Map of South Africa

South African Flag

Flag description:  Two equal width horizontal bands of red (top) and blue separated by a central green band which splits into a horizontal Y, the arms of which end at the corners of the hoist side; the Y embraces a black isosceles triangle from which the arms are separated by narrow yellow bands; the red and blue bands are separated from the green band and its arms by narrow white stripes.

Note: Prior to 26 April 1994, the flag was actually four flags in one - three miniature flags reproduced in the centre of the white band of the former flag of the Netherlands, which has three equal horizontal bands of orange (top), white, and blue; the miniature flags are a vertically hanging flag of the old Orange Free State with a horizontal flag of the UK adjoining on the hoist side and a horizontal flag of the old Transvaal Republic adjoining on the other side.


Area: 1,221,037 (10th in Africa)
Capital: Cape Town (Parliament), Bloemfontein (Legislative), Pretoria (Administrative)
Largest towns: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth
Population: est. 49,320,000
Official language: 11, including English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa
Currency: Rand
Head of state: President Jacob Zuma
Life expectancy: 50 years
Literacy: 88%

The Republic of South Africa, also known by other official names, is a country located at the southern tip of the continent of Africa. The South African coast stretches 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) and borders both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. To the north of South Africa lie Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland, while the Kingdom of Lesotho is an independent enclave surrounded by South African territory.

South Africa is located at the southernmost region of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 kilometres (1,550 mi) and across two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian).

With 471,443 sq mi (1,221,037 km²), is the 25th-largest country in the world and contains some of the oldest archaeological sites in the world. Extensive fossil remains at the Sterkfontein, Kromdraai and Makapansgat caves suggest that various australopithecines existed in South Africa from about three million years ago.

If you want to travel in southern Africa, then South Africa is a good place to start your tour. While you can fly into any country in southern Africa, most flights will route through South Africa anyway. South Africa is also a good place to get used to travelling in the region (though some would argue that Namibia is better for that). Of course South Africa is not only a jumping off point, it is itself a superb destination rich in culture, fauna & flora and history.

Often outsiders' views of South Africa are distorted by their little media generated knowledge of "Apartheid" and news from most other countries in the rest of Africa.

Contrary to popular belief, South Africa is not as devastatingly poor, yes, their government is rapidly going to pot, due to corruption, crime and anti-white racism.

Although the rural part of South Africa remains among the poor and the least developed parts of the world and poverty in the townships can be appalling, progress is being made. The process of recovering from apartheid, which lasted almost 46 years, is quite slow. In fact, South Africa's United Nations Human Development Index which was slowly improving in the final years of apartheid, has declined dramatically since 1996 under black majority rule, largely due to the AIDS pandemic, corruption, crime, together with poverty levels, appear to be on the increase.

South Africa boasts a well-developed infrastructure and has all the modern amenities and technologies, all come from developed during the years of "apartheid" white minority rule.

The government is corrup and increasing. The ANC government generally have a low level of respect for democratic institutions and human rights, and although the government's support of the misrule of neighbouring Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has raised questions about its commitment to human rights and even democracy itself, the rest of the world do not seem to take an issue with it.

South Africa has a generally temperate climate, due in part to it being surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, by its location in the climatically milder southern hemisphere and due to the average elevation rising steadily towards the north (towards the equator) and further inland. Due to this varied topography and oceanic influence, a great variety of climatic zones exist.

The climatic zones vary, from the extreme desert of the southern Namib in the farthest northwest to the lush subtropical climate in the east along the Mozambique border and the Indian ocean. From the east, the land quickly rises over a mountainous escarpment towards the interior plateau known as the Highveld. Even though South Africa is classified as semi-arid, there is considerable variation in climate as well as topography.

The interior of South Africa is a vast, rather flat, and sparsely populated scrubland, Karoo, which is drier towards the northwest along the Namib desert. In contrast, the eastern coastline is lush and well-watered, which produces a climate similar to the tropics. The extreme southwest has a climate remarkably similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers, hosting the famous Fynbos Biome. This area also produces much of the wine in South Africa. This region is also particularly known for its wind, which blows intermittently almost all year. The severity of this wind made passing around the Cape of Good Hope particularly treacherous for sailors, causing many shipwrecks.

Further east on the south coast, rainfall is distributed more evenly throughout the year, producing a green landscape. This area is popularly known as the Garden Route. The Free State is particularly flat due to the fact that it lies centrally on the high plateau. North of the Vaal River, the Highveld becomes better watered and does not experience subtropical extremes of heat. Johannesburg, in the centre of the Highveld, is at 1,740 metres (5,709 ft) and receives an annual rainfall of 760 millimetres (30 in). Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.

To the north of Johannesburg, the altitude drops beyond the escarpment of the Highveld, and turns into the lower lying Bushveld, an area of mixed dry forest and an abundance of wildlife. East of the Highveld, beyond the eastern escarpment, the Lowveld stretches towards the Indian ocean. It has particularly high temperatures, and is also the location of extended subtropical agriculture. The high Drakensberg mountains, which form the south-eastern escarpment of the Highveld, offer limited skiing opportunities in winter.

The coldest place in South Africa, is Sutherland in the western Roggeveld Mountains, where midwinter temperatures can reach as low as -5 degrees Celsius . The deep interior has the hottest temperatures: A temperature of 51.7 °C (125 °F) was recorded in 1948 in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington.

South Africa is one of only 17 countries worldwide considered mega-diverse. It has more than 20,000 different plants, or about 10% of all the known species of plants on Earth, making it particularly rich in plant biodiversity. South Africa is the 6th most bio-diverse country, after Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, China, and Mexico.

The most prevalent biome in South Africa is the grassland, particularly on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs, and acacia trees, mainly camel-thorn and whitethorn. Vegetation becomes even more sparse towards the northwest due to low rainfall.

There are several species of water-storing succulents like aloes and euphorbias in the very hot and dry Namaqualand area. The grass and thorn savannah turns slowly into a bush savannah towards the north-east of the country, with denser growth. There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park.

The Fynbos Biome, which makes up the majority of the area and plant life in the Cape floristic region, one of the six floral kingdoms, is located in a small region of the Western Cape and contains more than 9,000 of those species, making it among the richest regions on earth in terms of floral biodiversity. The majority of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous plants.

Another uniquely South African plant is the protea genus of flowering plants. There are around 130 different species of protea in South Africa.

While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, it has few forests. Only 1% of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain along the Indian Ocean in KwaZulu-Natal (see KwaZulu-Cape coastal forest mosaic). There are even smaller reserves of forests that are out of the reach of fire, known as montane forests (see Knysna-Amatole montane forests).

Plantations of imported tree species are predominant, particularly the non-native eucalyptus and pine. South Africa has lost a large area of natural habitat in the last four decades, primarily due to overpopulation, sprawling development patterns and deforestation during the nineteenth century.

South Africa is one of the worst affected countries in the world, when it comes to invasion by alien plant species with many (e.g. Black Wattle, Port Jackson, Hakea, Lantana and Jacaranda) posing a significant threat to the native biodiversity and the already scarce water resources. The original temperate forest that met the first European settlers to South Africa was exploited ruthlessly until only small patches remained. Currently, South African hardwood trees like Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), stinkwood (Ocotea bullata), and South African Black Ironwood (Olea laurifolia) are under government protection.

The Cape Floral Kingdom has been identified as one of the global biodiversity hotspots since it will be hit very hard by climate change and has such a great diversity of life. Drought, increased intensity and frequency of fire and climbing temperatures are expected to push many of these rare species towards extinction.

The rand (sign: R; code: ZAR) is the currency of South Africa. It takes its name from the Witwatersrand (White-waters-ridge in English), the ridge upon which Johannesburg is built and where most of South Africa's gold deposits were found. The rand has the symbol "R" and is subdivided into 100 cents.

South Africa is a nation of more than 49 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages, and religions. The last census was held in 2001 and the next will be in 2011. Statistics South Africa provided five racial categories by which people could classify themselves, the last of which, "unspecified/other" drew negligible responses, and these results were omitted. The 2006 midyear estimated figures for the other categories were Black African at 79.5%, White at 9.2%, Coloured at 8.9%, and Indian or Asian at 2.5%.

By far the major part of the population classified itself as African or black, but it is not culturally or linguistically homogeneous. Major ethnic groups include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele, all of which speak Bantu languages. Some, such as the Zulu, Xhosa, Bapedi and Venda groups, are unique to South Africa.

Other groups are distributed across the borders with neighbours of South Africa: The Basotho group is also the major ethnic group in Lesotho.

The Tswana ethnic group constitute the majority of the population of Botswana.

The Swazi ethnic group is the major ethnic group in Swaziland.

The Ndebele ethnic group is also found in Matabeleland in Zimbabwe, where they are known as the Matabele. These Ndebele people are the descendants of a Zulu faction under the warrior Mzilikazi that escaped persecution from Shaka by migrating to their current territory.

The Tsonga ethnic group is also found in southern Mozambique, where they are known as the Shangaan.

The white population is not ethnically homogeneous and descend from many ethnic groups: Dutch, Flemish, Portuguese, German, Greek, French Huguenot, English, Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh. Culturally and linguistically, they are divided into the Afrikaners, who speak Afrikaans, and English-speaking groups, many of whom are descended from British and Irish immigrants.

South Africa has eleven official languages: Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

The country also recognizes eight non-official languages: Fanagalo, Khoe, Lobedu, Nama, Northern Ndebele, Phuthi, San and South African Sign Language. These non-official languages may be used in certain official uses in limited areas where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent. Nevertheless, their populations are not such that they require nationwide recognition. Many of the "unofficial languages" of the San and Khoikhoi people contain regional dialects stretching northward into Namibia and Botswana, and elsewhere. These people, who are a physically distinct population from other Africans, have their own cultural identity based on their hunter-gatherer societies. They have been marginalised to a great extent, and many of their languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

Many white South Africans also speak other European languages, such as Portuguese (also spoken by Angolan and Mozambicans), German, and Greek, while some Asians and Indians in South Africa speak South Asian languages, such as Tamil, Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu and Telugu. French is still widely spoken by French South Africans especially in places like Franschhoek, where many South Africans are of French origin. South African French is spoken by less than 10,000 individuals. Congolese French is also spoken in South Africa by migrants.

Most people other than rural black Africans speak English, although not many as a first language. Only about 9% of the population speak English as a first language, although about 60% of the population can understand English. South African English is heavily influenced by Afrikaans.

Afrikaans is also widely spoken, especially by the white and coloured population. Often Afrikaans is incorrectly called 'afrikan' or 'african' by foreigners.

Note this is very incorrect as 'African' for a South African corresponds with the native-African languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi etc. (and, of course, there are thousands of languages in Africa, so no single language can be called 'African').

Afrikaans has roots in 17th century Dutch dialects, so it can be understood by Dutch and Flemish speakers and sometimes deciphered by German speakers.

Other widely spoken languages are Zulu (mainly in KwaZulu-Natal - South Africa's largest single linguistic group) and Xhosa (mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape), as well as Sotho and Venda. This changes, according to the region you are in.

A few words you may encounter are:

* eish - as in, "eish, it's hot today", "eish, that's expensive" or "eish, that's too far to drive"
* lekker - nice, enjoyable
* howzit - how is it? (generally a rhetorical question)
* yebo - yes
* boet, bru, china or ou - brother or man (equivalent to dude or bro)
* koppie - a small hill (can also mean a cup)
* Madiba - Nelson Mandela
* Molo - Hello (in Xhosa)
* robot - traffic light
* tannie - (auntie) respectful term for an older woman
* oom - (uncle) respectful term for an older man
* tinkle - phone call
* just now - sometime soon (from Afrikaans "net-nou")
* now now - sooner than just now! (from Afrikaans "nou-nou", pronounced no-no)
* braai - barbecue.
* cheers - we use this for saying good-bye, as well as saying thank you and for the occasional toast.
* heita - hello
* sharp - (usually pronounced quickly) OK
* sure-sure - more pronounced like sho-sho - Correct, Agreement, Thank you

When apartheid ended in 1994, the South African government had to integrate the formerly independent and semi-independent Bantustans into the political structure of South Africa. To this end, it abolished the four former provinces of South Africa (Cape Province, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal) and replaced them with nine fully integrated provinces.

The new provinces are usually much smaller than the former provinces, which theoretically gives local governments more resources to distribute over smaller areas.

The nine provinces are further subdivided into 52 districts: 6 metropolitan and 46 district municipalities. The 46 district municipalities are further subdivided into 231 local municipalities. The district municipalities also contain 20 district management areas (mostly game parks) that are directly governed by the district municipalities. The six metropolitan municipalities perform the functions of both district and local municipalities. The new provinces are:

1. Eastern Cape (Bhisho)

2. Free State (Bloemfontein)

3. Gauteng (Pretoria)

4. KwaZulu-Natal (Durban)

5. Limpopo (Polokwane)

6. Mpumalanga (Nelspruit)

7. Northern Cape (Kimberley)

8. North West (Rustenburg)

9. Western Cape (Cape Town)


National Parks:

South Africa is a paradise for anyone interested in natural history. A wide range of species (some potentially dangerous) may be encountered in parks, farms, private reserves and even on the roads.

* The Kruger National Park is exceptionally well managed and a favourite tourist destination.
* Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the heart of the Kalahari desert with wide open spaces and hordes of games including the majestic 'Gemsbok'. This is the first park in Africa to cross political borders.
* There are also a large number of smaller parks, like the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, Addo Elephant National Park, Pilanesberg National Park or the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

There are hiking trails available in almost all the parks and around geographical places of interest,

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

* The Cradle of Humankind, near Johannesburg is a must see for anyone interested in where it all started. A large collection of caves rich in hominid and advanced ape fossils.
* Robben Island just off the coast from Cape Town where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years.
* The Cape Floral Region in the Western Cape
* iSimangaliso Wetland Park,
* Mapungubwe Kingdom, in the North-West
* Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, [7], for its landscape, biodiversity and rock art.
* Vredefort Dome, remnants of the largest and oldest meteorite impact crater.

Place names:

Many region, city, street and building names in South Africa have been changed after the end of apartheid and some of them are still being changed today. These changes can sometimes lead to confusion as many of the new names are not yet well known. This travel guide will use the official new names, but also mention the previous names where possible.


The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline. The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter. Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year. Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35 Celsius in some places.

Getting in:


Most nationalities get up to 3 months entry on arrival. Check with the Home Affairs and your travel agent whether you need to prearrange a visa. Do not show up without a visa if you are required to have one, as visas will not be issued at points of entry. If needed, you can extend your visa in South Africa. With an extension the total amount of time you are allowed to stay is 6 months. Additional information as well as Visa application forms can be found at the Department of Home Affairs.

The Department of Home Affairs is notoriously inefficient, so make sure to apply for visas and visa extensions as early as possible.

By plane:

South Africa has a well established domestic air travel infrastructure with links between all major centres and is a major hub for air travel in the Southern African region.

The two most used airports for international flights are Cape Town International and OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

There are regular flights arrive in South Africa from major centres throughout Africa.

Direct flights also arrive from major European centres, including: London, Frankfurt, Zurich.

There are also direct flights from Dubai, Bangkok, Doha, Atlanta, New York and Perth.


There are multiple daily flights to all the major airports within the country. Contact any of the airlines for details. The low cost airlines (1 Time, Kulula, Mango) are usually the cheapest and prices can be compared online. It is also worth comparing with the SAA rates as they usually have online specials which are very reasonable.

By car:

Road traffic in South Africa (and its neighbouring countries) drives on the left.

Make sure you understand the South African road signs.

A special kind of crossing is the 'four way stop' where the car that stops first has right of way.

You will not encounter many traffic circles, but when you do, take special care since the general attitude of South African drivers is that traffic circles do not constitute a traffic management roadway structure. They do not use their indicators in a safe and predictable fashion, if at all.

A noticeable number of South Africans tend to ignore speed limits. They are prone to selfish or aggressive driving behaviour, such as tailgating and hooting. On multi-lane roadways, the principle of keep-left, pass right, is often not adhered to.

Left (or right) turns on red at traffic lights are illegal. You will, however, find traffic lights and 'four way stops' that have an accompanying yield sign explicitly permitting a left turn.

The wearing of seat belts is compulsory. The front seat occupants of a car are required to wear seat belts while travelling, and for your own safety it is recommended that those in the rear seats do so as well. If you are caught without you will be subject to a fine.

The use of hand-held cell (mobile) phones whilst in control of a vehicle is illegal. If you need to speak on your cell phone use either a vehicle phone attachment or a hands-free kit. Or even better (and safer), pull off the road and stop. NOTE: only pull off the road at safe places, example: a petrol station. Pulling over and stopping along roads can be dangerous. 99% of petrol stations are open 24hr.

Safety - Beware - High Crime Rate in Certain City Areas:

South Africa has a high rate of traffic accidents. You should at all times exercise extra caution when driving, especially at night in urban areas. Watch out for unsafe drivers (minibus taxis), poor lighting, cyclists (many of whom seem not to know about the "drive on the left" rule) and pedestrians (who are the cause of many accidents, especially at night).

When driving outside of the major cities you will often encounter animals, wild and domestic, in or near the roadway. The locals tend to herd their cattle and goats near the road. If you see an animal on or by the road, slow down, as they are unpredictable. Do not stop to feed wild animals!

Should you find yourself waiting at a red traffic light late at night in an area where you do not feel safe, you could (illegally) cross over the red light after first carefully checking that there is no other traffic. If you receive a fine due to a camera on the traffic light you can sometimes have it waived by writing a letter to the traffic department or court explaining that you crossed safely and on purpose, due to security reasons. The fact remains that, for whatever reason, you have broken the law. Do not make a habit of this.

When stopped at a traffic light at night always leave enough room between your car and the car in front of you so you can get around them. It is a common hijacking manoeuvre to box your car in. This is especially prevalent in the suburbs of Johannesburg.

So far as possible, and especially when driving in urban areas, try not to have any belongings visible inside the car - keep them out of sight in the glove boxes or in the boot (trunk). The same applies, but even more so, when parking your car. It is also considered safe practice to drive in urban areas with the car windows closed and the doors locked. These simple precautions will make things less attractive for potential thieves and criminals.

As you would do in any other country, always be alert when driving. The safest way is to drive defensively and assume that the other driver is about to do something dangerous / illegal.

Road System:

Speed limits are usually clearly indicated. Generally, speed limits on highways are 120km/h, those on major roads outside built-up areas are 100 km/h, those on major roads within built-up areas are 80km/h and those on normal city/town roads are 60 km/h. But beware - in some areas the posted speed limits may change suddenly and unexpectedly.

The roads within South Africa, connecting most major cities, and between its immediate neighbours are very good. There are many national and regional road connecting the cities and larger centres, including the N1 running from Cape Town through Johannesburg and Pretoria up to Harare, Zimbabwe, the N2 running from Cape Town to Durban, which passes through the world-famous Garden Route near Knysna, and the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg.

Some portions of the national roads are limited access, dual carriage freeways (the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban is freeway almost all the way) and some sections are also toll roads with emergency assist telephones every couple of kilometres. Toll roads generally have two or more lanes in each direction.

The large fuel companies have rest stops every 200-300 km along these highways where you can fill up, eat at a restaurant, buy takeaways, do some shopping or just stretch your legs. Restrooms at these facilities are well maintained and clean. Most (but not all) of these rest stops also have ATMs.

Some of the main roads have only one lane in each direction, especially where they are far from urban centres. When driving on such a road, after passing a truck or other slow-moving vehicle that has moved onto the hard shoulder (often marked by a yellow line) to let you pass, it is customary to flash your hazard lights once. This is considered a thank you and you will most likely receive a my pleasure response in the the form of the slow vehicle flashing its headlights once. Bear in mind that it is both illegal and dangerous to drive on the hard shoulder - although many people do.

In many rural areas you will find unpaved "dirt" roads. Most of these are perfectly suitable for a normal car, although a reduced speed might often be advisable. Extra caution is required when driving on these road, especially when encountering other traffic - windscreens and lights broken by flying stones are not uncommon.

Whilst it is not yet compulsory, more and more drivers are adopting the practice of driving with their headlights on at all times. This greatly increases their visibility to other road users.

Fuel Stations:

Fuel stations are full service with lead free petrol, lead replacement petrol and diesel available. Pump attendants will offer to wash your windscreen and check oil and water in addition to just filling up the car. It is usual to tip the attendant approximately R5. Most fuel stations are open 24 hours a day.

The N1 between Gauteng and Cape Town and the N3 between Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal can become very busy at the start and end of Gauteng school holidays, due to many people from Gauteng spending their holidays at the coast. If you are planning on using these two highways, it is wise to try and avoid the two days after schools break up and the two days before they open again.

The N3 normally have a Highway Customer Care line during busy periods, phone: 0800 203 950, it can be used to request assistance for breakdowns, accidents or general route information.

Most fuel stations do take credit cards, but beware of credit card fraud. From a tourist perspective, it's CASH ONLY.

The Law:

Law enforcement (speed and other violations) is usually done by portable or stationary, radar or laser cameras. Fines will be sent to the registered address of the vehicle you are driving. Non camera portable radar and laser systems are also used and you may be pulled over for speeding (or other violations) and given a written fine.

South Africa currently does not have a merits system and does not share traffic violation information with other nations.

Licence Requirements:

If your driver's licence is in any of South Africa's 11 official languages (e.g. English) and it contains a photo and your signature integrated into the licence document, then it is legally acceptable as a valid driver's license in South Africa. However, some car rental and insurance companies may still insist that you provide an International Driver's Permit.

It is generally best practice to acquire an International Driver's Permit in your country of origin, prior to starting your journey, regardless of whether your license is legally acceptable or not.

By bus:

There are scheduled bus services between Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and other cities (with stops in between), as well as connections to neighbouring countries.

Water: Municipal tap water is safe to drink in most towns and cities.

Drinking: The legal age to purchase and drink alcohol in South Africa is 18. Almost all restaurants are licensed to serve liquor.

Be very careful if someone offers you witblits or mampoer; those are the local names for moonshine or firewater. It's extremely high in alcohol content and packs a lethal blow.


Local beer production is dominated by SABMiller with Castle, Hansa, Black Label and Castle Milk Stout being most popular brands.

Imported beers such as Stella Artois and Grolsch are also widely available.

Prices can vary widely depending on the establishment. Expect to pay anything from R7 to R18 for a beer.


South Africa has a well established wine industry with most of the wine produced concentrated in the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape and along the Orange River in the Northern Cape


Amarula Cream is made from the marula fruit. The marula fruit is a favourite treat for African elephants, baboons and monkeys and in the liqueur form definitely not something to be passed over by humans. Pour over crushed ice and enjoy. The taste, colour and texture is very similar to the world famous Baileys Irish Cream. Cape Velvet is a favourite in and around Cape Town.

Tea and Coffee:

The local Rooibos tea, made from a herb from the Cederberg Mountains is a favourite for many South Africans. You will find coffee shops in most shopping malls.

Stay safe:

South Africa has some of the highest violent crime rates in the world but by being vigilant and using common sense you should have a safe and pleasant trip -- as hundreds of thousands of people have each year. The key is to know and stick to general safety precautions e.g. don't walk around in deserted areas at night, don't advertise possessions of money and expensive accessories.

Do not accept offers from overly friendly strangers.

Do not wear jewellery or expensive watches.

Do not wear a tummy bag with all your valuables. Distribute your valuables in inside pockets and other pockets.

Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk by night in deserted places.

Don't make it obvious you are a tourist - conceal your camera and binoculars.

Do not leave your valuables in plain sight when driving in your car, as "smash and grab" attacks do sometimes occur at intersections, and keep your car doors locked, and windows closed. Know where to go so that you don't have to reveal you're lost or need a map -- simply all the obvious "I am a tourist" signs.

Visiting the townships is possible, but don't do it alone unless you really know where you're going. Some townships are safe, while others can be extremely dangerous. It's best to go with an experienced guide. Some tour companies offer guided visits to the townships, and this is perfectly safe.

South Africa has very rarely earthquakes, with no tornadoes. There is the occasional floods or extreme heavy rain.

Contagious diseases: There is no Ebola in South Africa. Please keep in mind: with the notable exception of HIV.

Sunburn: Many activities in South Africa are outdoors, see the sunburn and sun protection travel topic for tips on how to protect yourself.


South Africa has one of the largest HIV infection rates world-wide. 5.4 million people out of a population of 48 million are HIV-positive (South African Medical Research Council).

The HIV infection rate in the total population older than 2 years varies from around 2% in the Western Cape to over 17% in KwaZulu-Natal (Avert and all together 18.8% of South Africans over 15 years of age are HIV-Positive (UNICEF). One in four females and one in five males aged 20 to 40 is estimated to be infected (Avert).

Only about 10% of the world's population lives in Sub-Sahara Africa, but the same population includes 70% of the world's HIV infected individuals (CDC).

For your own safety, DO NOT HAVE UNPROTECTED SEX.


The north-eastern areas of the country (including the Kruger National Park and St. Lucia and surrounds) are seasonal malaria zones, from about November to May. The peak danger time is just after the wet season from March to May. Consult a physician regarding appropriate precautions, depending on the time of year you will be travelling. The most important defence against malaria are:

* using a DEET-based mosquito repellent
* covering your skin with long-sleeved clothing, especially around dusk; and
* using mosquito nets while sleeping.

"Tabbard" and "Peaceful Sleep" are commonly used mosquito repellents and can be bought almost anywhere.

Also read the Malaria and Mosquitoes travel topics.


Except for pubs, smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, these include airports, shopping malls and theatres.

Most restaurants do have smoking sections, either ventilated indoor areas or outdoor open areas.

Wildlife: One of the main reasons travellers visit South Africa is to experience the outdoors and see the wide range of wildlife.

When driving in a wildlife reserve, always keep to the speed limits and stay inside your car at all times. On game drives or walks, always follow the instructions of your guide.

Ensure that you wear socks and boots whenever you are walking in the bush; do not wear open sandals. A good pair of boots can stop snake and insect bites and avoid any possible cuts that may lead to infections.

In many areas you may encounter wildlife while driving on public roads, monkeys and baboons are especially common. Do not get out of the vehicle to take photos or otherwise try to interact with the animals. These are wild animals and their actions can be unpredictable.

Sometimes you might find yourself in the open with wild animals (often happens with baboons at Cape Point). Keep your distance and always ensure that the animals are only to one side of you, do not walk between two groups or individuals. A female baboon may get rather upset if you separate her from her child.

Always check with locals before swimming in a river or lake as there may be crocodiles or hippos. Most major beaches in KwaZulu-Natal have shark nets installed. If you intend to swim anywhere other that the main beaches, check with a local first. Note that shark nets may be removed for a couple of days during the annual sardine run (normally along the KwaZulu-Natal coast between early May and late July). This is done to avoid excessive shark and other marine life fatalities. Notices are posted on beaches during these times.

Old History:
The first known inhabitants of present-day South Africa were San and Khoikhoi hunters and gatherers; they were followed southward by Bantu-speaking peoples between AD 1000 and 1500. In 1488, Portuguese mariners led by Bartolomeu DIAS rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

The Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck established the first European settlement at Table Bay (now Cape Town) in 1652 as a station for the Dutch East India Company. Dutch pioneers spread eastward, and in 1779 war broke out between Xhosas migrating south and the Dutch near the Great Fish River.

Britain controlled the Cape sporadically during the Napoleonic Wars and formally received the territory in 1814 under provisions made by the Congress of Vienna. Large-scale British settlement began in 1820. To preserve their Calvinist way of life, the Dutch (Boer) farmers began (1836) to move into the interior on the so-called GREAT TREK.

The Voortrekkers eventually set up independent republics, including the Orange Free State (1854) and the South African Republic (1852; later the Transvaal).
The discovery of diamonds and gold in the late 1800s drew British immigrant entrepreneurs (Uitlanders, or "foreigners") into the interior, and conflict over ownership ensued. Paul KRUGER (Oom Paul), leader of the Transvaal, resisted British attempts to claim the area, including those by Cecil RHODES, prime minister of the British-controlled Cape Colony, who encouraged the Uitlanders to take over the Transvaal. The unsuccessful Jameson Raid, engineered by the British and intended to aid the Uitlanders in an uprising, added to the mounting tension.

Eventually, the SOUTH AFRICAN WAR (1899-1902) erupted between the British and the Boers, with the British the victors. In this war the British introduced CONCENTRATION CAMPS in which 26,000 Boer women and children died. In 1910 such leaders as Jan SMUTS helped create the Union of South Africa, with dominion status, out of the former British colonies and the two defeated Boer republics. Louis BOTHA, a moderate Afrikaner advocating close cooperation with the British, became the first prime minister.

Between the two world wars, mining and manufacturing expanded. The Depression of the 1930s, however, forced black Africans and white farmers alike into the cities to compete for unskilled jobs. As a result, both African and Afrikaner nationalism emerged. At the same time, a segregationist policy was adopted by James Barry HERTZOG'S government (1924-39) to preserve South Africa as a white country in which black Africans would be restricted as far as possible to reserves.

The Coloured population, whose voting rights had been protected by the 1910 constitution, was disenfranchised. The Introduction of Apartheid In 1948, Daniel F. MALAN'S National party was elected to office and introduced the policy of apartheid--"separate development"--which was designed to ensure white supremacy. During the premiership of Hendrik F. VERWOERD, parliament adopted the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act, which created the legal machinery by which ten African homelands would eventually receive independence.

The homelands, reserved for 74% of the country's total population, were territorially fragmented and overpopulated and had limited resources, although parts of them were later consolidated to make them more viable. Transkei received nominal independence in 1976, Bophuthatswana a year later, Venda in 1979, and Ciskei in 1981. No country except South Africa recognized the homelands as independent countries. About 9 million blacks in the ethnic groups associated with these homelands lost their South African citizenship at independence; later government proposals to restore citizenship to those who qualified as permanent residents of white South Africa have applied to fewer than 2 million of them.

Reform and Reaction Under P. W. BOTHA, who replaced B. J.VORSTER as prime minister in 1978, the South African government began what it believed were major political and social reforms. In 1979, for example, it legalized black labour unions, and in 1985 it repealed the ban on multiracial political parties, ended limits on the number of black workers that could be employed by industrial concerns, and repealed the law prohibiting persons to marry outside their racial group. The hated pass laws that had controlled the movement of blacks to the cities were scrapped in 1986, and blacks were granted limited property rights in black urban areas, although new forms of influx control were imposed on inhabitants of the independent homelands. In 1987 the government proposed some modifications to the Group Areas Act, under which all urban areas are racially segregated.

The new constitution, however, continued to deny the country's black majority the right to vote in national elections and gave only limited power to Coloureds and Asians. The homelands policy continued.

The reforms met with mixed reaction. Ultra-conservatives within the National party, criticizing the departures from the basic tenets of apartheid, defected to form two new parties--the Herstigte Nasionale party and the Conservative party. The Conservative party garnered enough votes in the 1987 parliamentary elections to replace the moderate Progressive Federal Labour party as the official opposition, although the National Party retained its majority and Botha remained state president.

The reforms, generally viewed as an attempt by whites to share power without losing control, largely failed to satisfy black aspirations. Elections for new black town councils with greater local authority, first held in 1983, were boycotted by about 80% of black voters. In 1984 the United Democratic Front (UDF)--a multiracial umbrella group for some 600 community, labor, student, church, and women's groups--urged Asians and Coloureds to boycott the first elections under the new constitution; less than 20% of eligible voters cast ballots. Most blacks also boycotted the 1988 municipal elections. In the white municipalities, the Conservatives made substantial gains in the 1988 elections and threatened to reverse some of the reforms. Another group, the black-consciousness Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO), rejected any idea of power-sharing with whites.

Nelson MANDELA, the leader of the banned ANC, was removed from jail for medical treatment in 1988. Almost all groups demanded that the government permanently release the most popular leader among blacks and include him in any power-sharing negotiations. Moderate black spokesmen such as Bishop Desmond TUTU had considerable success in their campaign to persuade foreign- owned businesses operating in South Africa to disinvest, although overseas investment in South Africa remained substantial. Another moderate, Zulu chief Gatsha Buthelezi, and the political leaders of Natal province proposed a merger of the KwaZulu homeland with Natal to create a new, non-racial political entity. The proposal was rejected by both the government and the ANC, although Natal and KwaZulu did establish a joint executive council in 1987.

Black protest against apartheid, including rent strikes, consumer and school boycotts, demonstrations, and strikes, increased. So did violence--against the police, against blacks cooperating with the white regime, and against members of rival political and ethno linguistic groups--particularly in the black townships. The government responded by cracking down on dissent. More than 2,000 people died between September 1984 and June 1986, when the government imposed a strict nationwide state of emergency just before the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising. Thousands of government opponents were imprisoned without trial, and severe restrictions were placed on press coverage of the violence. The state of emergency was renewed (1987, 1988, 1989), and additional restrictions imposed on the UDF and other anti-apartheid groups further narrowed legitimate avenues of black protest.

In the September 1989 parliamentary elections, the National party lost seats to both the right and the left, but an overall majority went to candidates advocating cautious reform. Significant changes took place in 1990. The 30-year ban on the ANC was lifted on February 2, and ANC leader Nelson MANDELA, the most popular leader among blacks, was released on February 11. F. W. de Klerk pledged to end apartheid, and the state of emergency was lifted in all provinces except Natal, where more than 3,000 blacks had died since 1986 in a struggle between supporters of the ANC and those backing the rival Inkatha.

In August the ANC abandoned its armed struggle against the government. In 1991 the basic apartheid laws were repealed, the UDF was disbanded, and the government accepted a UN-supervised plan for the return of political exiles. Formal negotiations to end white minority rule that began in December 1991 were endorsed by white voters in March 1992.

The talks broke down after a June 1992 massacre of ANC supporters in the black township of Boipatong in which South African security forces were said to be implicated. In September, after a massacre of ANC demonstrators on the Ciskei border, the government adopted measures to reduce black-on-black violence, which had claimed more than 6,500 lives since early 1990.

Foreign Affairs: Regionally and internationally, South Africa became more isolated and more confrontational by the mid-1980s. Although it had signed nonaggression pacts with Swaziland (1982) and Mozambique (1984) and a cease-fire with Angola (1984), its defence forces struck repeatedly at suspected ANC bases in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and it continued to wage war in Angola and Namibia against nationalist guerrillas of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO). In addition, it allegedly continued its support of indigenous antigovernment guerrillas in Angola and Mozambique. International pressure to end apartheid seemed to have little effect.

In 1991, however, the dismantling of apartheid led to the lifting of many of the international sanctions imposed on South Africa, including a ban on its participation in the Olympic Games. The nation's relations with the rest of Africa improved after Namibia gained independence (1990) and peace accords were signed in Angola (1991) and Mozambique (1992).