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South Africa Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of South Africa
South Africa’s culture is one of the most diverse in the world. From indigenous tribes like the Zulu, San Bushmen and Xhosa to the Afrikaners of Dutch heritage, and immigrants of British descent, visitors will be able to experience a magnificent melting pot of customs and traditions. The significant Indian and Jewish populations also add to the ethnic mix. From the proud, beaded Zulu warriors that have inhabited the land for centuries to newly arrived immigrants from Europe and Asia, South Africa’s culture has been shaped by millions of people.
The cuisine is generally a combination of Indian, Dutch, English and tribal flavours and techniques, while dress can range from modern fashion in the big cities to simple traditional, tribal dress in the bush. Although South Africa has made significant inroads towards peace and reconciliation since the end of apartheid, racial tensions are sometimes evident and it is generally best not to contribute to this in any way. Overall, most travellers will find South Africans to be welcoming, appreciative of your visit and ready to share their homeland and stories.
Geography and Environment of South Africa
South Africa showcases one of the most diverse and stunning natural environments in the world. Visitors are able to soak up golden rays on sun-drenched beaches, journey through acre upon acre of dry savannah, admire lush, green meadows, walk through tropical forest and stop to take in views of wide, ancient canyons. It’s also possible to stroll the streets of an urban city one day and meander along a dirt track passing small farms and villages the next. South Africa truly is a land of contrasts and this begins with the landscapes and environment.
Located on the tip of Southern Africa, South Africa shares land borders with Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland. It also shares a long stretch of coastline with the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans. The topography of the land changes remarkably around the country, from the lofty plateaux of the inland region to the low-lying coast and mountainous ranges of the Cape. This variance in topography makes South Africa rich in many species of flora and fauna, something that attracts many tourists and travellers from all over the world.
History and Government of South Africa
The land of South Africa has been inhabited for centuries by tribes hailing from different areas of the African continent, including the San and Bantu people. Most tribes relied on hunting and gathering, but gradually were introduced to agriculture and animal husbandry over the years. From around 1200 AD, the tribal people of South Africa started to become influenced by outsiders, including Muslim traders, the Portuguese and the Dutch, who established a settlement in the mid 1600s.
The Dutch continued to dominate the country until the 1800s, when the British became interested in the Cape Colony. During this time, the native population had become increasingly dissatisfied with being marginalised and treated poorly by their European colonisers. Many native people were used as slaves on plantations and were treated brutally by their ‘employers’ and many resented losing their land, culture and traditional way of life. Further to this, the Dutch descendants (known as Boers) didn’t appreciate the arrival of the British in a territory they had inhabited for years before their arrival. This frustration and anger regularly resulted in confrontation and armed conflict between the British, Boers and Zulus, culminating in a series of wars – most notably the Boer Wars.
More recently, South Africa has managed to overcome the Apartheid era, a time where discrimination of black people was legalised. Until 1994, black people were unable to legally own land or vote in elections. Further to this, education, healthcare, beaches and public places like cinemas were segregated. During this time, South Africa was ruled and controlled by the white minority, much to the dissatisfaction of the black population and ultimately, the world. After much international pressure and many attempts at reform, the Apartheid era was finally ended in 1994, with Nelson Mandela stepping up to lead the nation as President. Due to this challenging history, modern day South Africa has many social issues to work on and resolve, but many of its people are filled with hope and optimism. In 2010, South Africa successfully hosted the FIFA World Cup, much to the delight of its citizens and the world.
South Africa at a glance
- Pretoria (official, population 1 million); Bloemfontein (judicial, population 370,000); Cape Town (legislative, population 2.9 million)
- 49 million
- Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Swati, Tshivenda, Tsonga, North Sotho
- (GMT+02:00) Harare, Pretoria
- Type M (see D)
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