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World Mission

South Africa

Basic info

  • Area: 1,221,037 sq km / 471,445 sq mi
  • Population: 57,725,600
  • Infant mortality: 31
  • Life expectancy: 62.9
  • Urbanisation: 66.4%
  • Literacy: 94.3%


The historical record of this ethnically diverse country is generally divided into five distinct periods: the pre-colonial era, the colonial era, the post-colonial and apartheid eras, and the post-apartheid era. Much of this history, particularly of the colonial and post-colonial eras, is characterised by clashes of culture, violent territorial disputes between European settlers and indigenous people, dispossession and repression, and other racial and political tensions.

The discoveries of diamonds and gold in the nineteenth century had a profound effect on the fortunes of the region, propelling it onto the world stage and introducing a shift away from an exclusively agrarian-based economy towards industrialisation and the development of urban infrastructure. The discoveries also led to new conflicts culminating in open warfare between the Boer settlers and the British Empire, fought essentially for control over the nascent South African mining industry.

Following the defeat of the Boers in the Anglo-Boer or South African War (1899–1902), the Union of South Africa was created as a dominion of the British Empire in terms of the South Africa Act 1909, which amalgamated the four previously separate British colonies: Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Transvaal Colony, and Orange River Colony. The country became a self-governing nation state within the British Empire in 1934 following enactment of the Status of the Union Act.

The dominion came to an end on 31 May 1961 as the consequence of a 1960 referendum, which legitimised the country becoming a sovereign state named Republic of South Africa. A republican constitution was adopted.

From 1948–1994, South African politics were dominated by Afrikaner nationalism. Racial segregation and white minority rule known officially as apartheid, an Afrikaans word meaning "separateness”, came into existence in 1948 (under British rule), and became an official law of segregation when South Africa became a republic. It was an extension of segregationist legislation enacted in 1960. On 27 April 1994, after decades of armed struggle and international opposition to apartheid, during which military and political support was provided primarily by the Soviet Union to the non-racial African National Congress (ANC), the ANC achieved victory in the country's first democratic election in which all races could vote. Since then, the African National Congress has dominated the politics of South Africa, in an uneasy alliance with the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.


South Africa is located at the southernmost region of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 1,553 miles and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian).

In area, South Africa is the 25th-largest country in the world. It is about the same size as Colombia, twice the size of France, three times as big as Japan, four times the size of Italy and five times the size of the United Kingdom. At 3450m, Mount Mafadi in the Drakensberg is the highest peak in South Africa. The interior of South Africa consists of a vast plateau. This plateau is surrounded by the Great Escarpment whose eastern, and highest, stretch is known as the Drakensberg.

To the north, the Great Karoo fades into the even drier and more arid Bushmanland, which eventually becomes the Kalahari desert in the very 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 Province).


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

Despite this, South Africa is still burdened by a relatively high rate of poverty and unemployment and is also ranked in the top 10 countries in the world for income inequality.

After 1994, government policy brought down inflation, stabilised public finances, and some foreign capital was attracted, however growth was still subpar. From 2004 onward, economic growth picked up significantly; both employment and capital formation increased. During the presidency of Jacob Zuma, the government has begun to increase the role of state-owned enterprises. Some of the biggest state-owned companies are Eskom, the electric power monopoly, South African Airways and Transnet, the railroad and ports monopoly.

South Africa is a popular tourist destination, and a substantial amount of revenue comes from tourism.

Principal international trading partners of South Africa—besides other African countries—include Germany, the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and Spain.

The South African agricultural industry contributes around 10% of formal employment, relatively low compared to other parts of Africa, as well as providing work for casual labourers and contributing around 2.6% of GDP for the nation.

In August 2013, South Africa was ranked as the top African Country of the Future by FDi magazine based on the country's economic potential, labour environment, cost-effectiveness, infrastructure, business friendliness, and Foreign direct investment Strategy.

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Groups(%)

Black African












No religion


Roman Catholic








Protestant Denominations

Baptist Union, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Methodist Church


  • 22.7%


  • 16%


  • 13.5%


  • 9.6%


  • 9.1%

    Northern Sotho

  • 29.1%


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