Welcome to 2001 Southern Africa
and the Total Solar Eclipse Expedition


Eclipse Journal   (2001)
Eclipse Facts

South Africa
Geography and Climate
Regional History
People and Ethnic Groups
Flora and Fauna
African Adventures
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Geography and Climate

The one word that could be used to describe the geography of Southern Africa would be "high". The majority of the land is dominated by the Southern Plateau with elevations between 3,000 to 5,000 feet (900 – 1,500 meters) in elevation. Around the edges of the Plateau are a series of mountains and cliffs called the Great Escarpment. This includes the highlands in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Other highlands are found in northern Malawi and northeastern Zambia.

From the highlands, the land drops to the coastal lowlands of South Africa and Mozambique. Southern Africa is bordered by two of the world’s oceans, the Atlantic on the west and the Indian on the south and east.

This region is also crossed by several large rivers, which in turn have carved deep valleys. The longest of these rivers are the Zambezi and the Limpopo. The Zambezi plunges over the Victoria Falls and forms the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe before flowing into Mozambique and the Indian Ocean.  The Limpopo flows from South Africa through Mozambique and into the Indian Ocean.

One river, the Okavango never reaches the ocean at all. It flows inland into Botswana’s Kalahari Desert where it forms the world’s largest inland delta, or river mouth. The Orange River is the only river in Southern Africa to flow into the Atlantic Ocean.

The other major geographical feature is the Great Rift Valley. This valley is a huge crack in the earth’s crust that stretches nearly 4,000 miles (6500 km) from Jordan in the north to Mozambique in the south. One branch even splits off into Zambia. The Great Rift Valley marks where the continent of Africa is literally breaking apart. Where the Great Rift Valley passes through Malawi it forms Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa.

The Southern Africa region has a wide variety of climates. From tropical wet and dry to arid or semiarid, and even desert you can find a bit of most climates here. Check out each country to find out the specific climates to be found.

Compare how different maps show the different sizes of the African Continent.

What is the weather like?  Follow this link to the Weather Underground.

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

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

What time is it in the countries of Southern Africa as compared to the time in your home town?  Check this!

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Regional History

The Great Rift Valley is considered to be the cradle of the human race. Fossilized evidence of early hominids over 3 million years old have been discovered in South Africa. Other fossilized evidence has also been found throughout the region. Most scientists agree that the early hominid species evolved into Homo Sapiens.

As early man evolved, he began using stone tools and discovered fire. Archaeologists classify this period of tool making as the Stone Age. Experts divide this Age into the Early, Middle and Late Stone Ages with the term relating to the people's level of technological development and not actual time. This development is characterized by the larger range of tools made and the degree of sophistication with which these tools were used.

In Southern Africa these people were the ancestors of the Khoisan people. They are also referred to as the San or Bushmen. These people were nomadic hunter/ gatherers. The early Khoisan left fabulous rock paintings in caves and on rock surfaces throughout the region. Many of the paintings are thousands of years old although the exact age is difficult to determine as the process to determine their age damages the art. Today the Khoisan people share a language characterized by distinctive "clicks" or popping sounds.

The next era was the Iron Age. These people kept domestic animals,  mined and worked metals. The people who lived during the Iron Age are considered to have migrated from West Africa. They are the ancestors of most modern black Africans. This movement of people is referred to as the Bantu migration named for the Bantu language these people are thought to have spoken. Iron Age technology triumphed because the axe and knife allowed agriculture to establish itself and to expand through the forests. Slash and burn agriculture is still a prominent system of agriculture in parts of the world today.

One characteristic of the Bantu culture was its social structure, based on extended family and clan loyalties. This gave rise to chiefs and kingdoms. The inhabitants of Great Zimbabwe became the most powerful of the kingdoms.

Around 500 AD, Arab traders began exploring the eastern seaboard of Africa and trading with the Bantu. This trading is thought to have given rise to a new language and culture that was essentially a mix of the two cultures. This new mix is called Swahili.


The height of the slave trade came in the 19th Century due to the demand for slaves in India and in North and South America. Slavery had been practiced by Africans on a small scale usually as a result of some local conflict. However with the arrival of the Arabs, and later the Portuguese, English and Americans, the slave trade grew considerably.

One of the busiest slave/trade routes was from Zambia and Malawi to the coast of Mozambique. Slaves were marched across the countryside often chained to prevent escape. Many also were forced to carry ivory to trade.  At its height, it is thought that as many as 80,000 to 100,000 Africans per year were killed or sold into slavery.

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People and
Ethnic Groups

In the past, the word tribe was used to describe ethnic groupings, but it is now considered to be an offensive and arbitrary label. It is incorrect to refer to a group of people who may number in the hundreds of thousands as a tribe. Tribe is now generally used only to describe a unit that exists within some larger ethnic group and to the group itself.

An ethnic group is distinct from race or nationality. The term is used to describe people who have a common language, history, religion and cultural and artistic heritage. 

There are about 35 different ethnic groups in Zambia, all with their own language. The main groups are the Bemba, Tonga, Nyanja and Lozi. Most Zimbabweans are of Bantu origin, although even within this group there are multiple subgroups. All in all, there are about 11 different ethnic groups living in Zimbabwe. In Malawi most of the people are of Bantu origin with the main ethnic groups being the Chewa, Yau and Tumbuka, although there are at least four more groups scattered about the country. There are 16 main ethnic groups in Mozambique. Here, the largest groups are the Makua, Makonde and Sena. The Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho peoples are the largest ethnic groups in South Africa where there are 10 main groups.

Throughout southern Africa you will also find whites, who are mostly of British, Dutch, German and Portuguese descent. There is also a large population of people from Indian descent and a large percentage of mixed race descent.

Read about how AIDS is devastating the teaching population in Africa.  AIDS in the Classroom.

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Flora and Fauna


Southern Africa receives too little rain to support thick forests.  Much of the land is savanna, with some fynbo heathland and desert.  Fynbo heathlands are regions of low evergreen woody shrubs.  The  western cape region of South Africa has more than 8500 species of fynbos, some species are found only there. Savanna is primarily grasslands with scattered trees and shrubs.  The most common plants found here are the coconut palm, Acacia and Mopane trees.   Mopane trees are very tolerant of poor soil conditions and therefore have a wide distribution throughout southern Africa.  Miombo woodlands are also common and consist of large wooded areas and open spaces dotted with clumps of trees and shrubs.   Montane grasslands occur on mountain slopes where it is cool and there is lots of precipitation.  Africa is also home to the bizarre Baobab tree.

The Baobab tree is shrouded in myth and folklore.  The branches of the tree look similar to a plant's root system.  One traditional story claims that the Baobab used to wander around the land.  One day God became angry with the tree running around so he pulled it out of the ground and reburied it with the roots in the air.  Some of the largest Baobab trees have a diameter of 100 feet (30 meters) and could be as much as 4,000 years old.


Southern Africa boasts more than 300 different kinds of mammals and more than 400 species of reptile.  Many of the reptile species are only found in this region.  Many large animals still can be found in the countryside, although National Parks are thought to be their best hope for long term survival.

What kind of animals can we expect to find in southern Africa?  Here are some of the typical animals to be found in the three types of vegetation zones.

Open Countryside

Black Rhinoceros, Springbok, Gemsbok, gazelles and antelope,  Hunting dogs, Spring hare, meerkat, pale chanting goshawk, and ostrich

Forest and Woodland

Blue Duiker, Cape eland, antelope, wild pig, monkeys, jackals, birds, snakes and butterflies

River, Lake and Seashore

Cape fur seal, penguin, hippopotamus, antelope, cormorant and birds

To see the Big Five animals, black rhino, cape buffalo, elephant, leopard and lion, a visitor is most likely to find them in the National Parks and reserves where the animals are protected against poachers. There is an argument that there is actually the "Big Six", if you include the whales found off shore.

For an excellent source to be used as a field guide to these animals and more, look at the Africam or the South Africa Wildlife Guide

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