About South Africa

About South Africa

The Republic of South Africa is populated with over 47 million people and is located at the southern end of the African continent. Although Johannesburg is the largest city, South Africa actually has three capital cities–Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein. Pretoria is home to the country’s executive branch of government, the parliament resides in Cape Town and the Supreme Court is located in Bloemfontein. South Africa has 11 national languages with 11 official names. Afrikaans and English are the most predominantly used, however.

History

African natives lived in South Africa in 1487 when the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias discovered the cape. It was later named the “Cape of Good Hope” by the King of Portugal. The significance of this find was the new hope that a sea route to India would be found by passing around the cape.

In 1652, the cape was turned into a stopover station to replenish food supplies for ships going to south Asia. This station, associated with the Dutch East India Company, was taken by the British in 1795 in order to keep the French from taking it. By 1802, the British returned the cape to the Dutch. However, when the company went bankrupt in 1807, it was annexed back to the British.

In 1867, diamonds were discovered in South Africa and by 1884 gold had been discovered, as well. This caused a great many Europeans to make a mad dash to the country in hopes of striking it rich, much like the California Gold Rush days. In 1800 the Dutch (Boers) revolted against British rule. The British lost at that time, but came back and overthrew the Dutch at a later date.

Although a British dominion, South Africans fought for independence, which was granted in 1961. A segregated government was continued and it became legally institutionalized and titled apartheid, in 1948. By 1994 this segregation was dismantled when Nelson Mandela and his party, the African National Congress, were brought into power with the country rejoining the Commonwealth of Nations.

Economy

The Republic of South Africa is split between first- and third-world conditions, depending on the location. The main industries are gold and diamond mining, auto manufacturing and service industries. Agriculture constitutes 8 percent of the nation’s exports, with nearly 1,000 agribusinesses in the country. It is also the eighth largest producer of wine in the world and the 11th in sunflower seeds. Maize is the largest grown and used product within the country.

Best Travel Destinations

Some of the most breathtaking views in South Africa are the coastal towns of Durban, Cape Town, Knysna and Hermanus. But, there are numerous other locations full of culture and geographical beauty you won’t want to miss. Travel is pretty easy with low fares at airports throughout the country. Buses, taxis and car rentals are available for travel on the country’s well-kept roads.

* Cape Town is diversely populated with world class restaurants and top wine choices. The landscape is edged with beautiful beaches and tabletop mountains. If you are looking for nightlife or shopping, try the waterfront, which is safe both night or day. It’s a wonderful place to take a break and watch the seals play or the fisherman bring in their fresh catches. Don’t miss the Kirstenbosch Gardens if you are interested in local flowers and plants. There are musical concerts during their summer (December through March). The table top mountain has trails for a three-hour climb or cable cars if you wish to ride.

* The Garden Route encompasses beaches, rivers, mountains and natural flora. It begins at the east side of Cape Town. Activities include golfing, ostrich riding, swimming, whale watching and bungee jumping. Highlights of the route include Albertan, “home of aloe,” where you’ll see over 6,500 species of local plants. Oudshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world, has numerous ostrich farms and bike and hiking trails as well as bird watching. George is a good location to make your base while exploring the Garden Route as it has all the modern conveniences such as air, rail and road routes to major cities.

* Kruger National Park is a favorite travel destination. It was established back in 1898 and is the oldest and best safari in Africa. You’ll see hippo, giraffe, crocodile, cheetah, lions, rhino, elephant and more. If you like you can stay right in the park as they offer cottages, chalets, bungalow tents and camp sites, varying in price and luxury.

* Go to Durban for the beaches and Indian market, Port Elizabeth for water activities such as swimming and scuba diving and Jeffrey’s Bay for surfing. Don’t miss the Cape wine lands, where you can try some of the best wine in the world.

Travel Tips

If you are traveling from the Northern Hemisphere you will find South Africa’s season to be in reverse. However, there is not a bad seasonal time to visit. But, keep in mind that local residents take their holiday trips during their long school break which is from mid December to the end of January.

In most cases a visa is not required, but you will need a valid passport good for 6 months to visit South Africa for up to 90 days. For current requirements see the South African Department of Home Affairs.

The drinking water from the tap is safe, but obviously not when taken from open natural sources such as rivers and lakes. You are not required to get vaccinations prior to your trip, however, Typhoid and Hepatitis A inoculations are strongly suggested. The main tourist areas are Malaria free. South Africa has excellent health care, however you may want to purchase travel health insurance as doctors and hospitals ar not cheap (as in the United States).

The rand is the unit of currency used in South Africa. It is divided into 100 units as the U.S. dollar. Check currency rates before traveling. You may use your credit cards in all the major cities except for gas. Tipping is accepted especially for guides and restaurant workers who depend on it for a large part of their income. Bartering is also common, exchanging new jeans and tennis/running shoes for handmade arts.

Warnings

HIV/AIDS is still an extremely huge problem in South Africa with an estimated five million people infected. With loss of adults from this disease there are many orphans and elderly without financial support. This country has been marked by the United Nations as first in rapes and assaults and first in the number of murders. This violent atmosphere has caused many middle and upper class people to live in gated communities outside of the business district. When traveling in South Africa, proper precautions should be taken.