South Africa is a republic at the southern tip of Africa. It is bordered to the north by Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, to the north-east by Mozambique and Swaziland. Lesotho is contained entirely inside the borders of South Africa.
South Africa is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Africa, and has the largest white population on the continent. Racial and ethnic strife have played a large role in much of the country's history and politics.
South Africa has 11 official languages, which is second in numbers only to India. As a result, there are many acceptable official names for the country. They are:
It also recognises 8 non-official languages (Fanagalo, Lobedu, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, Sign Language, Khoe, Nama and San).
Furthermore, a small number of South Africans use the name Azania in preference to 'South Africa', which they disapprove of for its colonial origins. Those using the name Azania are most often affiliated with parties coming from an Afrocentric left-wing tradition, such as the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, and groups originating as schisms from it, such as the Azanian People's Organization.
Main article: History of South Africa
South Africa is one of the oldest nation-states in Africa. The area that is now South Africa was inhabited by the Khoi, San, Xhosa, Zulu and various other native tribes, when Dutch settlers arrived in 1652. Great Britain progressively encroached, leading to the Anglo-Dutch War and the two Boer wars. In 1910 the four main republics in the region united as the Union of South Africa. In 1931 South Africa became a fully sovereign and self-governing dominion under the British crown. In 1961 it became a republic.
The descendants of the white settlers remained a minority among the black Africans. After the Second World War the whites were able to maintain their rule by implementing Apartheid, a series of harsh laws segregating the country along racial lines. The Apartheid system became increasingly controversial in the late 20th century, leading to widespread sanctions and growing unrest and oppression by the National Party government. In 1990, after a long period of resistance by various anti-apartheid movements, above all the African National Congress, the National Party government took the first step towards negotiating itself out of power, when it lifted the ban on the African National Congress and other leftwing political organisations, and released Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years. Apartheid legislation was gradually scrapped from the statute books, and the first multiracial elections were held in 1994. The ANC won by an overwhelming majority, and has been in power ever since. Control of the country is now largely in the hands of the black majority, which makes up roughly 80 percent of the population. Despite the demise of Apartheid, millions of black South Africans continue to live in poverty, and the official unemployment rate is 40 percent. However, a series of voluntary and legislative moves, under the broad umbrella of BEE, or Black Economic Empowerment, have helped to redress decades of racial imbalance in the management and ownership of South African business and industry.
Main article: Politics of South Africa
The President of South Africa is Head of State as well as Head of Government. He or she is elected by a joint sitting of the bicameral Parliament, consisting of the National Assembly or lower house, and the National Council of Provinces, or upper house. In practice, the president is the leader of the majority party in parliament.
The National Assembly has 400 members, elected by proportional representation. The National Council of Provinces (NCoP), which replaced the Senate in 1997 is made up of 90 members representing each of South Africa's nine provinces as well as the large cities.
Main article: Provinces of South Africa
Main article: Geography of South Africa
South Africa is located at the southern tip of the continent of Africa.
Main article: Economy of South Africa
South Africa is a middle-income, developed country with an abundant supply of resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors, a stock exchange that ranks among the 10 largest in the world, and a modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region. However, although growth has been positive for ten consecutive years, it has not cut into the 40% unemployment, and daunting economic problems remain from the Apartheid era, especially the problems of poverty and lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups. Other problems are crime, corruption, and HIV/AIDS. At the start of 2000, President Thabo Mbeki vowed to promote economic growth and foreign investment by relaxing restrictive labour laws, stepping up the pace of privatization, and cutting unneeded governmental spending. His policies face strong opposition from organized labour.
South Africa has an estimated 4.79 million HIV infections. The government has recently, after much delay, devoted substantial resources to fighting the epidemic. A recent study (from the African Journal of Aids Research, Thomas Rehle and Olive Shisana) showed the infection rate starting to level off, (from 4.2% to 1.7% infection rate for 15-49 year olds), and AIDS deaths peaking at 487 320 in 2008.
Since South Africa opened its borders after the demise of Apartheid, international crime syndicates have penetrated the country, and much of the world's drug trade flows through its borders. South Africa is also the fourth-largest producer of marijuana in the world.
The volatility of the rand has affected economic activity, with the rand plummeting during 2001 (hitting an historic low of 13.85 to the dollar, raising fears of inflation, and causing the reserve bank to increase interest rates), but since dramatically recovering, trading at under 7 in October 2003, leading to a recovery in inflation, and the Reserve Bank to drop rates, but exporters threatening to cut jobs.
Main article: Demographics of South Africa
Main article: Culture of South Africa
Former national symbols
The national flag of South Africa between 1927 and 1994 featured the old Dutch Prinsenvlag, with the flags of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, together with the Union Jack representing the former British colonies of the Cape Province and Natal. It remained unchanged when South Africa became a republic in 1961, although some Afrikaner Nationalists advocated the introduction of a new flag without the Union Jack in the centre. (Prior to 1958, the Union Jack had equal status with the South African flag, and between 1912 and 1928, South Africa used a version of the Red Ensign, defaced with the shield from its coat of arms.)
The previous national anthem of South Africa, Die Stem van Suid-Afrika was first used in 1928, later being translated into English as The Call of South Africa in 1952. It officially replaced God Save the Queen in 1957. It was retained after the adoption of the first non-racial constitution in 1994, having equal status with Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika, until the two were combined to form the present anthem in 1997.
Coat of arms
The coat of arms, dating from 1910, continued in use until 2000. The four quarters of the shield represented the four provinces of the Union of South Africa, and remained unchanged following the proclamation of the Republic of South Africa in 1961. The motto in Latin, Ex Unitate Vires or 'Unity is Strength', was a translation of the Dutch motto of the old South African Republic Eendracht Maakt Macht.