What Should I Know About South Africa?

Devon Pryor

South Africa is located at the very southern tip of the African Continent. Its capital city, Pretoria, is located in the northeastern region of the country. South Africa is mostly bordered by water, with the Indian Ocean to the east and the South Atlantic Sea to the west. It also shares borders with Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Including the Prince Edward Islands, the country boasts 2,298 km (about 1,428 mi) of coastline, and a total expanse of 1,219,912 sq. km (about 471,011 sq. mi).

The flag of the Republic of South Africa, adopted in 1994.
The flag of the Republic of South Africa, adopted in 1994.

Colonized by both the Dutch and the British, South Africa finally regained its independence in 1910. Apartheid, introduced in 1948, physically and legally separated ethnic groups within the country. In 1990, President F.W. de Klerk declared the end of apartheid, and long-imprisoned rebel Nelson Mandela was freed. Mandela, a world-renowned figure of freedom and equality, went on to be elected president of South Africa in the country’s first all-race election.

Cape Town, South Africa.
Cape Town, South Africa.

South Africa is very diverse. There are a variety of ethnic groups, although the majority of the population is black African. Numerous religions are represented in the country as well, including Zion Christian, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Catholic, Methodist, Dutch Reformed, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, and other Christian groups. Even the languages are diverse, with eleven officially recognized languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Of these official languages, the four most widely used are Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English, respectively.

South Africa chose Nelson Mandela in the first all-race presidential election.
South Africa chose Nelson Mandela in the first all-race presidential election.

The country's ethnic diversity contributes to a colorful variety of musical, culinary, and artistic trends. The cuisine is heavily meat-based, and barbecues, or braai are a popular social pastime. Music has regained a new voice in South Africa since the end of apartheid. Musicians who had previously sung in Afrikaans or English now produce lyrics in native African languages.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years in South Africa.

South Africa is known for its plentiful sunshine, and mild climate. Most regions are warm, temperate, and relatively dry. The West Cape receives winter rain, while in the rest of the country, rain falls in the summer.

When traveling, points of interest include the major cities of Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria. Thirteen of the country’s major wine regions can be visited via the Stellenbosch Wine Route. More than 300 museums educate natives and tourists alike, including the National Cultural History Museum in Pretoria, the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg, and the Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein. Though these are some of the country’s more established museums, smaller, independent museums also hold a variety of collections, from woven art to beer. The landscape is particularly picturesque, and can be appreciated by visiting one of the country’s many national parks, including Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Kruger National Park.

The currency in South Africa is known as rand. Though exchange rates constantly fluctuate, the rate of rand per US dollar (USD) ranged between 6.3 and 6.8 between 2004 and 2006. In general, this means that the US dollar would have yielded around 6.5 rand, therefore making South Africa a relatively inexpensive travel destination for Americans.

South Africa is located at the far southern tip of the African continent.
South Africa is located at the far southern tip of the African continent.

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Discussion Comments


@Viranty - Have you asked some of the admission counselors around your college about getting involved in other countries? Either that, or you could could possibly ask the professors around campus. Oh, and just to let you know, I have gone on several mission trips around the world. I've been to Haiti, Guatemala, and even Ecuador. They are definitely life changing experiences, and you have no idea what you're in for. Last January, I went on a trip to Haiti, and it was very eye opening. When I came back to America, I felt completely terrible...I realized how spoiled I had been. Sometimes, we take life for granted, and fail to appreciate even the smallest of things. Even if our situations aren't the best, they are nothing compared to what I've seen on my trips.


@RoyalSpyder - You bring up some very good points about expanding our horizons. Too often, we become too comfortable where we're at. I don't want to sound like I'm stereotyping, but this can especially apply to Americans. In fact, I'll even admit that I'm guilty of staying in my comfort zone. Being American myself, I've become more than just accustomed to the culture. Perhaps it's time I step out of my "bubble" and see what the world has to offer. I'm just a college student, but does anyone know if I could maybe get involved working in other countries? And if so, how?


When I began reading the article, I had thought that some of the conflicts and violence would be discussed. However, I guess I was wrong. Surprisingly, none of that is mentioned. On the other hand, I really appreciate how it delves into the culture surrounding South Africa. I was actually planning on visiting there one day, and now the article has further convinced me. Also, I really like how ethnic diversity is discussed. One thing I feel my country (the USA) lacks is diversity. That's not the case for all cities obviously, but it is for where I live. It's always good to expand our horizons, and meet people who aren't within our comfort zone.


@anon314923 - I agree with you that it's a rather false portrayal of South Africa. There's no doubt in my mind that it's a beautiful place, but it's certainly not without its flaws and dangers. However, I feel like there should be a balance between the two. While we shouldn't say that South Africa is nothing but death and destruction, we shouldn't try to sugarcoat it either. This is one problem I have with the history we're taught in public schools. The system wants to spoon feed everything to us, and hide the "truth". As I've said before, there needs to be that medium.


This is a rosy picture of South Africa, but South Africa is the most dangerous country in the world with one of the highest crime rates - very unsafe. Robberies, murders, rapes and drug offenses are a daily occurrence. I would advise you to be careful when you visit SA. Don't walk alone, don't walk after 6 p.m., and always close your car windows because you can be hijacked or robbed at roadblocks and traffic stops.


@oceanswimmer: South Africa has what is called the “Big Five”. The Big Five includes the lion, elephant, leopard, rhino, and buffalo. Many people enjoy visiting South Africa just to see these marvelous animals.

Someone came up with what is known as the “Little Five”. This was to let people know that there were many more animals in South Africa other than the “Big Five”. The Little Five includes the elephant shrew, ant lion, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, and leopard tortoise. Nothing like throwing a little humor in there!


I have to do a report for my geography class on South Africa facts. One thing I need to know is this: What animals are native to South Africa?

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