About South Africa
The Rainbow Nation
Separating the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, South Africa is located at the southern-most region of the African continent and borders Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Lesotho.
South Africa's location in the southern hemisphere and its exposure to both oceans give it a generally temperate climate. However, there is considerable variation in climates, from arid and dry in the northwest to subtropical in the east, along the border with Mozambique and the Indian Ocean.
A quick assessment of South Africa's landscapes reveals lots of grasslands and few forests. That doesn't stop the country from hosting considerable biodiversity in plants. In the Cape Floral Kingdom, some 8,500 different species of plants prevail, 70% of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
Like other savanna ecosystems, the Southern Africa Bushveld contains large areas of grasses with scattered trees. One of the forces that helps maintain this ecosystem is fire.
But human activities have reduced the occurrence of fire and are reducing the region's diversity and number of wild species.
Many mammals are found in the bushveld habitats including lion, leopard, white rhino, blue wildebeest, kudu, impala, hyena, hippopotamus, and giraffe.
Only 1% of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain along the Indian Ocean in KwaZulu-Natal.
South Africa is a melting pot of over 47 million people whose origins and beliefs are a testament to the considerable migration and displacement patterns that have occurred over the last millennia. Almost 80% of South Africans are Black African, 9.2% are White and 2.5% are Indian or Asian.
Major ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), all of which speak Bantu languages. The white population descends largely from colonial immigrants: Dutch, German, French Huguenot and British.
Christians are reported to account for about 80% of the population, Muslims 1.5% and Hindus for about 1.3%. The remaining percentage have no stated religious affiliation.
By many standards, South Africa has the characteristics of a middle-income country with strong financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors. Major exports include minerals (e.g. platinum, gold), coal, agricultural products (e.g. sugar, grapes, citrus).
However, many symptoms suggest that these characteristics hide severe socio-economic problems. According to the UNDP's 2006 Human Development Report, life expectancy at birth in South Africa is only 47 years and the country has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. Economic growth has helped to reduce unemployment, but serious problems remain, such as immigration, heavy crime, corruption, and HIV/AIDS.