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South Africa

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Republic of South Africa
10 other official names[1]
  • Zulu:iRiphabhuliki yaseNingizimu Afrika
    Xhosa:iRiphabhlikhi yoMzantsi Afrika
    Afrikaans:Republiek van Suid-Afrika
    Pedi:Repabliki ya Afrika-Borwa
    Southern Sotho:Rephaboliki ya Afrika Borwa
    Tswana:Rephaboliki ya Aforika Borwa
    Tsonga:Riphabliki ya Afrika Dzonga
    Swati:iRiphabhulikhi yaseNingizimu-Afrika
    Venda:Riphabuḽiki ya Afurika Tshipembe
    Southern Ndebele:iRiphabliki yeSewula Afrika
Motto: "ǃke e: ǀxarra ǁke" (
Unity in Diversity"
Anthem: "National anthem of South Africa"
South Africa adm location map.svg
Capital
Largest cityJohannesburg[3]
Official languages11 languages[1]
Black
  • 8.8% Coloured
  • 7.9% White
  • 2.6% Asian
  • Religion
    (2016)[6]
    • 10.9%
      South African
    GovernmentUnitary dominant-party parliamentary republic with an executive presidency
    • President
    Cyril Ramaphosa
    David Mabuza
    Amos Masondo
    Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula
    Raymond Zondo
    LegislatureParliament
    National Council
    National Assembly
    Independence 
    • Union
    31 May 1910
    11 December 1931
    • Republic
    31 May 1961
    27 April 1994
    Area
    • Total
    1,221,037 km2 (471,445 sq mi) (24th)
    • Water (%)
    0.380
    Population
    • 2022 estimate
    60 604 992 (2022 est.)[7] (24th)
    • 2011 census
    51,770,560[8]: 18 
    • Density
    42.4/km2 (109.8/sq mi) (169th)
    GDP (PPP)2022 estimate
    • Total
    Increase $924 billion[9] (33rd)
    • Per capita
    Increase $15,361[9] (95th)
    GDP (nominal)2022 estimate
    • Total
    Increase $419 billion[9] (36th)
    • Per capita
    Increase $6,979[9] (89th)
    Gini (2014)Positive decrease 63.0[10]
    very high
    HDI (2021)Increase 0.713[11]
    high · 109th
    CurrencySouth African rand (ZAR)
    Time zoneUTC+2 (SAST)
    Date formatShort formats:
    +27
    ISO 3166 codeZA
    Internet TLD.za

    South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded to the south by 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) of coastline that stretch along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans;[14][15][16] to the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and to the east and northeast by Mozambique and Eswatini. It also completely enclaves the country Lesotho.[17] It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World, and the second-most populous country located entirely south of the equator, after Tanzania. South Africa is a biodiversity hotspot, with unique biomes, plant and animal life. With over 60 million people, the country is the world's 24th-most populous nation and covers an area of 1,221,037 square kilometres (471,445 square miles). South Africa has three capital cities, with the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government based in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, and Cape Town respectively. The largest city is Johannesburg.

    About 80% of the population are Black South Africans.[16] The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (White South Africans), Asian (Indian South Africans and Chinese South Africans), and multiracial (Coloured South Africans) ancestry. South Africa is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, the fourth-highest number in the world.[16] According to the 2011 census, the two most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%) and Xhosa (16.0%).[8] The two next ones are of European origin: Afrikaans (13.5%) developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most Coloured and White South Africans; English (9.6%) reflects the legacy of British colonialism and is commonly used in public and commercial life.

    The country is one of the few in Africa never to have had a coup d'état, and regular elections have been held for almost a century. However, the vast majority of Black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994. During the 20th century, the black majority sought to claim more rights from the dominant white minority, which played a large role in the country's recent history and politics. The National Party imposed apartheid in 1948, institutionalising previous racial segregation. After a long and sometimes violent struggle by the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, the repeal of discriminatory laws began in the mid-1980s. Since 1994, all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in the country's liberal democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is often referred to as the "rainbow nation" to describe the country's multicultural diversity, especially in the wake of apartheid.[18]

    South Africa is a middle power in international affairs; it maintains significant regional influence and is a member of both the Commonwealth of Nations and the G20.[19][20] It is a developing country, ranking 109th on the Human Development Index, the 2nd highest in Africa. It has been classified by the World Bank as a newly industrialised country and has the third-largest economy in Africa and the most industrialized, technologically advanced economy in Africa overall[21] as well as the 33rd-largest in the world.[22][23] South Africa has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa. Since the end of apartheid, government accountability and quality of life have substantially improved.[24] However, crime, poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about two-fifths of the total population being unemployed as of 2021,[25] while some three-fifths of the population lived under the poverty line in 2014 and a quarter under $2.15 a day.[26][27]

    Etymology

    The name "South Africa" is derived from the country's geographic location at the southern tip of Africa. Upon formation, the country was named the Union of South Africa in English and Unie van Zuid-Afrika in Dutch, reflecting its origin from the unification of four formerly separate British colonies. Since 1961, the long formal name in English has been the "Republic of South Africa" and Republiek van Suid-Afrika in Afrikaans. Since 1994, the country has had an official name in each of its 11 official languages.

    Mzansi, derived from the Xhosa noun uMzantsi meaning "south", is a colloquial name for South Africa,[28][29] while some Pan-Africanist political parties prefer the term "Azania".[30]

    History

    Prehistoric archaeology

    Front of Maropeng at the Cradle of Humankind

    South Africa contains some of the oldest archaeological and

    Province.

    These finds suggest that various hominid species existed in South Africa from about three million years ago, starting with

    Homo helmei, Homo naledi and modern humans (Homo sapiens). Modern humans have inhabited Southern Africa for at least 170,000 years. Various researchers have located pebble tools within the Vaal River valley.[35][36]

    Bantu expansion

    Mapungubwe Hill, the site of the former capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe

    Settlements of Bantu-speaking peoples, who were iron-using agriculturists and herdsmen, were present south of the Limpopo River (now the northern border with Botswana and Zimbabwe) by the 4th or 5th century CE. They displaced, conquered, and absorbed the original Khoisan, Khoikhoi and San peoples. The Bantu slowly moved south. The earliest ironworks in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal Province are believed to date from around 1050. The southernmost group was the Xhosa people, whose language incorporates certain linguistic traits from the earlier Khoisan people. The Xhosa reached the Great Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. As they migrated, these larger Iron Age populations displaced or assimilated earlier peoples. In Mpumalanga Province, several stone circles have been found along with a stone arrangement that has been named Adam's Calendar, and the ruins are thought to be created by the Bakone, a Northern Sotho people.[37][38]

    Portuguese exploration

    Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias planting the cross at Cape Point after being the first to successfully round the Cape of Good Hope
    .

    In 1487, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias led the first European voyage to land in southern Africa.[39] On 4 December, he landed at Walfisch Bay (now known as Walvis Bay in present-day Namibia). This was south of the furthest point reached in 1485 by his predecessor, the Portuguese navigator Diogo Cão (Cape Cross, north of the bay). Dias continued down the western coast of southern Africa. After 8 January 1488, prevented by storms from proceeding along the coast, he sailed out of sight of land and passed the southernmost point of Africa without seeing it. He reached as far up the eastern coast of Africa as, what he called, Rio do Infante, probably the present-day Groot River, in May 1488. On his return he saw the cape, which he named Cabo das Tormentas ('Cape of Storms'). King John II renamed the point Cabo da Boa Esperança, or Cape of Good Hope, as it led to the riches of the East Indies.[40] Dias' feat of navigation was immortalised in Luís de Camões' 1572 epic poem Os Lusíadas.

    Dutch colonisation

    Charles Davidson Bell's 19th-century painting of Jan van Riebeeck, who founded the first European settlement in South Africa, arrives in Table Bay
    in 1652

    By the early 17th century, Portugal's maritime power was starting to decline, and English and Dutch merchants competed to oust Portugal from its lucrative monopoly on the spice trade.[41] Representatives of the British East India Company sporadically called at the cape in search of provisions as early as 1601 but later came to favour Ascension Island and Saint Helena as alternative ports of refuge.[42] Dutch interest was aroused after 1647, when two employees of the Dutch East India Company were shipwrecked at the cape for several months. The sailors were able to survive by obtaining fresh water and meat from the natives.[42] They also sowed vegetables in the fertile soil.[43] Upon their return to Holland, they reported favourably on the cape's potential as a "warehouse and garden" for provisions to stock passing ships for long voyages.[42]

    In 1652, a century and a half after the discovery of the cape sea route, Jan van Riebeeck established a victualling station at the Cape of Good Hope, at what would become Cape Town, on behalf of the Dutch East India Company.[44][45] In time, the cape became home to a large population of vrijlieden, also known as vrijburgers (lit.'free citizens'), former company employees who stayed in Dutch territories overseas after serving their contracts.[45] Dutch traders also brought thousands of enslaved people to the fledgling colony from Indonesia, Madagascar, and parts of eastern Africa.[46] Some of the earliest mixed race communities in the country were formed between vrijburgers, enslaved people, and indigenous peoples.[47] This led to the development of a new ethnic group, the Cape Coloureds, most of whom adopted the Dutch language and Christian faith.[47]

    The eastward expansion of Dutch colonists ushered in a series of wars with the southwesterly migrating Xhosa tribe, known as the Xhosa Wars, as both sides competed for the pastureland near the Great Fish River, which the colonists desired for grazing cattle.[48] Vrijburgers who became independent farmers on the frontier were known as Boers, with some adopting semi-nomadic lifestyles being denoted as trekboers.[48] The Boers formed loose militias, which they termed commandos, and forged alliances with Khoisan peoples to repel Xhosa raids.[48] Both sides launched bloody but inconclusive offensives, and sporadic violence, often accompanied by livestock theft, remained common for several decades.[48]

    British colonisation and the Great Trek

    Great Britain occupied Cape Town between 1795 and 1803 to prevent it from falling under the control of the French First Republic, which had invaded the Low Countries.[48] After briefly returning to Dutch rule under the Batavian Republic in 1803, the cape was occupied again by the British in 1806.[49] Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, it was formally ceded to Great Britain and became an integral part of the British Empire.[50] British emigration to South Africa began around 1818, subsequently culminating in the arrival of the 1820 Settlers.[50] The new colonists were induced to settle for a variety of reasons, namely to increase the size of the European workforce and to bolster frontier regions against Xhosa incursions.[50]

    In the first two decades of the 19th century, the Zulu people grew in power and expanded their territory under their leader, Shaka.[51] Shaka's warfare indirectly led to the Mfecane ('crushing'), in which one to two million people were killed and the inland plateau was devastated and depopulated in the early 1820s.[52][53] An offshoot of the Zulu, the Matabele people created a larger empire that included large parts of the highveld under their king Mzilikazi.

    During the early 19th century, many Dutch settlers departed from the

    Voortrekkers, meaning "pathfinders" or "pioneers". They migrated to the future Natal, Free State, and Transvaal regions. The Boers founded the Boer republics: the South African Republic, the Natalia Republic, and the Orange Free State
    .

    The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1884 in the interior started the Mineral Revolution and increased economic growth and immigration. This intensified British efforts to gain control over the indigenous peoples. The struggle to control these important economic resources was a factor in relations between Europeans and the indigenous population and also between the Boers and the British.[54]

    On 16 May 1876, President Thomas François Burgers of the South African Republic declared war against the Pedi people. King Sekhukhune managed to defeat the army on 1 August 1876. Another attack by the Lydenburg Volunteer Corps was also repulsed. On 16 February 1877, the two parties signed a peace treaty at Botshabelo.[55] The Boers' inability to subdue the Pedi led to the departure of Burgers in favour of Paul Kruger and the British annexation of the South African Republic. In 1878 and 1879 three British attacks were successfully repelled until Garnet Wolseley defeated Sekhukhune in November 1879 with an army of 2,000 British soldiers, Boers and 10,000 Swazis.

    The Anglo-Zulu War was fought in 1879 between the British and the Zulu Kingdom. Following Lord Carnarvon's successful introduction of federation in Canada, it was thought that similar political effort, coupled with military campaigns, might succeed with the African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa. In 1874, Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as the British High Commissioner to bring such plans into being. Among the obstacles were the presence of the independent states of the Boers, and the Zululand army. The Zulu nation defeated the British at the Battle of Isandlwana. Eventually, though, Zululand lost the war, resulting in the termination of the Zulu nation's independence.

    Boer Wars

    Boer victory over the British at the Battle of Majuba Hill of the First Boer War
    , 1881
    Boer women and children in a British concentration camp during the Second Boer War

    The Boer republics successfully resisted British encroachments during the First Boer War (1880–1881) using guerrilla warfare tactics, which were well-suited to local conditions. The British returned with greater numbers, more experience, and new strategy in the Second Boer War (1899–1902) and, although they suffered heavy casualties through attrition, they were ultimately successful. Over 27,000 Boer women and children died in the British concentration camps.[56]

    South Africa's urban population grew rapidly from the end of the 19th century onward. After the devastation of the wars, Dutch-descendant Boer farmers fled into cities from the devastated Transvaal and Orange Free State territories to become the class of the white urban poor.[57]

    Independence

    Anti-British policies among white South Africans focused on independence. During the Dutch and British colonial years, racial segregation was mostly informal, though some legislation was enacted to control the settlement and movement of indigenous people, including the Native Location Act of 1879 and the system of pass laws.[58][59][60][61][62]

    Eight years after the end of the Second Boer War and after four years of negotiation, the South Africa Act 1909 granted nominal independence while creating the Union of South Africa on 31 May 1910. The union was a dominion that included the former territories of the Cape, Transvaal and Natal colonies, as well as the Orange Free State republic.[63] The Natives' Land Act of 1913 severely restricted the ownership of land by blacks; at that stage they controlled only 7% of the country. The amount of land reserved for indigenous peoples was later marginally increased.[64]

    In 1931, the union became fully sovereign from the United Kingdom with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, which abolished the last powers of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to legislate on the country. Only three other African countries—Liberia, Ethiopia, and Egypt—had been independent prior to that point. In 1934, the South African Party and National Party merged to form the United Party, seeking reconciliation between Afrikaners and English-speaking whites. In 1939, the party split over the entry of the union into World War II as an ally of the United Kingdom, a move which the National Party followers strongly opposed.

    Beginning of apartheid

    In 1948, the National Party was elected to power. It strengthened the racial segregation begun under Dutch and British colonial rule. Taking Canada's Indian Act as a framework,[65] the nationalist government classified all peoples into three races (Whites, Blacks, Indians and Coloured people (people of mixed race)) and developed rights and limitations for each. The white minority (less than 20%)[66] controlled the vastly larger black majority. The legally institutionalised segregation became known as apartheid. While whites enjoyed the highest standard of living in all of Africa, comparable to First World Western nations, the black majority remained disadvantaged by almost every standard, including income, education, housing, and life expectancy.[67] The Freedom Charter, adopted in 1955 by the Congress Alliance, demanded a non-racial society and an end to discrimination.

    Republic

    On 31 May 1961, the country became a republic following a referendum (only open to white voters) which narrowly passed;[68] the British-dominated Natal province largely voted against the proposal. Elizabeth II lost the title Queen of South Africa, and the last Governor-General, Charles Robberts Swart, became state president. As a concession to the Westminster system, the appointment of the president remained an appointment by parliament and was virtually powerless until P. W. Botha's Constitution Act of 1983, which eliminated the office of prime minister and instated a unique "strong presidency" responsible to parliament. Pressured by other Commonwealth of Nations countries, South Africa withdrew from the organisation in 1961 and rejoined it in 1994.

    Despite opposition to apartheid both within and outside the country, the government legislated for a continuation of apartheid. The security forces cracked down on internal dissent, and violence became widespread, with anti-apartheid organisations such as the African National Congress (ANC), the Azanian People's Organisation, and the Pan-Africanist Congress carrying out guerrilla warfare[69] and urban sabotage.[70] The three rival resistance movements also engaged in occasional inter-factional clashes as they jockeyed for domestic influence.[71] Apartheid became increasingly controversial, and several countries began to boycott business with the South African government because of its racial policies. These measures were later extended to international sanctions and the divestment of holdings by foreign investors.[72][73]

    End of apartheid

    The Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith, signed by Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Harry Schwarz in 1974, enshrined the principles of peaceful transition of power and equality for all, the first of such agreements by black and white political leaders in South Africa. Ultimately, F.W. de Klerk opened bilateral discussions with Nelson Mandela in 1993 for a transition of policies and government.

    In 1990, the National Party government took the first step towards dismantling discrimination when it lifted the ban on the ANC and other political organisations. It released Nelson Mandela from prison after 27 years of serving a sentence for sabotage. A negotiation process followed. With approval from the white electorate in a 1992 referendum, the government continued negotiations to end apartheid. South Africa held its first universal elections in 1994, which the ANC won by an overwhelming majority. It has been in power ever since. The country rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations and became a member of the Southern African Development Community.

    In post-apartheid South Africa, unemployment remained high. While many blacks have risen to middle or upper classes, the overall unemployment rate of black people worsened between 1994 and 2003 by official metrics but declined significantly using expanded definitions.[74] Poverty among whites, which was previously rare, increased.[75] The government struggled to achieve the monetary and fiscal discipline to ensure both redistribution of wealth and economic growth. The United Nations Human Development Index rose steadily until the mid-1990s[76] then fell from 1995 to 2005 before recovering its 1995 peak in 2013.[77] The fall is in large part attributable to the South African HIV/AIDS pandemic which saw South African life expectancy fall from a high point of 62 years in 1992 to a low of 53 in 2005,[78] and the failure of the government to take steps to address the pandemic in its early years.[79]

    Supporters watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup with vuvuzelas in the township of Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg

    In May 2008, riots left over 60 people dead.[80] The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions estimated that over 100,000 people were driven from their homes.[81] The targets were mainly legal and illegal migrants, and refugees seeking asylum, but a third of the victims were South African citizens.[80] In a 2006 survey, the South African Migration Project concluded that South Africans are more opposed to immigration than any other national group.[82] The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2008 reported over 200,000 refugees applied for asylum in South Africa, almost four times as many as the year before.[83] These people were mainly from Zimbabwe, though many also come from Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.[83] Competition over jobs, business opportunities, public services and housing has led to tension between refugees and host communities.[83] While xenophobia in South Africa is still a problem, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2011 reported that recent violence had not been as widespread as initially feared.[83] Nevertheless, as South Africa continues to grapple with racial issues, one of the proposed solutions has been to pass legislation, such as the pending Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, to uphold South Africa's ban on racism and commitment to equality.[84][85]

    By 2020, numerous warnings have been issued that South Africa is heading towards failed state status [86][87] with unsustainable government spending, high unemployment, high crime rates, corruption, failing government owned enterprises and collapsing infrastructure.[88][89][90] In 2022, The World Economic Forum said that South Africa risks state collapse and identified five major risks facing the country.[91] The Director-General of the South African Treasury, Dondo Mogajane, has said that, "SA is showing the signs of a failing state more common in countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia".[92] Former minister Jay Naidoo has said that South Africa is in serious trouble and is showing signs of a failed state, with record unemployment levels and the fact that many young people will not find a job in their lifetime.[93] Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt said the country is in deep trouble, “South Africans have been getting poorer for a decade". He said he is very concerned because 32 million people get an income from the state. The state cannot afford this anymore".[94] Neal Froneman, CEO of Sibanye-Stillwater, said that crime is out of control, with ‘mafia-style shakedowns’ for procurement contracts becoming the norm. “Government leadership has created this problem and they are doing nothing. The government can’t deal with it because it goes against their ideology".[95] Professor Eddy Maloka, from the Institute of Risk Management, “The ANC has left us in a mess. They’ve turned their crisis into ours... Government has collapsed in areas across the country. We are seeing inner-cities collapse and degenerate”.[96] Professor David Himbara said that "South Africa is a classic case of a de facto one-party state with mismanaged institutions and endemic crime and corruption".[97]

    Geography

    Satellite image
    of South Africa

    South Africa is in southernmost Africa, with a coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km (1,553 mi) and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian). At 1,219,912 km2 (471,011 sq mi),[98] South Africa is the 24th-largest country in the world.[99] Excluding the Prince Edward Islands, the country lies between latitudes 22° and 35°S, and longitudes 16° and 33°E. The interior of South Africa consists of a large, in most places almost flat plateau with an altitude of between 1,000 m (3,300 ft) and 2,100 m (6,900 ft), highest in the east and sloping gently downwards towards the west and north, and slightly so to the south and south-west.[100] This plateau is surrounded by the Great Escarpment[101] whose eastern, and highest, stretch is known as the Drakensberg.[102] Mafadi in the Drakensberg at 3,450 m (11,320 ft) is the highest peak. The KwaZulu-Natal–Lesotho international border is formed by the highest portion of the Great Escarpment which reaches an altitude of over 3,000 m (9,800 ft).[103]

    The south and south-western parts of the plateau (at approximately 1,100–1,800 m above sea level) and the adjoining plain below (at approximately 700–800 m above sea level – see map on the right) is known as the Great Karoo, which consists of sparsely populated shrubland. To the north, the Great Karoo fades into the more arid Bushmanland, which eventually becomes the Kalahari Desert in the north-west of the country. The mid-eastern and highest part of the plateau is known as the Highveld. This relatively well-watered area is home to a great proportion of the country's commercial farmlands and contains its largest conurbation (Gauteng). To the north of Highveld, from about the 25° 30' S line of latitude, the plateau slopes downwards into the Bushveld, which ultimately gives way to the Limpopo River lowlands or Lowveld.[101]

    The coastal belt, below the Great Escarpment, moving clockwise from the northeast, consists of the Limpopo Lowveld, which merges into the Mpumalanga Lowveld, below the Mpumalanga Drakensberg (the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment).[104] This is hotter, drier and less intensely cultivated than the Highveld above the escarpment.[101] The Kruger National Park, located in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in north-eastern South Africa, occupies a large portion of the Lowveld covering 19,633 square kilometres (7,580 sq mi.)[105]

    Spring flowers in Namaqualand

    The coastal belt below the south and south-western stretches of the Great Escarpment contains several ranges of Cape Fold Mountains which run parallel to the coast, separating the Great Escarpment from the ocean.[106][107] (These parallel ranges of fold mountains are shown on the map, above left. Note the course of the Great Escarpment to the north of these mountain ranges.) The land between the Outeniqua and Langeberg ranges to the south and the Swartberg range to the north is known as the Little Karoo,[101] which consists of semi-desert shrubland similar to that of the Great Karoo, except that its northern strip along the foothills of the Swartberg Mountains has a somewhat higher rainfall and is, therefore, more cultivated than the Great Karoo. The Little Karoo is famous for its ostrich farming around Oudtshoorn. The lowland area to the north of the Swartberg range up to the Great Escarpment is the lowland part of the Great Karoo, which is climatically and botanically almost indistinguishable from the Karoo above the Great Escarpment. The narrow coastal strip between the Outeniqua and Langeberg ranges and the ocean has a moderately high year-round rainfall, which is known as the Garden Route. It is famous for the most extensive areas of forests in South Africa (a generally forest-poor country).

    In the south-west corner of the country, the Cape Peninsula forms the southernmost tip of the coastal strip which borders the Atlantic Ocean and ultimately terminates at the country's border with Namibia at the Orange River. The Cape Peninsula has a Mediterranean climate, making it and its immediate surrounds the only portion of Sub-Saharan Africa which receives most of its rainfall in winter.[108][109] The coastal belt to the north of the Cape Peninsula is bounded on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and the first row of north–south running Cape Fold Mountains to the east. The Cape Fold Mountains peter out at about the 32° S line of latitude,[107] after which the Great Escarpment bounds the coastal plain. The most southerly portion of this coastal belt is known as the Swartland and Malmesbury Plain, which is an important wheat growing region, relying on winter rains. The region further north is known as Namaqualand,[110] which becomes more arid near the Orange River. The little rain that falls tends to fall in winter,[109] which results in one of the world's most spectacular displays of flowers carpeting huge stretches of veld in spring (August–September).

    South Africa also has one offshore possession, the small

    Marion Island (290 km2 or 110 sq mi) and Prince Edward Island (45 km2 or 17 sq mi) (not to be confused with the Canadian province of the same name
    ).

    Climate

    South Africa has a generally temperate climate because it is surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, because it is located in the climatically milder Southern Hemisphere, and because its average elevation rises steadily toward the north (toward the equator) and further inland. This varied topography and oceanic influence result in a great variety of climatic zones. The climatic zones range from the extreme desert of the southern Namib in the farthest northwest to the lush subtropical climate in the east along the border with Mozambique and the Indian Ocean. Winters in South Africa occur between June and August. The extreme southwest has a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean with wet winters and hot, dry summers, hosting the famous fynbos biome of shrubland and thicket. This area produces much of the wine in South Africa and is known for its wind, which blows intermittently almost all year. The severity of this wind made passing around the Cape of Good Hope is particularly treacherous for sailors, causing many shipwrecks. Further east on the south coast, rainfall is distributed more evenly throughout the year, producing a green landscape. The annual rainfall increases south of the Lowveld, especially near the coast, which is subtropical. The Free State is particularly flat because it lies centrally on the high plateau. North of the Vaal River, the Highveld becomes better watered and does not experience subtropical extremes of heat. Johannesburg, in the centre of the Highveld, is at 1,740 m (5,709 ft) above sea level and receives an annual rainfall of 760 mm (29.9 in). Winters in this region are cold, although snow is rare.

    The coldest place on mainland South Africa is Buffelsfontein in the Eastern Cape, where a temperature of −20.1 °C (−4.2 °F) was recorded in 2013.[111] The Prince Edward Islands have colder average annual temperatures, but Buffelsfontein has colder extremes. The deep interior of mainland South Africa has the hottest temperatures: a temperature of 51.7 °C (125.06 °F) was recorded in 1948 in the Northern Cape Kalahari near Upington,[112] but this temperature is unofficial and was not recorded with standard equipment; the official highest temperature is 48.8 °C (119.84 °F) at Vioolsdrif in January 1993.[113]

    Climate change in South Africa is leading to increased temperatures and rainfall variability. Extreme weather events are becoming more prominent.[114] This is a critical concern for South Africans as climate change will affect the overall status and wellbeing of the country, for example with regards to water resources. Speedy environmental changes are resulting in clear effects on the community and environmental level in different ways and aspects, starting with air quality, to temperature and weather patterns, reaching out to food security and disease burden.[115] South Africa contributes considerable carbon dioxide emissions, being the 14th largest emitter of carbon dioxide,[116] primarily from its heavy reliance on coal and oil for energy production.[116] As part of its international commitments, South Africa has pledged to peak emissions between 2020 and 2025.[116]

    Biodiversity

    African Leopard "Thandi" in the Djuma concession of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve

    South Africa signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity on 4 June 1994 and became a party to the convention on 2 November 1995.[117] It has subsequently produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which was received by the convention on 7 June 2006.[118] The country is ranked sixth out of the world's seventeen megadiverse countries.[119] Ecotourism in South Africa has become more prevalent in recent years, as a possible method of maintaining and improving biodiversity.

    Numerous mammals are found in the Bushveld including lions, African leopards, South African cheetahs, southern white rhinos, blue wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotamuses and South African giraffes. A significant extent of the Bushveld exists in the north-east including Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, as well as in the far north in the Waterberg Biosphere. South Africa houses many endemic species, among them the critically endangered riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticullaris) in the Karoo.

    Up to 1945, more than 4,900 species of fungi (including lichen-forming species) had been recorded.[120] In 2006, the number of fungi in South Africa was estimated at 200,000 species but did not take into account fungi associated with insects.[121] If correct, then the number of South African fungi dwarfs that of its plants. In at least some major South African ecosystems, an exceptionally high percentage of fungi are highly specific in terms of the plants with which they occur.[122] The country's Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan does not mention fungi (including lichen-forming fungi).[118]

    With more than 22,000 different vascular plants, or about 9% of all the known species of plants on Earth,[123] South Africa is particularly rich in plant diversity. The most prevalent biome is the grassland, particularly on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by different grasses, low shrubs, and acacia, mainly camel-thorn (Vachellia erioloba). Vegetation is sparse towards the north-west because of low rainfall. There are numerous species of water-storing succulents, like aloes and euphorbias, in the very hot and dry Namaqualand area (According to the World Wildlife Fund, South Africa is home to around a third of all succulent species).[124] The grass and thorn savanna turns slowly into a bush savanna towards the north-east of the country, with denser growth. There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park.[125]

    The fynbos biome, which makes up the majority of the area and plant life in the Cape Floristic Region, is located in a small region of the Western Cape and contains more than 9,000 of those species, or three times more plant species than found in the Amazon rainforest,[126] making it among the richest regions on earth in terms of plant diversity. Most of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous plants. Another uniquely South African flowering plant group is the genus Protea, with around 130 different species.

    While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, only 1% of the land is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal, where there are also areas of Southern Africa mangroves in river mouths. Even smaller reserves of forests are out of the reach of fire, known as montane forests. Plantations of imported tree species are predominant, particularly the non-native eucalyptus and pine.

    Conservation issues

    Cape Floral Region Protected Areas