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Care for the health and education of close to 1000 orphaned children in the district of Zululand, South Africa, many of whom have lost their parents to HIV. Funds for the children are provided by sponsors – see www.zulufadder.no
Well-defined environmental plans exist on every trip within this country
Learn more about our commitment, and view our free Responsible Travel Guidebook, on our Responsible Travel Page
Drakensberg Mountains: The Drakensberg range is the highest in southern Africa at 3482m, with many distinctive basalt buttresses gracing the skyline. Situated in the Royal Natal National Park of South Africa, it is an area of incredible natural beauty. The mountains are listed as a World Heritage site due to the diversity of plants and the large collection of San rock paintings. In the local Zulu language it is aptly named uKhahlamba (barrier of spears).
Cape Town: The cities picturesque location by the sea and at the foot of the Table Mountains make it a must-see city in Africa. From Cape Town you can visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent some 27 years imprisoned.
South Africa is a land of incredible beauty and contrast, with its biological, environmental and cultural diversity helping to make it the most visited country in sub-Saharan Africa (second only to Morocco for most visited country on the continent).
South Africa’s human history reaches back almost as far as the beginnings of human existence as we know it. The first human ancestors identified in the region were hominins called australopithecines (“southern apes”), a specimen of which was found in 1924 in the area now known as the North-West province. This discovery places human ancestors in the region as far back as some three million years ago. The span of human history in this region of the world saw not only the biological evolution of our species, but the vast shifts in technology, learned behavior, culture and ways of living that are representative of the history of a far wider area.
The prehistory of South Africa is divided into the Stone Age and the Iron Age, with the Stone Age being further divided into early, middle and late stages. Evidence of the Early Stone Age (between 2,500,000 – 150,000 years ago, also known as the Paleolithic Period), including simple stone tools for butchering meat and digging for vegetables, has been uncovered from various sites in South Africa. Archaeological finds (including tools, rock carvings and paintings) from the various Middle Stone Age (150,000 – 30,000 years ago, also known as the Mesolithic Period) and Late Stone Age (30,000 – 2,000 years ago, also known as the Neolithic Period) sites around the country show periods of rapid advancement in technology, and give insight into the changing cultural behaviours of our human ancestors in the region.
Up until the end of the Late Stone Age about 2,000 years ago, humans living in South Africa survived by hunting and gathering. The introduction of agriculture revolutionised life in the region as in the rest of the world. The domestication of plants and animals enabled the increased quality of life that led to a steadily increasing population and the development of more complex social and cultural structures. Edible and useful crops could be grown on demand. Permanent villages and towns in the east were blessed with rainfalls adequate to support cattle, sheep and goat herds. In the more arid areas, nomadic pastoralists moved herds of domestic livestock over broad territories in line with favourable weather.
From around 200 ad, farmers were using their knowledge of ironworking (heralding the beginning of the Iron Age) to produce superior farming tools and agricultural methods. Sizes of villages and towns grew, and there is evidence of trade between groups of farmers from different regions. Settlements were mostly concentrated in low-lying areas such as river valleys and the forests and savannas of the coastal plain, however, by the Late Iron Age (around 11th century ad), settlement had also begun in the grasslands of the higher elevations. Around this time, Arab traders were establishing small trading settlements along the coasts of Tanzania and Mozambique, swapping trade beads as currency in exchange for animal skins, ivory and other exotic goods. Evidence of trade beads at archaeological sites in the interior villages and towns indicates both the wealth of interior villages and their development of long-distance trading routes.
Keen on getting a slice of the lucrative Arab trade, the Portuguese sent their first ships around the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. Both the British and the Dutch challenged the Portuguese control of the South African sea route in the 17th century, setting up small settlements in 1620 and 1652 respectively. The Dutch East India Company began settlement of the Cape Colony in 1657, with land granted to a small handful of Dutch farmers along the Liesbeek River. Slaves were imported from East and West Africa, India and the Malay Peninsula. The Dutch were swift in exercising their colonial influence and by 1701, census data listed a total of 1,779 Dutch settlers owning a total of 1,107 slaves in the Cape area. Slaves aided the Dutch settlers in growing wheat crops and grape vineyards, and grazing sheep and cattle.
The local Khoekhoe pastoralists had initially been compliant to trade livestock with the Dutch, however, increasing demand soured trade relations and spurred on numerous conflicts. By the early 18th, century many Khoekhoe communities were hit with outbreaks of smallpox. Facing a lack of work opportunities for white populations in the Cape, the Dutch colonial pastoralists—the Boers—began to move their own herds inland, seeking out new lands to acquire. The Boers were hostile towards the Cape government who were trying to regulate their movements and commerce, and hostile towards the existing African farming communities they met along their inland push for land. By the end of the 18th century, the Khoekhoe chiefdoms had been violently dismantled and any surviving Khoekhoe were forced into serfdom on colonial farms. The small hunter-gatherer groups of the San people were also either slaughtered or taken into servitude.
South Africa had fallen into two broad regions by the end of the 18th century: east and west. Indigenous farmers still controlled the coastal and valley lowlands and Highveld interior of the east. Colonial settlements dominated the west and the dry lands of the interior, with the Boers increasingly gaining more land from the Khoekhoe and the San, either killing native inhabitants, forcing them into marginal areas, or taking them as labourers for their new overlords.
Cape Town was developing into the major urban centre of the country, and the colony’s slave population now outnumbered their Dutch owners. In 1806, during the Napoleon War, the Cape Colony was seized by the British. European trade with the remaining local empires provided the material wealth and power necessary for indigenous warlords to attract new followers and raise military potential. Several indigenous groups banded together, with the Zulu for example absorbing the Mthethwa, Ndwandwe and Qwabe groups. European missionaries worked tirelessly to introduce Christianity and western manufactured goods to indigenous communities, and despite their goodly intentions, contributed greatly to the undermining and weakening of traditional African communities throughout South Africa.
By the 1860s, the Cape Colony had spawned the subcolonies of Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, and European settlement advanced westward to the edges of the Kalahari, eastward to the Drakensberg mountains and Natal coast, and northeast to the Lowveld and Limpopo River valley. Violent clashes ensued and saw remaining African farmers lose most of their lands, forced to work as labourers for the settlers.
By the end of the 1860s the great African states were in rapid decline, due to the death of numerous heads of indigenous power, and to the colonials’ increasing desire to overtake the fertile lands held by indigenous states, and to acquire new African labour force to help meet market agricultural demands. Labour was not sufficiently met during the 1860s and so indentured labourers were brought in from India to work on new sugar plantations. By the 1870s, the successful Zulu kingdom was considered to be a major obstacle to confederation, and in 1879, Zululand was invaded by British and colonial troops. The Zulu military was able to hold off the initial attack, but Zululand was officially annexed in 1887.
The Cape economy—based on wine and wool—was susceptible to droughts and market forces and so potential revenue streams were explored. It is around this time that gold was discovered, as well as diamonds in the Orange, Vaal and Tati river valleys. The discovery of precious gems and minerals transformed the structure and direction of South Africa’s economy from largely agrarian to a player in the international economy. In 1886, the world’s largest goldfields would be discovered on the Witwatersrand in the inland plateau.
The demographic profile of the Cape area had by now changed significantly. By the mid-1870s, the Cape contained about one-third of the colony’s population, yet accounted for more than three quarters of the colony’s regional revenue, thanks to diamond discoveries. Two thirds of the settler population spoke Dutch or Afrikaans, yet political power rested with the English-speaking elite minority, resulting in tensions between the two parties of white settlers. Between 1872 and 1894, previously independent territories were annexed by the colony, thereby greatly increasing the number of blacks in the colony, many of which were becoming increasingly more prosperous as farmers. Blacks became increasingly involved in politics, religion and media, as did the Coloureds (those of mixed ethnicity) in the Cape, and Indians in Natal and the Transvaal.
In 1899, Boer forces sought to preserve their independence by invading the British-controlled Natal, starting a brutal and expensive colonial war that lasted two and a half years. From 1902, the country underwent a period of “reconstruction” that would last 8 years. During this time, the newly created state of the Union of South Africa focused on installing efficient administrative systems, exploiting the economic potential of the country’s gold mining industry, and ensuring that white settler minorities would prevail over the black majority. Blacks were policed and taxed more heavily, and were constitutionally excluded from political power. Tensions were building across all corners of South African society. Blacks protested against the changes affecting them. White mine workers’ unions protested and issued labour strikes against the government’s replacement of semiskilled white workers with lower-paid black workers. Afrikaners protested against the government’s policies favouring the Anglicization of South African culture and education. Afrikaner nationalism was growing as a political force. The National Party, supported mostly by poor whites and Afrikaner intellectuals, won 30% of the vote in the 1915 general election, following which Afrikaners deserted the South African Party en masse. The National Party went on to win a majority of seats and votes in 1920 on a platform of republicanism and the educational segregation of Afrikaans- and English-speaking whites. The 1924 election’s coalition between the National and Labour parties saw the National Party’s founder J.B.M. Hertzog move into the position of Prime Minister.
From this point, segregation became the primary feature of political, social and economic policy and debate. New legislation was drawn up in excess during Hertzog’s first two decades as Prime Minister. The Hertzog government’s regime hit a big win in the 1930s when the British Parliament removed the last remnants of British legal authority over the country, declaring it a sovereign independent state. By 1934 Hertzog’s National Party had merged with its rival the South African Party to form the new United Party, now supported by both English-speaking white industrialists, and Afrikaner farmers and intellectuals. The United Party brought together these previously warring minorities under a common goal: to favour the rights of the white minority over the black majority. Entitlements to work in a specific job, live in a particular area, own land, or engage in the political process were now all beginning to be segregated based on race. Blacks were forced into “native reserves” totaling only 10% of the country’s total land, with the most fertile, productive and commercially viable lands being in the sole ownership of whites. South Africa’s gold rush of the 1930s greatly increased the standard of living for most whites, but the lives of most blacks, Coloureds and Indians remained unchanged.
Conditions on the native reserves became progressively worse due to overpopulation and overgrazing of land, while the best land for agriculture and resource mining was in the hands of whites. The United Party split at the start of World War II, and the staunchly pro-white National Party went on to win the 1948 election by a narrow margin. The National Party set about swiftly enacting pro-white, segregation policy reforms. Hendrik F. Verwoerd, the Minister for Native Affairs from 1950 to 1958, then Prime Minister from 1958 until his assassination in 1966, was instrumental in enacting the government’s apartheid policy of racial separation. Verwoerd’s name is synonymous with apartheid. He was the person responsible for the creation of the government’s four racial classification groups—white, black, Coloured and Asian—which would be used to divide and control the population under the apartheid regime’s Population Registration Act, passed by the all-white Parliament in 1950.
By 1956, Parliament had removed Coloureds from the voting rolls, and by 1969 the electorate was exclusively white, with no Coloured, Indian or black parliamentary representation. Top positions in the army, police force and civil service were replaced with Afrikaners, and the government introduced compulsory Afrikaaner/English language education for all white children. Blacks were refused entry to universities. The gulf between whites and non-whites in terms of access to productive land, education, healthcare, fair wages and civil rights was vast, and was widening. Mass-scale black political organisations began to flourish in response to the deteriorating conditions experienced by blacks throughout the country.
A host of minor laws and regulations known as ‘petty apartheid’ were enforced, segregating whites and non-whites in all spheres of public and private life: in hospitals and schools, in cinemas, restaurants and hotels, on trains and buses, in public toilets, and even on beaches. The Group Areas Act of 1950 constituted the ‘Grand apartheid’ laws, which physically separated racial groups in cities and rural areas. Whole towns were ‘reclassified’ as white areas and thousands of non-whites forcibly relocated to new ‘tribal’ territories, to live in squalid conditions, and under serfdom to white farm owners or a handful of government-compliant hereditary tribal chiefs. These new tribal territories were eventually consolidated by the government into 8 (later becoming 10) distinct ‘homelands’. The homeland states were forced to accommodate large populations with limited resources, and living conditions continued to deteriorate. Blacks began to seek employment opportunities in towns in order to support their families, and in response, the government passed laws making it illegal for blacks to spend longer than 72 hours in towns unless they were on business servicing white home- or business owners. Between the 1960s and early 1980s, more than 3.5 million blacks were forcibly and violently removed from towns and white rural areas and dumped back into the reserves with no amenities, even during the winter months.
All but the few wealthy whites suffered under apartheid. The vast majority (virtually all of whom were black, Coloured or Indian) were plagued with disease, malnutrition and poverty. Apartheid resistance efforts began in the 1950s and demonstrators were consistently broken up and imprisoned by the government. Police violence against protesters was commonplace. The Robben Island prison facility was used to detain political criminals (including dissident Robert Sobukwe and future president Nelson Mandela), and others were hanged for acts of treason against the regime.
The government was successful in containing the anti-apartheid movement until a new wave of resistance developed in the early 1970s which would lead to the eventual unraveling of the regime. From 1972, the Black Consciousness movement began to appeal to blacks to take pride in their culture and ethnicity. The UN General Assembly denounced apartheid in 1973 following the government’s sustained and violent curtailment of apartheid resistors. By the late 1970s, South Africa was crippled by a national economic recession, the collapse of the homeland states, and increasing rejection and trade embargoes from the outside world. American public resentment became so great that the US Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, banning investments and trade with South Africa. The following decade was marked by increasing international isolation, economic decline and continued state violence against blacks. Change finally began with the National Party’s selection of F.W de Klerk as its party leader and president. De Klerk was much more sensitive to the international dynamics in which South Africa’s blatant regime of racism was so unacceptable. In February of 1990, de Klerk announced in a dramatic speech to Parliament a program of radical policy reform, and nine days later Nelson Mandela was released from prison following 27 years of incarceration. Parliament spent the next year reversing most of the basic apartheid laws, freed many political prisoners, and allowed exiles to return to the country.
After being elected president of the ANC party in 1991, Mandela worked with de Klerk to reach peaceful solutions to South Africa’s post-apartheid challenges. The two met with the country’s political organisations and drafted a new constitution, against a backdrop of ongoing civil violence. Mandela and de Klerk were eventually awarded a joint Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their new constitution, which abolished the failed homelands, divided the country into nine new provinces, and afforded universal suffrage and a long list of social and political rights to all citizens. South Africa’s first ever election by universal suffrage was held in April 1994, with Mandela’s ANC party winning almost two-thirds of the vote. Mandela was sworn in as president of the new South Africa on 10th May 1994 to jubilant celebrations. Mandela’s government faced many challenges in dismantling the remnants of the regime, restoring economic stability, and reviewing atrocities committed during the apartheid years. Mandela was succeeded as ANC party president in 1997 by Thabo Mbeki, who would go on to serve as President of South Africa from 1999 to 2008. Mbeki’s leadership was challenged by Jacob Zuma who would be controversially charged with rape and corruption allegations, which were later dismissed as political smear, with Mbeki eventually disgraced and requested by the ANC party to resign from office in 2008 at which point Kgalema Motlanthe replaced Mbeki as interim president. Jacob Zuma went on to become South Africa’s president in April 2009 after winning the general elections. Deeply respected by his country (and the international community) and often referred to as the “father of the nation”, Nelson Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013 at the age of 95. His death was announced on television by President Zuma and he was officially mourned by the nation for 10 days.
South Africa today is a land of contrasts with many scars lingering from the apartheid years. Disparity of income and living standards between blacks and whites is disturbing. Crime rates are high in urban areas, and racism and mistrust is still embedded in the minds of those who lived through the atrocities of apartheid. However, South Africa’s biological, environmental and cultural riches have helped rebuild the nation into a prosperous country with a bright future. The love of the land, the memory of its dark past, and shared hope for its future binds the country’s diverse people together into a new South African identity that transcends the ugly racial separation of the past.
South Africa is a predominantly Christian country, with the vast majority of black and white populations practicing some form of Christianity. Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities are also present.
Official census religion statistics are: Protestant 36.6% (comprised of Zionist Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8%); other Christian 36%; Catholic 7.1%; Muslim 1.5%; other/unspecified 3.7%; none 15.1%.
South Africa may have abolished its apartheid policy, but the effects of decades of systematic racial segregation persist in the social demography of modern South Africa. The gulf between South Africa’s rich and poor is vast. Wealthy areas blessed with the highest income and access to the best schools, health care and other services, are predominantly white. The poorest areas, sprawling shantytowns plagued with poverty, unemployment, underfunded schools and health care facilities, and a lack of access to basic needs such as clean sanitation and safe drinking water, are exclusively black. Things have most definitely improved, however, racism, fear and mistrust linger among a generation who remember racist propaganda and violent struggles as almost daily occurrences under the apartheid regime.
Most of the western region of the country (excluding the Cape Town area) is sparsely populated. More than nine tenths of the population live in the eastern half and southern coastal regions. More than half the populations live in urban areas, with many living in squalid conditions in huge informal towns lacking infrastructure for clean water, sanitation and electricity.
South Africa has a number of large cities with populations in the multi-millions and a full range of city services. Most towns outside of these major metropolitan areas are small, serving surrounding rural areas or regional mining communities.
The South African government’s Population Registration Act was a crucial part of the apartheid segregation policy. In effect from 1950 to 1991, the Act classified all South Africans as belonging to one of four crude “racial” and ethnic divisions: Black, White, Coloured (mixed race) or Asian (predominantly Indian). The classifications were used by the government to enforce its segregation policy including depravation of civil liberties, exclusion from political life and enforced relocation for non-whites. Some South Africans still identify as Coloured, however, many reject the title entirely.
South Africa is an extremely linguistically and culturally diverse nation. In the most recent official census (2011), nearly 80% of the population identified as part of the government’s broad category of African/black, which is actually a collection of many different ethnic groups with unique cultural and linguistic profiles. Some of the major African ethnic groups in South Africa include the Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndebele, all of whom speak Bantu-root languages. Some of these groups (such as the Zulu, Xhosa and Bapedi) are unique to South Africa, whereas other groups are also spread across neighbouring countries.
People are generally very polite and should always be treated with respect and patience.
If you want to take photographs of people you should always seek permission first. Do NOT take photographs of bridges, border posts, police or military personnel.
It’s best to dress modestly, especially when visiting villages or crossing borders into neighbouring countries (no bare feet, bare chests, bikini tops, sunglasses or hats). While shorts are fairly acceptable, women should avoid wearing high-cut shorts or skimpy tops.
Please be aware that in many African countries the political situation can be sensitive and local people (including tour company guides, drivers and other staff) often prefer not to discuss political matters. Be considerate of this and do not press people for their views on government or military matters.
Begging is a harsh reality of life but it is something that most local people believe should not be encouraged, especially by Westerners who do not understand the occasions when it is appropriate. Giving money to street beggars should always be avoided. Handing out pens, balloons and sweets to children in the villages only decreases their respect for us and is discouraged. Tourists, albeit with the best of intentions, have created this situation.
Please be warned that there have been instances of con men presenting themselves to tourists as refugees, NGO staff or government officials requesting donations. Do not enter into conversations with these men and under no circumstances give money, not even small donations.
As a form of respect and general courtesy towards local inhabitants and village dwellers we do not encourage the invasion of their privacy. There are a few villages that allow tourist visits at a nominal fee. Bear in mind that you may be travelling in some rural areas where the people have had little contact with foreign tourists.
Please be careful when purchasing any wood and bone carvings, as well as feathers and skins, as they may not pass your countries quarantine laws, and you may be purchasing products from endangered species.
If you are invited to dine or barbecue at someone’s home, it is good etiquette to take a small gift of appreciation such as chocolates or flowers.
With South Africa being predominantly Christian, Easter and Christmas are both celebrated throughout the country. Lent is observed by the country’s Catholics, and Muslim, Jewish and Hindu communities celebrate the festivals and religious holidays of their respective calendars.
New Years Eve (31 Dec) is a night of partying and celebrations throughout the country, especially in cities and tourist towns along the coast.
The raucous Cape Town Minstrel Carnival parades through town on 2 Jan, for the “Tweede Nuwe Jaar” (Second New Year) celebrations.
Dance Umbrella is the country’s premier contemporary dance festival, happening in Johannesburg each Feb/Mar.
Cape Town plays host to the International Jazz Festival each March.
Each April, Western Cape sees Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK), the country’s biggest celebration of Afrikaans arts and culture.
South Africa’s oldest music festival, Splashy Fen, happens on a farm in the Drakensberg foothills each April.
The Good Food & Wine Show showcases the best of local produce at events in Cape Town (May), Durban (Jul) and Johannesburg (Sep).
The National Arts Festival hits Grahamstown each June/July, bringing a huge celebration of the arts (music, dance, art, theatre) that’s even spawned its own fringe festival.
Oppikoppi Bushveld Festival in Northam is a popular long-running music festival each August, with rock, pop, world and electronic acts from South Africa and around the world coming together to play to thousands of campers in the South African bush.
September sees Johannesburg come alive with arts and culture events as part of the month-long Arts Alive festival.
You can check out large comedy festivals in Cape Town (Sep), Durban (Jul), and Johannesburg (Jun).
South Africa promotes itself as one of the world’s premier gay- and lesbian-friendly travel destinations, and is home to various festivals and celebrations including the Cape Town Pride Pageant (Feb), the Out in Africa South African Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (Apr), the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras (Apr) and the Mother City Queer Projects (Dec).
Annual major sporting events include the Cape Argus Cycle Tour (Mar), the Two Oceans Marathon (Apr), the Comrades Marathon (May), and the South Atlantic Yacht Race (Jan).
Secular national holidays include New Years Day (1 Jan), Human Rights Day (21 Mar), Freedom Day (27 Apr), Nelson Mandela Day (18 Jul), National Women’s Day (9 Aug), Heritage Day (24 Sep) and Day of Reconciliation (16 Dec).
Total population is 48,601,098; South Africa being the 27th most populous country in the world, its population growth rate actually in decline at a rate of -0.45%.
The median age is 25.5 years; with 28.3% aged 0-14 and 6.1% aged 65+.
Sex ratio is 0.99 males to 1 female.
The urban population is 62% (2011), with average annual rate of urbanization at 1.21%.
Black African (79%); White European (9.6%); Coloured/Mixed race (8.9%); Indian/Asian (2.5%)
Most of the country is considered to be semi-arid, however, there is considerable variation in topography and climate. South Africa is blessed with one of the most temperate climates on the continent, with extremes of heat and cold rare and temperate weather conditions year-round.
Most of South Africa lies at a fairly high elevation and, as such, experiences average temperatures that are cooler than countries at similar latitude (for example, Australia).
South Africa’s climate and weather patterns are greatly influenced by the oceans surrounding the country to the east, south and west, and cold polar wind fronts in the winter months, and by high-pressure systems from the Atlantic Ocean in the summer months.
Precipitation is highly variable, but rains and thunderstorms generally occur in the summer months (November to March) with the exception of the Western Cape, which receives its rainfalls in winter (June to September). The higher areas of the Cape and the Drakensberg mountains generally receive snowfalls in the winter months.
Across almost the entire country, summers are warm to hot and winters cool to cold. Diurnal temperature ranges are dramatic in the interior but much more stable in coastal areas.
Summer temperatures range from 15 to 35°C (59 to 95°F), with winter temperatures ranging from -2 to 25°C (28 to 77°F).
While the temperate climate permits a visit to South Africa in any month, the days can be wet and uncomfortably hot in summer (November to March) and the cooler, drier winter months (June to early September) are generally the best for hiking, outdoor adventuring and wildlife watching. Spring (mid-September to November) and autumn (April to May) are ideal times to visit.
Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe to the north; Mozambique and Swaziland to the northeast; Indian Ocean to the east; Lesotho internally (central east); Southern Ocean to the south; South Atlantic Ocean to the west.
1,219,090 sq km (470,693 square miles) / (25th largest country in the world), divided into 9 administrative provinces
South Africa is ranked at 72 out of 178 countries with an improving trend, on the Environmental Performance Index (2014), which quantifies and benchmarks performance of government environmental policies and outcomes
Environmental issues include soil erosion, soil degradation (from overcropping and overgrazing), desertification, air pollution resulting in acid rain, pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and urban waste, and the country’s lack of arterial rivers or lakes, which requires extensive water conservation and control measures and is causing water usage to outstrip supply.
Natural hazards include prolonged drought, and volcanic activity on Marion Island.
South Africa is a signatory to various international environmental and conservation agreements.
Considered to be the third most biologically diverse country in the world, South Africa is home to a dazzling array of plant and animal life. The country is home to not only the iconic ‘Big Five’ animals: the black rhino, Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard and lion; but also to giraffes, hippos, cheetahs, zebras, baboons, antelope, reptiles, amphibians, fish, sharks, insects, more than 800 bird species and more than 100 snake species.
The expansion of white settlement in the 18th and 19th centuries greatly reduced wild animal numbers and as such, the majority of animals are now found in the country’s many protected national parks and game reserves.
Kruger National Park (the country’s largest park) is home to large populations of elephants, rhinoceroses and buffalo. In a multi-national conservation effort, the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park links Kruger with Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park and allows greater movement between these country borders for migratory animals.
The pristine environs of the UNESCO World Heritage listed iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal are home to over 6,500 plant and animals species, including game animals and a total of 108 species endemic to South Africa. Wildlife in the park includes turtles, flamingoes, rhinoceroses, elephants and humpback whales.
The hunting of “big game” animals such as elephants, white rhinos, lions, leopards, buffalo, and many types of antelope, is allowed on a regulated basis during certain months of the year, attracting lucrative hunting tourism dollars. Many animals are specially protected and cannot be hunted, including giraffes, black rhinos and various antelope species. Illegal poaching (especially of rhinoceroses, for their horns) is a national issue in South Africa, with poaching being operated by sophisticated criminal networks.
Human settlement, overcropping and overgrazing, and the introduction of foreign species and commercial crops have all greatly affected the natural vegetation of South Africa, however, the country is still home to a vast array of plant life.
The Bushveld and Lowveld areas of the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces feature the treed grasslands of the savanna. The savanna becomes less treed in the Highveld and then scrub and scattered bush in the Karoo and the more arid parts of the west. The northern part of the country includes the edge of the Kalahari Desert, which is home to some unusual and desert-adapted aloe and succulents, as well as endemic edible fruits such as the narras.
The mountainous valleys of the Great Escarpment are home to some sections of natural forests, with most of the lower and higher slopes of the Drakensberg mountains being covered in creeping plants, shrubs, and many different endemic grasses.
Spring sees the vast Northern Cape region carpeted in a stunning abundance of brightly coloured wildflowers.
With its unique winter rains and long, dry summers, the Western Cape supports a wide variety of grasses, shrubs and trees, and features many of the country’s 20,000 flowering plant species.
The east coast is home to many tropical plant species, with sections of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces known collectively as the Cape Floral Region, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 due to its rich floral diversity.
South Africa is a country of diverse and stunning geography, with its three major geographical features being its vast interior plateau, its band of encircling mountains, and its narrow coastal strip. Fringed in beautiful coastline along three sides, the country’s varied interior includes the sandy, featureless plains of the Kalahari Desert, the rolling grasslands of the Highveld, the rugged peaks and smoother undulations of the Great Escarpment, the dry savanna of the Bushveld, and the sultry, animal-filled wilderness of the Kruger National Park.
The interior plateau dominates the topography of the country, covering most of its land area, and is separated from the low-lying coastal areas by the mountainous Great Escarpment. The vast high inland plateau consists of the rolling grasslands of the Highveld region; the dry and mineral-rich savanna grasslands of the Bushveld; the gold-bearing rock formations of the Witwatersrand (aka the Rand); the Waterberg, Strypoortberg and Soutpansberg mountain ranges; the southern edge of the Limpopo River valley; the Southern Namib Desert and the southern basin of the Kalahari Desert; and the famous Kruger National Park.
The Great Escarpment separates the high inland plateau from the surrounding areas of lower elevation, with the Drakensberg mountain range in the uKhahlamba/Drakensberg Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, found in the KwaZulu-Natal province to the east of the country) containing the country’s highest peaks, with more than 20 mountains over 3,000 m. Several of the Drakensberg mountain peaks receive snowfalls in the winter months and South Africa’s highest peak is found in this range, on the border to Lesotho: Mafadi, sitting at 3,450 m (11,320 ft).
South Africa’s extensive and beautiful coastline fringes three sides of the country and stretches for 2,798 km (1,738 miles). The geography of the coast is fairly smooth and consistent and as such only provides one useful natural harbour, Saldanha Bay north of Cape Town. South Africa’s territory includes Marion and Prince Edward Islands, located nearly 2,000 km (1,240 miles) from Cape Town in the Atlantic Ocean.
South Africa is home to only two main rivers: the Limpopo and the Orange. The Limpopo begins on the Botswana/South African border where the Marico and Crocodile Rivers join, and flows north, northeast, then turns east and southeast, forming the border between Botswana/South Africa and then becoming the border between South Africa/Zimbabwe, before flowing through Mozambique and meeting the Indian Ocean. The Orange is the longest river in South Africa (2,200 km / 1,367 miles), rising in the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho and flowing westward across South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. The Orange River is particularly important to the country’s economy, providing water for irrigation and hydroelectric power.
Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa (1999) The Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa, located in the Gauteng, Limpopo and North-west provinces, are of outstanding archaeological significance, providing conclusive evidence that the African continent is indeed the Cradle of Humankind. Various hominid (early human ancestor) specimens have been uncovered from the property, including Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus, with fossil evidence proving habitation in the area as far back as 4.5 million years ago, and evidence of domestication of fire as long as 1.8 million years ago.
Robben Island (1999) Between the 17th and 20th centuries, the tiny Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town was used as a prison, hospital and military base. During the late 20th century the island was being used as a maximum security prison to detain prisoners (almost exclusively black men) accused of political crimes against the apartheid regime, including dissident Robert Sobukwe and future president Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island until the fall of apartheid in 1991. Bearing witness to South Africa’s brutal history, the island and its buildings today are open to the public as a ‘living museum’.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park (1999) Known as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park until 2007, iSimangaliso is the third largest protected natural area in South Africa. This spectacular park contains a high level of biological diversity and encompasses a wide variety of environments including sandy beaches, coastal dunes, coral reefs, savanna grasslands, forests, lakes, swamps, estuaries and extensive wetlands. The property is home to African elephants, hippopotami, black and white rhinos, leopards, lions, buffalo, crocodiles, humpback whales, dolphins and whale sharks, as well as large populations of nesting turtles and breeding colonies of marine birds.
Maloti-Drakensberg Park (2000) The Maloti-Drakensberg Park is a transboundary property encompassing South Africa’s uKhahlamba Drakensberg National Park and Lesotho’s Sehlathebe National Park. A property of staggering landscapes, the park’s natural features include alpine plateaux, basalt and sandstone buttresses, steep river valleys and rocky gorges, with its environs protecting many endangered and endemic species. The hundreds of rock shelters and caves in the mountainous Drakensberg area contain a huge body of prehistoric rock artworks—the largest and most concentrated collection in sub-Saharan Africa—which depict humans and animals and providing an incredible record of the lives of the San people who inhabited the area for over four thousand years.
Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (2003) Between 900 – 1300 AD, Mapungubwe was the site of South Africa’s first indigenous kingdom and was the most important inland settlement during these centuries. Set in South Africa’s far north along its boundary with Zimbabwe and Botswana, the property contains the well preserved ruins of palaces and settlements. The gold and ivory harvested from its lands were traded for gold, glass and porcelain with Arabs, Persians and Chinese, before the prosperous kingdom had to disband in the 14th century due to drought, at which point the Mapungubwe kingdom shifted north to the Great Zimbabwe site. The architectural ruins and archaeological evidence uncovered from Mapungubwe—including gold objects, Chinese porcelain and Persian glass beads—provide an outstanding record of the political, social, commercial and technological systems of the prosperous kingdom.
Cape Floral Region Protected Areas (2004) Adjacent sections of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces are known collectively as the Cape Floral Region, an area so named for its rich floral diversity. So diverse and so dense is the plant life of the Cape Floral Region, that 20% of Africa’s total flora is contained within this magnificent area, which accounts for less than 0.5% of the continent’s landmass.
Vredefort Dome (2005) Southwest of Johannesburg is Vredefort Dome, the oldest, largest and deepest meteorite impact structure (astrobleme) in the world. Formed by a devastating meteorite impact 2,023 million years ago, the Vredefort Dome has provided science with critical evidence about the geological and evolutionary history of Earth. The astrobleme is thought to have had an original radius of 300 km (186 mi) which has eroded over time, leaving its current radius of 190 km (118 mi). Many geological features typical of a meteorite impact site can be seen from the ground, but aerial photography of the area reveals the shockingly obvious impact crater.
Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape (2007) Richtersveld is the dramatic, mountainous desert landscape in northwest South Africa that has supported the traditional livelihoods of the semi-nomadic pastoralist Nama people (descendants of the ancient Khoi-Khoi people, one of the earliest indigenous peoples of southern Africa) for nearly two thousand years. Protected for its dramatic beauty and biological diversity, the property is of outstanding significance in the protection of the ancestral lands and ways of living of the Nama people.
World Youth Adventures can tailor make a school expedition to South Africa to your school’s budget and curriculum requirements.
Talk to us about your next school expedition, or if you need some ideas check out the trips below.