South Africa is located on the southern tip of Africa and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Indian Ocean on the south and east. Its neighbouring countries are Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. The Kingdom of Lesotho is situated in the eastern central plain of the country.
South Africa's total land area is 1 219 912 sq km (471,011 sq mi). The country is five times larger than Great Britain and three times the size of Texas.
South Africa is divided into 9 provinces: Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga. Major cities include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein.
South Africa boasts 3 capital cities. These are:
Bloemfontein: The location of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the highest court in non-constitutional matters. The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg is the highest court in constitutional matters.
Cape Town: The legislative capital of South Africa and home to the seat of Parliament.
Pretoria: The administrative capital of South Africa.
South Africa is a diverse country filled with a myriad of traditional origins, languages and beliefs, and is home to over 47 million people from all walks of life. The population of South Africa is divided into four ethnic groups, black Africans, whites, coloureds and Asians.
The Black Africans make up the majority of the population, which accounts for 76% of the entire countries population. Whites account for 13%, coloureds (mixed White and Black descent) make up for 9% and Asian account for 3%.
Officially the Republic of South Africa, this country is a constitutional democracy with a government and independent judiciary, all operating under a parliamentary system. The national, provincial and local levels of government all have legislative and executive authority in their own regions. Advisory bodies operate at both national and provincial levels and are drawn from traditional leaders of South Africa.
The South African government is undertaken by three inter-connected arms of government, namely Legislative, executive and judiciary. The Legislature consists of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, the Executive consists of the President, who is Head of State and Head of Government, and the Judiciary, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the High Court.
South Africa is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GTM), one hour ahead of Central European WinterTime, 8 hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time and 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard WinterTime. There is no daylight saving and no time-zone changes between South Africa and its neighbouring countries, or between the 9 provinces of South Africa.
South Africa is a year round holiday destination, but it all depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. Different activities are better suited to different seasons.
For the best game watching, visit during a South African spring (August - October), Whale watching from mid June to the end of October and for diving and surfing, April to September. The beaches of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban are great and best visited in the peak of summer (November - February), but are often overcrowded.
The unit of currency is the South African Rand, denoted by the symbol R. One hundred cents makes up one Rand (R1). Coins are available in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5, and notes in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.
The Rand is weaker than the Pound and Dollar, making a visit to South Africa highly affordable by international standards. Accommodation, eating out and shopping in South Africa offers great value for money to the international traveller.
Your foreign currency can be exchanged at most local banks and Bureaux de Change. There are many banks and ATM's all around South Africa, including airports, petrol stations and malls.
Please Note: In South Africa you cannot purchase fuel (petrol) with a credit card. Many locals possess a special 'petrol card' that can only be used at filling stations. You can, however, pay toll with MasterCard or Visa.
Operating hours for banks are 09:00am - 15:30pm on Mondays to Fridays, and 08:30am - 11:00am on Saturdays. Banks are closed on Sundays and public holidays. Credit cards are widely accepted, including American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa.
In South Africa it is customary to tip for good service. Porters usually receive R5 per item; taxis receive 10% of the bill, and waiters and waitresses in restaurants 10-15%.
In South African restaurants the service charge is not included in the total bill. At petrol stations, petrol attendants will fill your car and offer to clean your windscreen and check your oil and water, therefore a tip of about R2 will be appreciated.
In parking areas, official and unofficial parking attendants may offer to help you park your car and watch it while you are away. Again, whatever small change you may have will be appreciated.
South Africa is generally a very casual country, with warm, windy days and chilly nights. Denims, t-shits and skirts are fine for during the day. In summer, the day's range from pleasant, to very hot and evenings are balmy. In some areas of South Africa, winter is wet and windy during the day, while in other areas it is dry, hot and humid.
Winter nights are, however, always cold. Formal to semi-formal attire is worn to work, upper-class restaurants and clubs. Casual wear is accepted at most restaurants, pubs and bars. The majority of clubs do not accept guests in running shoes. Bathing suits - full or two pieces - are for the beach.
School uniform is worn at all schools in South Africa. In general, South Africa is very fashion conscious, especially in the big cities - Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. Jeans, shirts, sneakers, sandals, blouses, pants and skirts are all regarded as appropriate everyday wear.
Entry is relatively straightforward to the majority of foreigners travelling to South Africa. Travellers from certain parts of the world, including Scandinavia, the USA and most European countries do not need to apply for a visa.
Upon arrival in South Africa, travellers from either of these countries are given a free entry permit sticker with details of how long they may stay in the country. This permit is usually valid for a maximum of 90 days.
Foreign nationals from other countries offer this service, but for a maximum of 30 days. If you wish to stay longer than 90 days, they will then need to apply for a visa.
The South Africa country dialing code is +27. Long distance calls can be made in South Africa using the correct country code. Many hotels, lodges and guest houses offer direct dialing facilities. If you are not able to connect, a staff member will surely be available to help.
Blue public telephones are coin operated and require a minimum of 80c a local call, more for international calls. It is also worth purchasing a phone card for international calls, available from post offices and news agencies and units range from R20, R50, R100 and R200.
South Africa has 4 world class mobile phone operators, namely Vodacom- the biggest and most popular - MTN, Cell C and Virgin Mobile. Sim cards can be purchased almost anywhere and can be as little as R3. Pay-as-you-go airtime is recommended for tourists.
Electricity in South Africa runs on 220/230V, 50Hz AC and the sockets are adapted to take round or flat pinned plugs. Most hotel rooms have sockets for 110V electric razors. Plugs have 3 round pins, with some plugs having 2 smaller pins. Adaptors can be purchased but may be in short supply. Please keep in mind that for the sake of authenticity, some bush camps may not even have electricity.
Distances throughout South Africa are given in kilometres. One mile is equivalent to 1.62 kilometres. Temperatures are given in degrees Celsius (Centigrade). One degree Celsius is equivalent to 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Weight is measured in kilograms (kg). One kilogram is equivalent to 2.2 pounds.
The current national flag of South Africa was first appointed in April 1994, after the first free election in South Africa, to represent the end of Apartheid and the new democratic South Africa. Designed by Frederick G. Brownell, the flag has horizontal bands of red on the top and blue on the bottom, separated by a central green band, splitting into a horizontal 'Y' shape.
The Y forms an isosceles triangle from which the arms are separated by narrow yellow bands. The red and blue bands are separated from the green band and its arms by narrow white stripes. The South African flag is the only national flag in the world that has six colours and without a seal and brocade.
The flag means different things to different people. According to the flag's designer, the red symbolizes the blood that was shed during the various wars and conflicts in the country. It is also suggested that the blue represents the sky and the two oceans that flank the country.
The green symbolizes the farms and the rich, natural environment of the country, while the yellow represents the natural resources, particularly gold. Finally, it is said that the black represents black South Africans, while the white represents the white population of the country.
Ironically, three of the colours - black, green and yellow - are also colours found in the flag of the African National Congress, despite the official denial of symbolism. The other three colours - red, white and blue - are the colours used in the flag of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, as well as the old South African flag. This could be seen as a representation of the unity between the two South African traditions.
The National Coat of Arms, or state emblem, is the highest visual symbol of the State. The national Coat of Arms was launched on Freedom Day on the 27 April 2000. The change was a reflection of the government's aim to highlight the new democratic South Africa and a new sense of patriotism. The Coat of Arms is a series of elements organized in a distinct symmetric egg-like shape, placed on top of one another.
The first element is the motto circumscribed in a green semicircle. Completing the semicircle are two symmetrically placed pairs of Elephant tusks pointing upwards. Within the oval shape formed by the tusks are two sheaths of wheat framing a gold shield. The shape of the shield refers to the drum and contains two human figures derived from Khoisan rock art. The figures are face to face greeting each other, representing unity.
Above the shield is a spear and a knobkerrie crossed in a single unit. These elements are arranged harmoniously to give focus to the shield and complete the lower oval shape of foundation. Directly above the oval shape of the foundation is the visual centre of the Coat of Arms, a protea, South Africa's national flower. The petals of the protea form a triangular pattern, reminiscent of the crafts of Africa.
A secretary bird is placed above the protea and the flower forms the chest of the bird. The bird's wings are uplifted in a regal gesture, with distinctive head feathers. The rising sun above the horizon is situated between the wings of the bird and completes the oval shape.