||Source: US Department of State
Republic of South Africa
Area: 1.2 million sq. km. (470,462 sq. mi.).
Cities: Capitals--Administrative, Pretoria; Legislative, Cape Town; Judicial, Bloemfontein. Other cities--Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth.
Terrain: Plateau, savanna, desert, mountains, coastal plains.
Climate: moderate; similar to southern California.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--South African(s).
Annual growth rate (2006 World Bank Group): 1.1%.
Population (2007, 47.9 million): Composition--black 79.7%; white 9.1%; colored 8.8%; Asian (Indian) 2.2%. Official figures from 2007 South African Census at http://www.statssa.gov.za/.
Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho,
Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga (all official languages).
Religions: Predominantly Christian; traditional African, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish.
Education: Years compulsory--7-15
years of age for all children. The South African Schools Act, Act 84 of
1996, passed by Parliament in 1996, aims to achieve greater educational
opportunities for black children, mandating a single syllabus and more
equitable funding for schools.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2005)--55 per live births. Life expectancy--52 yrs. women; 49 yrs. men. Health data from 2007 Census Report: http://www.statssa.gov.za.
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
The Union of South Africa was created on May 31, 1910; became sovereign
state within British Empire in 1934; became a republic on May 31, 1961;
left the Commonwealth in October 1968; rejoined the Commonwealth in
Constitution: Entered into force February 3, 1997.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state) elected to a 5-year term by the National Assembly. Legislative--bicameral
Parliament consisting of 490 members in two chambers. National Assembly
(400 members) elected by a system of proportional representation.
National Council of Provinces consisting of 90 delegates (10 from each
province) and 10 nonvoting delegates representing local government. Judicial--Constitutional
Court interprets and decides constitutional issues; Supreme Court of
Appeal is the highest court for interpreting and deciding
Administrative subdivisions: Nine
provinces: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal,
Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape, Limpopo, Western Cape.
parties: African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA),
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Vryheidsfront Plus/Freedom Front Plus
(FF+), Pan-African Congress (PAC), African Christian Democratic Party
(ACDP), United Democratic Movement (UDM), and Azanian Peoples
Suffrage: Citizens and permanent residents 18 and older.
GDP (2006): $255 billion.
Real GDP growth rate (2006): 5.0%.
GDP per capita (2006): $5,390.
Unemployment (September 2007): 25.5%.
resources: Almost all essential commodities, except petroleum products
and bauxite. Only country in the world that manufactures fuel from
Industry: Types--minerals, mining, motor vehicles and
parts, machinery, textiles, chemicals, fertilizer, information
technology, electronics, other manufacturing, and agro-processing.
Trade (2006): Exports--$42.1 billion; merchandise exports: gold, other minerals and metals, agricultural products, motor vehicles and parts. Major markets--U.K., U.S., Germany, Italy, Japan, East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa. Imports--$51.5 billion: machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, textiles, and scientific instruments. Major suppliers--Germany, U.S., Japan, U.K., Italy.
GDP composition (2003): Agriculture and mining (primary sector)--11%; industry (secondary sector)--24%; services (tertiary sector)--65%. World's largest producer of platinum, gold, and chromium; also significant coal production.
1991, South African law divided the population into four major racial
categories: Africans (black), whites, coloreds, and Asians. Although
this law has been abolished, many South Africans still view themselves
and each other according to these categories. Black Africans comprise
about 79% of the population and are divided into a number of different
ethnic groups. Whites comprise about 10% of the population. They are
primarily descendants of Dutch, French, English, and German settlers
who began arriving at the Cape of Good Hope in the late 17th century.
Coloreds are mixed-race people primarily descending from the earliest
settlers and the indigenous peoples. They comprise about 9% of the
total population. Asians descend from Indian workers brought to South
Africa in the mid-19th century to work on the sugar estates in Natal.
They constitute about 2.5% of the population and are concentrated in
the KwaZulu-Natal Province.
Education is in transition. Under the
apartheid system schools were segregated, and the quantity and quality
of education varied significantly across racial groups. The laws
governing this segregation have been abolished. The long and arduous
process of restructuring the country's educational system has begun and
is ongoing. The challenge is to create a single, nondiscriminatory,
nonracial system that offers the same standards of education to all
have inhabited southern Africa for thousands of years. Members of the
Khoisan language groups are the oldest surviving inhabitants of the
land, but only a few are left in South Africa today--and they are
located in the western sections. Most of today's black South Africans
belong to the Bantu language group, which migrated south from central
Africa, settling in the Transvaal region sometime before AD 100. The
Nguni, ancestors of the Zulu and Xhosa, occupied most of the eastern
coast by 1500.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans
to reach the Cape of Good Hope, arriving in 1488. However, permanent
white settlement did not begin until 1652 when the Dutch East India
Company established a provisioning station on the Cape. In subsequent
decades, French Huguenot refugees, the Dutch, and Germans began to
settle in the Cape. Collectively, they form the Afrikaner segment of
today's population. The establishment of these settlements had
far-reaching social and political effects on the groups already settled
in the area, leading to upheaval in these societies and the subjugation
of their people.
By 1779, European settlements extended
throughout the southern part of the Cape and east toward the Great Fish
River. It was here that Dutch authorities and the Xhosa fought the
first frontier war. The British gained control of the Cape of Good Hope
at the end of the 18th century. Subsequent British settlement and rule
marked the beginning of a long conflict between the Afrikaners and the
Beginning in 1836, partly to escape
British rule and cultural hegemony and partly out of resentment at the
recent abolition of slavery, many Afrikaner farmers (Boers) undertook a
northern migration that became known as the "Great Trek." This movement
brought them into contact and conflict with African groups in the area,
the most formidable of which were the Zulus. Under their powerful
leader, Shaka (1787-1828), the Zulus conquered most of the territory
between the Drakensberg Mountains and the sea (now KwaZulu-Natal).
In 1828, Shaka was assassinated and
replaced by his half-brother Dingane. In 1838, Dingane was defeated and
deported by the Voortrekkers (people of the Great Trek) at the battle
of Blood River. The Zulus, nonetheless, remained a potent force,
defeating the British in the historic battle of Isandhlwana before
themselves being finally conquered in 1879.
In 1852 and 1854, the independent Boer
Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State were created.
Relations between the republics and the British Government were
strained. The discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1870 and the
discovery of large gold deposits in the Witwatersrand region of the
Transvaal in 1886 caused an influx of European (mainly British)
immigration and investment. In addition to resident black Africans,
many blacks from neighboring countries also moved into the area to work
in the mines. The construction by mine owners of hostels to house and
control their workers set patterns that later extended throughout the
Boer reactions to this influx and
British political intrigues led to the Anglo-Boer Wars of 1880-81 and
1899-1902. British forces prevailed in the conflict, and the republics
were incorporated into the British Empire. In May 1910, the two
republics and the British colonies of the Cape and Natal formed the
Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire.
The Union's constitution kept all political power in the hands of
In 1912, the South Africa Native
National Congress was founded in Bloemfontein and eventually became
known as the African National Congress (ANC). Its goals were the
elimination of restrictions based on color and the enfranchisement of
and parliamentary representation for blacks. Despite these efforts the
government continued to pass laws limiting the rights and freedoms of
In 1948, the National Party (NP) won the
all-white elections and began passing legislation codifying and
enforcing an even stricter policy of white domination and racial
separation known as "apartheid" (separateness). In the early 1960s,
following a protest in Sharpeville in which 69 protesters were killed
by police and 180 injured, the ANC and Pan-African Congress (PAC) were
banned. Nelson Mandela and many other anti-apartheid leaders were
convicted and imprisoned on charges of treason.
The ANC and PAC were forced underground
and fought apartheid through guerrilla warfare and sabotage. In May
1961, South Africa relinquished its dominion status and declared itself
a republic. It withdrew from the Commonwealth in part because of
international protests against apartheid. In 1984, a new constitution
came into effect in which whites allowed coloreds and Asians a limited
role in the national government and control over their own affairs in
certain areas. Ultimately, however, all power remained in white hands.
Blacks remained effectively disenfranchised.
Popular uprisings in black and colored
townships in 1976 and 1985 helped to convince some NP members of the
need for change. Secret discussions between those members and Nelson
Mandela began in 1986. In February 1990, State President F.W. de Klerk,
who had come to power in September 1989, announced the unbanning of the
ANC, the PAC, and all other anti-apartheid groups. Two weeks later,
Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
In 1991, the Group Areas Act, Land Acts,
and the Population Registration Act--the last of the so-called "pillars
of apartheid"--were abolished. A long series of negotiations ensued,
resulting in a new constitution promulgated into law in December 1993.
The country's first nonracial elections were held on April 26-28, 1994,
resulting in the installation of Nelson Mandela as President on May 10,
Following the 1994 elections, South
Africa was governed under an interim constitution establishing a
Government of National Unity (GNU). This constitution required the
Constitutional Assembly (CA) to draft and approve a permanent
constitution by May 9, 1996. After review by the Constitutional Court
and intensive negotiations within the CA, the Constitutional Court
certified a revised draft on December 2, 1996. President Mandela signed
the new constitution into law on December 10, and it entered into force
on February 3, 1997. The GNU ostensibly remained in effect until the
1999 national elections. The parties originally comprising the GNU--the
ANC, the NP, and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)--shared executive
power. On June 30, 1996, the NP withdrew from the GNU to become part of
During Nelson Mandela's 5-year term as
President of South Africa, the government committed itself to reforming
the country. The ANC-led government focused on social issues that were
neglected during the apartheid era such as unemployment, housing
shortages, and crime. Mandela's administration began to reintroduce
South Africa into the global economy by implementing a market-driven
economic plan known as Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). In
order to heal the wounds created by apartheid, the government created
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) under the leadership of
Archbishop Desmond Tutu. During the first term of the ANC's
post-apartheid rule, President Mandela concentrated on national
reconciliation, seeking to forge a single South African identity and
sense of purpose among a diverse and splintered populace, riven by
years of conflict. The diminution of political violence after 1994 and
its virtual disappearance by 1996 were testament to the abilities of
Mandela to achieve this difficult goal.
Nelson Mandela stepped down as President
of the ANC at the party's national congress in December 1997, when
Thabo Mbeki assumed the mantle of leadership. Mbeki won the presidency
of South Africa after national elections in 1999, when the ANC won just
shy of a two-thirds majority in Parliament. President Mbeki shifted the
focus of government from reconciliation to transformation, particularly
on the economic front. With political transformation and the foundation
of a strong democratic system in place after two free and fair national
elections, the ANC recognized the need to focus on bringing economic
power to the black majority in South Africa. In April 2004, the ANC won
nearly 70% of the national vote, and Mbeki was reelected for his second
5-year term. In his 2004 State of the Nation address, Mbeki promised
his government would reduce poverty, stimulate economic growth, and
fight crime. Mbeki said that the government would play a more prominent
role in economic development.