81 Interesting Facts About South Africa

Last updated on September 26th, 2022

7 Facts about Apartheid

45. When it all started — way back in 1913, three years after gaining its independence, the notorious Land Act was passed in South Africa before apartheid, forcing black South Africans to live only in certain areas.

46. Apartheid is made a law of the country –  with apartheid becoming a law around 1950, marriage and sexual acts between whites and people of other races were banned by the government. People were classified by color, and pass laws were brought into being, requiring people other than whites, to carry documents giving them permission to be in restricted areas.

47. Separate Development is added to the apartheid policy — in 1958, Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, the then president of South Africa, included “separate development” to the apartheid policy. Black South Africans were separated from each other into 10 homelands referred to as Bantustans, which only added to the poverty in Africa.This allowed the government to verify their claim that there was no black majority in the country.

48. Apartheid is opposed — people of other races began resisting the policy of apartheid by striking, protesting, having peaceful demonstrations, political actions, and ultimately, armed conflict. A mass meeting was arranged between the ANC and the South Indian National Congress in 1952, where attendees burned their pass books.

The statue of Nelson Mandela in Pretoria
The statue of Nelson Mandela in Pretoria in front of the seat of government in South Africa. Photo © Marc Etcheverry

49. The meeting was broken up by the government, and 150 people were arrested for treason. Most resistance leaders were either arrested or executed by 1961, and in 1963, Nelson Mandela, co-founder of Umkhonto we Siswe/Spear of the Nation, the military wing of the ANC, was imprisoned from 1963 until 1990. It was his imprisonment that drew the attention and help for the anti-apartheid cause from the international community.

50. The end of apartheid — in 1976 in Soweto, a black township outside of Johannesburg, thousands of black children protested against the requirement of Afrikaans in schools, causing further government restrictions, and a country-wide recession. This resulted in the international community being convinced even further, that apartheid was not bringing prosperity and peace to the nation, and the policy was denounced by the United Nations General Assembly in 1973. The president of South Africa at the time, Piet Botha, attempted to bring about certain reforms to the country’s policies, but these fell short, and he was pressurized to step down as leader of the country.

51. W. de Klerk became the new president of South Africa, and it was under his leadership that a new constitution was formed in 1994. Apartheid ended officially that year, when elections were held that resulted in a government with a non-white majority.

About South African History

52. Two Nobel prize winners, namely Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, both lived on Vilakazi Street in Soweto.

53. Some of the oldest and most diverse dinosaur fossils were discovered here.

Cape town, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa. Interesting facts about South Africa. Photo © HandmadePictures

54. South Africa is the second largest producer of fruit on the planet.

55. The smallest (less than 1 mm) and largest succulents (the Baobab tree) in the world are found in South Africa.

56. It is the first country in the world to succeed in turning coal into oil.

57. More than 2000 shipwrecks lie under the waters off the coastline of South Africa.

58. Professor Chris Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant.

59. Palace of the Lost City, one of the largest themed hotels in the world, is found in South Africa.

60. Scientists have discovered that the region is an important center of human evolution.

61. South Africa has an abundance of mines in the country, with diamonds first being discovered on the banks of the Orange River between 1866 and 1867, and the first gold in the Transvaal, in late 19th Century.

About South African culture

62. Art — art has always been a part of the South African culture, with many South African artists receiving recognition for their work all over the world.

63. Architecture — the enormous ethnic and cultural diversity can be seen in architecture all over the country. One of the most famous architects, Sir Herbert Baker, was the designer of Rhodes Memorial and St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, St John’s College in Johannesburg, and the world famous Union Buildings, in Pretoria.

The Palace of the Lost City
The Palace of the Lost City, Sun City, North West, South Africa. Photo © Adrian Turnbull Kemp

64. Literature — South Africa has produced some world famous authors, including among many others, Alan Paton, Breyten Bretenbach, Olive Schreiner, Nadine Gordimer, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Andre Brink.

65. Movies — just a few of the well-known movies to come out of South Africa include The God’s must be Crazy, Funny People, District 9, and Tsotsi.

66. Music — Brenda Fassie, Ladysmith Black Mambaso, the Soweto String Quartet, Hugh Masekela, and Miriam Makeba, are some of the many talented black musicians to have come from South Africa. Jonathan Butler, Johnny Clegg, Just Jinger, and Seether, are a few more of the notable South African singers and bands.

67. Food — cuisine is just as diverse as the people in African culture. Meat is the main ingredient in the majority of meals throughout the country. Some dishes unique to the country are bunny chows, koeksusters, melktert, and of course the braai, South Africa’s equivalent of the barbecue in some other countries.

68. Wine — Wines have been produced here since 1659, and South Africa is now one of the topmost wine producers in the world.

69. Infant care — mothers, older sisters, and grandmothers, are traditionally responsible for infant care in the colored and black communities.

70. Sexual orientation — it became legal in 2006 for same-sex couples to marry and adopt children. However, even though this is now a constitutional right, it is not readily accepted socially, especially in rural areas.

71. Science and technology — several important science and technology achievements were born in South Africa, including the Yellow Fever vaccine, molecular biology, and the biggest optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.

South africa of Silhouette African night safari
Interesting facts about South Africa. Photo © Wanida Prapan

South Africa facts for kids

72. The Tugela Falls are the second-highest in the world.

73. Part of the border between South Africa and Namibia is formed by the Orange River, the longest river in the country.

74. Many human remains, tools, and artifacts from more than 100,000 years ago were found in South Africa, earning it the name of “The Cradle of Humankind”.

75. Just as in Australia and the United Kingdom, South Africans also drive on the left side of the road.

Aerial view of Cape Point (South Africa). Interesting facts about South Africa

76. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at Cape Agulhas, the place where the official dividing line between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans passes. This is the place where the warm-water Agulhas current of the Indian Ocean meets the cold water Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean and turns back on itself. 

77. Cape Agulhas, which lies about 75 miles/120 km from Cape Town, is the southernmost point of South Africa.

78. Although conservation is considered an important issue, overpopulation and deforestation are causing the loss of many natural habitats.

79. Cave paintings dating back 75,000 years have been discovered here.

80. South Africa is teeming with wildlife including animals such as a variety of monkey species, snakes, elephants, and lions, to name but a few.

81. South African coastlines are full of marine life such as sharks and dolphins, with more than 2000 different species visiting the area at some stage during the year.

Interesting facts about South Africa: V&A Waterfront - Cape Town
Interesting facts about South Africa. V&A Waterfront – Cape Town. Image credit – South African Tourism

About the flag of South Africa

South Africa adopted a new flag on 27th April 1994 to mark the end of apartheid.

It is the current civil and national flag and ensign.

Surprisingly, the flag’s design was first introduced in 1990, following Nelson Mandela’s release.

At this juncture, South Africa was more convinced than ever that it was necessary to include the cultures of its people on the flag. They needed a change, and the flag symbolized freedom and hope.

History

Britain once ruled South Africa, so the region and nearby colonies originally had the British colonial flag.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Boer Republics, Natal, Transvaal, and Cape came together and formed the Union of South Africa. So, they had to create new flags that didn’t get much attention.

South Africa wanted to distinguish itself, so it passed a bill in 1952 to create a state flag.

The decision triggered a debate on whether to include the British Union flag or not. An agreement was reached in 1927, which led to the creation of a new design the following year.

Flag of South Africa (dark version from 1928 to 1982)
Dark version from 1928 to 1982.

The first national flag, initially for the Union of South Africa, was adopted on 31st May 1928 (dark version) and used until 1961. It was based on flags of three nations:

• The South African republic (right)
• The Orange Free state/Boer republic (center)
• The United Kingdom (left)

The National Party unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate the ‘blood stain’ or the Union Jack in 1948 after winning the election. During this era, the flag was referred to as the Apartheid flag.

On 31st May 1961, S. Africa gained independence, and the flag continued to be the state symbol, even though the country had left the Commonwealth. Then, a bright version emerged in 1982, nicknamed Oranje, Blanje, Blouor, or Union flag.

In 1995, S. Africa decided that there would be no further changes and made this declaration in the constitution.

Flag of South Africa
Flag of South Africa. Source – CIA

Meaning and Design

A former state herald, Frederick Brownell, wanted to develop something that would represent democracy after the apartheid era.

He presented the design a week before the country officially flew it.

The flag comprises a horizontal bi-color of blue (bottom) and red (top) with a black left-side triangle.

Running across the center is a green band that divides into a horizontal Y featuring white outer margins and gold inner margins.

The six colors were inspired by the flags of Boer Republics and the African National Congress. Each has a unique meaning:

• Red: The blood that was shed during the struggle for independence
• Blue: Opportunities for S. Africans (the sky is the limit)
• White: Peace between the European and South Africans
• Black: The natives
• Gold: Natural resources and minerals
• Green: Fertility of the land

The overall design symbolizes unity, starting with the central elements (the Y), indicating the convergence of numerous aspects of the South African nation.

Convergence and unity align with the former S. African Coat of Arms motto, ‘Unity is Strength.’

Flying the South African Flag

The government of South Africa gazetted a notice on 8th June 2001 concerning how to hoist or use the national flag.

The instructions dictate that observers should see the hoist on their left and the red color uppermost if the flag is raised horizontally.

When hoisting vertically against a wall, the red band appears on the viewer’s left and the hoist at the top. If displayed near the speaker, it must be positioned on the right-hand side of the speaker.

Interesting fact

If you inspect the flag carefully, you could see that it contains the colour combination used in five other national flags (Italy, Hungary, Monaco, Indonesia and Sierra Leone.)

South Africa  – country at a glance

Official nameRepublic of South Africa
Independence31 May 1910 (Union of South Africa formed from four British colonies: Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State); 31 May 1961 (republic declared); 27 April 1994 (majority rule)
Capital CityPretoria (executive)
Bloemfontein (judicial)
Cape Town (legislative)
Largest CityJohannesburg
Total area1,219,090 sq km
Population57,516,665 (2022 est.)
Population growth rate0.95% (2021 est.)
Official LanguageAfrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
DemonymSouth African
BordersBotswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe and it surrounds the small Kingdom of Lesotho.
CurrencySouth African rand (ZAR)
ReligionChristianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.
Literacy rate87%
Lowest pointAtlantic Ocean 0 m
Highest pointNjesuthi 3,408 m
Mean elevation1,034 m
Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Government typeparliamentary republic
PresidentCyril Ramaphosa
Deputy PresidentDavid Mabuza
National anthem"National Anthem of South Africa"
National symbolspringbok (antelope), king protea flower
National colorsred, green, blue, yellow, black, white
Natural resourcesgold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas
Life expectancy at birth65.32 Years (2022)
Life expectancy at birth indicates the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout its life.
Climatemostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights
Terrainvast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain
Mean elevation

1,034 m
Lowest point Atlantic Ocean 0 m
Highest pointNjesuthi 3,408 m
Agricultural land79.4%
Birth rate18.56 births/1,000 population (2022 est.)
Death rate9.26 deaths/1,000 population (2022 est.)
Sex ratio0.98 male(s)/female (2022 est.)
Industriesmining (world's largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, metalworking, machinery, textiles, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilizer, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair
Exports$123.864 billion (2019 est.)
gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment
Imports$131.721 billion (2019 est.)
machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, scientific instruments, foodstuffs
GDP - per capita (PPP)$11,500 (2020 est.)
Time ZoneSAST (UTC+2)
Internet country code.za
Calling Code+27
Drives on theLeft
Table last updatedJuly 25, 2022