South Africa, with its rich history and multitude of cultures, is a land of possibility and opportunity. Its biggest asset is undoubtedly its diverse mix of people proud of their heritage and the country's remarkable achievements during the First Decade of Freedom.
The country boasts some of the world's most breathtaking scenery, and features an amazing display of bird and wildlife species, including the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino).
South Africa is often called the Cradle of Humankind, for this is where archaeologists discovered 2,5-million-year-old fossils of our earliest ancestors, as well as 100 000-year-old remains of modern man.
There are more or less 47 million people living in South Africa. Of these, 79% classified themselves as African; 9,6% as White; 8,9% as Coloured; and 2,5% as Indian/Asian.
The Constitution recognises 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. According to Census 2001, isiZulu is the mother tongue of 23,8% of the population, followed by isiXhosa (17,6%), Afrikaans (13,3%), Sepedi (9,4%), and English and Setswana (8,2% each). The least-spoken indigenous language in South Africa is isiNdebele, which is spoken by 1,6% of the population.
Almost 80% of South Africa's population follows the Christian faith. Other major religious groups are the Hindus, Muslims and Jews. A minority of South Africa’s population does not belong to any of the major religions, but regard themselves as traditionalists or of no specific religious affiliation. Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the Constitution, and the official policy is one of non-interference in religious practices.
The subtropical location, on either side of 30° S, accounts for the warm temperate conditions so typical of South Africa, making it a popular destination for foreign tourists.
The country also falls squarely within the subtropical belt of high pressure, making it dry, with an abundance of sunshine.
The wide expanses of ocean on three sides of South Africa have a moderating influence on its climate. More apparent, however, are the effects of the warm Agulhas and the cold Benguela currents along the east and west coasts respectively. While Durban (east coast) and Port Nolloth (west coast) lie more or less on the same latitude, there is a difference of at least 6° C in their mean annual temperatures.
Gale-force winds are frequent on the coasts, especially in the south-western and southern coastal areas.
In terms of the Constitution of South Africa, the country is divided into nine provinces, each with its own Legislature, Premier and executive councils. The provinces, with their own distinctive landscapes, vegetation and climate, are the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape, Free State, North West, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
South Africa has achieved a level of macro-economic stability not seen in the country for 40 years. These advances create opportunities for real increases in expenditure on social services, and reduce the costs and risks for all investors, laying the foundation for increased investment and growth.
The budget deficit decreased from 9,5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (including the deficits of the former Bantustans) in 1993, to fractionally over 1% by beginning of the new century. Total public-sector debt fell from over 60% of GDP in 1994 to barely 50% of GDP. The net open forward position of the Reserve Bank decreased from US$25 billion in 1994 and $22,5 billion in 1998 (the highest level since 1994) to currently zero. Foreign reserves rose from one month's import cover to two and half months' import cover.
South Africa must have one of the most fascinating (albeit at times difficult) histories.
First inhabitants were the small, mobile bands of Stone Age hunter-gatherers, who created a wealth of rock art. They were the ancestors of the Khoekhoe and San of historical times. The Khoekhoe and San (the 'Hottentots' and 'Bushmen' of early European terminology), although collectively known as the Khoisan, are often thought of as distinct peoples.
The historical periods that followed may be classified as:
- The early colonial period (Dutch settlement from 1652)
- The British colonial era (from 1795)
- The mineral revolution (late 19th century)
- The Anglo-Boer/South African War (October 1899, May 1902) and its aftermath
- Segregation (from beginning of 20th century)
- Apartheid (from 1948)
- The end of Apartheid (until 1994)
- Democracy (from 1994)
A wealth of information is available in bookstores and on the internet on the history of South Africa and the country in general. One of the most amazing and unique aspects of South Africa’s development must be seen in the peaceful transition from Apartheid to our current democracy.
Today, South Africa is widely regarded as one of the most vibrant, exciting and promising democratic countries in the world, also due to its rich cultural and historical heritage. South Africa has a very important role to play not only with regards to development of southern Africa and the whole of Africa, but also with regards to worldwide conciliation, understanding and sustainable development. South Africa is a keen scholar, a brilliant teacher and strong communicator within the worldwide community.