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South Africa Fact File

OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of South AfricaFlag of South Africa

South Africa occupies just over 1.2 million km², spanning about 1,600 km from north to south, and the same from east to west. It is five times the size of Japan and three times the size of Texas.

South Africa is the southernmost tip of Africa. To the North, is bordered by Botswana and Zimbabwe. From its desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast to its subtropical border with Mozambique on the Indian Ocean, South Africa’s coastline spans over 2,500 km. The two oceans meet at the southernmost tip of Africa at Agulhas, bringing together the cold Benguela Current and the warm Mozambique Current.

The coastline is fairly smooth and bustling harbours are found at Saldanah Bay, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, East London and Richards Bay.

Beyond the low-lying coastal area is a mountainous escarpment and high inland plateau, with varied topography. The contrasts are stark: forested coastline of the Garden Route, dramatic Drakensberg mountainscape, extreme Kalahari desert, harsh inland Karoo, wild coastline of the West Coast, wetlands and marine reserves of the eastern coast and the Cape’s cultivated vineyards, being just a few.

As with all countries when visiting any major city in the world, take common sense precautions like not walking alone in deserted areas at night, and not displaying photographic equipment or expensive jewellery. Safety guidelines are available at hotels, lodges and camps, including tourism information offices.

South Africa’s estimated population is over 47 million, of which 79% are black African, 9.6% are white, 8.9% are so-called coloured/mixed race, and 2.5% are Indian/Asian.

Cape Town is the legislative capital

Pretoria is the administrative capital

Bloemfontein is the judicial capital

Johannesburg is the largest city – arguably the hub of Africa.

SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT: South Africa is a multiparty democracy.

HEAD OF STATE: President Jacob Zuma

31 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)

South Africa is made up of many different ethnic groups and therefore it is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. You’ll find people of African, European, Indian, Indo-Malay, Chinese and many other origins. This cultural diversity is celebrated in arts and culture, food and customs.

There are 11 national languages - with English being the language of business and administration.

About two thirds of South Africans are Protestant Christians, with several churches combining Christian beliefs with traditional African ones. Islam, Hinduism and Judaism are also significant.

TIME ZONE: South Africa is in the GMT + 2 time zone (UTC + 2


The electricity supply is 220/230V AC, 50 HZ, with the exception of Pretoria (230V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250V). Plugs are usually of the two-pin or three-pin variety and US-made appliances may need a transformer. Most hotel rooms have 110V outlets for electric shavers and appliances

A visa is not required for UK passport holders. Consecutive two full clear pages are required in the passport.

The local currency is the South African rand (R1 = 100 cents), which exchanges favourably with all major international currencies. This makes South Africa an affordable destination where five-star luxury and items such as food, wine and beer can be bought at much lower prices than in many global cities.

Most major international credit cards such as American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted.

As a foreign visitor you can have your VAT (value added tax) refunded at your point of departure, provided you present the original tax invoices that you received when making your purchases.

South Africa has an excellent network of airports, airlines and associated services, with airlines flying daily to its international airports from all corners of the world. The main airports are OR Tambo International Airport (in Johannesburg), Cape Town International Airport and Durban International Airport. Car rental services and taxis can be found at all airports.

11½ hours to Johannesburg and 12 hours to Cape Town.

Non-residents can drive with a driving licence issued and valid in their own country, provided it bears the photograph and signature of the holder and is in English. If your driver’s licence does not meet these requirements, an international driver’s licence is required.

Car rental agencies can be found at all airports and across major cities.

Driving is on the left-hand-side of the road and the wearing of seat belts is compulsory.

Talking on mobile phones while driving is prohibited.

The infrastructure is good, and a road and rail network links all major centres.

South Africa generally has a warm to hot climate, so it’s no surprise that it’s often referred to as ‘sunny South Africa’. The climate ranges from Mediterranean to subtropical, with high-temperature semi desert areas in-between.

Summer runs from November to February and the country enjoys one of the world’s highest average daily hours of sunshine.

The Western Cape experiences rain in winter, while other areas, such as Johannesburg, enjoy summer rainfall in the form of spectacular afternoon thunderstorms.

Winters can be very cold inland, with snow sometimes occurring on the higher mountain ranges.

Conversely, subtropical areas such as Durban have very mild winters.

South Africa is mostly malaria-free, although there are certain malaria zones in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and northern KwaZulu-Natal. Do consult your doctor before travelling to these areas for advice on anti-malaria medication, especially if you are travelling with children.

Inoculations against hepatitis A, and typhoid are recommended.

www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk is a good source of information.

South African Tourism