South Africa

Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of modern day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the Dutch settlers (the Boers) trekked north to found their own republics. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration and intensified the subjugation of the native inhabitants. The Boers resisted British encroachments but were defeated in the Second Anglo Boer War (1899-1902); however, the British and the Afrikaners, as the Boers became known, ruled together beginning in 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a whites-only referendum. In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid – the separate development of the races – which favored the white minority at the expense of the black majority.

The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson MANDELA, spent decades in South Africa’s prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime’s eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 brought an end to apartheid and ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. South Africa since then has struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in decent housing, education, and health care. ANC infighting, which has grown in recent years, came to a head in September 2008 when President Thabo MBEKI resigned, and Kgalema MOTLANTHE, the party’s General-Secretary, succeeded him as interim president. Jacob ZUMA became president after the ANC won general elections in April 2009. National presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 2014.

South African Flag

South African Flag


Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa

Geographic coordinates:
29 00 S, 24 00 E

Map references:

total: 1,219,090 sq km
country comparison to the world: 25
land: 1,214,470 sq km
water: 4,620 sq km
note: includes Prince Edward Islands (Marion Island and Prince Edward Island)

Area – comparative:
slightly less than twice the size of Texas

Land boundaries:
total: 4,862 km
border countries: Botswana 1,840 km, Lesotho 909 km, Mozambique 491 km, Namibia 967 km, Swaziland 430 km, Zimbabwe 225 km

2,798 km

Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to edge of the continental margin

mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights

vast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Njesuthi 3,408 m

Natural resources:
gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas

Land use:
arable land: 9.87%
permanent crops: 0.34%
other: 89.79% (2011)

Irrigated land:
16,700 sq km (2012)

Total renewable water resources:
51.4 cu km (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 12.5 cu km/yr (36%/7%/57%)
per capita: 271.7 cu m/yr (2005)

Natural hazards:
prolonged droughts
volcanism: the volcano forming Marion Island in the Prince Edward Islands, which last erupted in 2004, is South Africa’s only active volcano

Environment – current issues:
lack of important arterial rivers or lakes requires extensive water conservation and control measures; growth in water usage outpacing supply; pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and urban discharge; air pollution resulting in acid rain; soil erosion; desertification

Environment – international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Geography – note:
South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Swaziland

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People & Society

noun: South African(s)
adjective: South African

Ethnic groups:
black African 79.2%, white 8.9%, colored 8.9%, Indian/Asian 2.5%, other 0.5% (2011 est.)

IsiZulu (official) 22.7%, IsiXhosa (official) 16%, Afrikaans (official) 13.5%, English (official) 9.6%, Sepedi (offcial) 9.1%, Setswana (official) 8%, Sesotho (official) 7.6%, Xitsonga (official) 4.5%, siSwati (official) 2.5%, Tshivenda (official) 2.4%, isiNdebele (official) 2.1%, sign language 0.5%, other 1.6% (2011 est.)

Protestant 36.6% (Zionist Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%), Catholic 7.1%, Muslim 1.5%, other Christian 36%, other 2.3%, unspecified 1.4%, none 15.1% (2001 census)

country comparison to the world: 28
note: Statistics South Africa (the national statistical agency of South Africa) estimates the country’s mid-year 2013 total population to be 52,981,991, which takes into account the findings of South Africa’s 2011 census; estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2014 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 28.3% (male 6,859,518/female 6,815,185)
15-24 years: 20.2% (male 4,914,394/female 4,866,121)
25-54 years: 38.2% (male 9,543,746/female 8,923,605)
55-64 years: 6.3% (male 1,470,282/female 1,950,499)
65 years and over: 6.1% (male 1,205,657/female 1,826,638) (2014 est.)

Dependency ratios:
total dependency ratio: 53.9 %
youth dependency ratio: 45.2 %
elderly dependency ratio: 8.7 %
potential support ratio: 11.5 (2014 est.)

Median age:
total: 25.7 years
male: 25.4 years
female: 26 years (2014 est.)

Population growth rate:
-0.48% (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 222

Birth rate:
18.94 births/1,000 population (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 93

Death rate:
17.49 deaths/1,000 population (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 1

Net migration rate:
-6.27 migrant(s)/1,000 population
country comparison to the world: 200
note: there is an increasing flow of Zimbabweans into South Africa and Botswana in search of better economic opportunities (2014 est.)

urban population: 62% of total population (2011)
rate of urbanization: 1.21% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Major urban areas – population:
Johannesburg 3.844 million; Cape Town (legislative capital) 3.562 million; Ekurhuleni (East Rand) 3.357 million; Durban 3.012 million; PRETORIA (capital) 1.501 million; Vereeniging 1.2 million; Bloemfontein (judicial capital) 468,000 (2011)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.02 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 1.07 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.67 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2014 est.)

Mother’s mean age at first birth:
note: median age at first birth among women 25-29 (2003-04 est.)

Maternal mortality rate:
300 deaths/100,000 live births (2010)
country comparison to the world: 38

Infant mortality rate:
total: 41.61 deaths/1,000 live births
country comparison to the world: 51
male: 45.25 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 37.9 deaths/1,000 live births (2014 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 49.56 years
country comparison to the world: 222
male: 50.52 years
female: 48.58 years (2014 est.)

Total fertility rate:
2.23 children born/woman (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 99

Contraceptive prevalence rate:
59.9% (2003/04)

Health expenditures:
8.5% of GDP (2011)
country comparison to the world: 54

Physicians density:
0.76 physicians/1,000 population (2011)

Hospital bed density:
2.8 beds/1,000 population (2005)

Drinking water source:
urban: 99% of population
rural: 79.3% of population
total: 91.5% of population
urban: 1% of population
rural: 20.7% of population
total: 8.5% of population (2011 est.)

Sanitation facility access:
urban: 84.3% of population
rural: 57.1% of population
total: 74% of population
urban: 15.7% of population
rural: 42.9% of population
total: 26% of population (2011 est.)

HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate:
17.9% (2012 est.)
country comparison to the world: 4

HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS:
6,070,800 (2012 est.)
country comparison to the world: 1

HIV/AIDS – deaths:
235,100 (2012 est.)
country comparison to the world: 2

Major infectious diseases:
degree of risk: intermediate
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
water contact disease: schistosomiasis (2013)

Obesity – adult prevalence rate:
31.3% (2008)
country comparison to the world: 24

Children under the age of 5 years underweight:
8.7% (2008)
country comparison to the world: 71

Education expenditures:
6% of GDP (2010)
country comparison to the world: 42

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 93%
male: 93.9%
female: 92.2% (2011 est.)

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24:
total: 51.5%
country comparison to the world: 6
male: 47.1%
female: 56.9% (2012)

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Country name:
conventional long form: Republic of South Africa
conventional short form: South Africa
former: Union of South Africa
abbreviation: RSA

Government type:

name: Pretoria (administrative capital); Cape Town (legislative capital); Bloemfontein (judicial capital)
geographic coordinates: 25 42 S, 28 13 E
time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

Administrative divisions:
9 provinces; Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape

31 May 1910 (Union of South Africa formed from four British colonies: Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State); 31 May 1961 (republic declared); 27 April 1994 (majority rule)

National holiday:
Freedom Day, 27 April (1994)

several previous; latest drafted 8 May 1996, approved 4 December 1997, effective 4 February 1997; amended many times, last in 2013 (2013)

Legal system:
mixed legal system of Roman-Dutch civil law, English common law, and customary law

International law organization participation:
has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:
chief of state: President Jacob ZUMA (since 9 May 2009); Deputy President Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since 26 May 2014) note – the president is both the chief of state and head of government
head of government: President Jacob ZUMA (since 9 May 2009); Deputy President Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since 26 May 2014)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president
(For more information visit the World Leaders website Opens in New Window)
elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 9 May 2014 (next to be held on May 2019)
election results: Jacob ZUMA re-elected president with no opponent; he was sworn in on 24 May 2014

Legislative branch:
bicameral Parliament consisting of the National Council of Provinces (90 seats; 10 members elected by each of the nine provincial legislatures for five-year terms; has special powers to protect regional interests, including the safeguarding of cultural and linguistic traditions among ethnic minorities) and the National Assembly (400 seats; members elected by popular vote under a system of proportional representation to serve five-year terms)
elections: National Assembly and National Council of Provinces – last held on 7 May 2014 (next to be held in May 2019)
election results: National Council of Provinces – percent of vote by party – NA; seats by party – NA; National Assembly – percent of vote by party – ANC 62.2%, DA 22.2%, EFF 6.4%, IFP 2.4%, NFP 1.6%, other 5.2%; seats by party – ANC 249, DA 89, EFF 25, IFP 10, NFP 6, other 21

Judicial branch:
highest court(s): Supreme Court of Appeals (consists of the court president, deputy president, and 21 judges); Constitutional Court (consists of the chief and deputy chief justices and 9 judges)
judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court of Appeals president and vice-president appointed by the national president after consultation with the Joint Services Commission (JSC), a 22-member body of judicial and other government officials, and a law academics; other Supreme Court judges appointed by the national president on the advice of the JSC and hold office until discharged from active service in terms of an Act of Parliament; Constitutional Court chief and deputy chief justices appointed by the national president after consultation with the JSC and with heads of the National Assembly; other Constitutional Court judges appointed by the national president after consultation with the chief justice and leaders of the National Assembly; Constitutional Court judges appointed for 12-year non-renewable terms or until age 70
subordinate courts: High Courts; Magistrates’ Courts; labor courts; land claims courts;

Political parties and leaders:
African Christian Democratic Party or ACDP [Kenneth MESHOE]
African National Congress or ANC [Jacob ZUMA]
Congress of the People or COPE [Mosiuoa LEKOTA]
Democratic Alliance or DA [Helen ZILLE]
Economic Freedom Fighters or EFF [Julius MALEMA]
Freedom Front Plus or FF+ [Pieter MULDER]
Inkatha Freedom Party or IFP [Mangosuthu BUTHELEZI]
National Freedom Party or NFP [Zanele kaMAGWAZA-MSIBI]
Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania or PAC [Alton MPHETHI]
United Christian Democratic Party or UCDP [Isaac Sipho MFUNDISI]
United Democratic Movement or UDM [Bantu HOLOMISA]

Political pressure groups and leaders:
Congress of South African Trade Unions or COSATU [Zwelinzima VAVI, general secretary]
South African Communist Party or SACP [Blade NZIMANDE, general secretary]
South African National Civics Organization or SANCO [Richard MDAKANE, national president]
note: COSATU and SACP are in a formal alliance with the ANC

International organization participation:

Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Ebrahim RASOOL (since 4 August 2010)
chancery: 3051 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 232-4400
FAX: [1] (202) 265-1607
consulate(s) general: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York

Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Patrick GASPARD (since 1 August 2013)
embassy: 877 Pretorius Street, Arcadia, Pretoria
mailing address: P. O. Box 9536, Pretoria 0001
telephone: [27] (12) 431-4000
FAX: [27] (12) 342-2299
consulate(s) general: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg

Flag description:
two equal width horizontal bands of red (top) and blue separated by a central green band that splits into a horizontal Y, the arms of which end at the corners of the hoist side; the Y embraces a black isosceles triangle from which the arms are separated by narrow yellow bands; the red and blue bands are separated from the green band and its arms by narrow white stripes; the flag colors do not have any official symbolism, but the Y stands for the “convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity”; black, yellow, and green are found on the flag of the African National Congress, while red, white, and blue are the colors in the flags of the Netherlands and the UK, whose settlers ruled South Africa during the colonial era
note: the South African flag is one of only two national flags to display six colors as part of its primary design, the other is South Sudan’s

National symbol(s):
springbok antelope

National anthem:
name: “National Anthem of South Africa”

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Economy – overview:
South Africa is a middle-income, emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors and a stock exchange that is the 16th largest in the world. Even though the country’s modern infrastructure supports a relatively efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region, unstable electricity supplies retard growth.

The global financial crisis reduced commodity prices and world demand. GDP fell nearly 2% in 2009 but has recovered since then, albeit slowly with 2014 growth projected at about 2%. Unemployment, poverty, and inequality – among the highest in the world – remain a challenge. Official unemployment is at nearly 25% of the work force, and runs significantly higher among black youth. Eskom, the state-run power company, has built two new power stations and installed new power demand management programs to improve power grid reliability. Construction delays at two additional plants, however, mean South Africa is operating on a razor thin margin; economists judge that growth cannot exceed 3% until those plants come on line. South Africa’s economic policy has focused on controlling inflation, however, the country has had significant budget deficits that restrict its ability to deal with pressing economic problems. The current government faces growing pressure from special interest groups to use state-owned enterprises to deliver basic services to low-income areas and to increase job growth.

GDP (purchasing power parity):
$595.7 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 26
$584 billion (2012 est.)
$569.5 billion (2011 est.)
note: data are in 2013 US dollars

GDP (official exchange rate):
$353.9 billion (2013 est.)

GDP – real growth rate:
2% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 145
2.5% (2012 est.)
3.5% (2011 est.)

GDP – per capita (PPP):
$11,500 (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 108
$11,400 (2012 est.)
$11,300 (2011 est.)
note: data are in 2013 US dollars

Gross national saving:
15.1% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 107
13.2% of GDP (2012 est.)
16.1% of GDP (2011 est.)

GDP – composition, by end use:
household consumption: 63.8%
government consumption: 24%
investment in fixed capital: 22%
investment in inventories: -0.8%
exports of goods and services: 30.6%
imports of goods and services: -39.6%
(2013 est.)

GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: 2.6%
industry: 29%
services: 68.4% (2013 est.)

Agriculture – products:
corn, wheat, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables; beef, poultry, mutton, wool, dairy products

mining (world’s largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, metalworking, machinery, textiles, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilizer, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair

Industrial production growth rate:
0.9% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 154

Labor force:
18.54 million (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 33

Labor force – by occupation:
agriculture: 9%
industry: 26%
services: 65% (2007 est.)

Unemployment rate:
24.9% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 173
25.1% (2012 est.)

Population below poverty line:
31.3% (2009 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 1.2%
highest 10%: 51.7% (2009 est.)

Distribution of family income – Gini index:
63.1 (2005)
country comparison to the world: 2
59.3 (1994)

revenues: $88.53 billion
expenditures: $105.5 billion (2013 est.)

Taxes and other revenues:
25% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 130

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-):
-4.8% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 163

Public debt:
45.4% of GDP (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 81
42.3% of GDP (2012 est.)

Fiscal year:
1 April – 31 March

Inflation rate (consumer prices):
5.8% (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 167
5.7% (2012 est.)

Central bank discount rate:
5% (31 December 2012)
country comparison to the world: 43
7% (31 December 2009)

Commercial bank prime lending rate:
8.5% (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 100
8.75% (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of narrow money:
$110.2 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 34
$122 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of broad money:
$198 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 37
$220.1 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of domestic credit:
$252.6 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 38
$298.8 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Market value of publicly traded shares:
$1.038 trillion (31 December 2012)
country comparison to the world: 15
$855.7 billion (31 December 2011)
$1.013 trillion (31 December 2010)

Current account balance:
-$23.78 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 183
-$24.07 billion (2012 est.)

$91.05 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 42
$93.48 billion (2012 est.)

Exports – commodities:
gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment

Exports – partners:
China 11.8%, US 8.3%, Japan 6%, Germany 5.7%, India 4.2% (2012)


$99.55 billion (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 34
$102.6 billion (2012 est.)

Imports – commodities:
machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, scientific instruments, foodstuffs

Imports – partners:
China 14.4%, Germany 10.1%, Saudi Arabia 7.7%, US 7.4%, Japan 4.6%, India 4.5% (2012)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:
$48.46 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 42
$50.7 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Debt – external:
$139 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 40
$130.4 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment – at home:
$143.3 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 34
$139 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Stock of direct foreign investment – abroad:
$87.67 billion (31 December 2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 30
$82.82 billion (31 December 2012 est.)

Exchange rates:
rand (ZAR) per US dollar –
9.576 (2013 est.)
8.2031 (2012 est.)
7.3212 (2010 est.)
8.42 (2009)
7.9576 (2008)

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