Welcome to South Africa


Eclipse Journal
Geography and Climate

People and Ethnic Groups
Faith and Values
Flora and Fauna
African Adventures
Lesson Plans
Southern African Resources
**Special Interest - Apartheid**
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Geography and Climate

The country of South Africa lies at the very southern tip of the continent of Africa. It is bordered by two of the world’s oceans, the Atlantic Ocean on the west, and the Indian Ocean on the east.

South Africa shares its land borders with more countries than any other in Africa. It has six different countries as neighbors. These countries are Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho. The country of Lesotho is a landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa.

The total area the country covers is 1,219,912 sq. km with a coastline 2,798 km long. In comparison, the country is slightly less than twice the size of the U.S. state of Texas.

The country can be divided into three geographical areas. The central plateau – called the highveld, the narrow coastal plains – called the lowveld, and the desert area of the Kalahari Basin. Although the country has several rivers, its lack of big arterial rivers and lakes has resulted in water shortages as the growth in water usage threatens to outpace the actual supply of water.

Environmental issues that exist include pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and industrial uses, acid rain in areas where coal is used as a source of energy, soil erosion in overpopulated areas and desertification in areas where grasslands are being lost due to over-grazing of livestock.

The two major ocean currents found offshore affect the temperature of the seasons. The cold Benguela current causes moderate temperatures on the West Coast, and on the central plateau the altitude tends to keep the average temperatures below 30 degrees Celsius. Use the box below to find what temperature this would be in Fahrenheit. In winter, also due to altitude, temperatures can drop to the freezing point. The warm Aqulhas current flows along the eastern coast causing higher temperatures and increased rainfall.

In general, the dry season runs from June through August although along the southern cape region, including Cape Town, temperatures are the opposite of the rest of the country.

What is the weather like in South Africa?  Follow this link for the weather.

Try converting the temperature in your town from Fahrenheit to Celsius.  

Temp. converter: Enter a number and click outside the box
F: C:


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South Africa is considered to be a "middle-income" developing country.  South Africa is particularly rich in the area of mineral resources. The main resources are gold, diamonds, platinum, chromium, vanadium, manganese, uranium, iron ore and coal. These minerals make up about 60% of the entire export. The city of Johannesburg was built to take advantage of the underground reef of gold located beneath the city.

Gold is a very expensive mineral to mine.  It can be found as deep as 4,000 meters underground. That’s over 2 miles deep. To produce one ounce of gold, an average of 3 tons of ore, 5,000 liters (130 gallons) of water and 600 kilowatt hours of electricity are used. With the drop in the value of gold, South Africa has had to find other sources of income other than its mineral wealth.

South Africa does produce one-fifth of the goods and merchandise of the entire African continent. It is also the largest agricultural exporter of all African countries.

South Africa has a well developed infrastructure (roads, transportation and industrial manufacturing) which places it in a great position to help the economic development in the entire Southern African region and to benefit economically from that development.

 Find out how much your money is worth in South African Rands.  Click here!

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The first settlement in South Africa was established by the Dutch East India Company at Table Bay in 1652.  This settlement was built to provide the company's sailing ships with fresh supplies of food and water for their journeys between Europe and India.

Immigrants slowly came to the cape. Most were Dutch but there were some German and French as well.  As the population grew, some moved into the unexplored regions.  They were known as the Trek Boers, or the wandering farmers.  The native cultures resisted these expansions and a series of 9 wars were fought.

In 1795 the British arrived and in 1814 the Cape colony became part of the British Empire.  With the influx of British immigrants, the Boers (the name which referred to the original Dutch and German immigrants) began to move further north into the frontier.  During the same time, the British began to fight wars with the natives.

In 1833 the British banned slavery.  This had an almost immediate effect on the Boers, who were slave owners.  During the 1830's the Boers undertook what became known as the Great Trek as the Boers packed up their belongings, including slaves, and moved north crossing the Orange River.  This river had been the border of the Cape colony.

The Boers moved onto land deserted by the natives during battles with either the British or with other tribes.  Here the Boers established new countries called Republics.  It was here that battles were fought with the Zulu and the Basotho tribes.

In 1869 diamonds were discovered in the Boer Republic, and in 1877 the British decided to annex the Republics into the Cape colony.  In 1886 gold was discovered near Johannesburg.  The discoveries brought an influx of immigrants from England  to work the mines.  After a series of battles, the Boers surrendered to the British in 1900.  However the Boers continued to wage a guerrilla war for two more years before finally surrendering, at which time the Boer Republics became British colonies.

The colonies joined together in 1910 to form the Union of South Africa.  Voting was severely restricted as only the original Cape colony had granted non-whites the right to vote.  Shortly after the establishment of the Union, many repressive laws were passed against the blacks.  This set the tone for the later policy of apartheid (See the Special Interest Box below).

These laws prevented black workers from striking, barred them from the military, and pass laws restricted the freedom of movement.  Then in 1913, the Natives Land Act set aside 7.5% of the total land for blacks.  Blacks were prevented from owning, renting or even living outside this small area.

The  1948 elections brought about the policy of apartheid, literally the state of being apart.

In 1978, the Homeland policy (based on the Natives Land Act) divided blacks into one of 10 tribal groups, regardless of where they had been born, and they were made citizens of the Homelands.  Blacks lost all rights in South Africa and could not leave the Homelands without a pass and clear permission.

During the 1980s, the international community publicly disapproved of the apartheid policies and established economic sanctions aimed at punishing the government for its discriminatory racial policies.  The sanctions plus the growing violent uprisings by the blacks turned the tide against apartheid.  During 1990 and 1991 all the old apartheid regulations were repealed and in April of 1994 free elections were held giving black South Africa control of the government., 

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  • Western Cape
  • Eastern Cape
  • North Cape
  • Free State
  • North-West
  • Limpopo Province
  • Kwazulu / Natal
  • Mpumalanga
  • Gauteng

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The ancestors of the early nomadic San culture lived in South Africa as long ago as 28,000 years.  Their legacy is the extraordinary art that they painted on the rocks and in caves of South Africa.  

There are many rock art sites in the mountains of the Drakensberg Range.  These sites are in good condition as they are less visited than other sites in the country due to their inaccessibility high in the mountains.

In other areas, like in the Cape region, the few sites that are relatively easy to access have often been damaged by vandalism or by people who have sprayed the paintings with water in an attempt to temporarily brighten the colors.  Most of the rock art sites are on private land and the owners rarely talk of them so as to protect them from vandals and to lessen possible government interference.

Just outside of Johannesburg archaeologists found an almost complete 3.5 million year old hominid skeleton.  This is one of the most significant finds in the world. The caves in where the fossilized skeleton was found contain limestone which had been mined since the 1890's.  Since archaeologist first began investigating the caves, they have found more than 600 early hominid fossils, making it among the richest site for fossils of early man.

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People and
Ethnic Groups

One of the characteristics of South Africa is the wide diversity in race, language, culture, and religion of its people. Numerous population groups with different languages, cultural backgrounds and origins all coexist in South Africa. This diversity is evidenced by the fact that there are eleven (11) official languages in South Africa. These languages are: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.

The total population of South Africa is estimated to be 40 million people.  Black South Africans comprise the majority (about 77 percent) of the population. This population can be further divided into a number of different ethnic groups. The bigger groups are the Zulus, Xhosas and the Sotho. Then there are also the Tswana, Venda, Ndebele, Swasi, Pedi and still other groups.

White South Africans comprise about 10 percent of the population. They are primarily descendants of Dutch, French, English, and German settlers who arrived in the late 17th century. Their main languages are Afrikaans (which evolved locally from Dutch) or English. There is a small population of people of Indian decent whose families came to work on the plantations or in the mines during the 1800’s. There are three million people of mixed race, the so-called "coloreds".

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Though the black population comes from a broad variety of backgrounds, they have a lot of similarities.  Their culture is generally based on a belief in a male deity, respect for the elderly, worship of ancestral spirits and various supernatural forces.  

Ceremonies for various reasons are celebrated are a regular basis.  In Swaziland for example, the Incwala Ceremony is an important rite held annually to celebrate the first crops of the new year.   Preparations are based on the cycle of the moon, so early in the cycle the bemanti (learned men) travel the country collecting plants from the mountains, foam from the oceans and water from the rivers.  On the night of the full moon, young men collect branches of lusekwane, a small tree, and begin the trek to Lobamba where the king has gone into a symbolic retreat.  Over the course of the four day ceremony, a bull is sacrificed and the king is persuaded to come out of retreat and dance for the people.  He then eats a pumpkin signaling to the people that they may eat the new years crops.  Two days later a ritual burning of the items used in the ceremony occurs, followed by the expected falling of rain.  

The Afrikaners culture centers mainly around their beliefs which are based on 17th Century Calvinism, a Christian fundamentalist religion.  Afrikaners speak Afrikaans, the only Germanic language to have evolved outside of Europe and it is this language and their religious beliefs that have tended to isolate them from the rest of the world.  Cultural events are coordinated by various groups such as political parties and youth groups and are always accompanied by braais (barbecues).

Take a look at this collection of South African Folk Tales by James Honey c1910.

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Faith and Values

About two-thirds of the people of South Africa follow the Christian faith, primarily Protestant. Most Afrikaners belong to the Dutch Reformed church, and most South African whites who speak English as their first language belong to the Anglican, Congregational, Methodist, or Roman Catholic churches. 

Black South Africans also are members of these denominations, and in addition many of them adhere to independent churches, which combine elements of Christianity and traditional African religions.  Many also follow traditional beliefs.  Most persons of Asian extraction are Hindus or Muslims.  South Africa also has a Jewish community of more than 100,000.

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Flora and Fauna There are an estimated 22,000 different species of plants in South Africa.  This makes up nearly 10% of all the plant species on earth.  South Africa is the only country that can claim to have one of the world's six floral kingdoms completely within its borders.  This is the Cape floral kingdom and it is marked by the fynbos family.  About 8,000 of the species are concentrated in the small region of the Western Cape. It mainly consists of evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves.

Only one percent of the South African territory is covered with forests.  This area is almost exclusively on the humid coastal plains of the Indian Ocean and on the adjacent cliffs.  Grassland covers the largest area of the country. On the highveld the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs and acacia trees.  In the dry western part of the country, succulents like aloes and euphorbias can be found.  Baobab trees can be found in the northeastern section.

South Africa is home to more than 300 mammal species, over 500 bird species, over 100 kinds of reptiles and countless insects.  South Africa long ago recognized the richness and diversity of the animals found within its borders, and has a long history of protecting the animals by means of its system of nature reserves and national parks.

Go to the African Penguin facts page, or read about the Southern Right Whale.

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Special Interest Apartheid APARTHEID: [Afrikaans=apartness], system of racial segregation peculiar to the Republic of South Africa, the legal basis of which was largely repealed in 1991–92.

For almost five decades, under the apartheid system, South African law divided the population into four major racial categories: Africans (black), Europeans (whites), Coloreds (people of mixed ancestry), and Asians. 

The apartheid regime over-emphasized the differences among the various ethnic groups, mainly between whites and non-whites, but also between the native black South Africans in an attempt to turn them against each other rather than against the government. The policy of racial segregation served to guarantee the political and economic power of the white minority.

A cornerstone of apartheid were the ten Homelands onto which the government forcibly moved the black population. There were also the various "Acts" passed by the government restricting the rights of non-whites. Every individual was classified by race.

The Group Areas Act forced the actual physical separation of residential areas. The Separate Amenities Act created separate public facilities. There were separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools and even separate toilets and park benches. The pass laws made blacks and coloreds carry identity papers at all times and even prohibited them from visiting or staying in towns without specific permission.

In 1986, after worldwide condemnation of these policies and a boycott of South Africa and its products in general, the Dutch Reformed church in South Africa reconsidered defined racism as follows:

Whoever in theory or by attitude and deed implies that one race, people, or group of people is inherently superior, or one group of people is inherently inferior, is guilty of racism. Racism is a sin which tends to take on collective and structural forms. A a moral aberration it deprives a human being of his dignity, his obligations and his rights. It must be rejected and opposed in all its manifestations because it leads to oppressions and exploitation.

In 1991, President F. W. de Klerk obtained the repeal of the remaining apartheid laws and called for the drafting of a new constitution. In 1993 a multiracial, multiparty, transitional government was approved, and fully free elections were held in 1994, which gave majority representation to the African National Congress.

For more information on Apartheid, check out the links on The Apartheid Page.

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Sources: CIA World Fact Book, Lonely Planet Publications, CountryWatch.com, SouthAfricaTravel.net

Kim and Don Greene, Authors; publication date May 1 2001