South Africa

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South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa. It is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho (which is completely surrounded by South Africa). It is a large country with widely varying landscapes and has 11 official languages, as well as an equally diverse population. South Africa is renowned for its wines and is one of the world's largest producers of gold. South Africa has the strongest economy in Africa, and is an influential player in African politics. In 2010, South Africa hosted the first Football World Cup to be held on the African continent. (less...) (more...)

Population: 48,601,098 people
Area: 1,219,090 km2
Highest point: 3,408 m
Coastline: 2,798 km
Life expectancy: 49.48 years
GDP per capita: $11,600
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About South Africa

History

The tip of Africa has been home to the Khoisan (collective name for Hottentot (Koi) and Bushmen (San)) people for thousands of years. Their rock art can still be found in many places throughout South Africa. It is estimated that Bantu tribes may have started to slowly expand into the northernmost areas of what is today Southern Africa at around 2,500 years ago and by around 500 AD the different cultural groups as we know them today had been established in the lush areas to the north and east of the what is today known as Eastern South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The desert and semi-desert areas of the Western and Northern Cape provinces, as well as the western parts of the Eastern Cape province remained unsettled by the Bantu as the arid climate, limited seasonal rainfall, sparse vegetation and scarcity of natural sources of water could not sustain large migrations of people and herds of cattle, cattle being the primary livestock reared by the Bantu and fulfilling numerous cultural and economic functions within the tribal society (cattle served as a rudimentary currency and basic unit of exchange with a mutually agreeable value between bartering parties, thus fulfilling the function of money). The "Khoisan" existed in these areas as nomadic hunters, unable to permanently settle as the movement of desert game in search of dwindling water supplies during winter months determined their own migration. Not until the "Boers" (see next paragraph) moved into these areas and established boreholes and containment ponds could any permanent settlements be established in these areas. Today, with more reliable sources of water and modern methods of water conservancy the agricultural activity remains limited mainly to sheep and ostrich ranching as these animals are better suited to the sparse feed and limited water.

The first permanent European settlement was built at Cape Town after the Dutch East India Company reached the Cape of Good Hope in April 1652. In the late 1700s, the Boers (the settling farmers) slowly started expanding first westward along the coastline and later upwards into the interior. By 1795, Britain first took control of the Cape, as a consequence of the Napoleonic wars on the Dutch, and in 1820, a large group of British settlers arrived in the region. In 1835, large numbers of Boers started out on the Groot Trek (the great migration) into the interior after becoming dissatisfied with the British rule. In the interior, they established their own internationally recognized republics.

Two wars for control over the region were fought between the Boers and the British in 1880 and 1899. The second war occurred after British settlers flooded into the area surrounding Johannesburg known as the "Witwatersrand" (white water escarpment) in response to the discovery of gold in 1886. The Second Boer War (Afrikaans: Die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog or 'Second War of Independace') was particularly unpleasant, as the British administration contained the Boer civilian population in concentration camps resulting in one of the earliest recorded genocides. Boer farms, livestock, crops and homesteads were also largely destroyed.

After peace was restored by the 1902 Treaty of Vereeniging, the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, consolidating the various Boer republics and British colonies into a unified state as a member of the British Commonwealth. In 1961, the Republic of South Africa was formed and SA exited the Commonwealth. Non-Europeans were largely excluded from these political changes as they had received sovereign lands in which to live under self-rule, in accordance their own tribal legal system and hierarchical form of government.

In 1948, the National Party came to power. The NP introduced numerous apartheid laws which were intended, initially, to give a national/tribal, independent and sovereign "homeland" to each of the various tribes within South Africa, who were frequently engaged in raids and border wars against each other. This was a move that was initially welcomed by the majority of the different tribal kings and chieftains, as most of the tribes sought self-governance. Since then, South Africa became practically synonymous with fascism, racism, and many other pejorative descriptions. The African National Congress (ANC) was banned and forced into exile for conducting and plotting terrorist activities against civilians, other political parties that were considered 'dangerous' and 'subversive' were also banned by the South African parliament during this time as South Africa became more involved in a war against communist insurrection on the former German colony of 'South West Africa's' border with Angola. This war was conducted in accordance with the 'League of Nations' (today the 'United Nations') mandate that followed the Second World War, bestowing upon South Africa the protectorate of the confiscated former German colony 'South West Africa' (today The Republic of Namibia).

The Republic, despite experiencing rapid infrastructure development and strong economic growth until the late 1980s, also experienced frequent domestic uprisings in response to the apartheid laws. During this time the international community also installed weapons and trade embargoes against South Africa, as well as banning South Africa from the Olympic Games and most other international sporting competitions.

In the late 1980s, many white moderates began to recognize that change was inevitable, as international sanctions and internal strife were beginning to take a severe toll on South Africa. Thus, moderates within the security service and the National Party itself began quietly reaching out to ANC leaders to negotiate how to dismantle apartheid, which started with the freeing of political prisoners in 1990.

Political violence worsened badly during the early 1990s as extremists of all kinds attempted to derail ANC-NP peace talks in favor of their own visions of the future of South Africa. In 1992, 73% of the voting white population voted in a referendum to have the apartheid system abolished. This was quickly followed by a new constitution in 1993 and then the nation's first truly democratic election in April 1994, in which all SA adult citizens were allowed to vote regardless of their ethnic and cultural background. Former political prisoner Nelson Mandela was elected the country's first democratically elected president. The ANC won a 63% majority and proceeded to form a Government of National Unity with the NP.

Climate

The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline. The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter. Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year. Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35°C (95°F) in some places.

The South African Weather Service provides up to date weather information, forecasts and radar imaging.

Geography

South Africa is located at the southernmost tip of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km (1,553 mi) and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian).

Activities

  • Dive, see Diving in South Africa for details.
  • River Rafting: The Orange River on the border to Namibia is a popular destination for rafting tours. Several tour operators launch 4-6 day trips in blow-up boats from Vioolsdrif with camping under the stars.

Food

South African cuisine is just as diverse as its cultures, with influences from British, Dutch, German, Indian, Malay, Portuguese and of course the native African influences.

  • Braaivleis, meat roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire, is very popular and generally done at weekend social events. The act of roasting the meat as well as the social event is referred to as a braai.
  • Pap, a porridge made with corn meal. Slappap (runny porridge), is smooth and often eaten as a breakfast porridge, Stywepap (stiff porridge) has a doughy and more lumpy consistency and is often used as a replacement for rice or other starches. "Krummel" pap also called umphokoqo (crumby porridge) is drier, resembles couscous and is often served at a braai covered in a saucy tomato and onion relish called sous.
  • Potjiekos, a meat and vegetable stew made in a cast iron pot over an open fire. A favorite at braais.
  • Boerewors, a spicy sausage. Boerewors Rolls are hotdog buns with boerewors rather than hotdogs, traditionally garnished with an onion and tomato relish.
  • Biltong and Droëwors, seasoned meat or sausage that has been dried. Beef, game and ostrich meat is often used. A favourite at sports events and while travelling.
  • Bunny chows, half a loaf of bread with the inside replaced by lamb or beef curry is a dish not to be missed when travelling to KwaZulu Natal.
  • Bobotie, meatloaf with a Cape Malay influence, seasoned with curry and spices, topped with a savoury custard.
  • Morogo, a wild spinach on its own or with potato. Sometimes served with pap.
  • Waterblommetjiebredie, mutton and indigenous water lily stew.
  • Masonja, for the culinary adventurer, fried Mopanie worms.
  • Melktert, "milk tart", a milk-based dessert.
  • Koeksisters, a deep-fried sticky dessert.
  • Vetkoek, deep fried dough ball made from flour, served with apricot jam.

Fast food

You will find the usual array of international fast food outlets. McDonalds, KFC and Wimpy are well represented throughout the country.

Local franchises worth mentioning are Black Steer, Spur and Steers for the best burgers and Nando's peri-peri chicken.

Pizza delivery is available in most urban areas.

Drinks

Municipal tap water is usually safe to drink. In some area such as Hartebeespoort Dam, it is advisable to boil your water before drinking.

Milk is widely available at most supermarkets, but bottled orange juice not-from-concentrate is much, much harder to find than in North America. Most South African retailers carry only orange juice reconstituted from concentrate or orange juice blended with other juices or milk. Soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are widely available, though.

The legal age to purchase and drink alcohol in South Africa is 18. Almost all restaurants are licensed to serve liquor.

If offered Witblits or Mampoer; those are locally distilled under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, and allocated a manufacturers' license. They are safe and enjoyable to consume and does not resemble the names for moonshine or firewater. The alcohol content is controlled by the Department, so is the quality.

Beer

Local beer production is dominated by SABMiller with Castle, Hansa, Black Label and Castle Milk Stout being most popular brands. There are also Micro Breweries all over South Africa. Imported beers such as Stella Artois and Grolsch are also widely available. The Namibian Windhoek brand beers are also popular and generally available.

Prices can vary widely depending on the establishment. Expect to pay anything from R7 to R18 for a beer.

Wine

South Africa has a well established wine industry with most of the wine produced concentrated in the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape and along the Orange River in the Northern Cape. Wine is plentiful throughout the country and very inexpensive.

Liquors

Amarula Cream is made from the marula fruit. The marula fruit is a favorite treat for African elephants, baboons and monkeys and in the liqueur form definitely not something to be passed over by humans. Pour over crushed ice and enjoy. The taste, colour and texture is very similar to the world famous Baileys Irish Cream. Cape Velvet is a favorite in and around Cape Town.

Tea and Coffee

The local Rooibos tea, made from a herb from the Cederberg Mountains is a favorite for many South Africans. You will find coffee shops in most shopping malls, such as Mugg&Bean [16] and House of Coffees [17] . Coffee shops similar in concept to Starbucks, like Seattle Coffee Company and Vida e Caffe [18] (Portuguese themed), are becoming commonplace.

Shopping

Money

The currency is the Rand (ZAR), divided into 100 cents (c). Notes are in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. Higher value notes are slightly larger in physical size than small value notes. All notes have a metallic security strip and a watermark. Note that a new series of banknotes was introduced in 2012, and at present both the old and the new series are circulating and legal tender.

Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. Production of 2c and 1c coins was suspended in April 2002, but those still in circulation remain legal tender. All transactions are rounded down to the nearest lower 5c, so as not to require the use of 2c and 1c coins. Note that there are two types of R5 coins in circulation: one is a silver-coloured coin while the other is silver-coloured with a copper insert. Both are legal currency.

Rough conversion rates (Jan 2013) are: 8.9:1 (USD), 11.8:1 (EUR) and 14.2:1 (GBP). Carry one of the above currencies, as conversion between any of them and the Rand can be done at any bank without trouble, but bear in mind there will be commissions charged aswell as administration fees. South Africa is part of the Southern African Common Monetary Area and the Rand can be used in Namibia (where it is an official currency along with the Namibian Dollar) as well as Lesotho and Swaziland (where it is widely accepted, but not an official currency)

Traveller's Cheques are a safe way of carrying money around. You can exchange them at all banks (which are found throughout the country even in rural areas) and you will get a refund if they are stolen. The disadvantage is that you cannot pay with them and you will need change when exchanging them into Rand. Use ATMs instead if possible.

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), linked to all major international networks, are available throughout the country and will generally dispense money in a mixture of denominations between R200 and R10, with about 80% of the value requested being high value notes and the rest in smaller denominations. You can use any Cirrus or Maestro card as well as all major credit and debit cards at the ATMs. South African bank ATMs do not charge any fees above those levied by your own financial institution.

It is best to use only ATMs that are inside a mall or other building. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN). Do not accept help from strangers when withdrawing money at an ATM. If you are approached and offered unwanted help, rather cancel the transaction immediately and go to a different ATM. The till points at some major retail stores (such as Pick 'n Pay) also act as ATMs; simply tell the checkout clerk that you would like to withdraw money.

VISA and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. American Express and Diners Club are also accepted, but not as widely.

Most retail stores accept credit cards and pin based debit cards as payment. While South Africa has begun to move towards a chip-and-PIN credit card system like Europe, most stores are still on the traditional credit card system in which the user merely signs the receipt after the transaction is approved. Thus credit card users from countries also still on that system (like the United States) will have no problem using their credit cards in South Africa, provided that they have notified their bank in advance of their travel plans.

VAT (Value Added Tax) is levied at 14% on almost all products in South Africa. By law, advertised prices should be inclusive of VAT except when explicitly stated otherwise. Foreign passport holders may claim back the VAT on products that were bought in South Africa and are being taken out of the country, provided that the total value of the goods exceeds R250. Full details of the procedure to follow are available from the Department of Foreign Affairs [14] and their new TAX Refund for tourists [15] site. VAT Refund Administrator's offices are available at both Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo) and Cape Town International Airports. Refunds will be credited to a Travelex Visa card that you will be given, denominated in U.S. dollars or Euro, the fees in conversion associated with this card can leave you with up to 10% less than you thought you were getting. The cards can only be used outside of South Africa.

Costs

Petrol and Diesel

Liquid fuel prices in South Africa are regulated and are fixed by region monthly. In general petrol is cheaper near the ports (Durban, Cape town, Port Elizabeth). In September 2013 a litre of petrol would cost around R13. See the current prices .

Toll roads

The most expensive toll gate in South Africa is the Swartruggens toll plaza on the N4 between Swartruggens and Zeerust, cost is R71 for a normal car. In total, road tolls between Pretoria and Nelspruit or between Johannesburg and Cape Town will cost you just under R100. If travelling from Beitbridge to Cape Town, down the N1, expect to pay as much R270.

Food

  • You can buy two McDonald's burgers (a hamburger, cheese burger and chicken burger) for around R22 (Jan 2013)
  • A sit down lunch in an average establishment will cost you between R80 and R150 per person. (Jan 2013)
  • A decent 30cm pizza will cost you between R55 and R75 (Jan 2013)

Shopping

Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter. Tipping is the norm in restaurants and at gas-stations (which are all full-service). Indeed, most of these businesses pay their staff the legal minimum-wage, relying on customer-tips to bring staff incomes up to live-able levels. Tips of around 10% of the bill are considered the norm.

Most restaurants and even pubs have been declared "smoke-free" areas. In some restaurants you will find a dedicated smokers area where children are not allowed. Rule of thumb is to check for an ashtray on your table. You will, however, in all probability be greeted at the door of the stablishment with a "smoking-or-nonsmoking". Check as smoking in non-designated areas are not permitted and you'll be met with some rude gestures.

South Africa is not a place to find bargains for most goods. For example, most ordinary consumer goods, electronics, and appliances are all manufactured in China nowadays, while most luxury goods are manufactured in Europe. This means the prices in South Africa will have the cost of transporting them there built-in. However, South Africa is a superior destination for buying African art, curios, and souvenirs which are far more difficult to obtain outside of Africa.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article South Africa on Wikivoyage.

Popular cities in South Africa

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Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa and is the capital of the Western Cape Province, as well as being the legislative capital of South Africa (the Houses of Parliament are here). It is located in the south-west corner of the country near the Cape of Good Hope, and is the most southern city in ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
  • Clock Tower
  • Greenmarket Square
  • Groote Kerk
  • Slave Lodge
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Johannesburg is South Africa's largest city.

Interesting places:

  • Johannesburg Stock Exchange
  • Museum Africa
  • Gold Reef City
  • Nelson Mandela Square
  • Market Theatre
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Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, part of City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, is in Gauteng.

Interesting places:

  • University of Pretoria
  • Church Square
  • Palace of Justice
  • Union Buildings
  • Old Raadsaal
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Durban is located on the east coast of South Africa in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and in the municipality of eThekwini. It is the third largest city in South Africa and the busiest port in Africa. According to the 2007 Community Survey, the population of the eThekwini municipality was 3,468,086.

Interesting places:

  • uShaka Marine World
  • South Beach
  • North Beach
  • Moses Mabhida Stadium
  • Durban Botanical Gardens
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Hoedspruit lies in the Valley of the Olifants in Big 5 Country close to the Kruger National Park and surrounded by Big 5 Game Lodges and Private Nature Reserves like Timbavati, Balule, Thornybush, Kapama and Klaserie. It is quite possible to fly into Hoedspruit, and travel straight to the local private game ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
  • Echo Caves
  • Khamai Reptile Centre
  • Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre
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Stellenbosch is a city in the Western Cape of South Africa and is the heart of the Cape Winelands, South Africa's prime wine region.

Interesting places:

  • Bartinney Wine Estates
  • Camberley Wine Farm
  • Zorgvliet Estate
  • Stellenbosch Golf Club
  • Vredenheim Estate
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Knysna, pearl of the scenic Garden Route, is situated between George and Plettenberg Bay. Perennially green thanks to a Mediterranean Maritime climate with rain falling throughout the year, Knysna is mantled by indigenous forests extending into the Tsitsikamma National Park area. Nestled between the ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Knysna Quays
  • Knysna Golf Club
  • Goukamma Nature and Marine Reserve
  • Featherbed Nature Reserve
  • Knysna Elephant Park
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Kempton Park is a city in Gauteng. It is most notable for being the location of OR Tambo International Airport.

Interesting places:

  • Kempton Park Golf Club
  • Festival Mall
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Port Elizabeth is South Africa's fifth largest city and is located on the Indian Ocean coast half-way between Cape Town and Durban, in the Eastern Cape, about 260 km from Knysna. Also known as the friendly city and the windy city, it tends to live up to both names.

Interesting places:

  • Hobie Beach
  • Bayworld
  • Port Elizabeth City Hall
  • Humewood Beach
  • King\'s Beach
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Umhlanga is a town on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

Interesting places:

  • Umhlanga Lighthouse
  • Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Trail
  • Umhlanga Rocks Beach
  • Sibaya Casino
  • Gateway Shopping Centre
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States in South Africa

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Points of Interest in South Africa

Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to South-Africa every year to see the country's many natural and cultural attractions. From wild elephants to stunning landscapes, cave paintings, colonial heritage and bustling townships, South Africa is an enchanting land of contradictions and great beauty.

Wild animals in their natural habitat

South Africa is the most popular safari destination in the world and for many visitors a glance at the "Big Five" and other wildlife is a must. The iconic Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga is surely the most famous place to have that glance, but Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape is another popular pick. The vast dry plains of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with its migratory herds of wildebeast covers parts of both South Africa and Botswana. Along the border with Mozambique another transfrontier park, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers very different landscapes and fauna. For scuba divers, South Africa's under water wildlife has a lot to offer, with the annual Sardine run being a highlight. The popular seaside town of Hermanus is probably the best place in the world to go whale-watching, with cage diving opportunities with Great White Sharks for the truly adventurous.

Areas of natural beauty and botanical interest

South Africa's landscapes are grand and divers, varying from flat desert scrublands to lush green coastal areas and high peaks. The view from the famous, flat-topped Table mountain is a classic Africa experience. Also in the Cape Town region, the beautiful beaches attract thousands of sun lovers. The green coastal Garden Route is a great natural experience, passing countless lagoons, several interesting towns and the beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park. The Augrabies Falls National Park boasts a 60m high water fall. Close to the Kruger Park is the Blyde River Canyon, the largest green canyon in the world, and not far from there are the high peaks of the Drakensberg mountain range. The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is one of the country's 8 Unesco World Heritage sites for its exceptional natural beauty and the many cave paintings found there.

Cultural heritage

Large numbers and some of the oldest hominid fossils have been found South Africa, especially in the Cradle of Humankind, another World Heritage Site. Over 30 different caves held important fossils, but the caves of Sterkfontein are perhaps the most important one at the site. Far more recent, the 17th century Castle of Good Hope in beautiful Cape Town is one of the cultural heritage sites from colonial times. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was famously imprisoned, has become a major destination. For more insight in the Apartheid times, visit the District Six Museum in Cape Town or the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg.

Other attractions

  • Although regularly criticized, visits to the infamous townships are increasingly popular. Some say such trips turn poverty into entertainment while others think they benefit all those involved. In any case, a township tour is an experience that will stick. Soweto, in Johannesburg, is particularly well known.
  • South Africa has gained world wide fame as a wine country, and if you're interested, a visit to one of the over 800 wineries can be a great addition to your trip. Head to the Cape Winelands around Stellenbosch for some of the best picks.

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront - Cape Town

University of Pretoria - Pretoria

Lost City - Sun City

uShaka Marine World - Durban

Johannesburg Stock Exchange - Johannesburg

Cape Agulhas - Agulhas

Knysna Quays - Knysna

Hobie Beach - Port Elizabeth

Big Hole - Kimberley

Umhlanga Lighthouse - Umhlanga

Huguenot Monument - Franschhoek

Bird Island - Lambert's Bay

Cango Caves - Oudtshoorn

City Hall - Pietermaritzburg

St. Blaize Lighthouse - Mossel Bay

Clock Tower - Cape Town

Greenmarket Square - Cape Town

Groote Kerk - Cape Town

Slave Lodge - Cape Town

Company Gardens - Cape Town

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