South Africa occupies the southern tip of Africa, its coastline stretching more than 2,500 kilometres (1,600 miles) from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic (western) coast southwards around the tip of Africa and then north to the border with Mozambique on the Indian Ocean.
Cape Town, as the seat of Parliament, is the legislative capital; Pretoria, as the seat of the President and Cabinet, is the administrative capital; and Bloemfontein, as the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal, is the judicial capital, while the Constitutional Court of South Africa sits in Johannesburg. Most foreign embassies are located in Pretoria.
According to the Census 2011 data from Statistics South Africa, in 2011 the country’s population was 51 770 560, of which 26 581 769 (51.3%) were female and 25 188 791 (48.7%) were male.
Africans are in the majority at just over 41-million, making up 79.2% of the total population. The coloured population is 4 615 401 (8.9%), while there are 4 586 838 (8.9%) whites. The Indian/Asian population stands at 1 286 930 (2.5%). In 2011, “other” was included in the Census, and accounts for 280 454 or 0.5% of the total.
The currency in South Africa is the rand which comes in a range of coins (R1 = 100 cents) and note denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.
South Africa is a sunny country with an average of around 8-10 daily sunshine hours in most regions. The average annual rainfall for South Africa is 450mm. Overall, rainfall is greatest in the east and gradually decreases westward, with some semi-desert areas along the western edge of South Africa. For most of the country, rain falls mainly in the summer months with brief afternoon thunderstorms. The exception is the Western Cape and its capital city Cape Town where it rains more in the wintertime. In the winter months, snow collects on the high mountains of the Cape and the Drakensberg.
Spring: September, October, November
Summer: December through February
Autumn: March, April, May
Winter: June through August
Telecommunications infrastructure in South Africa provides modern and efficient service to urban areas, including cellular and internet services. Internet and Wi-Fi are easily accessible in most urban areas.
The nine provinces in South Africa are: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West and Western Cape.
- National flower: King protea.
- National tree: Real yellowwood.
- National animal: Springbok.
- National fish: Galjoen.
- National bird: Blue crane.
There are eleven official languages of South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Fewer than two percent of South Africans speak a first language other than an official one. Most South Africans can speak more than one language.
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 along or buy bottled water.
Animals and plants
In 1998 Conservation International declared South Africa one of the 17 megadiverse destinations in the world because of its rich biological diversity. Expect majestic and intimidating animals such as rhinos, elephants and great white sharks, and smaller ‘cute’ ones such as meerkats, bush babies and bat-eared foxes, as well as diverse plant life from succulent Karoo through to fynbos and indigenous forests.
The South African electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 HZ. With a few exceptions (in deep rural areas), electricity is available almost everywhere.
South Africa’s three major international airports are OR Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg); Cape Town International Airport; and King Shaka International Airport (Durban). There are also many regional airports, including the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Mbombela (Nelspruit).
Travel by road and 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, but there are a few exceptions. There are rail connections between the main centres, such as Johannesburg and Cape Town.
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.
Most of South Africa is malaria-free, but if you are visiting the Kruger National Park or low-lying parts of northern KwaZulu-Natal, be aware that you are entering malarial areas and should take precautions in the form of prophylactic medication.
Use common sense and take basic safety precautions. Keep valuables locked away and don’t wear expensive watches or jewellery, flash expensive cameras, or walk in deserted areas. Keep car doors and windows locked at all times. If in doubt, ask a guide or at your accommodation for safety guidelines.
Smoking is banned in public places, but there are usually designated areas where people can smoke. Under-18s may not enter a designated smoking area or buy cigarettes.
Most places welcome children and many establishments have special facilities such as family rooms or children’s entertainment programmes. Enquire about these when you book. All national parks are child-friendly.
There are facilities for disabled people (although fewer than in the United States or many parts of Europe). All major hotels will have facilities for disabled people. When renting a vehicle, discuss special needs and parking dispensations with the car-hire company.