The Rainbow Nation

[Much of the following is drawn from Wikipedia, the CIA world factbook, and my admittedly faulty memory; it is intended to be a brief overview only]

The Republic of South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa.  It’s the 25th largest country in the world, and it has three capitals: Pretoria (administrative capital); Cape Town (legislative capital); and Bloemfontein (judicial capital).  Many of these cities have “first world” amenities, and the country is a very popular tourist destination.


Prior to colonization, South Africa was home to many Bantu-speaking agriculturalists and the first indigenous civilization in the region, Mapungubwe.  Two of the major groups prior to colonization were the Xhosa and Zulu, which still exist today.  Portugal named the Cape of Good Hope (now Cape Town) in 1488.  In 1652, the Dutch began colonizing and importing slave labor from Indonesia, Madagascar, and India under the Dutch East India Company.  The Dutch pressed further inward and warred with the native Xhosa people.  Great Britain then took over the Cape of Good Hope in 1795 and began creating settlements and warring with the Xhosa as well.  The Boers (original Dutch, Flemish, German, and French settlers) pushed even further inward to escape British control, igniting further conflicts with the Xhosa, as well as the Soer and Zulu people (including Shaka Zulu).  The discovery of diamonds and gold in the late 1800s sparked the Anglo-Zulu war, where the Zulu defeated the British but lost their independence; as well as the Boer Wars against the British, which the British won.  The Boer colonies passed racial segregation laws in their territories.

The country gained its independence from Britain in 1931 and introduced apartheid in 1948.  Apartheid classified citizens as “black,” “white,” “coloured,” or “Indian”-each group had specific rules and limitations.  Anti-apartheid organizations sprang up in resistance, such as the African National Congress, led by internationally known leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.  Under President F.W. de Klerk, the apartheid legislation was repealed in 1991, and the country held its first open elections in 1994, when the ANC won.  Nelson Mandela served as president from 1994 to 1999.  The current president, Jacob Zuma, has served since 2008 and is the head of the ANC. [For more on South Africa’s history, I recommend A Rainbow in the Night by Dominique LaPierre]

The nation has a high unemployment rate (25%) and the highest number of people living with HIV in the world (est. 7 million), primarily among blacks.  There are also 11 official languages: IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Afrikaans, English, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, SiSwati, Tshivenda, and isiNdebele.  Afrikaans emerged among the Afrikaners (descendants of Dutch settlers) and is primarily Dutch, but also has elements of Malay, Portuguese, and indigenous (Bantu and Khoikhoi) languages.  South Africa is the only country that contains all seven biomes, and it is famous for its natural beauty and animal safaris/reserves.

Comparison to the U.S.

Category South Africa U.S.
Size 470,693 sq. mi. (roughly twice the size of Texas) 3,796,742 sq. mi.
Population (2016) 54,300,704 (26th in the world) 323,995,528 (4th in the world)
GDP per capita (2015) $13,200 (119th in the world) $55,800 (19th in the world)
People living with HIV/AIDS (2015) Approx. 7 million (13% of the population, 1st in the world) Approx. 1.2 million (.004% of population, 9th in the world)
Unemployment rate (2015) 25.4% (179th in the world) 5.3% (58th in the world)
Life expectancy (2016) 63.1 years (190th in the world) 79.8 years (42nd in the world)
Literacy rate 15+ (PBS, year unknown) 93% 99%
Gender Inequality Index (2014, lower is better) 0.407 (83rd of 188 countries) 0.28 (55th of 188 countries)
Major industries Mining (world’s largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, metalworking, machinery, textiles, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilizer, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair Technology innovations, petroleum, steel, motor vehicles, aerospace, telecommunications, chemicals, electronics, food processing, consumer goods, lumber, mining