South Africa Facts

South Africa Facts and History


South Africa – dream and nightmare land

In the very south of the “black continent”, nestled between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, which is part of the Pacific Ocean, the fascinating Republic of South Africa, attracts millions of visitors every year with its beauties, sentimentalities, but also to confront their worries and problems.

It was in 1994 when the then politically and economically largely isolated country opened up to the realities and, after many decades of oppression and apartheid, allowed the first free elections and thus ended the apartheid legislation of 1948.

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), who was elected the country’s first black president by the newly elected parliament on May 9, 1994, after having spent the previous 27 years in prison as an opponent of the regime, became a symbol of the end of the exclusion of almost 80% of the population had spent on the prison island Robben Island off Cape Town.

South Africa is also known as the rainbow nation. This likable name reflects the incredible diversity of cultural and ethnic identities that live together within the country’s borders.

The fact that this proximity has become more and more conflictual can be seen from the high crime rate in the country, which is not least an expression of the sometimes unbelievably large social differences between the individual ethnic groups in South Africa.

Above all, the white population, who tries to protect their luxury with barbed wire and walls, is opposed to a large black population who still lives in great poverty “long” after apartheid – some say it has in some cases even got worse.

But South Africa is also very different. You can already see that when you see the worlds that separate the country giants Johannesburg and Cape Town from one another. Cape Town, the beautiful city by the sea has always been more liberal and cosmopolitan than the inland, somewhat more problematic Johannesburg. The landscape of the country, which is about 3.5 times the size of Germany, is varied and wide. Worth mentioning are the up to 2,000 m high Highveld and the famous Drakensberg with the highest mountain in the country, the 3,450 m high Mafadi, on the border with Lesotho – or the Kalahari Desert. The Cape of Good Hope is also famous.

The southernmost tip of Africa is Cape Agulhas, which separates the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic.

The sad expanse of the (former) homelands between Port Elizabeth and Durban, the natural perfection of the Garden Route behind Cape Town, the raging power of the Augrabies Falls, the geographic energy of the Blyde River Canyon or the biodiversity of the Kruger National Park, the largest national park in the country – South Africa you never really know. But that shouldn’t prevent you from getting to know it.


Unfortunately, South Africa now has an extremely high crime rate:

around 50 people are murdered every day – including around 20 white people. So-called farm murders are a particularly serious type of crime. Since 1994, the official end of apartheid, around 3,000 white farmers have not only been murdered on their mostly remote farms, but in some cases also brutally tortured. So only about 30,000 of the original 60,000 farms remain.

On two hills near Mokopane on the national road N1 there are around 3,000 white crosses with the names of the murdered in their memory. The number of rapes has also reached extreme proportions.

Many toured South Africa in 2010 when it hosted the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Contrary to prophecies of doom, the major sporting event was a great success for the country, which was the first African state to be allowed to host a soccer world championship.

A total of 32 teams and their traveling fans were able to experience the enthusiasm for sport and joie de vivre of the South Africans. Unfortunately, the country hadn’t made it past the group games.

Name of the country Republic of South Africa
Form of government Presidential Republic
Geographical location South Africa
National anthem Nkosi sikelel ‘iAfrika (God bless Africa)
Head of state The head of state of the country is the president
Population approximately 59.6 million (Credit: Countryaah: South Africa Population)
Ethnicities approx. 80% blacks (Bantu, Zulu etc.)approx. 9% white

approx. 9% colored, 2% Asians (especially Indians) and others

Religions approx. 80% Christians, 10% animists, small minorities of Hindus and Muslims
Languages 11 official languages: English, Afrikaans + 9 afr. languages
Seat of government Pretoria with approx. 1 million residents (in the metropolitan area even over 2.5 million)
Seat of parliament Cape Town with 435,000 in the metropolitan area of 3.8 million residents
Surface 1,219,912 km²
Highest mountain Mafadi on the border with Lesotho with an altitude of 3,451 m
Longest river Orange with a length of 1,860 km
Largest lake Gariep reservoir with an area of around 360 km²
International license plate ZA
Currency 1 rand = 100 cents
Time difference to CET + 1 h
International phone code 0027
Mains voltage, frequency 220/230 volts (250 volts in Pretoria) and 50 Hertz(nationwide, power cuts that sometimes last for hours must be expected.)
Internet TLD (Top Level Domain) .za

South Africa: history

South Africa until around the year 1000

Finds of hominids of the species Australopithecus africanus, which lived about 2 to 3 million years ago, come from South Africa. In addition, Stone Age stone axes around 300,000 years old have been discovered. The interior of the country was settled about 20,000 years ago by small groups of hunters and gatherers of the Khoi Khoi, who switched to nomadic cattle breeding about 2,500 years ago. In the arid regions, the San (Bushmen) lived as hunters and gatherers. They left their rock paintings all over the country. By 500 AD at the latest, the Bantu peoples immigrated from western central Africa to the north of what is now South Africa and increasingly pushed the original population back south. They lived mainly from raising cattle.

South Africa from the year 1000 to the 17th century

According to Abbreviationfinder website, in the 15th century the Zulu tribes immigrated from what is now the Congo to southern Africa and began to develop a militaristic empire. In the same century, Portuguese sailors penetrated the southern tip of Africa for the first time. In the 17th century, the Dutch began to settle the coastal region and founded Cape Town in 1652 on behalf of the United East India Company as a supply station for Indian shipping. From 1680, Dutch Calvinists as well as French Huguenots and German settlers settled there, who drove out or enslaved the local population. The Boeren farmers and traders society developed (the word derives from “boeren” for “farmers”). In the southeast, the Xhosa people (“Kaffirs”) stubborn resistance to the advance of the Boers. The “Kaffir Wars”, which lasted almost 100 years, broke out.

South Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries

Great Britain occupied South Africa in 1806 after Cape Town had fallen to the British in 1795. The English were faced with a Boer social order that was mixed up with racial thinking, Calvinist religion and the conviction that the Boers had been chosen by God. There was slavery and the economy of the Cape Colony would not have worked without slaves. In the Cape Colony occupied by the British, which was about the size of a quarter of today’s South Africa, the Boers had ruled over the blacks as rulers. And there lies the key to understanding the later apartheid regime.

The now ruling England enforced new rights with all its might: introduction of English law and abolition of Dutch law, introduction of English as the official language, suppression of the powerful Reformed Church and finally the ban on the slave trade in 1807 finally banned.) In 1814 the Cape Colony was made a British Crown Colony. The Boers responded with hatred and revolt. In the years between 1835 and 1841 about 6,000 Boers moved in the so-called “Great Trek” towards the northeast.

The “Great Trek” has become mythically charged over time and has been interpreted in part as a second Old Testament exodus. Ultimately, the trek was probably little more than the departure of numerous groups of farmers who moved chaotically into the interior. Holland, the protective power of the ailing Boer Cape Colony, had been occupied by revolutionary France in distant Europe and could no longer help the Cape Company with all its possessions. So the Boers in South Africa looked for their own way: They wanted to pull away the English, into the interior of the country, which they considered uninhabited – a fatal mistake, because the area was not deserted.

Between 1790 and 1828 under King Shaka (around 1787-1828) the Zulu Empire had developed into a great power with a total area of around 28,500 km². The mythical ruler had formed a military power out of the rather insignificant tribe of the Zulu by tearing the boys from their families at the age of eleven and putting them in communal huts, and later in special military camps. A period of service for the king was 15 to 20 years. Only then were you allowed to marry and start a family. And even women were educated and organized militarily. Shaka’s standing army is said to have been 14,000 strong.

And Shaka used it to gradually subdue the neighboring peoples. So militarily modern on the one hand, so backward and cruel was Shaka’s state on the other hand: This is how people suspected of witchcraft were impaled. When Shaka’s mother died in 1827, out of mourning he forbade planting the fields for a year. Children were also not allowed to be born. He had the women who did become pregnant killed along with the men. Even under Shaka’s brother, Dingane, who had become king of the Zulu Empire through the murder of his brother in 1828, the men and women of the Zulu lived according to strict military-ascetic rules.

It is said to have been an estimated 15,000 Boer pre-trekkers who, after 1835, advanced with various treks into the various parts of South Africa and claimed them for themselves. These Boer troops were made up of whites and their black servants, cattle, ammunition and furniture. The heavy covered wagons moved further north and east at a speed of 10 kilometers per day. The Boers succeeded in driving out the Bantu peoples, already weakened by the Zulu, and founding the Boer Republic of Natal, with which they established their own Boer state with its own rules.

There were bloody clashes with the Zulu: In 1837 the Boer leader Piet Retief went with a delegation to the Zulu ruler Dingane to request Zulu land for the Voortrekkers. A treaty was signed that was to be celebrated on February 6, 1838. But instead of the festivities, Dingane had Piet Retief and his 70 men killed, which the whites took as a justification for the statement that blacks could not be trusted. The Zulus then surprisingly attacked the Boer camp and killed 530 Boers, including women and children.

In 1838 the “Battle of the Blood River” took place. This historical battle, which is very important for the Boer self-image, was fought on December 16, 1838 between the approximately 10,000 warriors of the Zulu king Dingane and the barely 472 men under the Boer military leader Adries Pretorius. The advantage of the Boers, however, was that they were able to build an almost impregnable defensive fortress from their 64 covered wagons, which were set up in a circle and then tied together with leather straps. At the two exits there were cannons in the hands of the men and muskets. On December 16th, a public holiday under the apartheid regime, the Zulus were defeated by the Boers. The result was 3,000 killed Zulu, whose blood stained the river Ncome red and gave it the name ”

In 1843 Natal was occupied by Great Britain. In the Sand River Convention of 1852, the British gave the Boers all the land north of the Vaal River and recognized the Transvaal Free State, which was founded there. In 1854 the Boer Orange Free State was founded.

In 1869 diamond deposits were discovered in Kimberley and in 1969 gold in Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) in Burenland. The latter developed into the largest gold mining area in the world from 1886. In 1887 the British annexed Zululand. In the Boer War from 1899 to 1902, the British finally defeated the Boers, killing thousands among blacks. The Boer Republics became part of the British Empire. Their language, Afrikaans, which had developed from Dutch, became the second national language of South Africa.

20th century until today

In 1910 the South African Union was founded. The black population was not involved in the formation of the new state and remained without political rights. The new government passed a number of racially discriminatory laws. In 1920 the “African National Congress” (ANC) was founded. In the same year, as a result of the First World War, the mandate administration of the former colony of German South West Africa was transferred by the League of Nations to the South African Union, which refused to return it in 1946. In 1931 South Africa gained full independence in the British Commonwealth. Under Prime Minister Smuts, South Africa fought alongside Great Britain in Abyssinia, North Africa and Italy during World War II.


The National Party won the 1948 elections. Prime Minister was DF Malan, whose policies laid the foundations for forty years of apartheid. Between 1949 and 1957, several other laws on racial discrimination were passed. Malan’s successor JG Strijdom was followed by HF Verwoerd in 1958. With the creation of so-called “homelands” for the blacks, who even lost their citizenship in their own country, this introduced the total territorial separation of black and white. In 1960, 69 black people were shot dead by police during a demonstration in Sharpeville. After the ANC and PAC (Pan African Congress) were banned, the organizations continued to operate underground. The Republic of South Africa, founded in 1961, left the British Commonwealth after international protests. In 1962, the ANC leader Nelson Mandela was arrested and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1975 the Inkatha movement of the Zulu came under Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

In 1976 there was a massacre of 176 black students in Soweto who had demonstrated against the forced introduction of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in black schools. In 1984 the office of Prime Minister was abolished as part of a constitutional reform. The office of president introduced instead was taken over by the previous Prime Minister Botha. After further nationwide strikes, a number of townships were occupied by government troops. From 1990 onwards, a national state of emergency was in effect due to ongoing outbreaks of violence. After the resignation of President PW Bothas in 1990, FW de Klerk took over the office and ended the apartheid policy. Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, and the ban on the ANC and 32 other opposition groups was lifted. This was followed by a relaxation of international economic sanctions.

In 1991 the government abolished the “Native Land Act” and the “Population Registration Act”, repealing the legal basis of apartheid policy. Power struggles between the Xhosa-dominated ANC and the Zulu party Inkatha, however, brought the country to the brink of civil war. In 1993 the policy of rapprochement received the support of almost 70% of the population in a referendum. In the same year de Klerk and Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1994 the ANC won the first free elections, Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president.

South Africa after apartheid

A “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” formed in 1995 under the chairmanship of Archbishop Desmond Tutu began to deal with the injustices committed during the apartheid period. In 1997 a new constitution came into force. Nelson Mandela gave up his post to Thabo Mbeki, who was confirmed in the 2004 elections. As the ruling party, the ANC pursues a liberal economic policy.

South Africa’s population is also severely affected by the immune deficiency disease AIDS. And in 2008, due to a lack of power plants, the electricity was often switched off for hours – with sometimes devastating effects on all areas of the country.

In the election to the country’s parliament on April 22, 2009, the ANC, under the leadership of Jacob Zuma, gained around 65.9% of the vote. The Demakratische Allianz, led by the white Mayor Helen Zille of Cape Town, won around 16.66% and the break-off of Cope from the ANC received around 8% of the vote. Helen Zille has her roots in Berlin and is a great niece of the painter Heinrich Zille. Her parents had fled Germany from the Nazis in the 1930s. On May 6, 2009 Zuma was elected as the new president of the country with around 66% of the votes of the members of the newly elected parliament. His swearing-in took place on May 9th.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in South Africa from June 11 to July 11, 2010: The 32 teams of the preliminary round matches competed in eight groups of four teams each. The 32 teams had to qualify for participation in the World Cup. The qualification games also took place in groups, separated according to the following regions: Europe with 13 World Cup participating teams, America with 8 participants, Asia as well as Australia and Oceania with 5 participants each and finally Africa with 5 participants plus South Africa, which was part of the qualification as Host country did not have to participate.

South Africa Facts