Interesting facts about South Africa

south africa flag

South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa.

The official name of the country is Republic of South Africa.

It is bounded on the south by 2,798 kilometers (1,739 mi) of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans; on the north by the neighbouring countries of NamibiaBotswana, and Zimbabwe; and on the east and northeast by Mozambique and Swaziland; and surrounds the kingdom of Lesotho.

There are eleven official languages of South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.

As of 1 January 2017, the population of South Africa was estimated to be 55,408,513 people.

It is the 24th largest country in the world in terms of land area with 1,221,037 square kilometers (471,445 square miles).

South Africa has three capital cities: Cape Town [photo below], as the seat of Parliament, is the legislative capital; Pretoria, as the seat of the President and Cabinet, is the administrative capital; and Bloemfontein, as the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal, is the judicial capital.

cape town

Johannesburg is the largest city in the country. While Johannesburg is not one of South Africa’s three capital cities, it is the seat of the Constitutional Court.

South Africa is renowned for its varied topography, great natural beauty, and cultural diversity, all of which have made the country a favoured destination for travelers since the legal ending of apartheid in 1994.

Fronted by reefs, the low-lying coastal areas of South Africa’s land rises (with a few exceptions) into a mostly level plateau, one crisscrossed by hills, mountains and shallow valleys in the east and northeast.

The Drakensberg (meaning: Dragon Mountains) are the highest mountain range in Southern Africa, rising to over 3,000 meters (9,850) in height. The Drakensberg is one of the most popular vacation destinations in South Africa. South Africa’s highest point, Mafadi at 3,450 meters (11,320 feet) is located there.


South Africa’s coastline is remarkably smooth, with very few natural harbours. The reason is that Southern Africa has been continuously uplifted for the past 180 million years, and especially so during the past 20 million years. The present coastline was therefore once part of the underwater continental shelf, which contains very few deep ravines or gorges.

South Africa boasts some of the finest beaches in the world. From the pristine coastal stretch of Cape Vidal in KwaZulu-Natal to the Eastern Cape’s famous Wild Coast, from the penguin colony of Boulders Beach to sun-drenched Camps Bay in the Western Cape.

boulders beach

The network of protected areas in South Africa covers about 14% of the national territory. It is made up of 20 national parks, plus other types of protected areas.

Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers an area of 19,485 square kilometers (7,525 square miles) in northeastern South Africa. The park extends 360 kilometers (220 miles) from north to south and 65 kilometers (40 mi) from east to west. It offers visitors the chance to see the “Big Five”: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino, as well as an astounding diversity of other wildlife. It’s also home to bushman rock paintings and archaeological sites.

kruger national park

Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top. The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. Table Mountain is home to large array of fauna and flora, most of which is endemic.

table mountain

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden lives up to its reputation as the most beautiful garden in Africa and one of the great botanic gardens of the world. Few gardens can match the sheer grandeur of the setting of Kirstenbosch, against the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Kirstenbosch was established in 1913 to promote, conserve and display the extraordinarily rich and diverse flora of southern Africa, and was the first botanic garden in the world to be devoted to a country’s indigenous flora.

kirstenbosch national botanical garden

Cape Point Nature Reserve is a must-see destination offering dramatic scenery, fantastic hiking trails and deserted beaches with spectacular ocean views. By far the most popular attractions in the reserve are the two peaks right at the tip of the peninsula: Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope [photo below]. Although these two rocky capes are very well known, neither cape is actually the southernmost point of the mainland of Africa; that is Cape Agulhas, approximately 150 kilometers (93 miles) to the east-southeast.

cape of good hope

Robben Island was used at various times between the 17th and 20th centuries as a prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups and a military base. Its buildings, particularly those of the late 20th century such as the maximum security prison for political prisoners, witness the triumph of democracy and freedom over oppression and racism. To date, three of the former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma.

robben island

As one of Cape Town’s largest tourist attractions and most visited destinations, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront invokes images of the earliest days of the harbor. Situated within an entertainment mecca filled with restaurants, specialty shops, pubs, and theaters, there is something here for everyone to enjoy. Beyond amusements, there are also some attractions including the infamous Clock Tower, Chavonnes Battery, the South African Maritime Museum and the coastal Seal Landing where Cape Fur Seals reside.

victoria and alfred waterfront

The Garden Route is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist attractions and is generally thought to stretch from Mossel Bay to St Francis along the Indian ocean and also includes parts of the inland. A trove of indigenous canopied forests, mountains, rivers, tranquil lakes and golden beaches grace this extensive South Africa region. It also includes towns such as Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, Mossel Bay, Little Brak River and Nature’s Valley; with George, the Garden Route’s largest city and main administrative centre.

garden route

The Cape Winelands are a region in the south of South Africa. The winelands boasts some of the most majestic scenery in South Africa. It is situated to the north-east of Cape Town and offers a beautiful landscape of wine hills and mountains. It’s a superb wine-producing area, and indeed the best known in South Africa.

cape winelands

The Blyde River Canyon is a significant natural feature of South Africa. It is 25 kilometres (16 miles) in length and is, on average, around 750 metres (2,461 feet) deep. While it is difficult to compare canyons world-wide, Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons on Earth, and it may be the largest ‘green canyon’ due to its lush subtropical foliage. It has some of the deepest precipitous cliffs of any canyon on the planet. It is the second largest canyon in Africa, after the Fish River Canyon, and is known as one of the great wonders of nature on the continent.

blyde river canyon

South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological and human fossil sites in the world. Extensive fossil remains have been recovered from a series of caves in Gauteng Province. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been termed the Cradle of Humankind. [Photo: Cradle of Humankind, Meseum]

cradle of humankind museum

By the 14th century C.E, the region was settled by the Bantu people who migrated from central Africa. South Africa was first inhabited by Europeans in 1488 when the Portuguese arrived at the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1652, the Netherlands established the southern city of Cape Town, and Dutch farmers, called Boers, began settling in the areas around the city.

In 1806, wars in Europe left the British in control of the Cape Town colony.

In 1910, the British united four colonies in the region and created South Africa.

They established laws that separated whites from black South Africans, a practice of segregation called apartheid, which led to decades of conflict.

South Africa declared itself a republic in 1961 and severed its ties with the Commonwealth, which strongly objected to the country’s racist policies.

In 1963, Nelson Mandela, head of the anti-apartheid African National Congress, was given a life sentence in jail for “terrorist” activities. In 1990, after 27 years behind bars, he was freed by President F.W. de Klerk.

Four years later on May 10, 1994, Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black president and during his time in office he was committed to reforming race-relations in the country and strengthening its economy and place in the world.

South Africa has a mixed economy, the second largest in Africa after Nigeria. It also has a relatively high GDP per capita compared to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.