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South Africa Table of Contents

South Africa


Size: South Africa occupies 1,227,200 square kilometers at the southern tip of Africa; seventh largest African country; twice the size of Texas. Coastline nearly 3,000 kilometers. Extraterritorial holdings: Prince Edward Island and Marion Island (Indian Ocean).

Topography: Interior highlands continuation of African plateau stretching north to Sahara, 1,200 meters average elevation. Plateau rises to Drakensberg Mountains (3,300 meters) south and east; Great Escarpment descends to coastal lowlands. Marginal coastal lowlands vary from eighty to 240 kilometers wide. Regular coastline, few natural harbors.

Climate: Variable; warm temperate climate overall; Mediterranean conditions far southwest; subtropical northeast; desert northwest. Moderating influence of ocean currents: East coast warmed by Agulhas current, west coast cooled by Benguela current. Dry, sunny winters (April-October), summer rains (November-March) except in southwest, where rainfall yearround; average annual rainfall 484 millimeters.

Time: 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.


Population: 41.2 million, 1995 estimate (1996 census not yet final). Annual population growth 2.2 percent. Fertility: 4.4 births per female; crude birth rate: 23.4 per 1,000; 12 percent of births to teenagers. Population to double in twenty-five years. Life expectancy: sixty-three years males, sixty-eight years females, marked racial differences. Crude death rate: 9.4 per 1,000. Median age 19.2, declining; 37 percent under age fifteen. Density 33.8 persons per square kilometer, uneven distribution; concentrations in KwaZulu-Natal (21 percent of population), Gauteng (17 percent), Eastern Cape (17 percent). Estimated urban population, 57 to 63 percent; rural, 37 to 43 percent. Major urban areas: Cape Town, 2.2 million; Johannesburg, 1.9 million; Durban, 1.1 million; Pretoria, 1.1 million; Port Elizabeth, 854,000. Ethnic heterogeneity: estimated 76 percent black Africans--Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Ndebele), Sotho-Tswana, Venda, Tsonga-Shangaan, Khoisan; 13 percent whites--Afrikaners, British, other Europeans; 11 percent Asians and others. Government estimates at least 2 million foreign workers (1996).

Languages: Eleven official languages. Most widely used: isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, English, and sePedi; also seSotho, seTswana, xiTsonga, siSwati, tshiVenda (luVenda), and isiNdebele. English important in commerce.

Religion: No government restrictions. Population 80 percent Christians, mostly Protestant. Of these, 8 million members of African Independent churches; 4 million, of Dutch Reformed churches. Traditional African beliefs remain important, especially in rural areas. Asians almost equally Hindu and Muslim; Islamic community growing rapidly.

Education and Literacy: Superior education system primarily served racial minority until 1990s. Nine years compulsory education universal after 1994; shortages of schools, teachers. Estimated 7.17 million primary pupils, 4.59 million secondary pupils; 20,780 primary and secondary schools, of which 20,303 government operated; 336,653 primary and secondary teachers. Adult literacy estimated 61 percent. Nineteen major universities, two correspondence; extensive vocational and technical training available.

Health: Health problems reflect racial, class differences. Physicians 1 per 1,200 people in wealthy areas (1 per 10,000 in poor, rural areas). Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS): 10,351 reported cases (1996); human immunodefi-ciency virus (HIV) infection estimated close to 1 million. Infant mortality declining: 43.1 deaths first year per 1,000 live births (54.3 blacks, 7.3 whites). National health insurance system being phased in.

Data as of May 1996