South Africa

map (opens in new window)


After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the Dutch settlers (the Boers) trekked north to found their own republics. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration and intensified the subjugation of the native inhabitants. The Boers resisted British encroachments, but were defeated in the Boer War (1899-1902). The resulting Union of South Africa operated under a policy of apartheid - the separate development of the races. The 1990s brought an end to apartheid politically and ushered in black majority rule.


Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa

Geographic coordinates:

29 00 S, 24 00 E


total: 1,219,912 sq km
land: 1,219,912 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes Prince Edward Islands (Marion Island and Prince Edward Island)

Land boundaries:

total: 4,862 km
border countries: Botswana 1,840 km, Lesotho 909 km, Mozambique 491 km, Namibia 967 km, Swaziland 430 km, Zimbabwe 225 km


2,798 km

Maritime claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to edge of the continental margin


mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights


vast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Njesuthi 3,408 m

Natural resources:

gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas

Land use:

arable land: 12.1%
permanent crops: 0.79%
other: 87.11% (2005)

Irrigated land:

14,980 sq km (2003)

Natural hazards:

prolonged droughts

Environment - current issues:

lack of important arterial rivers or lakes requires extensive water conservation and control measures; growth in water usage outpacing supply; pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and urban discharge; air pollution resulting in acid rain; soil erosion; desertification

Geography - note:

South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Swaziland


note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2006 est.)

Age structure:

0-14 years: 29.7% (male 6,603,220/female 6,525,810)
15-64 years: 65% (male 13,955,950/female 14,766,843)
65 years and over: 5.3% (male 905,870/female 1,429,944) (2006 est.)

Median age:

total: 24.1 years
male: 23.3 years
female: 25 years (2006 est.)

Population growth rate:

-0.4% (2006 est.)

Birth rate:

18.2 births/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Death rate:

22 deaths/1,000 population (2006 est.)

Net migration rate:

-0.16 migrant(s)/1,000 population
note: there is an increasing flow of Zimbabweans into South Africa and Botswana in search of better economic opportunities (2006 est.)

Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.02 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.95 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.63 male(s)/female
total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2006 est.)

Infant mortality rate:

total: 60.66 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 64.31 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 56.92 deaths/1,000 live births (2006 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 42.73 years
male: 43.25 years
female: 42.19 years (2006 est.)

Total fertility rate:

2.2 children born/woman (2006 est.)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:

21.5% (2003 est.)

people living with HIV/AIDS:

5.3 million (2003 est.)

HIV/AIDS - deaths:

370,000 (2003 est.)


noun: South African(s)
adjective: South African

Ethnic groups:

black African 79%, white 9.6%, colored 8.9%, Indian/Asian 2.5% (2001 census)


Zion Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Catholic 7.1%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%, other Christian 36%, Islam 1.5%, other 2.3%, unspecified 1.4%, none 15.1% (2001 census)


IsiZulu 23.8%, IsiXhosa 17.6%, Afrikaans 13.3%, Sepedi 9.4%, English 8.2%, Setswana 8.2%, Sesotho 7.9%, Xitsonga 4.4%, other 7.2% (2001 census)


definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 86.4%
male: 87%
female: 85.7% (2003 est.)

Country name:

conventional long form: Republic of South Africa
conventional short form: South Africa
former: Union of South Africa
abbreviation: RSA

Government type:



Pretoria; note - Cape Town is the legislative center and Bloemfontein the judicial center

Administrative divisions:

9 provinces; Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape, Western Cape


31 May 1910 (from UK); note - South Africa became a republic in 1961 following an October 1960 referendum

National holiday:

Freedom Day, 27 April (1994)


10 December 1996; this new constitution was certified by the Constitutional Court on 4 December 1996, was signed by then President MANDELA on 10 December 1996, and entered into effect on 3 February 1997; it is being implemented in phases

Legal system:

based on Roman-Dutch law and English common law


18 years of age; universal

Legislative branch:

bicameral Parliament consisting of the National Assembly (400 seats; members are elected by popular vote under a system of proportional representation to serve five-year terms) and the National Council of Provinces (90 seats, 10 members elected by each of the nine provincial legislatures for five-year terms; has special powers to protect regional interests, including the safeguarding of cultural and linguistic traditions among ethnic minorities); note - following the implementation of the new constitution on 3 February 1997, the former Senate was disbanded and replaced by the National Council of Provinces with essentially no change in membership and party affiliations, although the new institution's responsibilities have been changed somewhat by the new constitution
elections: National Assembly and National Council of Provinces - last held 14 April 2004 (next to be held NA 2009)
election results: National Assembly - percent of vote by party - ANC 69.7%, DA 12.4%, IFP 7%, UDM 2.3%, NNP 1.7%, ACDP 1.6%, other 5.3%; seats by party - ANC 279, DA 50, IFP 28, UDM 9, NNP 7, ACDP 6, other 21; National Council of Provinces - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - NA

Judicial branch:

Constitutional Court; Supreme Court of Appeals; High Courts; Magistrate Courts

Economy - overview:

South Africa is a middle-income, emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors; a stock exchange that ranks among the 10 largest in the world; and a modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region. However, growth has not been strong enough to lower South Africa's high unemployment rate, and daunting economic problems remain from the apartheid era - especially poverty and lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups. South African economic policy is fiscally conservative, but pragmatic, focusing on targeting inflation and liberalizing trade as means to increase job growth and household income.

GDP (purchasing power parity):

$534.6 billion (2005 est.)

GDP (official exchange rate):

$186.8 billion (2005 est.)

GDP - real growth rate:

4.6% (2005 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP):

$12,100 (2005 est.)

GDP - composition by sector:

agriculture: 3.4%
industry: 31.6%
services: 65.1% (2005 est.)

Labor force:

15.23 million economically active (2005 est.)

Labor force - by occupation:

agriculture: 30%
industry: 25%
services: 45% (1999 est.)

Unemployment rate:

25.2% (2005 est.)

Population below poverty line:

50% (2000 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share:

lowest 10%: 1.1%
highest 10%: 45.9% (1994)

Distribution of family income - Gini index:

59.3 (1995)

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

4.6% (2005 est.)

Investment (gross fixed):

17.9% of GDP (2005 est.)


revenues: $65.91 billion
expenditures: $70.62 billion; including capital expenditures of $NA (2005 est.)

Public debt:

37.7% of GDP (2005 est.)

Agriculture - products:

corn, wheat, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables; beef, poultry, mutton, wool, dairy products


mining (world's largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, metalworking, machinery, textiles, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilizer, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair

Industrial production growth rate:

4.5% (2005 est.)

Electricity - production:

215.9 billion kWh (2003)

Electricity - consumption:

197.4 billion kWh (2003)

Electricity - exports:

10.14 billion kWh (2003)

Electricity - imports:

6.739 billion kWh (2003)

Oil - production:

216,700 bbl/day (2003 est.)

Oil - consumption:

484,000 bbl/day (2003 est.)

Oil - proved reserves:

7.84 million bbl (1 January 2002)

Natural gas - production:

2.35 billion cu m (2003 est.)

Natural gas - consumption:

2.35 billion cu m (2003 est.)

Natural gas - proved reserves:

28.32 million cu m (1 January 2002)

Current account balance:

-$9.584 billion (2005 est.)


$50.91 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.)

Exports - commodities:

gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment

Exports - partners:

US 10.2%, UK 9.2%, Japan 9%, Germany 7.1%, Netherlands 4% (2004)


$52.97 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.)

Imports - commodities:

machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, scientific instruments, foodstuffs

Imports - partners:

Germany 14.2%, US 8.5%, China 7.5%, Japan 6.9%, UK 6.9%, France 6%, Saudi Arabia 5.6%, Iran 5% (2004)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:

$20.16 billion (2005 est.)

Debt - external:

$44.33 billion (30 June 2005 est.)

Economic aid - recipient:

$487.5 million (2000)

Currency (code):

rand (ZAR)

Fiscal year:

1 April - 31 March

Telephones - main lines in use:

4.844 million (2003)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

19.5 million (2004)

Telephone system:

general assessment: the system is the best developed and most modern in Africa
domestic: consists of carrier-equipped open-wire lines, coaxial cables, microwave radio relay links, fiber-optic cable, radiotelephone communication stations, and wireless local loops; key centers are Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Pretoria
international: country code - 27; 2 submarine cables; satellite earth stations - 3 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean and 2 Atlantic Ocean)

Radio broadcast stations:

AM 14, FM 347 (plus 243 repeaters), shortwave 1 (1998)

Television broadcast stations:

556 (plus 144 network repeaters) (1997)

Internet country code:


Internet hosts:

460,572 (2005)

Internet users:

3.6 million (2005)


728 (2005)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 146
over 3,047 m: 10
2,438 to 3,047 m: 5
1,524 to 2,437 m: 51
914 to 1,523 m: 67
under 914 m: 13 (2005)

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 582
1,524 to 2,437 m: 34
914 to 1,523 m: 300
under 914 m: 248 (2005)


condensate 100 km; gas 1,052 km; oil 847 km; refined products 1,354 km (2004)


total: 20,872 km
narrow gauge: 20,436 km 1.065-m gauge (10,436 km electrified); 436 km 0.610-m gauge
note: includes a 1,210 km commuter rail system (2004)


total: 362,099 km
paved: 73,506 km
unpaved: 288,593 km (2002)

Merchant marine:

total: 3 ships (1000 GRT or over) 32,815 GRT/39,295 DWT
by type: container 1, petroleum tanker 2
foreign-owned: 1 (Denmark 1)
registered in other countries: 8 (Panama 3, Seychelles 1, UK 4) (2005)

Ports and terminals:

Cape Town, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay, Saldanha Bay

Military branches:

South African National Defense Force (SANDF): Army, Navy, Air Force, Joint Operations, Joint Support, Military Intelligence, Military Health Service (2004)

Military - note:

with the end of apartheid and the establishment of majority rule, former military, black homelands forces, and ex-opposition forces were integrated into the South African National Defense Force (SANDF); as of 2003 the integration process was considered complete

Disputes - international:

South Africa has placed military along the border to stem the thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing to find work and escape political persecution; managed dispute with Namibia over the location of the boundary in the Orange River

Refugees and internally displaced persons:

refugees (country of origin): 5,774 (Angola) 9,516 (Democratic Republic of Congo) 7,118 (Somalia) (2005)

Illicit drugs:

transshipment center for heroin, hashish, marijuana, and cocaine; cocaine consumption on the rise; world's largest market for illicit methaqualone, usually imported illegally from India through various east African countries; illicit cultivation of marijuana; attractive venue for money launderers given the increasing level of organized criminal and narcotics activity in the region