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South Africa Safari

South Africa Information

South African Mission Station at Zoar The sangoma, a Zulu diviner in South Africa Jacaranda-lined avenue in Pretoria, South Africa
Go to History section           Go to Public Holidays           Return to Map of South Africa

Geography and Ethnicity
South Africa covers 1,219,912 sq km, slightly less than twice the size of the state of Texas. It's massive coastline extends for 2,798 km.

The capital is Pretoria; note - Cape Town is the legislative center and Bloemfontein the judicial center.

Administrative divisions: There are 9 provinces; Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape and Western Cape.

South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Swaziland.

Its current population is not known with certainty, but the most recent estimate (July 2008) puts the number at 48.8 million people. Note: estimates explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected

It is estimated (2003 est) that 21.5% of the adult population (5.3 million South Africans) are living with HIV/AIDS and that 370,000 per year die from the disease.

Ethnicity is as follows: Black- 79%; White-9.6%; Coloured-8.9%; Indian/Asian-2.5% (2001 census).

Religious groups are as follows: Christian-79.7% (includes most whites and Coloureds, about 60% of blacks and about 40% of Indians), Muslim 1.5%, Hindu 1.5% (60% of Indians), indigenous beliefs and animist 28.5%.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, including Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.

Political Summary
In the current politics of South Africa, the African National Congress is the ruling party at a national level, and in most provinces, having received 69.7% of the vote during the 2004 general election and 66.3% of the vote in the 2006 municipal election. The main challenger to the ANC's rule is the Democratic Alliance party, which received 12.4% of the vote in the 2004 election and 14.8% in the 2006 election. The leader of this party is Helen Zille. Other major political parties represented in Parliament are the Inkatha Freedom Party, which mainly represents Zulu voters, with 6.97%; and the Independent Democrats with 1.7% in the 2004 election. The formerly dominant New National Party, who introduced apartheid through its predecessor the National Party, received very few votes and disbanded on 9 April 2005 to merge with the ANC

The current South African president is Kgalema Motlanthe. Fifteen cabinet ministers, including the current Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, resigned after the resignation of the previous president Thabo Mbeki on September 21, 2008, though some, including Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, indicated their willingness to be reappointed by the new president.

Chief of state: President Kgalema MOTLANTHE (since 25 September 2008); Executive Deputy President Baleka MBETE (since 25 September 2008); note - Thabo MBEKI resigned as president effective 25 September 2008; the president is both the chief of state and head of government.
Head of government: President Kgalema MOTLANTHE (since 25 September 2008); Executive Deputy President Baleka MBETE (since 25 September 2008) cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president .
Cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president.
Elections: president elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 25 September 2008 (next to be held in April 2009); note - Kgalema MOTLANTHE is serving out the term of Thabo MBEKI.
Election results: Kgalema MOTLANTHE elected president; National Assembly vote - Kgalema MOTLANTHE 269, Joe SEREMANE 50, other 41; note - Thabo MBEKI resigned as president effective 25 September 2008, Kgalema MOTLANTHE is serving the remainder of his term.

Legislative Branch: Bicameral Parliament consisting of the National Assembly (400 seats; members are elected by popular vote under a system of proportional representation to serve five-year terms) and the National Council of Provinces (90 seats, 10 members elected by each of the nine provincial legislatures for five-year terms; has special powers to protect regional interests, including the safeguarding of cultural and linguistic traditions among ethnic minorities);
note - following the implementation of the new constitution on 3 February 1997, the former Senate was disbanded and replaced by the National Council of Provinces with essentially no change in membership and party affiliations, although the new institution's responsibilities have been changed somewhat by the new constitution.

The Flag
South Africa flagTwo equal width horizontal bands of red (top) and blue separated by a central green band which splits into a horizontal Y, the arms of which end at the corners of the hoist side; the Y embraces a black isosceles triangle from which the arms are separated by narrow yellow bands; the red and blue bands are separated from the green band and its arms by narrow white stripes. Note: prior to 26 April 1994, the flag was actually four flags in one - three miniature flags reproduced in the center of the white band of the former flag of the Netherlands, which had three equal horizontal bands of orange (top), white, and blue; the miniature flags were a vertically hanging flag of the old Orange Free State with a horizontal flag of the UK adjoining on the hoist side and a horizontal flag of the old Transvaal Republic adjoining on the other side.

South Africa has rich mineral resources. It is the world's largest producer and exporter of gold and platinum and also exports a significant amount of coal. Another major export is diamonds. During 2000, platinum overtook gold as South Africa's largest foreign exchange earner. The value-added processing of minerals to produce ferroalloys, stainless steels, and similar products is a major industry and an important growth area. The country's diverse manufacturing industry is a world leader in several specialised sectors, including railway rolling stock, synthetic fuels, and mining equipment and machinery.

Exports: $76.19 billion (2007 est): gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment.
Major markets: US 11.9%, Japan 11.1%, Germany 8%, UK 7.7%, China 6.6%, Netherlands 4.5% (2007).

Imports: $81.89 billion (2007 est): machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, scientific instruments, foodstuffs .
Major suppliers: Germany 10.9%, China 10%, Spain 8.2%, US 7.2%, Japan 6.1%, UK 4.5%, Saudi Arabia 4.2% (2007).

South Africa is a middle-income, emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors; a stock exchange that ranks among the 10 largest in the world; and a modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region. However, growth has not been strong enough to lower South Africa's high unemployment rate, and daunting economic problems remain from the apartheid era - especially poverty and lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups. South African economic policy is fiscally conservative, but pragmatic, focusing on targeting inflation and liberalizing trade as means to increase job growth and household income.

Other problems are crime, corruption, and HIV/AIDS. At the start of 2000, President MBEKI vowed to promote economic growth and foreign investment, and to reduce poverty by relaxing restrictive labor laws, stepping up the pace of privatization, and cutting unneeded governmental spending.

The currency is the South African Rand (ZAR). Recent exchange rates are as follows: rand per US dollar: - 9.43 (12/31/2008); 6.75 (12/31/2007); 6.96 (12/31/2006); 6.35 (12/31/2005); 5.67 (12/31/2004); 6.65 (12/31/2003); 8.66 (12/31/2002); 12.11 (12/31/2001); 7.59 (12/31/2000); 6.16 (12/31/1999); 5.88 (12/31/1998); 4.87 (12/31/1997).  Use our Currency Converter to check the rate on any specific day, past or present.

International Disputes
• South Africa has placed military along the border to apprehend the thousands of Zimbabweans fleeing economic dysfunction and political persecution.
• As of January 2007, South Africa also supports large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (33,000), Somalia (20,000), Burundi (6,500), and other states in Africa (26,000).
• Mmanaged dispute with Namibia over the location of the boundary in the Orange River.
• In 2006, Swazi king advocates resort to ICJ to claim parts of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal from South Africa.

Climate            For temperature and rainfall details in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, click African Safari Weather
South Africa enjoys a temperate and pleasant climate, with lovely warm sunny days most of the year. The seasons of the southern hemisphere are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere so our summers run from November to February, when most of the country is characterised by hot weather with afternoon thunderstorms. Winters are generally mild and dry. South Africa enjoys one of the world's highest average daily hours of sunshine - 8.5 compared with 3.8 in London, 6.4 in Rome and 6.9 in New York.

 2006  2007 Holiday
01 January** 01 January** New Year's Day
01 March N/A Local government elections
21 March 21 March Human Rights Day
14 April 06 April Good Friday (Friday before Easter Sunday)
17 April 09 April Family Day (Monday after Easter Sunday)
27 April 27 April Freedom Day
01 May 01 May Workers Day
16 June 16 June Youth Day
09 August 09 August National Women's Day
24 September** 24 September** Heritage Day
16 December 16 December Day of Reconciliation
25 December 25 December Christmas Day
26 December 26 December Day of Goodwill

**The Public Holidays Act (Act No 36 of 1994) determines whenever any public holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday following it shall be a public holiday.

Human Rights Day
Commemorates the fateful events of 21 March 1960, when demonstrators were gunned down by police:
The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 extended Government control over the movement of Africans to urban areas and abolished the use of the Pass Book (a document which Africans were required to carry on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’) in favour of a reference book which had to be carried at all times by all Africans.

Failure to produce the reference book on demand by the police was a punishable offence. The PAC proposed an anti-Pass campaign to start on 21 March 1960. All African men were to take part in the campaign without their passes and present themselves for arrest.

Campaigners gathered at police stations in townships near Johannesburg where they were dispersed by police. At the Sharpeville police station a scuffle broke out. Part of a wire fence was trampled, allowing the crowd to move forward. The police opened fire, apparently without having been given a prior order to do so. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 wounded.

In apartheid South Africa this day became known as Sharpeville Day and although not part of the official calendar of public holidays the event was commemorated among anti-apartheid movements.

Freedom Day
Commemoration of the first democratic elections held in South Africa on 27 April 1994.

Youth Day
Previously known as Soweto Day.
In 1975 protests started in African schools after a directive from the previous Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as a language of instruction in secondary schools. The issue however, was not so much the Afrikaans, as the whole system of Bantu education which was characterised by separate schools and universities, poor facilities, overcrowded classrooms and inadequately trained teachers.

On 16 June 1976 more than 20,000 pupils from Soweto began a protest march. In the wake of clashes with the police, and the violence that ensued during the next few weeks, approximately 700 people, many of them youths, were killed and property destroyed. Youth Day commemorates these events.

National Women's Day
This day commemorates 9 August 1956, when women participating in a national march petitioned against pass laws (legislation that required African persons to carry a document on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’).

Heritage Day
"The day is one of our newly created public holidays and its significance rests in recognising aspects of South African culture which are both tangible and difficult to pin down: creative expression, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the land in which we live.

Within a broader social and political context, the day's events…are a powerful agent for promulgating a South African identity, fostering reconciliation and promoting the notion that variety is a national asset as opposed to igniting conflict.

Heritage has defined as "that which we inherit: the sum total of wild life and scenic parks, sites of scientific or historical importance, national monuments, historic buildings, works of art, literature and music, oral traditions and museum collections together with their documentation."
(Statement issued by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, 17 September 1996)

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, (former) President Mandela stated:
"When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.

We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy."

Government determines a theme for each year’s celebrations.commemorated among anti-apartheid movements.

Day of Reconciliation
During the earlier part of the 19th century, many Afrikaner farmers left the eastern cape and moved inland. Among them was the Voortrekkers, a group of Afrikaners protesting British colonialism and seeking independent republics on what was reputedly empty land. But the land was not empty and clashes between these Afrikaners and indigenous peoples were inevitable.

Late in 1837 one of the Voortrekker leaders, Piet Retief, entered into negotiations for land with Dingane, the Zulu king. In terms of the negotiations Dingane promised the Voortrekkers land on condition they returned cattle to him stolen by Sekonyela (the Tlokwa chief). This Retief did and apparently he and Dingane signed a treaty on 6 February 1838. During the ceremony Dingane had Retief and his entourage murdered - an event which was witnessed by Francis Owen, a missionary who described the scene in his diary.

In ensuing battles between Zulus and Voortrekkers over the next few months numerous lives were lost on both sides.

On 16 December 1838 about 10 00 troops under the command of Dambuza (Nzobo) and Nhlela attacked the Voortrekkers, but the 470 Voortrekkers, with the advantage of gun powder, warded them off. Only three Voortrekkers were wounded, but more than 3 000 Zulus were killed during the battle.

In apartheid South Africa 16 December was known as Day of the Vow, as the Voortrekkers in preparation for the battle took a Vow before God that they would build a church and that they and their descendants would observe the day as a day of thanksgiving should they be granted victory. With the advent of democracy in South Africa 16 December retained its status as a public holiday, however, this time with the purpose of fostering reconciliation and national unity.

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