South Africa is among the most surprising countries in the African continent. Although mainly known in the second half of the 20th century as the land of Nelson Mandela and apartheid, this splendid country is really much more than that: the thousand dirt villages of the "Zulu-Land", the natural parks, the endless wilderness, the multiethnic cities with their gentle people, the high-quality wines and varied food.

In breve

Area: 1,219,912 km² -- Popolazione: about 47 million -- Government: -- Capital: Capetown (legislative), Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial) -- Language: English, Afrikaans, Zulu -- Religion: Christian 68%, Animist 28,5%, Muslim 2%, Hindu 1,5% -- Currency: South African rand (ZAR) -- Phone code: +27 -- Car plate: ZA -- Member of: the UNO since 1945


Administrative Division

The country is divided into 9 Provinces:
  • Western Cape with capital Capetown,
  • Northern Cape with capital Kimberley;
  • Eastern Cape with capital Bisho;
  • KwaZulu-Natal with capital Ulundi;
  • Free State with capital Bloemfontein;
  • North West with capital Mafikeng;
  • Gauteng with capital Johannesburg;
  • Mpumalanga with capital Nelspruit;
  • Limpopo with capital Pietersburg.

The Territory

The Republic of South Africa, situated at the southern end of the African continent, is bordered by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana to the north, Mozambique and Swaziland to the north-east, while Lesotho is an enclave completely within the South African territory. The Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian to the east ideally join at Cape Agulhas; among the innumerable natural landscapes is the Kruger National Park, with the so-called "Big Fives": the lion, leopard, buffalo, rhinoceros and elephant. Approximately 5% of the whole area of South Africa is protected.

In the south of the country there is the astonishing marine landscape of KwaZulu - Natal, with its coral reefs and thousands of sea species, a paradise for scuba diving. But there is here not only the sea, but mountain landscapes as well, with the majestic Drakensberg chain, a favourite destination for trekking and walking itineraries.

South west is the Garden Route, a much besought attractive of South Africa and among the best panoramic roads in the world, reaching from Port Elizabeth (the city of friendship) to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost site in Africa, an area well known also as a gathering point of whales nursing their new-borns.

The Population

The native African population, divided into different ethnic groups, amounts to 75% of the total inhabitants, while the whites, descending from the Dutch and British colonisers, or French and German immigrants, are about 13%, and there is a also remarkable Asian community.

The climate

South Africa is endowed with a Mediterranean-like climate, especially to the south, also thanks to the presence of the oceans, with mild temperatures and abundant rainfall. In the Natal province the climate turns into tropical, with a rich vegetation. In the northern inner plateau there is less rain, and temperatures have higher differences between day and night and among the seasons.


South Africa, according to recent paleo-anthropologic research, may have been among the earliest cradles of mankind: here some of the most ancient fossils of Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus were found. After centuries of Dutch and later British colonisation, South Africa became finally independent in 1931, and took part to World War Two with the Allies. The dark decades of Apartheid and racial segregation, established in 1948 by the National Party, are finally over, thanks to both international pressures and the strong internal opposition led by the African National Congress.

Cities and places of interest

Capetown, situated at the foot of the Table Mountain at the southern tip of Africa, contains in itself all the history of modern South Africa. Among the earliest European settlements, the city's architectural landscape shows traces of the different colonisation periods. Among the main tourist destinations are the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a huge shopping mall with thousands of sales points, a fine tourist port and a famous aquarium.

Travelling into the hinterland, amazing views of strange rocky landscapes give place to areas of thick vegetation; these areas are very low populated, but here and there some picturesque villages arise. Another itinerary of great beauty is the Wine Trail, where among endless vineyards small and large farms offer escorted tours with wine tasting.

Not far from Johannesburg, in its southern suburbs, is the shanty town of Soweto, where over 2 million people of different ethnic groups live in poor lodging with little or none sanitary facilities. This the other South Africa, a tragic relic of the apartheid age, and an important warning for the future.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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The Cradle of Humankind: Fossil hominid sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, Klasies River Caves and environments; Cape Floral Region Protected Areas, Drakensberg Park, the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, Robben Island, Vredefort Dome


South Africa has great natural resources, and though it is the most developed African country it is still plagued by the poverty problems inherited from the previous regime. There are modern infrastructures and industry is rising steadily. About 15% of the population works in the agricultural field, and the sheep-raising sector is very strong, as well as fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. But the main resources come from the mining sector, with gold accounting for 62% of the world's output, and then diamonds, silver, uranium, iron and coal. The industrial sector accounts for over two fifths of the nation's GDP.

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