commercial, industrial, and cultural landscape.

In the contemporary era, South Africa boasts a relatively stable mixed economy, benefiting from its rich agricultural territories, extensive mineral wealth, a thriving tourism sector, and a well-developed intellectual infrastructure. Despite achieving greater political equality and economic steadiness, South Africa continues to grapple with societal challenges as it progresses into the 21st century. These include, but are not limited to, escalating crime rates, persistent ethnic discord, pronounced disparities in access to housing and educational resources, and the ongoing battle against the AIDS epidemic.

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