South Africa - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion

Read about South Africa: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...


South Africa

South Africa, southernmost country in Africa, a land of diversity and division in its geography, people, and political history. Physically, tall mountain ranges separate fertile coastal plains from high interior plateaus. The grassland and desert of the plateaus hide pockets of amazing mineral wealth, particularly in gold and diamonds.

Black Africans comprise more than three quarters of South Africa’s population, and whites, Coloureds (people of mixed race), and Asians (mainly Indians) make up the remainder. Among the black population there are numerous ethnic groups and 11 official languages. Until the 1990s, whites dominated the nonwhite majority population under the political system of racial segregation known as apartheid. Apartheid ended in the early 1990s, but South Africa is still recovering from the racial inequalities in political power, opportunity, and lifestyle. The end of apartheid led to a total reorganization of the government, which since 1994 has been a nonracial democracy based on majority rule.

South Africa is bordered on the north by Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; on the east by Mozambique, Swaziland, and the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The nation of Lesotho forms an enclave in the eastern part of the country.

The country is divided into nine provinces. These provinces are Gauteng, Limpopo Province (formerly Northern Province), Mpumalanga, North-West Province, Free State, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal. The country has three capitals: Cape Town is the legislative capital; Pretoria, the executive capital; and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital.


South Africa stretches for some 1,500 km (900 mi) from east to west and 1,000 km (600 mi) from north to south. It has an area of 1,220,813 sq km (471,359 sq mi). A mountainous ridge called the Great Escarpment forms a boundary between the interior plateaus and the coastal regions.

Natural Regions in South Africa

The interior plateaus occupy about two-thirds of South Africa, reaching their greatest height in the southeastern Drakensberg Mountains, part of the Great Escarpment. Njesuthi, a peak of the Drakensberg, is the highest point in the country at 3,446 m (11,306 ft). The plateau region consists of three main areas: the High Veld, the Middle Veld, and the Bush Veld. The High Veld, the largest of the three areas, is the southern continuation of the great African plateau that stretches north to the Sahara. In South Africa it ranges in elevation from about 1,200 to 1,800 m (about 4,000 to 6,000 ft) and is characterized by level or gently sloping terrain. Land use varies from cattle grazing in the west to mixed farming (both crops and livestock) in the center to growing grain, especially maize (corn), in the east. The northern boundary of the High Veld is marked by the gold-bearing reef of the Witwatersrand, which became the industrial heartland of South Africa in the 20th century.

West of the High Veld is the Middle Veld, which lies mainly at an elevation of 600 to 1,200 m (2,000 to 4,000 ft). The Middle Veld is part of the larger Kalahari Basin that extends north to Botswana and Namibia and contains the southernmost portion of the Kalahari Desert. Surface water is rare in the Middle Veld because the soils, which consist largely of unconsolidated sand, quickly absorb rainfall. Plant life in this arid place is limited to drought-resistant grasses, bushes, and shrubs. Much of the area is used for sheep grazing. North of the High Veld is the Bush Veld (also called the Transvaal Basin). This region averages less than 1,200 m (4,000 ft) in elevation. It is broken into basins by rock ridges, and slopes downward from the Transvaal Drakensberg in the east to the Limpopo River in the west. The Bush Veld receives more rain than the High Veld or Middle Veld and includes large areas of intensive cultivation as well as mixed-farming and cattle-grazing districts.

Between the edge of the high central plateau region and the eastern and southern coastline the land descends in a series of abrupt steps. In the east an interior belt of hill country gives way to a low-lying plain known as the Eastern Low Veld. In the south, two plateaus, the Great, or Central, Karoo and the Little, or Southern, Karoo, are situated above the coastal plain. The plateau of the Great Karoo is separated from the lower Little Karoo by the Swartberg mountain range. A second range, the Langeberg, separates the Little Karoo from the coastal plain. Both the plateaus and the coastal plain are areas of mixed farming.

The southwestern edge of the central plateau region is marked by irregular ranges of folded mountains which descend abruptly to a narrow coastal plain, broken by the isolated peak of Table Mountain. The lower parts of this southwestern region are the centers of wine and fruit industries.

Rivers and Lakes in South Africa

The chief rivers are the Orange, Vaal, and Limpopo. The Orange is the longest, stretching about 2,100 km (about 1,300 mi). It rises in Lesotho, where it is called the Senqu, and flows northwestward to the Atlantic Ocean, forming the boundary with Namibia along the river’s westernmost section. The Vaal rises in the northeast, near Swaziland, and flows southwestward to its confluence with the Orange. The Limpopo rises further north, flowing northeastward to the Botswana border and then eastward along the Botswana and Zimbabwe borders until it enters Mozambique, where it empties into the Indian Ocean. Many shorter rivers flow south to the Indian Ocean, including the Sundays (Sondags), Great Fish, and Kei in the Eastern Cape, and the Thukela (Tugela) in KwaZulu-Natal.

Most of South Africa’s rivers are irregular in flow and are dry during much of the year. Consequently, they are of little use for navigation or hydroelectric power, but of some use for irrigation and water supply. The Orange River Project, begun in 1962, transfers water from the Orange River to the Great Fish and Sundays river basins. In the late 1970s, water began to be pumped from the Thukela to the Vaal to meet the growing needs of the Witwatersrand industrial region. This is supplemented by the major Lesotho Highlands Water Project, begun in 1986, which diverts water from the Senqu and other rivers. With the exception of Fundudzi Lake, which was formed by a huge landslide in the northeastern Soutpansberg Range, South Africa’s only notable lakes are artificial, and include those created by the Vaal Dam and Gariep Dam on the Orange River.

Coastline of South Africa

South Africa’s 2,798 km (1,739 mi) of coastline has few bays or coves and only one good natural harbor, at Saldanha Bay in the southwest, which is used mainly for the export of iron ore. Other ports are essentially artificial, including Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, and Richard’s Bay. The most distinctive promontory on the coast is Cape Peninsula in southwestern South Africa, which ends at the Cape of Good Hope. Coral reefs fringe parts of the eastern coast.

Geology and Soils in South Africa

Underlying the plateaus is a great complex of crystalline rocks. These rocks were worn down over millions of years to form an almost level surface and are covered in places by thick layers of sandstone and shale. The layers are nearly horizontal except in the southwest, where extensive folding has formed irregular hills and mountains. In the Witwatersrand and the Middle Veld the underlying bedrock is exposed.

The major soil zones are conditioned largely by climatic factors. In the semiarid north and west, soils are alkaline and poorly developed. In the southern part of Western Cape Province, rain falls mostly in the winter months, and soils there form slowly and are generally thin and immature. The moderate temperatures and summer rainfall of the High Veld and eastern coastal areas create conditions for more productive organic decomposition, leading to dark, fertile soils, or chernozems, similar to those of the North American prairies. Further north and northeast, where temperatures are high and summer rainfall is relatively heavy, soils are reddish, contain aluminum and iron compounds, and are less fertile.

Plant and Animal Life in South Africa

South Africa has remarkably diverse plant life for a country of its size, comprising thousands of different species, many of them native. Grasslands cover most of the plateau areas, resembling a prairie on the nearly treeless High Veld. The Bush Veld is characterized by savanna vegetation, consisting of mixed grassland with trees and bushes such as the baobab tree in Limpopo Province and the mopani tree in the central Bush Veld. On the Great Karoo and Little Karoo, the grasslands are sparse. Vegetation consists of coarse desert grasses that grow in tufts and become green only after rain. The semidesert Northern Cape is transformed after spring rains with blooming wildflowers in the Namaqualand region.

About 90,000 sq km (about 30,000 sq mi) of the Cape Peninsula and the southern part of Western Cape Province contain the distinctive fynbos biome (ecological community). Although relatively small in area, this region constitutes one of the six recognized floral kingdoms of the world. It includes 8,500 plant species, of which more than 6,000 are indigenous. This biome is home to the protea, an evergreen shrub for which South Africa is renowned.

The only significant forests in South Africa lie along the coasts of Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces, although there are patches of protected rain forest in the Eastern Low Veld. Hardwood species such as yellowwood, ironwood, and lemonwood trees are found in these areas, but softwoods are scarce; coniferous pines from Europe and North America have been planted to provide timber and wood pulp.

Numerous large mammals, including lions, elephants, zebras, leopards, monkeys, baboons, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, and antelopes, are indigenous to South Africa. For the most part such animals are found only on game reserves. Much of Kruger National Park, the oldest game reserve, was a protected area as early as 1898. It covers an area of 19,485 sq km (7,523 sq mi) along the Mozambique border. Kruger National Park includes nearly every species of indigenous wildlife and is particularly noted for the small black rhino population built up by the National Parks Board. Other notable reserves include Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (shared with Botswana) in the northwest; Addo Elephant National Park, near Port Elizabeth; and Mountain Zebra National Park, near Cradock. Bird life is abundant and includes the larger birds: ostrich, francolin (a type of partridge), quail, guinea fowl, and grouse. Snakes are common in most of the country.

Natural Resources of South Africa

Only 12 percent of South Africa’s land area is cultivated and only 8 percent is forested, but the country is rich in mineral resources. South Africa is the world’s largest producer of gold, with almost all of it coming from the Witwatersrand. Gold is mined to depths below 3,000 m (10,000 ft), making production expensive. Uranium is also extracted commercially in the Witwatersrand. Vast, easily worked coal seams occur between Lesotho and Swaziland, and South Africa has become a leading coal exporter. Diamonds are another important source of South Africa’s mineral wealth. Most of South Africa’s diamond fields are located in the Kimberley area of Northern Cape. South Africa also has large reserves of chromite, vanadium, andalusite, manganese, platinum, nickel, and fluorite.

Climate in South Africa

South Africa enjoys a generally warm, temperate climate. Most of the country experiences light rainfall and long hours of sunshine.

Rainfall is typically unpredictable. Prolonged droughts often end with severe floods. Only about one-third of the country, including the Eastern Low Veld and the Drakensberg, has an annual rainfall of more than 600 mm (20 in); about half receives from 200 mm to 600 mm (8 to 20 in), including much of the High Veld, where rainfall diminishes rapidly from east to west; the remaining area, in the west, is arid, with less than 200 mm (8 in). Rain falls primarily in summer between October and April. In the drier regions of the plateaus the amount of rainfall and the beginning of the rainy season vary greatly from year to year. The extreme southwest has a Mediterranean climate with westerly winds from the Atlantic bringing winter rainfall mostly between June and September.

Since most of South Africa is at a high elevation, temperatures tend to be lower than those of other regions at similar latitudes. There is a striking difference between temperatures on the east and west coasts. The east coast is influenced by the warm Agulhas Current and the west coast by the cold Benguela Current. This results in a temperature difference of 6°C (11°F) in the mean annual temperatures of the city of Durban on the east coast and Port Nolloth on the west coast, which are at similar latitudes. Average temperature ranges in January are 21° to 27°C (69° to 81°F) in Durban, 14° to 26°C (58° to 78°F) in Johannesburg, and 12° to 34°C (54° to 93°F) in Cape Town. In July the temperature ranges are 11° to 22°C (52° to 72°F) in Durban, 4° to 17°C (39° to 63°F) in Johannesburg, and 4° to 24°C (38° to 76°F) in Cape Town. Snow is rare except in the higher parts of the Drakensberg, but winter frosts occur on the higher parts of the plateau.

Environmental Issues in South Africa

South Africa has a mixed environmental heritage. Its national parks, reserves, and botanical gardens are among the best-managed conservation areas in the world, but there are serious environmental problems too. The most serious environmental threats are uncontrolled livestock grazing, rampant urban development, and surface disturbance and pollution associated with mining. Many problems originated from political and socioeconomic policies associated with the apartheid period that ended in 1994. Apartheid policies forcing black people to live in separate homelands, called bantustans, led to overpopulation in these areas. Intensive settlement, livestock grazing, fuelwood cutting, and overfarming on limited areas of land in turn led to soil erosion, land degradation, deforestation, desertification, and bush encroachment (proliferation of bush vegetation of little value for grazing). These problems are prevalent in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Air pollution is significant, due to the widespread use of open fires for cooking and heating. Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants are another major cause of air pollution, leading to acid rain in the High Veld region. Pollution is also severe in Mpumalanga Province, where the stable character of the atmosphere prevents pollution from dispersing.

Concern for the environment has grown since the country’s emergence from apartheid, and efforts are under way to save a number of endangered species, including the black rhinoceros, the pangolin, and the humpback dolphin. Extensive areas have been reforested to conserve soil. South Africa’s extensive system of protected areas includes several national parks as well as hundreds of nature reserves and a number of private game reserves. Together, these areas protect about 6.1 percent (2007) of the country’s total land area. The government has actively encouraged the voluntary participation of private landowners in the protected area system, which represents an important source of income for the country. In some cases the government has chosen to raise funds by selling off some of its parks to private developers.


The land now known as South Africa was originally populated by San hunter-gatherers. About 2,000 years ago people in some of these communities, the Khoikhoi, began raising livestock when they acquired animals from Bantu-speaking peoples moving southward across the Limpopo. These Bantu peoples today account for three-quarters of the total population. White settlement began in 1652 with the arrival of the Dutch, who gradually spread into the interior as farmers. They lived isolated lives, developed their own language, called Afrikaans, and increasingly segregated themselves from indigenous Bantu peoples, whom they encountered in the interior. French Huguenot and German settlers were later absorbed into this group, known as Afrikaners.

British settlers arrived beginning in the early 1800s, and Indians came in the late 19th and early 20th century. The majority of Indians were brought as indentured laborers to work on the sugar plantations of Natal. A substantial Portuguese minority developed in the late 20th century. The offspring of whites and slaves imported by the Dutch from Southeast Asia and other parts of Africa, and later the offspring of whites and Bantu peoples, created a sizable Coloured, or mixed-race, population.

Under South Africa’s 20th-century policies of racial segregation, known as apartheid, the black majority population was forced to live in particular areas, called bantustans. In order to work in urban areas, some blacks were permitted to live in townships on the fringes of cities. Bantustans and townships became greatly overpopulated, and were neglected by the white government. With the end of apartheid in the 1990s, such exclusionary policies ended and bantustans and townships have been incorporated into provincial and civic administrations.


The estimated total population of South Africa in 2009 was 49,052,489. The overall population density (2009 estimate) is 40 persons per sq km (104 per sq mi), but this varies widely across the country. Rural population densities are highest in the former bantustans and much lower in historically white-populated areas of commercial farming, especially in semiarid western areas. Some 58 percent of the population is urban, including most of the whites, Asians, and Coloureds.

The largest cities in South Africa include Johannesburg (3,225,812, 2001), the commercial capital and metropolis of the goldfields; Durban (3,090,122), the country’s leading port; Cape Town (2,893,247), the legislative capital; Pretoria (1,985,983), the administrative capital; Port Elizabeth (1,005,779), an industrial city and major port; and Soweto (858,649), a former township outside Johannesburg.

Ethnic Groups in South Africa

South Africa has a multiracial and multiethnic population. Blacks constitute 79 percent of the population. The main black ethnic groups are Zulu, Xhosa, North Sotho, Tswana, South Sotho, and Tsonga. Whites account for 10 percent of the population: More than half are Afrikaners, and most of the rest are of British descent. Coloured people account for 9 percent of the population, and Asians (mainly Indians) 2 percent.

The white, Asian, and Coloured populations are highly urbanized. The largest concentrations of Asians and Coloured people are found in KwaZulu-Natal and the three Cape provinces, but lesser numbers of both groups live in Gauteng. English-speaking whites and Afrikaners live in all cities, but Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, and Pietermaritzburg have more English speakers, whereas Afrikaners are predominant in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, and many of the industrial and mining towns on the Witwatersrand.

More than half of the blacks are urbanized, mostly living in formal, low-income townships or informal, rapidly growing settlements. Millions of blacks still live in rural communities in the ten former bantustans. The black population of Johannesburg and the rest of Gauteng Province is ethnically mixed, but in other cities one group tends to be dominant: Zulu in Durban and Pietermaritzburg; Sotho in Bloemfontein; and Xhosa in Port Elizabeth, East London, and Cape Town.

Languages spoken in South Africa

Until apartheid ended in 1994 only Afrikaans and English were official languages, although they represent the home languages of only a fraction of the total population. Afrikaans is spoken not only by Afrikaners but also by many Coloured people. English is the primary language of many whites, but also is spoken by most Asians. The 1994 constitution added nine African languages to the list of recognized, official languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho sa Leboa (Northern Sotho or Pedi), Tswana, Sesotho (Southern Sotho), Tsonga, Venda, Ndebele, and siSwati. Some of these African languages are mutually understood and many blacks can speak two or more of them, in addition to English and Afrikaans. Together these 11 languages are the primary languages of 98 percent of South Africans. Many Indians also speak Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Gujarati, and Urdu.

In practice English and, to a lesser extent, Afrikaans retain a dominant position, with English as the main medium of instruction in schools and most universities. Afrikaners attach great value to their language, however, and struggle to keep it as a medium of instruction and to resist any threat to undermine its status.

Religion in South Africa

About 92 percent of South Africans are Christians, 2 percent are Hindus, and 2 percent are Muslims. Hindus are mainly Indian, and Muslims either Indian or Coloured. There has been some growth of Islam among Coloured people in recent years. The Christian churches include over 4,000 African independent churches that collectively claim several million adherents.

African independent churches originally broke off from various mission churches, but have since developed their own momentum. The majority are now Zionist or Apostolic churches, with some independent branches of the Pentecostal movement. The Zion Christian Church is by far the largest of these churches; biannual gatherings at Zion City, its headquarters in Moria near Pietersburg in Limpopo Province, usually attract at least 1 million members. In rural KwaZulu-Natal there are hundreds of separate churches, and at least 900 churches flourish in Soweto.

Most Afrikaners belong to one of the three Dutch Reformed churches, whose members also include about half of the Coloured people and a small number of blacks. The Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (Afrikaans for “Dutch Reformed Church”) is the largest of the Dutch Reformed churches. It was a racially segregated church that supported the state during the apartheid years, but then recanted and moved closer to other churches. Other Christian denominations include Roman Catholics, Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. The larger churches in this group were prominent in the struggle against apartheid, at least at the leadership level. A number of charismatic churches (an interdenominational Christian movement) have also been established since the late 20th century, including the Rhema Church in Randburg, Gauteng Province.

Most people who claim no religious affiliation are African traditionalists. Their religion has a strong cultural base and rituals vary according to ethnic group. They generally recognize a supreme being, but ancestors are much more important, and they believe in manipulation of the power of spirits. Traditionalists have had some contact with Christianity and many are in a transitional position, incorporating aspects of both religions into their beliefs and worship.

Education in South Africa

Under apartheid the education system was racially structured with separate national departments for whites, Coloureds, Asians, and blacks. Although government spending on black education increased greatly in the late 1980s, at the end of the apartheid era in 1994 per capita expenditures for white pupils were still four times higher than expenditures for blacks. Black schools had fewer classrooms than white schools, shortages of textbooks were common, and few schools had science laboratories of any kind. As a result, only about 40 percent of black candidates passed matriculation (the qualification for completing secondary school, a minimum requirement for entrance to a university) in the early 1990s. At the same time, at least 1.5 million school-age blacks were not in school.

The challenge of restructuring education in post-apartheid society was immense. The post-apartheid government merged 14 education departments into a unified education system with no racial distinctions. School attendance is now compulsory for children ages 7 through 15. The number of private schools, attended largely by whites, increased dramatically in the mid-1990s as public schools were integrated. South Africa’s literacy rate grew from 82 percent in 1995 to 88 percent in 2007.

South Africa has a well-developed higher education system, which was also racially segregated until after apartheid. Numbers of blacks in historically white universities grew rapidly after 1994, even in Afrikaans-language universities. Most black students, however, attend historically black universities, including the University of Fort Hare (founded in 1916) in Alice, North-West University (1980) in Mmabatho, and the University of Zululand (1960) near Empangeni. Some blacks take correspondence courses through the University of South Africa in Pretoria (1873). The University of the Western Cape (1960) in Bellville was historically Coloured, and Durban-Westville (1961) in Durban was historically Indian. Traditionally white universities include the English-speaking University of Cape Town (founded as the South African College in 1829; attained university status in 1918) in Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand (1922) in Johannesburg, the University of Natal (1910) in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and Rhodes University (1904) in Grahamstown. Afrikaans-speaking universities include the University of the Orange Free State (1855) in Bloemfontein, the University of Pretoria (1930; founded in 1908 as Transvaal University College), and the University of Stellenbosch (1918). The University of Port Elizabeth (1964) in Port Elizabeth uses both English and Afrikaans. In 2002 the government announced a restructuring of higher education in South Africa. The restructuring involved a series of mergers that reduced the number of institutions in the country. For example, the merger of Rand Afrikaans University, Technikon Witwatersrand, and two campuses of Vista University formed the new University of Johannesburg (opened in 2005).

Way of Life in South Africa

The apartheid system left a profound imprint on South African society. Most whites enjoy a standard of living and way of life comparable to people in the world’s most developed countries. Distinctive features of this lifestyle include an emphasis on sports and open-air living, which reflect South Africa’s pleasant climate. Sports play a major role in schools. Rugby is particularly popular among Afrikaners. Cricket is popular among Afrikaners, English speakers, and increasingly among other groups as opportunities and facilities gradually improve. Swimming and water sports, tennis, and golf are all popular in the white community.

Affluent whites typically live in detached single-story homes with large gardens, often with swimming pools and sometimes tennis courts. The braaivleis (barbecue) is a popular way of entertaining. Food is essentially English, with a few distinctive Afrikaans dishes and some North American influences. The white South African lifestyle traditionally depended on servants to take care of the home, look after children, and tend the garden; many servants lived in small rooms on the employers’ property. This became less common after the end of apartheid as white incomes decreased, proportionately, and servants’ wages increased.

Wealthy Asians, Coloured people, and a small but growing minority of blacks have lifestyles similar to whites. For the great majority of South Africans, however, life is vastly different. Housing in the townships consists of mostly single-story dwellings, but houses are much closer together than in predominantly white suburbs. Barracklike hostels house single black men and migrant workers. An increasing number of urban blacks live in shantytowns around major cities with minimal facilities and long distances to travel to work and shops.

Recreational facilities are minimal in both townships and rural areas, but people play soccer wherever there is open ground. There are many churches, even in informal settlements, and they play an important role in social life. Township shebeens (unofficial drinking houses) take the place of pubs. Incomes restrict most blacks to a staple diet of mealies, or maize, which is made into a porridge; cheaper cuts of meat; some fruit; and vegetables. People commonly drink tea; beer, which is often home-brewed, especially in rural areas, is the main alcoholic drink.

Women are still more disadvantaged in South African society than in Europe or North America. The post-apartheid government is anxious to promote gender equality, but traditional attitudes are slow to change. Women from all ethnic and racial groups are involved in the labor market, although this often reflects economic necessity rather than preference.

Social Issues in South Africa

The apartheid heritage has left a strong connection between race and socioeconomic class. Under apartheid, from 1948 to 1994, a person’s race influenced occupation, income level, place of residence, education, choice of partner, freedom of movement, and use of facilities and amenities. This legacy may take decades to erase.

During most of the 20th century, race was the central issue in South African politics, but since the end of apartheid attention has focused on other problems in South African society as well. The most prominent of these issues are unemployment, lack of housing, poverty, and crime. Women, especially black women, are disproportionately the victims of violent crime. These social issues are closely related to one another, and to some degree they are also the legacy of apartheid.


The historical segregation of racial and ethnic groups in South Africa has resulted in distinct cultural developments. White South Africans, especially English speakers, have drawn much of their culture from Europe. For Afrikaners culture has a wider meaning that overlaps with the political concerns of Afrikaner nationalism and employment issues. Traditional Afrikaans culture is strongest in rural areas.

Asians have distinct cultures derived mainly from the Indian subcontinent. In recent years a new sense of pride has developed in the Coloured community and found expression in writing, theater, and music. Urban black culture is multiethnic and draws on international influences, such as those of African Americans. In rural areas distinct cultural activities of various ethnic groups, including songs, poems, and oral history, remain important.

The end of apartheid meant the end of international sanctions against South Africa. Since 1994 South African art and culture has attracted unprecedented international interest. In 1995 the biggest international art exhibition ever held in the country took place in Johannesburg. The National Arts Festival, held annually in Grahamstown, claims to be the most important of its kind in the world after the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland.

Literature in South Africa

South African literature has three main literary traditions in English, Afrikaans, and Bantu languages. Black writers have contributed to South African literature in all of its linguistic traditions, including Sesotho, Xhosa, and Zulu, as well as English and Afrikaans. After the arrival of white settlers, traditional African themes were written in English by blacks who attended mission schools and training colleges in the late 19th century. Between World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), this literature shifted away from a romanticized portrayal of the world toward the depiction of political oppression. Resistance literature blossomed after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and the Soweto uprising in 1976 with themes of black consciousness evident in the poetry and prose of such writers as Mothobi Mutloatse and Miriam Tlali.

Black South Africans have a long and rich oral tradition still important today. Modern writers such as Guybon Sinxo (Xhosa), B. W. Vilakazi (Zulu), Oliver Kgadime Matsepe (Northern Sotho), and Thomas Mofolo (Southern Sotho) have been heavily influenced by the oral traditions of their cultures. Other leading black and Coloured writers include J. R. Jolobe, Alex La Guma, Bloke Modisane, Es’kia Mphahlele, and Adam Small.

A specifically South African literature in English, written by white South Africans, emerged with the 1883 publication of The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner, a novel about a young girl growing up in southern Africa. In the 20th century Sir Laurens Van der Post and Peter Lanham wrote novels about the cultural heritage of the peoples of South Africa. Others have focused specifically on South Africa’s social and political problems. These include novelists Alan Paton and Nadine Gordimer (winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in literature), and playwright Athol Fugard. Afrikaner novelists, notably Andre Brink and J. M. Coetzee (winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in literature), have also contributed books in English that deal with these issues.

Early Afrikaans writing focused on the political and linguistic struggles of Afrikaners, who are also known as Boers. This continued after the Boer War (1899-1902), also known as the South African War. Much Afrikaans writing in the 1930s was introspective and autobiographical, but in the 1940s the focus turned to World War II and a new social consciousness. Afrikaans has proved most fruitful as a medium for poetry, reaching mature expression in the 1930s through such poets as N. P. van Wyk Louw, Uys Krige, and Elisabeth Eybers. Other important writers of Afrikaans include poet, dramatist, and critic D. J. Opperman; novelist Etienne Leroux; and poet Breyten Breytenbach, an outspoken opponent of apartheid.

Art and Architecture of South Africa

South Africa has more than 3,000 sites of rock art dating from the Stone Age that depict animals and other subjects. The Ndebele people are known for the bold and brightly colored patterns with which they paint their traditional rural homes. Early paintings by European travelers like Thomas Baines have considerable documentary value today. South Africa’s first professional artists, including Hugo Naude and Jan Volschenck, depicted landscapes and were strongly influenced by the artistic traditions of Britain and the Netherlands. Subsequently, artists like H. Stratford Caldecott and especially J. Hendrik Pierneef found ways of translating the distinctive character of the South African environment. Much modern art by black South Africans originated in the townships around Johannesburg as early as the 1950s. Reflecting black South Africans’ struggles under the apartheid system, this art became known as township art. South African artists also experiment with most foreign styles. Landscapes remain an important theme, and recently some artists have also begun to concentrate on environmental issues.

Architecturally, South Africa is best known for the distinctive Cape Dutch buildings found mainly in the Western Cape and considered among the world’s most beautiful domestic architecture. Distinctive features include thick, whitewashed walls, curved gables, and a long, raised stoep, or verandah. Early rectangular buildings were frequently extended into L-shaped structures, followed later by more ambitious designs, including the distinctive H-plan of some larger country houses.

After the British occupation in 1806, the Cape Dutch style was slowly superseded by British influences, including Georgian architecture and, for public buildings and churches, neoclassical and Gothic Revival styles. The Victorian period of the mid- and late 1800s was marked by a great diversity of styles and influences. In Pietermaritzburg several fine buildings featured the bricks produced there. During the second half of the 20th century the influence of American architect Louis Kahn tended to predominate.

Music and Dance in South Africa

South African music is characterized by its fusion of diverse musical forms from South Africa and overseas. By the 1950s unique musical styles had emerged, developed by black musicians in many South African townships. Township jazz, songs, dance, and popular music reflect a combination of traditional music, especially of the Zulu and Sotho peoples, with African American rhythm and blues, jazz, and blues. Some musicians who play in this hybrid style have won international acclaim, including Hugh Masekela, Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgqashiyo, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs isicathamiya, a Zulu-influenced choral style that is sung a cappella, or without instrumental accompaniment. The group became prominent through their collaboration with American singer and songwriter Paul Simon. Also of note are the accordion jive music of Nelcy Sedibe, which developed as township street music and was influenced by American swing, and the modern, electric versions of Zulu traditional music performed by Moses Mchunu. Classical composers have begun to experiment with traditional African musical instruments as well. The Soweto String Quartet has emerged as an important example of this approach.

The development of dance in recent years is linked to the development of protest musicals in the theater. Styles of dancing on the stage include the toyi-toyi, a militant marching dance adapted from South African protest marches, as well as traditional Zulu dances. There are three professional ballet companies in South Africa and several independent groups.

Theater and Film in South Africa

South African theater won international acclaim in the 1980s. A distinctive theater form emerged from the tense sociopolitical climate of the 1970s and 1980s. New and alternative theater groups were established, and a playwriting tradition developed, influenced by the Black Consciousness Movement. This theater form uses popular theater as a vehicle of protest and social commentary, mixing African and Western elements in productions of intense energy and vitality. This tradition is perhaps best exemplified by the work of Athol Fugard and by the world-famous Market Theatre in Johannesburg.

A national film industry has been slow to develop in South Africa. This is in part due to past apartheid policies and ineffective state subsidies for film. Darryl Roodt’s A Place of Weeping (1986) was the first film criticizing apartheid ever shown on the South African film circuit and effectively marked the beginning of an alternative film industry in South Africa. In 1995 Roodt also directed Cry the Beloved Country, based on a novel by Alan Paton. In 1995 the government created a fund for training and developing emerging talent in the local film industry, and a new film subsidy scheme. The Cape Film and Video Foundation, founded in 1993, actively promotes the Cape provinces as locations for international filmmaking.

Libraries and Museums in South Africa

Nearly all South African towns and cities have libraries, the largest of which is the Johannesburg Public Library, with more than 1.6 million volumes. Other important libraries include the South African Library in Cape Town, the State Library in Pretoria, and university libraries including those of the University of South Africa, the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Cape Town, the University of Stellenbosch, and the University of Pretoria.

South Africa has a large number of museums located in all major and many lesser cities and towns. The most notable include the National Museum in Bloemfontein, which contains archaeology, paleontology, and anthropology collections; MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg, which has collections relating to South African history, including displays representing the lives of South Africans under apartheid; and in Cape Town, the Michaelis Collection, the South African National Gallery, the South African Museum, and the South African Cultural History Museum.


Over the course of the 20th century South Africa changed economically from a producer of raw materials to an industrial nation that produces both raw materials and commercial products. The nation’s manufacturing, commerce, and services have been built extensively on the foundations of mining and farming. The economy remained primarily agricultural for much of the 19th century until the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1867 and gold on the Witwatersrand in the 1880s. South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) was $283 billion in 2007.

The GDP per capita in South Africa is $5,914.40 per year, which makes South Africa a middle-income country. The modern industrial and commercial economy gives a minority of the population, including most whites, a standard of living equivalent to that in Western Europe; but for many who are wholly or partially excluded from the economy, incomes and lifestyles are characteristic of developing countries.

There are marked variations in economic production among different geographic areas in South Africa. A significant portion of the country’s GDP is produced in Gauteng Province alone, while minimal commercial activity and poor infrastructure characterize the former bantustans.

During the apartheid period the South African government championed the capitalist system, although its own economic policies were in many respects interventionist, and its racial policies compromised fundamental elements of capitalism such as the free movement of labor. International sanctions imposed because of the government’s apartheid policies were increasingly damaging in the late 1980s but ended in the early 1990s as the apartheid era came to a close. The majority party in government, the African National Congress (ANC), came to power in alliance with trade unions and the Communist Party, leading to fears that it would pursue socialist policies. In practice its economic policies have been geared to maximizing economic growth, attracting foreign investment, and privatizing some state assets.

Labor in South Africa

South Africa has an economically active population of 17.4 million (2007 estimate), of whom 55 percent are male and 45 percent female. About 65 percent of the labor force is employed in the service industry, about 25 percent in industry, and about 10 percent in agriculture (2003). The current level of unemployment is measured at 23 (2007) percent of the labor force, which represents a slight decline from 2004 levels. Unemployment is much higher among the black population than other groups, and lowest among whites and Asians. Blacks account for much of the informal sector. This sector includes many unregulated small businesses as well as individuals providing a variety of services, such as car washing, street vending, and gardening. Due to the historically inadequate education and training opportunities available to blacks, the South African labor force has a high proportion of lower-skilled workers.

Many of South Africa’s workers belong to trade unions, most of which are affiliated with larger trade union federations. The largest is the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), formally allied to the governing ANC. Other trade union federations include the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) and the Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA). Major problems for the union movement are the increasing numbers of unemployed people, who represent a much larger constituency than the union movement, and the growing informal sector. Major concerns among the industrial unions are training and education, human resource development, the removal of discriminatory practices and the implementation of affirmative action, basic adult education, centralized collective bargaining, the debate over a national minimum wage, and the right to strike.

Services and Tourism of South Africa

In total, service industries contributed 66 percent of GDP in 2007. The largest categories are wholesale and retail trade, real estate and business services, catering and accommodation, government, finance, and insurance. Transport, utilities, construction, and community and personal services make up most of the remainder. The financial sector is highly developed and on par with industrialized nations.

Tourism is widely viewed as a rich, potential source of jobs and foreign exchange, and as an eventual alternative to the gold industry, which is in long-term decline. Attractions include the scenic beauty of the Cape wine region, the Drakensberg and the mountains of Mpumalanga, national parks and game reserves, beaches, and the climate. During the apartheid years this potential could not be realized because of the country’s negative international image and perceived political instability. Since 1994 the industry has expanded dramatically, with the number of overseas visitors increased by 52 percent in 1995 alone. In 2007, 9.1 million tourists visited South Africa.

Industry in South Africa

Since the mineral discoveries of the late 19th century, the South African economy has gradually changed from an agricultural to an industrialized economy. Industry contributed 31 percent of GDP in 2007.


Manufacturing overtook mining as the largest South African industrial sector during World War II (1939-1945). Metalworking represents the largest manufacturing sector, including metals, metal products, machinery, and automobiles and other transport equipment. Other important manufactured products include food, beverages, and tobacco; clothing and textiles; and chemicals. Much of South Africa’s manufacturing is concentrated on the Witwatersrand, although Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town are also major industrial cities.

Export-driven manufacturing is considered the key to sustainable growth in South Africa. Until the 1990s, much South African manufacturing had been sheltered behind protective tariffs and was not internationally competitive. The end of international sanctions and the decline of the rand after 1994 helped exporters, and levels of protection have since been reduced substantially.


The South African mining industry is one of the most technologically advanced in the world. South Africans are the world’s foremost deep-level miners, exporting their expertise to many countries. Historically, the mining industry was built on the foundations of cheap black labor, but wages have improved substantially since the early 1970s.

The contribution of mining to GDP declined over the course of the 20th century, but the mining industry still employs hundreds of thousands of people and continues to dominate exports. South Africa remains the world’s largest producer of gold, but the industry faces long-term decline because of its high production costs and falling gold prices. These costs are primarily the result of the great depth of the South African mines. The country is rich in many other minerals, and non-gold mining expanded significantly in the second half of the 20th century. Other important mineral products include diamonds, coal, uranium, platinum, nickel, chromite, vanadium, manganese, and fluorite.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing in South Africa

The relative contribution of agriculture, forestry, and fishing to GDP has steadily declined and was 3 percent in 2007, but these industries employ hundreds of thousands of people and support many more in the subsistence sector. Only 12 percent of South Africa’s land area is cultivated, and most of the rest is suitable only for pastoral farming. The most important crop is maize (corn), the staple food of most black South Africans. Other important crops include wheat, sugarcane, barley, potatoes, citrus fruit, and grapes (for winemaking). Livestock includes poultry, sheep, and cattle.

Under apartheid blacks were restricted to the ten bantustans, which made up only 13 percent of the country’s total area. Farming in these areas is primarily for subsistence, and traditional land tenure systems vest land in the chiefs or headmen, who allocate small plots to individual farmers. Marketing crops is largely local because of poor infrastructure. Commercial agriculture remains overwhelmingly white-owned, employing black farm workers.

Although South Africa has little native forest, it has developed a significant timber and wood products industry based on pine, eucalyptus, and wattle plantations. Commercial forests are mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces.

The commercial fishing industry is centered on the waters off the west coast, which are productive because of the cold Benguela Current. Pilchard, anchovy, and hake are the most common catch. Rock lobsters are also caught, mainly for export. In terms of volume, multispecies shoal fishing by purse seine (a surface net that encircles and entraps entire shoals of fish) is the most important method used, followed by bottom and mid-water trawling.

Energy in South Africa

Thermal power plants produce 95 percent (2006) of South Africa’s electricity. Most are coal-fired power stations located on or near the main coal fields in Gauteng, Free State, and northern KwaZulu-Natal. South Africa’s nuclear power station at Koeberg in Western Cape serves the part of the country most remote from the coal fields.

Eskom, the Electricity Supply Commission, distributes electricity through a national power grid. South Africa supplies more than half the electricity generated in the whole of Africa, but in the early 21st century had yet to supply power to all South African households.

Transportation in South Africa

South Africa has by far the most developed transport infrastructure in Africa. The rail system, which links all major centers, is almost entirely administered by the state-owned Transnet through its railway division Spoornet. Passenger services are slow by Western European standards, but the provision of luxury and semiluxury trains is an attraction.

Car ownership is almost universal among whites and rising rapidly in the rest of the population, although less so in rural areas. Commuting for blacks is largely by public transport, including buses, kombi (minibus) taxis and, in the larger cities such as Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, commuter railways.

South African Airways provides an extensive network of air services between all major cities in South Africa, between Johannesburg and a variety of destinations in Africa, and between South Africa and major cities in Europe, the Americas, East Asia, and Australia. Smaller carriers also fly domestic routes. Johannesburg has the country’s major international airport, but Cape Town has a number of direct overseas flights.

The ports of Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town provide large container terminals. Durban is the busiest port for general cargo. East London is the only river port in South Africa. Saldanha Bay, northwest of Cape Town, is the largest port on the west coast of Africa. It was developed primarily for the export of iron ore from Northern Cape. Richard’s Bay, one of the best artificial harbors in the world, was developed primarily to handle bulk cargoes, including coal.

Communications in South Africa

South Africa has a sophisticated communications network. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) provides radio services for national and regional audiences and different language groups. There are also a number of independent radio stations.

The SABC offers three television channels broadcasting programs in all 11 official languages. The majority of African households do not have television, although it is widely watched in bars. The SABC was subject to close government control under apartheid, but now reflects a wider spectrum of political views. The government is much less intrusive in the media than during the apartheid years.

There are 18 daily and 314 weekly newspapers. Their political allegiances are less narrowly defined than in the apartheid era, with even the more conservative papers giving at least critical support to the country’s first majority government. Most of the papers are published in English. Major weeklies include the Sunday Times, Rapport (published in Afrikaans), the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Tribune, and the City Press. Regional dailies are published in all major cities. In Johannesburg those with the largest circulation include the Sowetan, targeted at black readers; along with The Star, The Citizen, and Beeld (Afrikaans). Die Burger, an Afrikaans paper, and the English paper the Cape Argus are published in Cape Town. The Daily News is published in Durban. Smaller influential papers include the daily Business Day, the weekly Financial Mail, and the relatively left-wing weekly Mail and Guardian, all published in Johannesburg.

The South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority oversees the country’s telecommunications networks. South Africa has two-fifths of the telephone lines in Africa and an expanding mobile phone network. The Internet is widely used in urban areas, particularly in business circles.

Foreign Trade in South Africa

In 2007 South Africa’s total exports were worth $69.8 billion and imports $81.7 billion. The major exports were gold, iron and steel, coal, chemicals, automobiles and other transport equipment, and food products. South Africa is a net exporter of farm products, especially maize, sugar, fruit, vegetables, and wine, but the country experiences substantial variations in production because of recurring drought. Imports consist mainly of machinery and equipment, motor vehicle parts, chemicals, and crude oil.

Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Saudi Arabia are the leading suppliers of imported goods. Chief purchasers of South Africa’s exports are the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and Italy. Trade with the rest of Africa grew even in the final years of apartheid and has increased considerably since 1994. Most of South Africa’s exports to Africa are to the other countries of the Southern African Customs Union (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland). In 1994, after restoring normal relations with other African countries, South Africa joined the Southern African Development Community.

Currency and Banking of South Africa

The rand, divided into 100 cents, is the basic unit of currency (7 rand equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). The South African Reserve Bank in Pretoria, founded in 1920, is responsible for formulating and implementing monetary policy, overseeing the banking system, and issuing the currency. There are numerous commercial, savings, and investment banks, and electronic banking services are well developed. There is an organized money and capital market that includes the JSE Securities Exchange (formerly named Johannesburg Stock Exchange) and related brokerage activities.


The 20th century produced several fundamental governmental changes in South Africa. In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed as a largely autonomous dominion of Britain. Under the 1910 constitution, the British monarch was the nominal head of state, but authority over most matters was vested in a single-chamber parliament, headed by a prime minister. By the 1931 Statute of Westminster, South Africa and other dominions within the British Commonwealth were proclaimed fully autonomous, gaining equality status with Britain. In 1961 South Africa became a republic and left the Commonwealth. The 1961 constitution created the office of president as head of state. A new constitution in 1984 established a tricameral (three-house) parliament with white, Coloured, and Asian houses, but excluded the black majority altogether.

Lengthy constitutional negotiations in the early 1990s led to the implementation of an interim constitution in April 1994. These negotiations also resulted in agreement on a number of principles that would be binding during the negotiations for a final constitution. The final constitution was passed by parliament in May 1996 but was subsequently rejected by the Constitutional Court because certain provisions did not comply with the 1994 principles. A revised version was finally accepted in December 1996 and went into force in February 1997. The new constitution, which included a comprehensive bill of rights, was the first in the world to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Executive of South Africa

The president is elected by the majority party in the National Assembly (one of the two houses of parliament) to a five-year term, renewable once. The president appoints a deputy president and a cabinet of ministers from members of the National Assembly.

Legislature of South Africa

The parliament consists of two houses: the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. The National Assembly has 400 members, popularly elected to five-year terms under a system of proportional representation. The National Council of Provinces has 90 members, 10 from each province. These members, which are appointed by the provincial legislatures, also serve five-year terms.

Judiciary in South Africa

South African courts are independent, subject only to the constitution and the law. The Constitutional Court, located in Johannesburg, rules on constitutional matters. It is composed of a president and ten justices, six of whom are appointed by the president on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission (an advisory body for national and provincial judicial matters). The other four justices are appointed by the president from among the judges of the Supreme Court in consultation with the chief justice.

The Supreme Court of Appeal, situated in Bloemfontein, is the highest court in all but constitutional matters. It is composed of a chief justice and a number of judges of appeal. Below the Supreme Court of Appeals are High Courts and Magistrates’ Courts. Black South Africans may choose to bring civil claims based on indigenous law and custom to a local chief’s court, with subsequent right of appeal in one of the Magistrate’s Courts.

Provincial and Local Government of South Africa

South Africa is divided into nine provinces. These provinces are Gauteng, Limpopo Province (formerly Northern Province), Mpumalanga, North-West Province, Free State, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Western Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal.

Until 1994 South Africa was divided into four provinces (Cape Province, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal) and ten bantustans, including four that had been declared independent (Transkei, Venda, Bophuthatswana, and Ciskei). The bantustans were dissolved and reincorporated into South Africa when the interim constitution took effect in 1994.

Provincial assemblies are elected by proportional representation and vary in size from 30 to 80 members, according to population. Each province has a premier, elected by the provincial assembly, who presides over an executive council of no more than 10 members. Matters of exclusive provincial control under the constitution include various planning, cultural, sporting, and recreational matters. A much longer list of more important business, including agriculture, education, housing, police (in part), tourism, regional planning, urban and rural development, and welfare services, are areas of joint national and provincial control.

At the local level, the country is divided into metropolitan municipalities, district municipalities, and local municipalities, each governed by an elected municipal council.

Political Parties of South Africa

The dominant South African political party is the African National Congress (ANC). Major opposition parties include the Congress of the People (COPE), the Democratic Alliance, and the Inkatha Freedom Party. Other opposition parties include the South African Democratic Congress, United Democratic Movement, Independent Democrats, African Christian Democratic Party, and Freedom Front Plus.

The ANC, founded in 1912, spearheaded the liberation struggle against apartheid. Nelson Mandela led the ANC from the early 1950s until the late 1990s. The ANC was based within the country until it was banned in 1960 and forced to operate from outside South Africa. As a broad coalition of interests and a liberation movement, its membership overlapped substantially with the South African Communist Party (SACP, founded in 1921 as the Communist Party of South Africa). The ANC entered the 1994 elections in alliance with the SACP and the main trade union federation, COSATU. In the 1994 election the ANC won the support of most black constituents, except in KwaZulu-Natal, and about one-third of Asian and Coloured votes, but few white votes. The ANC has dominated each subsequent legislative election. Its policies are nonracial and seek to redress the injustices of the apartheid years.

The Congress of the People (COPE) formed in 2008 as a split-off from the ANC. It was made up largely of former ANC activists who were unhappy with the ouster of Thabo Mbeki from the party’s leadership. COPE promised to be a multiracial party with appeal across class lines, but it failed to win broad support in the 2009 parliamentary elections, taking only 7 percent of the vote.

The Democratic Party (DP), founded in 1989, was the successor to the relatively liberal white traditions of the earlier Progressive Party. The DP played an important mediating role in the negotiations leading to agreement on the interim constitution. Support for the DP increased markedly prior to the 1999 elections. The DP joined forces with several other parties in 2000 to form a coalition called the Democratic Alliance.

The Inkatha Freedom Party, founded in 1975, is an ethnically based party commanding the support of most Zulu in KwaZulu-Natal. It is more conservative on most issues than the ANC and seeks to maximize provincial power.

Health and Social Services in South Africa

The right to adequate health care has been enshrined in the constitution, but provision represents a major challenge. Private health facilities can meet the demands of those who can afford to pay, although the cost of hospitalization, treatment, and medical aid subscriptions is soaring. For the majority who cannot afford to pay, current government plans emphasize primary health care that provides a comprehensive package of health-care services. Payment for treatment in provincial hospitals is based on a patient’s financial means. A proposed national health insurance program is being developed for the first time. Since 1994 free health treatment has been available to children under six years old and some mothers before and after birth.

South Africa’s infant mortality rate is very high for a country with its level of income. In 2009 the rate was 44 deaths per 1,000 live births. This figure conceals great differences between racial groups because the white figure is less than one-fifth the national average.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has become a problem of epidemic proportions in South Africa. In 2007 an estimated 5,400,000 South Africans were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. Tuberculosis (TB), malaria, and measles are also prevalent diseases. Much of the black and Coloured population suffers high incidences of TB, measles, and other infectious and contagious diseases such as gastroenteritis and respiratory infections. Malaria is endemic in the low-altitude areas of Limpopo Province, Mpumalanga, and eastern KwaZulu-Natal. For whites the main causes of death are stroke, heart disease, and cancer.

Social welfare services are provided by government agencies and the private sector, sometimes working in cooperation. Private sector initiatives like Operation Hunger and child welfare societies make a major contribution. The government proposes to create a more integrated welfare system that will harness state and private sector resources more effectively. It is committed to affirmative action to address inherited racial inequalities. Children are a particular focus, with programs under way to resolve the plight of homeless street children and legislate against child abuse and child labor.

Defense of South Africa

South Africa’s armed forces answer to the elected parliament and executive civilian authorities. The South African National Defense Force (SANDF) in 2006 included an army of 41,350 soldiers, an air force of 9,183, and a navy of 5,801 personnel. The army experienced major restructuring after the end of apartheid, as seven separate military forces were integrated into one.

International Organizations in South Africa

With the end of South Africa’s international isolation in 1994, the country resumed participation in many international organizations from which it was excluded in the final years of apartheid. The most important organization is the United Nations, in which South Africa reclaimed its seat in June 1994. In the same month the country became the 51st member of the Commonwealth of Nations after an absence of 33 years. South Africa is also a member of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.


The early history of South Africa dates nearly 3 million years to Australopithicus africanus, one of the earliest human ancestors. Archaeological evidence indicates that people resembling the San (bush people) and the Khoikhoi inhabited southern Africa thousands of years ago. The San were traditionally hunters and gatherers while the Khoikhoi were nomadic and herded cattle. Centuries before whites settled in South Africa, Bantu-speaking groups migrated from west central Africa and settled in a fertile region between the Drakensberg Mountains and the Indian Ocean. These early Bantu people are thought to be the ancestors of the modern Nguni, a people comprising the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, and other groups.

Arrival of Europeans and the Mfecane

In 1652 Dutch East India Company official Jan van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape of Good Hope with orders to establish a fort and provision station for company ships on long journeys around Africa to Asia. Below Table Mountain, Cape Town eventually grew out of the first settlements around the Dutch fort. The original inhabitants Riebeeck encountered were the San and the Khoikhoi. At first, company officials bartered with them for cattle and set up gardens to grow fresh produce. By 1657 it became evident that the company’s farming efforts were inadequate, so a small number of company employees were released from their contracts and given land to work as independent farmers supplying the company’s needs. Khoikhoi livestock also proved insufficient for the needs of ships that stopped at the Cape, so the independent farmers, called free burghers, began raising livestock as well.

By the 1660s pressure on the Khoikhoi and the San increased as more of their land was taken by European farmers. The Dutch East India Company encouraged Dutch, German, and French Huguenot immigration between 1680 and 1707 to what later became known as the Cape Colony. The colonists, mostly farmers and cattle herders, became known as Boers (Dutch for “farmers”) or Afrikaners. They developed their own distinctive culture and language (Afrikaans) and practiced their own form of Calvinism, a Protestant religion. During the second half of the 17th century slaves were imported from Asia and other parts of Africa. By the early decades of the 18th century, after two short wars, the Khoikhoi had lost most of their lands to the European settlers; large numbers of them had died as a result of newly introduced diseases such as smallpox, and many of those who remained were placed in positions of servitude. In the same period the San were forced north by the colonists and many were eliminated for cattle raiding. Sexual relations between members of these ethnic groups resulted in the emergence of a distinct group that became known as the Cape Coloureds.

In the 1770s the European settlers encountered Bantu-speaking peoples, who were ending several thousand years of migration. Nguni Bantu groups settled along the eastern coast of what is now South Africa while Sotho groups occupied the interior north of Cape Colony. In the early 19th century competition for land led to a period of conflict and forced migration among Bantu-speaking peoples known as the mfecane (Nguni for ‘the crushing’). It is estimated that hundreds of thousands died during the wars, entire groups disappeared, and centralization resulted in the creation or strengthening of several Bantu states, including the Zulu, Swazi, and Sotho kingdoms.

The mfecane fundamentally altered the political and social configuration of the entire region. It was set in motion by one of the great military geniuses of the 19th century, Shaka, who ruled the Zulu kingdom. He introduced a type of spear with a long blade called an assegai, organized a regimental system based on age groups, and introduced new strategies of warfare. The kingdoms, or states, that emerged from the mfecane came into direct conflict with white expansion in the 19th century.

Early British Settlement

British forces twice occupied the Cape region, in 1795 and in 1806; in 1814 Britain was granted the Cape Colony in a treaty drawn up at the Congress of Vienna, at which European powers negotiated the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). After 1820 thousands of British colonists arrived in South Africa and demanded that English law be imposed. English became the official language in 1822, Khokhoi workers were given protection under new labor laws in 1828, and slavery was abolished in 1833.

These measures were bitterly resented by Afrikaners and resulted in the Great Trek, in which thousands of Afrikaners migrated northward, some settling in Natal and others continuing east across the Orange River and north across the Vaal River. From 1835 to the early 1840s, between 12,000 and 15,000 Afrikaner families, accompanied by slaves and servants, left the Cape Colony because changes introduced by the British were intolerable.

Cape Frontier Wars

As settlers moved across the country they encountered resistance from the Bantu-speaking people, and in particular from the well-armed Xhosa, who had been moving slowly south and southwest for hundreds of years and were also in search of land. The Afrikaners and the Xhosa clashed along the Great Fish River, and in 1781 the first of nine frontier wars took place. For nearly 100 years, the Xhosa fought the Cape Colony settlers, first the Afrikaners and later the British. The British also encroached on Xhosa lands, precipitating several of these bloody wars. In the Fourth Frontier War, which lasted from 1811 to 1812, the British forced the Xhosa back across the Great Fish River and set up forts along this boundary.

In 1818 differences between two Xhosa leaders, Ndlambe and Ngqika, ended in Ngqika’s defeat, but the British continued to recognize Ngqika as the paramount chief. He appealed to the British for help against Ndlambe, who retaliated by attacking Grahamstown in 1819 during the Fifth Frontier War. The Xhosa prophet Maqana Nxele emerged at this time and promised “to turn bullets into water.” He led the Xhosa armies in several attacks, including the one on Grahamstown in 1819, and was subsequently captured and imprisoned on Robben Island. After this war the British made a futile attempt to declare the area between the Great Fish River and the Keiskamma River neutral territory. More fighting took place, however, until eventually all Xhosa territories were incorporated into the Cape Colony.

The Establishment of the Afrikaner Republics

In Natal the Afrikaners who had migrated during the Great Trek were confronted with the Zulu kingdom. On December 16, 1838, an important battle between the Afrikaners and the Zulu, the Battle of Blood River, led to the defeat of the Zulu and the establishment of the Republic of Natalia by 1840. The battle remains of symbolic importance to many Afrikaners because their ancestors were said to have made a covenant with God for victory.

After the British declared the coastal region of Natal a crown colony in 1843 and annexed it to the Cape Colony in 1845, most of the Afrikaners left and headed west and north where they joined other Voortrekkers (Afrikaans for “pioneers”). They settled inland, north of the Orange River, and further north in the Transvaal region (north of the Vaal River). The governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Harry Smith, gained control of the region between the Orange and Vaal rivers in 1848, and the territory was renamed the Orange River Sovereignty. Smith’s move was overturned by the British government, however. The British government recognized the independence of the Transvaal territories in 1852 at the Sand River Convention, and recognized the former Orange River Sovereignty as the Orange Free State in 1854 at the Bloemfontein Convention. By the late 1850s the Transvaal territories beyond the Vaal River had coalesced into the South African Republic. Although attempts to unite the two Afrikaner republics were unsuccessful, they maintained a close relationship in the following years. They shared policies that separated blacks and whites and allowed no equality between the races.

The Afrikaners in the Orange Free State encountered the Basotho king Moshoeshoe, who was ruling a loose group of chieftaincies from the mountain of Thaba Bosiu (in present-day west central Lesotho). From the 1830s when Afrikaners and British began settling the surrounding territory, Moshoeshoe demonstrated great skill in protecting his land and subjects by playing one group of white settlers against the other. After the Orange Free State was established in 1854, the Afrikaners and the Basotho fought extensively over the boundaries of their territories. Although the Basotho had also fought with the British in the late 1840s and early 1850s, Moshoeshoe asked the British to incorporate Basotho lands into a protectorate to prevent further attacks by Afrikaners. The protectorate of Basutoland was created in 1868. This area ultimately became the independent nation of Lesotho.

In 1856 Natal was split from the Cape Colony and reestablished as a separate colony, with representative government. In 1872 the Cape Colony received self-government from Britain, which meant the government was independent except in foreign and economic affairs. After the discovery of diamonds in 1867 in Griqualand West, an area claimed by the South African Republic, Britain renewed its expansionist policy into Afrikaner territory, annexing Griqualand West in 1871 and the nearly bankrupt, politically unstable South African Republic in 1877.

The British were unresponsive to Afrikaner needs and there were fundamental differences over taxes. The Transvaal Afrikaners decided to fight for independence. The British were defeated at the battle of Majuba in February 1881, which led to the British decision to restore self-government. In 1883 Afrikaner leader Paul Kruger was elected president of the republic.

The British in Natal

Before 1879 the Thukela (Tugela) River was the boundary between Zululand and Natal. Cetshwayo, who became the Zulu king in the 1870s, assembled an army estimated at 60,000 and refused to disband it when the British insisted that he do so. British troops invaded in January 1879 but were not prepared for the terrain, and a large number of them were killed in the Battle of Isandlwana. In July 1879, however, the British won a battle in the Zulu capital of Ulundi. This defeat permanently neutralized the Zulu military.

The Boer War

In 1885 Britain annexed Bechuanaland (now Botswana), thwarting President Kruger’s plan to expand Afrikaner territory to the west. Vast gold deposits were discovered in the southern Transvaal in 1886. The mining industry was financed by the British and thousands of English miners, called Uitlanders (foreigners) by the Afrikaners, entered the Transvaal.

Kruger refused to grant civil equality to Uitlanders and taxed them and foreign companies heavily. After negotiations failed, British financier Cecil Rhodes, prime minister of the Cape Colony, encouraged the Uitlanders to revolt in 1895. They were supported by a small invading force under the command of Leander Starr Jameson. The raid was a failure and although Rhodes was absolved of any involvement, he was forced to resign as prime minister.

Relations between the Cape Colony and the two Afrikaner republics worsened after British statesman Alfred Milner became governor of the Cape Colony in 1897. In October 1899 Kruger declared war. The Boer War (also known as the South African War), which lasted for two and a half years, pitted the might of the British Empire against the Afrikaners. After some initial success, the British forces occupied all major urban centers by mid-1900. British forces, which have been estimated at 500,000, far outnumbered a force of about 90,000 in the Afrikaner armies.

The Afrikaners, however, continued to wage a costly guerrilla war until 1902. Toward the end of the war the British used a “scorched-earth policy” in which Afrikaner farms were destroyed and thousands of women and children were held in concentration camps. More than 20,000 Afrikaners were said to have died in the camps. In addition, more than 14,000 blacks from the region died in concentration camps during the war. Under the terms of the Treaty of Vereeniging, signed on May 31, 1902, the Transvaal territories and the Orange River Colony (as the Orange Free State became known in 1900) became British crown colonies. In 1906 and 1907 they were given constitutions as self-governing colonies.

A Segregated Nation

With the South Africa Act of 1910 the British parliament established the dominion of the Union of South Africa with the four colonies as its provinces. A clause in the act provided that the policies of the provinces toward blacks would be retained and could be changed only by a two-thirds majority vote of parliament. In Cape Province (formerly the Cape Colony), Coloureds and a few blacks could vote, a right not available to them in the other three provinces.

Discrimination against nonwhites was inherent in South African society from the earliest days. Before World War I, Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi led the struggle to assure civil rights for Indian residents. Despite some government concessions, including abolition of the poll tax, the Indian population retained second-class status after the war. South African blacks had an even lower status in the white-dominated state. Urban blacks lived in segregated areas and could not hold office. They had no viable unions, and technical and administrative positions were closed to them.

Politics were focused on differences between English-speaking South Africans and Afrikaners as well as racial differences. Party politics gathered momentum after elections were held in 1910, and the first parliament was formed. The South African Party (SAP) was formed by members of the coalition who won the 1910 election. A former Afrikaner commander, Louis Botha, became prime minister. General Botha and the SAP tried to bridge the differences between the two major white groups, but Afrikaners, particularly those in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, rejected these efforts.

One of the first moves of the new parliament was to pass the Natives Land Act of 1913 which prevented blacks, except those living in Cape Province, from buying land outside so-called reserves. The land allotted to these reserves made up 7 percent of the total land of the country. Because of the limited amount of land available to blacks, the act also ensured that the migratory labor system would continue and cheap black labor would be available in the mines and industries.

Politics During the Two World Wars

In 1914 General J. B. M. Hertzog founded the National Party (NP), which emphasized Afrikaner language and culture. It used as one of its slogans “South Africa First,” in contrast to the SAP, which appeared more strongly tied to the interests of the British Empire. Botha’s commitment to Britain in World War I increased Afrikaner resentment, and in the 1915 election the NP received relatively strong support. Botha himself led the South African forces that conquered German South-West Africa in 1915. This former German colony eventually became a League of Nations mandate under South African supervision in 1920.

While the SAP won the largest number of votes, it only controlled 54 seats in the parliament while the NP controlled 27. Botha was therefore forced to enter a coalition with the smaller Unionist Party in order to govern. After Botha died in 1919, he was succeeded by General Jan Christiaan Smuts.

Official politics in South Africa from the 1920s continued to be dominated by the conflicting positions of the two white groups. Hertzog and the NP insisted that reconciliation between Afrikaners and British be based on full equality between the two groups. His party therefore demanded that the Afrikaans language be given equal status with English, that the country have a separate flag, not the British Union Jack, and that South Africa have the right to secede from the British Empire.

In 1918 a secret organization known as the Broederbond (Afrikaans for “association of brothers”) was established to advance the Afrikaner cause and interests. This organization became a powerful vehicle for the preservation of Afrikaner language, culture, and traditions. Above all, its aim was to find ways for Afrikaners to attain positions of power throughout the society. The Broederbond was exclusively for Afrikaners who were over 25 years old, male, Protestant, and specially invited to join.

In 1921 leaders of the country’s gold-mining industry decided to replace white labor with black labor in an effort to cut costs. This move led to a major uprising in March 1922 called the Rand Revolt. Prime Minister Smuts declared martial law and used the military to contain the revolt. The revolt resulted in 200 dead. The real impact of the Rand Revolt came in 1924 when Hertzog’s NP, with the help of white labor, unseated Smuts at a time of rising black militancy. The result was the protection of white workers and the exclusion of blacks from managerial positions.

During the economic depression of the 1930s a coalition was formed, and Hertzog and Smuts became dual leaders of the new United Party. Britain’s declaration of war against Germany in 1939, however, split the coalition. Hertzog, who tried to keep South Africa neutral, was replaced as prime minister by Smuts, and the Union declared war on Germany on September 6, 1939, thereby entering World War II. Because of pro-German sentiment among Afrikaners, however, the Union did not quickly pass a draft law. All members of the Union’s armed forces were volunteers and their only combat action occurred in East and North Africa and Italy.

Apartheid Instituted

In 1948 the all-white NP came to power with Daniel F. Malan as prime minister. Segregation and inequality between races had existed as a matter of custom and practice in South Africa, but after 1948 they were enshrined in law. The NP won the general election that year in a coalition with the smaller Afrikaner Party. The United Party, led by General Smuts, became the official opposition. The United Party mainly had an urban base with substantial support from English-speaking South Africans, while the NP’s support was drawn almost entirely from Afrikaans-speaking South Africans.

At the heart of the NP’s legislative agenda was apartheid (Afrikaans for “separateness”), a doctrine of white supremacy promoted as a program of separate development. Once in power, the NP extended and legalized white economic exploitation, political domination, and social privilege. These tenets were reinforced with a harsh and intrusive security system, separate and unequal education, job discrimination, and residential segregation. Such fundamental rights as protection against search without a warrant and the right to a trial were violated. A severe anti-Communist law was passed in 1950. It equated Communism with any struggle for political, economic, or social change, and served as an excuse to arrest many of the government’s opponents.

The Group Areas Act was also passed in 1950. It specified that separate areas be reserved for each of the four main racial groups: whites, blacks, Coloureds, and Asians. Stringent pass laws that restricted and controlled black access to white areas were implemented across the nation in 1952. Blacks without passes who remained in urban areas for more than 72 hours were subject to imprisonment. Millions were arrested for such violations. Marriage between whites and blacks was outlawed.

Beginning in the 1950s the government divided the black population into ethnic groups and assigned each group to a so-called homeland, also referred to as a bantustan. Ten of these territories were eventually established; Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Gazankulu, KaNgwane, KwaNdebele, KwaZulu, Lebowa, Qwaqwa, Transkei, and Venda. The Development Land and Trust Act of 1936 had augmented the amount of land blacks could own from 7 percent to 13 percent, and these areas became the basis for the bantustans.

Prime Minister Malan retired in 1954 and was succeeded by another NP leader, Johannes G. Strijdom, who removed legal obstacles to the further implementation of apartheid. To assure support for the program, the Supreme Court was filled with six judges sympathetic to apartheid who would hear constitutional questions, a step that received parliamentary approval in 1955. NP control of the Senate was effected by their increased membership from 77 to 89 in elections that same year. Shortly after the 1958 elections for the House of Assembly, in which the NP members increased their seats from 94 to 103, Strijdom died.

Strijdom’s replacement was Hendrik F. Verwoerd, an uncompromising supporter of apartheid who implemented the concept of separate development of the races through the bantustan, or homeland, policy. In 1959 the government passed the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act, an unsuccessful attempt to diffuse international criticism of apartheid by offering blacks the right to participate in a political process within the bantustans. The act, which ended black representation in the national parliament, defined blacks as citizens of bantustans, although they retained their South African citizenship. The economic advantage of the policy from the government’s point of view was that it would relieve the government of welfare obligations to millions of blacks without losing the benefits of an abundant supply of cheap black labor. The policy was vehemently opposed by blacks who saw it as a further erosion of their rights because it forced them to accept citizenship in remote, underdeveloped bantustans.

By the end of the 1970s all of the bantustans had become nominally self-governing. Although called self-governing, they were in fact entirely dependent on the national government and incapable of sustaining 75 percent of the country’s population. Thus, most blacks continued to live in white areas. The vast majority of those who lived in the bantustans commuted to white areas as part of an enormous migrant labor force.

Resistance to Apartheid

In 1912 the South African Native National Congress was founded by a group of black urban and traditional leaders who opposed the policies of the first Union of South Africa government, especially laws that appropriated African land. In 1923 the organization was renamed the African National Congress (ANC). At first its main agenda was to protect voting rights for blacks in the Cape Province. For nearly 50 years it pursued a policy of peaceful protests and petitions.

During the 1950s, while the South African government passed and implemented oppressive apartheid laws, black South Africans responded by intensifying their political opposition. The ANC dramatically increased its membership under the leadership of Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela became one of the organization’s principal organizers. Although the membership of the ANC was largely black, it was a multiracial organization with white and Asian members, some of whom assumed leadership positions.

After decades of receiving no response to demands for justice and equality, the ANC launched the Defiance Against Unjust Laws Campaign in 1952, in cooperation with the South African Indian Congress, an Asian antiapartheid political organization. The campaign was a nonviolent one in which apartheid laws were deliberately broken. After several months of civil disobedience and 8,000 arrests, rioting broke out in a number of cities, which resulted in considerable property damage and 40 deaths. Black protest and white repression continued. In 1956 three black women were killed when thousands of them confronted the police because of their inclusion under amended pass laws, which had previously applied only to black men.

Despite the ANC’s increasing militancy, its aims were still reformist, seeking to change the existing system, rather than revolutionary. In 1955 the ANC brought together nearly 3,000 delegates of all races in Kliptown in the Transvaal to adopt the Freedom Charter. This remarkable document, which affirms that South Africa belongs to all its people, remains to this day the clearest statement of the guiding principles of the ANC. It emphasizes that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people and the people in South Africa had been robbed of their birthrights to land, liberty, and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality. It stated that, “Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and stand as candidates for all bodies which make laws.”

In 1958 Robert Sobukwe left the ANC; he founded the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in April 1959. The PAC insisted on a militant strategy based exclusively on black support in contrast to the ANC’s multiracial approach. Black attitudes toward the liberation process changed dramatically after the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960. White police opened fire on a mass demonstration organized by the PAC, killing 69 blacks and wounding more than 180. The Sharpeville Massacre led to violence and protests throughout the country. The government declared a state of emergency and arrested many members of the PAC and the ANC. In April 1960 the PAC and ANC were banned.

In 1961, in response to the government’s actions, the ANC organized Umkhonto we Sizwe (Zulu for “Spear of the Nation”) to conduct an armed struggle against the regime. On December 16, 1961, when Afrikaners were commemorating the Battle of Blood River, Umkhonto’s first act of sabotage took place. From its inception, however, the underground organization refused to engage in terrorism against civilians and only attacked symbolic targets, police stations, military offices, and other government buildings. The PAC’s military wing, in contrast, attacked white civilians.

On a trip to several other African countries in 1962, Nelson Mandela arranged for ANC recruits to undergo military training abroad. The South African government, concerned with the potential of Umkhonto to cause increased unrest, passed new legislation that gave the police broad powers of arrest without warrant. In July 1963 police raided Umkhonto’s secret headquarters in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia and arrested most of its leadership. Mandela, who was already in prison at the time, was put on trial with the other Umkhonto leaders, all of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment. With the imprisonment of the nationalist leadership and the earlier banning of the ANC and PAC, South Africa entered a decade of enforced calm.

The government held a referendum in October 1960 to decide whether South Africa should become a republic and on May 31, 1961, the country officially became the Republic of South Africa. In addition, it chose to withdraw from the Commonwealth of Nations before it was forced to leave because of apartheid policies. The government continued to implement repressive legislation. A 1963 act provided for detention of up to 90 days without trial for the purpose of interrogating anyone even suspected of having committed or intending to commit sabotage or any offense under the Suppression of Communism Act or the Unlawful Organizations Act. The Terrorism Act, passed in 1967, provided for the indefinite detention without trial of suspected terrorists or persons in possession of information about terrorist activities.

Prime Minister Verwoerd was assassinated in September 1966 and John Vorster, who had been minister of justice, police, and prisons, was chosen to succeed him. One of the important challenges facing South Africa during Vorster’s tenure as prime minister was the increasing hostility of states surrounding South Africa. Angola and Mozambique achieved independence in 1975, and their new governments were opposed to the South African government’s policies of apartheid. Liberation struggles were underway in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Namibia in the mid-1970s, causing an atmosphere of unrest.

In the late 1960s Stephen Biko and other black students founded the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), which was loosely based on the Black Power movement in the United States. In South Africa it emphasized black leadership and non-cooperation with the government or with bantustan leaders, who were considered collaborators with the government. The BCM was involved in establishing the South African Students’ Organization (SASO) for black students. In 1969 SASO split from the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), a white-led but nonracial liberal organization, and from the University Christian Movement. Biko, the president of SASO, believed blacks had to provide their own leadership in the liberation process. SASO and the Black Peoples Convention (BPC), a coalition of black organizations, held rallies in September 1974 to mark the independence of Mozambique, despite a government ban on such meetings. Many were arrested, including several of the leaders, who were then prosecuted and sentenced. The BCM had a formative influence on students and young South Africans, who played a crucial role in the liberation process. In September 1977 Stephen Biko died after being mistreated while in police custody.

The 1970s witnessed the emergence of a Zulu-based ethnic organization called Inkatha, which became the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The IFP was led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and rejected early by the ANC because the ANC opposed its exclusive ethnic character and close cooperation with the existing white power structure. These differences turned into violent confrontations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1991 investigations revealed that the South African government had given covert training and financial support to Inkatha in an effort to foster division among black organizations in the country.

The 1970s were also marked by a new and revitalized phase of black trade unionism even though government restrictions continued to limit unions’ political effectiveness. The dependence of the South African economy on black workers created a powerful political and economic force, and from the 1970s onward this growing power was demonstrated by a series of illegal boycotts and strikes. The growth of militant worker and youth organizations in this period was a clear indication that banning the nationalist movements had not ended black resistance. It was not until 1981 that black trade unions could be officially registered and black workers were given the right to strike. The power of the black trade union movement continued to grow and played a central role in ending apartheid and in the transition to black majority rule.

Struggle with the United Nations

Beginning in 1952 the General Assembly of the United Nations took up the issue of South Africa’s racial policies annually. The tone of early UN resolutions and declarations was civil, even conciliatory, reflecting the hope that South Africa might be convinced to reform. The General Assembly at first simply called upon South Africa to recognize its obligations to end racial discrimination under the UN Charter. The assembly subsequently “regretted” South Africa’s refusal to end apartheid.

After the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, a UN Security Council resolution blamed South Africa for the shootings, and the UN General Assembly’s first successful sanctions vote against South Africa occurred two years later. South Africa’s unwavering policy of whites-only representation on sports teams resulted in their expulsion from the Olympic Games and a dozen other international sports federations in the 1960s.

After World War II the UN made several attempts to control South Africa’s administration of South-West Africa. The UN General Assembly voted in October 1966 to terminate South Africa’s mandate over South-West Africa, which was renamed Namibia, and established a council to assume responsibility for the territory. South Africa rejected all UN actions and proceeded to integrate the territory into its own economy.

In June 1971 the International Court of Justice ruled that South Africa’s presence in Namibia was illegal. The situation became critical when the Angola-based South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) stepped up its campaign of guerrilla attacks on targets in Namibia. South Africa responded by building up defenses, attacking Angola, and aiding the rebels who were fighting the Cuban-supported Angolan government. The war continued for almost 20 years until peace talks, sponsored by the United States, resulted in independence for Namibia in 1990. In 1974 South Africa was suspended from the UN General Assembly, and by the 1980s General Assembly resolutions referred to apartheid as a crime against humanity. This was a reflection of growing international opposition to apartheid.

Deepening Crises

A major confrontation between protesters and South African police occurred in the black township of Soweto, near Johannesburg, on June 16, 1976. Thousands of black high school students demonstrated against a government ruling that required certain high school subjects to be taught in Afrikaans, which was seen as the language of oppression. At least 575 people were killed, and rioting and confrontations between police and students spread throughout the country. This led to a new phase in the liberation process in which black youth became deeply involved. Many left the country to join the liberation movements while others continued to work with the underground resistance movement.

By the 1980s the psychological, financial, and human costs of maintaining order were increasing as the cycle of repression, black violence, and white counterviolence accelerated. In May 1983, in an effort at limited reforms, Prime Minister P. W. Botha introduced a constitutional amendment that created a tricameral parliament with three racially separate chambers: one for whites, one for Asians, and one for Coloureds. The amendment was approved the same year by a referendum open to white voters only. Elections to the Coloured and Asian legislative bodies were held in August 1984. But 77 percent of the eligible Coloured voters and 80 percent of the Asian voters boycotted the elections because the new plan continued to exclude blacks.

The structure of the new tricameral parliament gave the appearance of power-sharing, but white control of the presidency and the predetermined numerical superiority of the white chamber ensured that real power would remain in white hands. Most important, the new arrangement continued to exclude South Africa’s black majority, who were not allowed to vote or stand as candidates for election. Reaction to the constitutional amendment was the exact opposite of what the white government intended. Beginning in September 1984 there were violent confrontations throughout the country and the government declared successive states of emergency.

A crisis of unprecedented magnitude and duration was precipitated by the constitutional changes and other grievances such as chronic black unemployment, inadequate housing, rent increases, inferior black schools, and an ever-increasing crime rate, especially in the black townships. The government’s plan to restore law and order through a policy of modest reform with continuing repression failed. Between 1984 and 1986 prohibitions against interracial marriages and racially mixed political parties were repealed and rights to conduct business and own property in designated urban areas were extended to blacks. At the same time, over 2,000 blacks were killed and as many as 24,000 arrested and detained in confrontations with security forces. The government’s limited reforms were rejected by blacks, who wanted apartheid abolished, as well as by conservative whites who felt that the reforms had already gone too far.

International financial institutions began to regard South Africa as unsafe for investment. This, combined with increasing demands for international sanctions, led more than 200 U.S. companies to pull out of South Africa during the 1980s. The rand was devalued, and foreign investment virtually dried up. White South African emigration increased dramatically. Throughout 1987 and 1988, President P. W. Botha approved some limited changes while rejecting others. Although he refused to hold talks with the ANC, a group of white South African business leaders, academics, and politicians saw the need to begin such a dialogue and met with exiled leaders of the ANC in Senegal. Some whites recognized that the country’s deteriorating economy and increasing international isolation could not be reversed without far-reaching changes.

Negotiations and Change

F. W. de Klerk succeeded P. W. Botha in 1989 as head of the National Party and later that year as president of South Africa. Soon after taking office, de Klerk permitted large multiracial crowds in Cape Town and Johannesburg to march against apartheid. He met with Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu and other black leaders, ordered the release of many black political prisoners, and lifted the ban on antiapartheid organizations such as the ANC. With the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990, serious negotiations began over the transition to a post-apartheid South Africa.

The negotiation process proved long and difficult. De Klerk’s NP was unwilling at first to consider transferring power to the country’s black majority and tried vigorously to institute minority veto power over majority decisions. The ANC then staged general strikes and other nonviolent protests to try forcing the NP to change their position on the issue. The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA), which opened in December 1991, finally led to a compromise between the NP and the ANC. Eventually, as a result of compromises on both sides, an agreement was reached on November 13, 1993, which pledged to institute a nonracial, nonsexist, unified, and democratic South Africa based on the principle of “one person, one vote.” A Transitional Executive Council was formed to supervise national elections and install new national and provincial governments.

South Africa’s first truly nonracial democratic election was held on April 27, 1994, and was declared “substantially free and fair” by the Independent Electoral Commission. Nearly 20 million votes were cast and the ANC received an impressive 63 percent, just short of the two-thirds majority that would have given it the power to write the new constitution on its own without negotiating with other parties. The NP won a surprising 20 percent of the votes because of substantial support from Coloured and Asian voters who feared ANC domination. Only two other parties were able to win the 5 percent minimum for a cabinet seat in the coalition government: Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Freedom Front, a coalition of right-wing white groups.

The ANC won substantial majorities in seven of the nine newly established provinces, the exceptions being in the Western Cape region where the NP defeated the ANC, in part because of the support of Coloured voters, and in KwaZulu-Natal where the IFP was credited with a majority of the votes despite a number of voting irregularities. The PAC and the liberal Democratic Party had limited appeal for the electorate and made poor showings. Nelson Mandela was elected president of a coalition government by the National Assembly, and he chose Thabo Mbeki as one of two deputy presidents. Former president F. W. de Klerk was chosen by the NP as the other deputy president. In June South Africa rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations.

Majority Rule in South Africa

Although all apartheid legislation was repealed, South Africa remained a country of extreme contradictions. Mandela’s government faced the challenge of restructuring the economy and redistributing economic benefits, providing housing and health care, and improving employment possibilities and educational opportunities.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Another challenge Mandela’s government faced was how to handle the widespread allegations of human-rights violations and other atrocities committed by the former government during apartheid. In a move toward uncovering past events without further polarizing the society, the government created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

On April 15, 1996, this 17-member commission began conducting hearings, presided by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The purpose of the commission was to collect and investigate victims’ accounts from the period of 1960 through 1994, to consider amnesty for those who confess their participation in atrocities, and to make recommendations for reparations. The commission was established in the hope that it would foster healing and prevent such crimes from happening again.

Many people in South Africa, however, wanted punishment for those responsible for the crimes, and the commission’s compromises involving amnesty and confession were a source of controversy. Exposures of atrocities pointed to the highest levels of the apartheid regime. A former chief of the South African police force admitted that he had ordered acts of terror with the knowledge and approval of then President P. W. Botha and the cabinet. Activities of the ANC as well as the apartheid regime came under the scrutiny of the commission. In 1998 the commission released its final report, which condemned actions of all the major political organizations during the apartheid period.

New South African Constitution

The South African parliament approved a new constitution in May 1996. The right-wing Freedom Front abstained from the vote in parliament. The representatives of the IFP did not participate in the session at all. IFP representatives refused to participate mainly because the party advocates more autonomy for the provinces than the ANC is willing to allow. The new constitution excludes any discrimination based on race, gender, age, or sexual orientation, and abolishes the death penalty.

One day after adoption of the new constitution the NP decided to split from the coalition government. The NP contended that the new constitution did not provide shared power at the executive level or any form of joint decision-making. The NP also hoped that by leaving the government it would be able to establish itself as a viable opposition party.

In September 1996 the Constitutional Court declined to certify the new constitution because it failed to meet the terms of the interim constitution regarding the role of provincial government. The court ruled that the new constitution gave the nine provinces substantially fewer powers than the interim constitution required. By the end of the year, members of the Constitutional Assembly redrafted the constitution to meet the court’s requirements, and the final version was approved by parliament in December. The new constitution was implemented in stages between 1997 and 2000.

Recent Developments

In late 1997 President Mandela retired as party leader of the ANC and was replaced by executive deputy president Thabo Mbeki. Mandela, who announced in 1996 that he would not seek another term as president, groomed Mbeki to succeed him. In June 1999 legislative elections the ANC won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly and selected Mbeki as South Africa’s president.

In the early 21st century South Africa grappled with high unemployment, poverty, and a growing AIDS epidemic. Under Mbeki, the government extended the country’s infrastructure, bringing electricity and water to millions of South Africans, and built thousands of new houses for the poor. The government pledged to provide those same basic necessities to the millions of South Africans who have not yet received them. In April 2004 parliamentary elections the ANC won almost 70 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, which reelected Mbeki as president.

In 2006 South Africa became the first country in Africa, and the fifth in the world, to legalize same-sex marriage. The Constitutional Court had ruled in December 2005 that the country’s Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it did not include same-sex unions in the legal definition of marriage. The South African constitution’s bill of rights prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The court gave the South African parliament a year to amend the country’s marriage laws. The Civil Union Act, which went into effect at the end of November 2006, officially guarantees that married same-sex couples have all of the legal rights associated with marriage.

In 2007 Mbeki lost a challenge to his leadership of the ANC from Jacob Zuma. Mbeki had fired Zuma as deputy president in 2005 after Zuma’s financial advisor was found guilty of soliciting a bribe on his behalf. Zuma himself faced corruption charges, but those charges were later dismissed. In September 2008 a high court judge suggested that Mbeki had interfered in the corruption charges against Zuma, his political rival. Days later Mbeki resigned as president of South Africa, saying that he was doing so in the interest of preserving unity in the ANC. Mbeki was succeeded by Kgalema Motlanthe, a political ally of Zuma’s, who was to serve as an interim president until new elections could be held in early 2009.

In those elections the ANC won another overwhelming mandate, taking 66 percent of the vote and guaranteeing that Zuma would take office as president in May 2009. The ANC also won provincial elections in eight of the nine provinces, losing only in the Western Cape province, where the Democratic Alliance won 51 percent of the vote. Coloureds represent the largest bloc of voters in the Western Cape and were believed responsible for the Democratic Alliance’s victory there. The Congress of the People (COPE), a breakaway group from the ANC opposed to Mbeki’s ouster, fared poorly in the 2009 elections, winning only 7 percent of the vote.

The History section of this article was contributed by N. Brian Winchester and Patrick O’Meara. The remainder of the article was contributed by Anthony Lemon.

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