About South Africa - Quick Facts

Quick Facts

Geography

Situated at the southern tip of Africa, South Africa is edged on three sides by almost 2,000 miles of coastline, with the Indian Ocean to the east and the Atlantic Ocean further west. The country is bordered in the north by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and also encloses two independent countries: the kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland.

Capital Cities

South Africa has three capitals: Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative) and Bloemfontein (judicial).

Political System

Since 1994’s first post-apartheid elections, South Africa has had a democratic government. Regarded as an example to the world, its Constitution enshrines a wide range of human rights protected by an independent judiciary. The head of the country is the President; current incumbent Jacob Zuma heads up the ruling African National Congress party.

Economy

Considered an emerging market, South Africa has a well-developed financial sector and active stock exchange. The country’s central bank is the South African Reserve Bank.

Tourism

The tourism industry is well established, with an exciting sector of emerging entrepreneurs. The country’s strong on adventure, sport, nature and wildlife, and a pioneer of responsible tourism.

Population

The last census, in 2011 indicated a population of about 52 million people from various origins, cultures, languages and religions. Of them, 79.2% were African, 8.9% ‘coloured’ (a term used in South Africa to describe people of mixed race), 8.9% white, and 2.5% Indian. Just over half the population were female.

Currency

South Africa's currency is the rand, which currently offers visitors great value for money. It comes in a range of coins (R1 = 100 cents) plus note denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.

Climate

South Africa is known for long sunny days. Most of the nine provinces have summer rainfall, except for the Western Cape, which experiences winter rainfall. The high-lying areas of the interior can be chilly in winter. The South African Weather Service uses the following dates for seasons:

Spring: September to November

Summer: December to February

Autumn: March to May

Winter: June to August

Communications

South Africa has a well-developed communications infrastructure. A number of cellphone providers offer national coverage and there are well-established landline phone networks. Internet and Wi-Fi are accessible in most urban areas.

Provinces

There are nine provinces in South Africa, namely: Eastern Cape, Freestate, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West and Western Cape.

National Symbols

A much-loved symbol of the ‘new’ South Africa, the country’s flag comprises a geometric pattern of green, white, black, gold, red and blue.

South Africa’s national bird is the blue crane. The national animal is the springbok and the national fish the galjoen. The giant or king protea is the national flower, and the national tree is the yellowwood.

South Africa’s national anthem is a hybrid of the Xhosa hymn Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (God Bless Africa), composed by Enoch Sontonga in 1897, and Die Stem van Suid-Afrika (The Call of South Africa), an adapted Afrikaans poem.

Languages

South Africa is a multilingual country and there are 11 official languages, namely: English, Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. Although only about 10% of the population has English as its mother tongue, English is the language most widely understood, and the second language of most South Africans.

Religions

About 80% of South Africa's population are Christian. Other major religious groups include Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, with the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of worship.

Water

In urban areas, tap water is usually of high quality and safe to drink. It’s quite safe to have ice in drinks and to eat salads. However, when travelling to remote rural areas and the bush, you should take your own drinking water or buy bottled water.

Animals & Plants

In 1998, Conservation International declared South Africa as one of the 17 megadiverse destinations in the world due to its rich biological diversity. Expect majestic and intimidating animals such as rhinos, elephants and great white sharks, and smaller ‘cuties’ like meerkats, bush babies and bat-eared foxes, plus diverse plant life from the succulent Karoo through to fynbos and indigenous forests.

Electricity / Plugs

The South African electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC at 50 Hz. With a few exceptions (in deep rural areas), electricity is available almost everywhere.  Most plugs are either 15 amp / three-prong or 5 amp / two-prong, using round pins.

Airports

South Africa’s three major international airports are Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB), Cape Town International Airport (CPT) and King Shaka International Airport (DUR) in Durban. There are also many regional airports, including the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (MKP) in Mbombela (aka Nelspruit).

Travel By Road & Rail

South Africa has an extensive road infrastructure including national highways and secondary roads. Speed limits are set at 120km/h on highways, 100km/h on secondary roads and 60km/h in urban areas. Most roads are in good condition, with a few exceptions. There are rail connections between main centres like Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Entry Requirements

For visa requirements, contact your nearest South African diplomatic mission. South Africa requires a valid yellow-fever certificate from all foreign visitors travelling from an infected area, or who have been in transit through infected areas. Infected areas in southern Africa include Zambia and Angola.

Health

South Africa has been well known for its medical skill since Professor Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful human heart transplant in the country in 1967. There are many world-class private hospitals and medical centres around the country, especially in the urban areas, while many state hospitals also offer excellent care, among them Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

Malaria

Most of South Africa is malaria-free, but if you are visiting the Kruger National Park or parts of northern KwaZulu-Natal, be aware that you are entering malarial areas and should take precautions in the shape of prophylactic medication.

Tips & Tipping

As a rough guide, give 10%-15% to waiters and about £7 (US $10, or equivalent) per day to your safari ranger.

Security

Use common sense and take basic safety precautions. Keep valuables locked away and try not to wear expensive watches or jewellery, flash expensive cameras or walk in deserted areas. If in doubt, ask a guide or at your accommodation for safety guidelines..

Smoking

Smoking is banned in public places, but there are usually designated areas where people can light up. Under-18s may not enter a designated smoking area.

Travelling With Children

Most places welcome children, and many establishments have special facilities such as family rooms or kids’ entertainment programmes. Enquire about these when you book. All national parks are child-friendly.

Disability

There are facilities for disabled people in South Africa, but fewer than in the UK, United States or other parts of Europe. All major hotels will have facilities for disabled people. When renting a vehicle, discuss special needs and parking dispensations with the hire company.

 

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