South Africa is a country of Africa
with a surface area of 1,219,912 km² (density of 41.47 inhab./km²). The population of South Africa is 50,590,000 inhabitants in the last census.The capital of South Africa is the city of Pretoria which has 525,387 inhabitants. The president of the constitutional parliamentary republic is Jacob Zuma.
"Unity in diversity"
south africa or the republic of south africa occupies the extreme south of africa. the country has borders with namibia, zimbabwe, botswana, mozambique and swaziland. an enclave belonging to lesotho is located in the heart of the country.
South Africa is a country in contrast. from small zulu villages to large modern cities, from mountains to deserts to long beaches bordering the oceans, from the mediterranean climate to the tropical climate, from the opulence and luxury of districts to the misery of shanty towns, south is at the heart of all excesses and never tires of surprising its visitors. we can distinguish three main regions, bas-veld including the coastal plains, the inner plateau of haut-veld and the kalahari basin corresponding to a part of the desert of the same name.
South Africa at a glance
constitutional unitary parliamentary republic
capital city: pretoria
legislative capitals: cape town
administrative divisions: 9 provinces divided into metropolitan municipalities and municipal districts
population: more than 55 million inhabitants
official languages: zulu, xhosa, sotho, tswana, tsonga, afrikaans and english
main religion: christianity
current president: jacob zuma
currency: rand (1 rand = 100 cents)
conversion into euro: 100 rand = 7.03 euro
tourism: vigilance is needed in the working-class neighborhoods of large cities due to high crime rates (robbery and rape)
An incredible palette of colors
Bordered to the east by the Indian Ocean and to the West by the Atlantic Ocean, South Africa is of a great diversity of landscapes.
The two oceans meet at Cap des Aiguilles, the southernmost point of the continent and not at the Cape of Good Hope south of Cape Town.
The Cape of Good Hope, however, remains engraved in memory, and many sailors have begun to circumvent it in order to trace a merchant route to the Far East.
Officially it was the Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias who first reached the outskirts of the Cape, which he named Cap des Tempêtes in 1488. The sea route was finally marked and evidence was brought that the African continent had an end opening up new Prospects.
Although seaside resorts and large sandy beaches offer dream surf spots to the surfers, the interior of the country includes more arid landscapes composed mostly of plateaus, grassy meadows, vast semi-desert spaces and mountains. Some verdant forests and paradisiacal plains punctuate the landscape. South Africa is a true paradise for hikers who like to relax away from any civilization or for the amateurs of photo safaris especially in national parks. The country offers its visitors an incredible biodiversity.
An overwhelming history
Like its landscapes, the history of South Africa is in contrast because of an atypical ethnic mix.
The country was already occupied during Prehistory as evidenced by archaeological excavations. The Sankhoi (baptized Bochimans by the Afrikaners) were probably the first occupiers of the territory, they lived in Southern Africa more than 40,000 years ago. This nomadic people who subsisted from hunting and gathering suffered from the arrival of the Khoikhoï (baptized Hottentots by the Afrikaners) and the Bantus, two peoples of sedentary breeders and farmers.
When the Portuguese sailors discovered the Cape of Good Hope, they opened the door to trade with the Indies. The need to have a supply place becomes essential.
The Dutch landed on the coast in 1652 and founded a trading post at the site of the present-day Cape Town. Some members of the crew of the Dutch East India Company ships set up as farmers in order to supply the vessels during their stopovers. These free farmers are baptized vrijburghers, the frank bourgeois, from whom derives the word Boers. Owners of their land, they form a privileged social class living from agriculture but also from slavery.
By the end of the 17th century, a little more than 200 French Huguenots flee their country following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes which previously granted the right of worship to the Protestants. They join the Boers and bring their know-how to them, especially in the cultivation of the vine. They settled in the Olifantshoek valley, which was nicknamed "Franschhoek". The Huguenots set up a vineyard in the Drakenstein valley, and today South Africa wines are on the tables all over the world.
The Boers soon opposed the Company and settled outside the boundaries of the colony, at the same time expelling the Hottentots from their territory. They then attack the Xhosas, a Bantuphone people, to recover the territory of the Zuurveld along the Great Fisher River.
This was the beginning of the nine Kafir wars (or xhosa) initially led by the Dutch and then by the British when they captured the Cape colony in 1806.
In 1811, the Xhosa suffered a heavy setback, their herds were confiscated and the Boers seized their land, which they cleared.
The Xhosa will try to rise against the settlers and push away the whites of their country but they know a heavy defeat at Grahamstown. They are once again repulsed despite the large number of warriors and their leader is arrested. Now they have to retreat across the Keiskamma River to create a "no man'sland" between the two rivers.
The Xhosa tried again to rebel but the nine wars ended in failure. The last confrontation took place in 1879 when the last Xhosa lands fell to the British colonists.
Meanwhile, the Boers have definitely left the Cape Colony and settled inland during the "Grand Trek". They face the Zulus, another Bantu people gathered by Chief Chaka. They succeeded, however, in founding two Boer republics which were recognized by the British, the South African Republic of the Transvaal in 1852 and the Free State of Orange in 1854. The English, for their part, annexed Zululand at the price of one heavy war.
The wealth of south africa
The history of south africa will take a new turn with the discovery of the richness of its basement. The gold deposits fueled covetousness and caused the boer wars. The british tried to capture the transvaal. After a failure in 1880, they began again in 1887 after the discovery of the world's largest gold deposit in the witwatersrand. Very quickly the small locality of johannesburg is invaded by british colonists in quest of fortune. The city is growing in size and the cohabitation between boers and "uitlanders" (translation: foreigners) becomes difficult. The boers refuse all right to the settlers while they demanded help from the authorities to overthrow the boer government. johannesburg is still today the most populated city in the country.
A first coup attempt failed in 1895 and despite the efforts of kruger, president of the transvaal, war is inevitable. if the boers were finally defeated, the british suffered heavy setbacks and it was only in 1902, helped by the canadians, that they annexed the transvaal and the free state of orange. it was during this war that the british invented the "concentration camps," which resound lugubriously in the less glittering pages of our history.
South Africa, a victim of racial discrimination
In 1910, the dominion (independent state member of the british empire) south african union is created. the agreements are sealed by the south africa act to regroup the colonies of transvaal, cape, orange river and natal.
The whites largely dominate the political life of the country and only the "civilized" blacks of natal and cape have the right to vote. general louis botha from boere is elected first head of the south african government.
The land is divided between blacks who obtain 13% of the territory and whites who occupy 87% of the country.
Apartheid, an ideology adopted in 1948 goes even further as it completely separates south africans according to their color. this policy of racial segregation is maintained until 1991 despite the protests of the international community. Apartheid eased under the governments of peter botha and frederik de klerk was abolished one year after the liberation of nelson mandela, a symbol of black resistance against apartheid. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment for terrorism. General elections by universal suffrage were held in 1994 and allowed nelson mandela to become the first black president of south africa while the country re-entered the commonwealth.
The political life
Currently, it is jacob zuma who runs the country. originally from the zulu ethnic group, jacob zuma comes from a poor family in the province of natal. practically illiterate, he joined when he was 17 years in the anc (african national congress), the political party founded in 1912 to defend the rights of the black population of south africa.
When the party was declared illegal in 1960, he was responsible for developing a clandestine network in its province. in 1963, he was arrested and charged with conspiracy against the government. He is imprisoned in robben island, along with nelson mandela, and takes advantage of his incarceration to learn.
After his release, he went into exile in swaziland and then in mozambique, while continuing his fight, playing an active role after the riots in soweto, a suburb of johannesburg.
After the legalization of the anc in 1990, he came back to his country and served as deputy secretary general of the party, on the recommendation of nelson mandela.
Despite various accusations of corruption and rape, jacob zuma obtains the presidency of the anc, supported by the left wing of the party.
He was elected president of the republic in 2009 but is again in the midst of scandals. however, he refuses to resign.
the south african political system is composed of
• the executive: the president elected by parliament constitutes his government team
• the legislative power composed of the national assembly and the national council of provinces
• the judiciary: justice is independent of the government, allowing the constitutional court to oppose the state and enforce its obligations.
A diverse population
South Africa has a very diverse population. nearly 80% of the 56 million south africans are black but there are 10% white and almost as many colored (the couloreds).
The black population belongs to different ethnic groups, the main ones being the xhosas and the zulus. black south africans generally speak zulu, xhosa, sotho, tswana and tsonga but afrikaans (a germanic language derived from dutch) and english are among the official languages of the country.
the whites are largely afrikaners (also called boers), the descendants of the dutch settlers. there are also descendants of huguenots, british colonists and portuguese.
The main religion is christianity (mostly protestant), which affects 80% of the population, while 15% of south africans are atheists.
A country to discover
South Africa offers visitors endless possibilities for hiking or trekking in the lush nature of its nature reserves, including the kruger national park, which is known worldwide for its enchanting setting, flora and fauna. the most seasoned walkers also enjoy the unforgettable panoramas to be discovered from the drakensberg mountain range, whose highest peak reaches more than 3,400 meters above sea level.
but south africa is not only a mosaic of landscapes and it is interesting to linger in small villages as well as in big cities and to meet their inhabitants.
the country has three capitals:
pretoria, the administrative capital and former capital of the transvaal republic. known as the city of the jacarandas, it is adorned with an exceptional blue color during the spring flowering of its many imported trees in the 19th century of brazil. pretoria was founded by boers farmers. during the apartheid, neighborhoods called bantoustans were created for blacks outside the urban center, and still today, most of the inhabitants of pretoria are white civil servants. various monuments recall the history of the afrikaners and in particular the museum installed in the house where was signed the treaty marking the end of the war of boers.
cap, the legislative capital and former capital of the dutch colony is certainly the best known of south african cities. founded in 1652 a few tens of kilometers from the cape of good hope, the city has expanded to become a true metropolis. the historic district known as city bowl is nestled at the foot of table mountain, one of the seven new wonders of nature. one of the curiosities of the city is the fort of good hope, the oldest building in the country built in 1666 by the dutch east india company to refueling the ships. one can also walk in the neighborhood of the gardens built on the site of the kitchen garden destined to supply fresh products to the sailors of the company. unlike the rest of the country, cape town has largely a métis population.
the city offers to tourists many sports and cultural activities. it is also renowned for its wines, colonial houses and the victoria & alfred waterfront, a port founded in 1860 by the castle of bonne espérance, which served as a residence for governors as well as the picturesque malay district with colorful facades.
bloemfontein, the judicial capital and former capital of the orange free state. its population is predominantly black.
bloemfontein has long been a small agricultural village before expanding and getting the city status by the end of the 19th century following the discovery of diamond and gold mines and the establishment of businesses and financial institutions. we discover some beautiful buildings witnessing the opulence of the boers alongside the poorest neighborhoods with black majority.
although not officially capital, johannesburg is the largest city in the country and is often considered the economic center of the country. it owes its extension to the discovery of gold deposits in 1886.
it is in johannesburg that soweto, an immense township (suburbs) was created in 1951 following the policy of apartheid. overcrowding, inadequate supplies of water and electricity, and above all the obligation to learn afrikaans, caused tensions that degenerated into bloody riots in 1976.
despite a rich historical and cultural heritage, johannesburg suffers from a great unpopularity of the tourists because it is known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world. the city is trying to strengthen the security on the streets and bring back the travelers.
as far as cooking is concerned, the big cities are full of poor quality fast-food snacks and asian or indian restaurants. it is however recommended to favor the traditional south african cuisine called "cape malay", dishes cooked in the european way with local ingredients. these dishes of beef, lamb or ostrich are cooked with indian spices to remind us of the diversity of the country, even in the plates. the basic dish of the inhabitants of townships and small traditional villages is "pap", a kind of millet porridge sometimes accompanied by a piece of meat. paradoxically for a country bordered by two oceans, there are few fish or crustaceans on the menu.
meals are served with beer or wine, with excellent quality products.
South Africa benefits from the richness of its subsoil and is one of the main economic powers of africa. Unfortunately the inequality between the social classes is particularly marked, as a result of the apartheid policy which kept the black population out of almost every sector. Efforts are currently being made to participate in the development of a black middle class, but "black diamonds" make up only 10% of the black population and mostly only those who have succeeded in getting a diploma.
At the same time, some of the land belonging to the white farmers who occupy 80% of the territory should be gradually returned to black farmers.
South Africa is also focusing on tourism, which is experiencing a renewed interest, notably green tourism in national parks and animal reserves.
Tourism : the vigilance is required
South Africa is an outward-looking country that favors tourism. infrastructure is generally of good quality.
However, the crime rate is high in the cities and affects even the favored neighborhoods. It is recommended not to wear valuables or manipulate money in public due to the many robberies sometimes committed with violence. It is also recommended to keep the identity documents in the hotel safes and to keep only a copy on oneself.
One must not walk and/or alone or to drive outside the built-up areas after nightfall. Only taxis called by telephone or proposed by airline companies are safe. You should not give a credit card to the server but require payment at the table to avoid the risk of scam.
The hikes must be done with an official guide while swimming can only be done in supervised areas due to strong currents and the presence of sharks.
It is recommended to be up-to-date with vaccines against diphtheria-tetanus-poliomyelitis, typhoid fever, hepatitis a and b, bcg and rabies. Protected against insect bites responsible for malaria and avoid risky behaviors due to the hiv/aids pandemic, affecting 17% of adults.
The urban water is potable but not always in small towns, so it is recommended to drink only bottled water.