When the country South Africa comes to mind, what words other than ‘apartheid’ and ‘very far away’ come to mind? Probably not many. Before visiting the country myself, I admit that my knowledge of the country bordered on practically zero percent. I knew that Nelson Mandela came from South Africa, and that on its southern border was the Cape of Good Hope. As it turns out, you can learn something geographically useful from Shark Week.
Reaching both the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans, South Africa has 2,798 kilometres of coastline. Known for its shark tanks, wine country and thriving cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, the country has around 56 million people. This makes it the 24th most populous nation in the world. Not bad for the “Rainbow Nation,” right?
Post-apartheid, South Africa has grown and thrived to become the seventh-highest per-capita income in Africa. Although the economy as a whole has grown, however, around one quarter of South Africans live on less than 1.25 USD per day. Despite this, South Africa is a regional power that continues to play a huge role in the power dynamics of the African continent.
South African cuisine is predominantly meat-based, with a few stand-out recipes, one of which you can find in our Recipes section. I encourage you to follow along and try Bobotie or Melktart at home (they are unbelievably delicious). If you’re interested in a brief history of Biltong, South Africa’s most famous snack - look for a brief article about it in our Discover section. Take a peek at some facts you might not have known about South Africa and add your own in the comments!
1. South Africa has the world’s most liberal constitution in the world.
First and foremost, South Africa is known for having the most progressive Constitution in the world. The Bill of Rights reaches very far, including the basics such as right to equality, freedom of expression and association, access to health care, housing, education, information, and to the courts - but also including the right to life and enshrining the discrimination based on sexual orientation as illegal. Even US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recommended that the Egyptian government look towards the South African Constitution for inspiration
2. South Africa is the only country that has adopted and since destroyed its capability to create nuclear weapons.
Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, the South African government tested and ultimately created around six fully-deployable nuclear weapons. They were created primarily with the purpose of driving back communism from their borders. However, it was decided that the weapons themselves were destabilizing. By 1991, they had destroyed all their weapons in favour of more peaceful initiatives.
3. South Africa has been both a republic and a union.
In 1877, the South African Republic was annexed by Britain. However, after the Anglo-Boer war of the late 1800s, four separate British colonies united and went on to become the independent dominion of the Union of South Africa on May 31, 1910. Fifty-one years later in 1961, the country became a republic again following a referendum.
4. Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant in a Cape Town hospital.
South Africa is well-known for many medical breakthroughs including the first human-to-human heart transplant in Cape Town in December 1967. Another medical accomplishments is the development of a vaccine against yellow fever. Better known by its acronym, the CAT scan was also developed by South African physicist Allan Cormack and British scientist Godfrey Hounsfield. Together, this achievement won them the Novel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1979.
5. There are two sovereign nations that are located within territorial South Africa.
Lesotho and Swaziland are both countries that are completely surrounded by South African territory. Lesotho has a population of around 2 million, while Swaziland has around 1 million. Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, which means that country has both a King and Prime Minister. Ingwenyama Mswati III has ruled over Swaziland since 1986. Lesotho, on the other hand, is a constitutional monarchy - meaning that the king is largely ceremonial and does not possess any executive ability to rule.
6. There are 11 official languages in South Africa
Although the language of business and media is English, there are ten other official languages in South Africa. These include: Afrikaans, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
7. Each color on South African flag has a meaning.
Although the current South African flag was meant to only be temporary, the design has withstood the passing of time and remains the national flag of South Africa. It was first used on April 27, 1994, celebrated as Freedom Day. The yellow, black and green colors stand for the African National Congress party while the red, white and blue stand for the colors of the Boer Republics (a.k.a. European colonialists).
8. The largest gold rush in the world took place in South Africa… and more than 50 percent of all gold ever mined on Earth is from South Africa.
You may have thought it to be California or an such part of the Western United States but in fact the largest gold rush in the world took place in Witwatersrand. Starting in 1886, prospectors began to find massive quantities of gold throughout the area. This encouraged a large-scale migration towards the small town of Langlaagte, soon to be called Johannesburg. Due to the need for infrastructure, railways were formed that ultimately helped South Africa become the well-connected country it is today.
An even crazier statistic to imagine is that 50 percent of all gold ever mined comes from South Africa, particularly from the Witwatersrand Basin!
9. Traffic signals are called robots.
10. The largest diamond in the world was found in South Africa.
The Cullinan Diamond weighs 3,106.75 carats or around 621 grams. It was discovered in 1905 by Thomas Cullinan, eventually cut and divided into several gems, The largest piece of the original diamond was named the Great Star of Africa and placed on the Queen of England’s spectre. South African diamond mines actually account for around 9 percent of the international diamond production.
11. Eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites are within South Africa.
South Africa has some of the oldest and historically important sites in the world. Did you know that there are eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Nelson Mandela was imprisoned at Robben Island, along with other Freedom Struggle heroes. iSimangaliso Wetland Park has some of the world’s most incredible biodiversity both in flora and bird species (there are over 520). Near to Johannesburg, the Cradle of Humankind is where archaeologists have found some of the oldest remains of humans. Known for its mountain range, the ukhahlamba-drakensbezrg park has not only a variety of endangered birds and plants, but also historic rock art paintings. Assumed that intelligent life had its start in Europe? Think again. The Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape shows evidence and artifacts of a highly advanced society being in existence far before their European descendants. The Cape Floral Region boasts certain flora and fauna, 70 percent of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The world’s largest meteor crater, the Vredefort Dome, is over two million years old. Lastly, the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape is a desert owned by and take care of the Nama communities.
12. South Africa is part of BRICS.
BRICS is an acronym that represents the five emerging world markets: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Not only is South Africa an essential part of BRICS, they also are a huge player in the G-20, an international market forum since 2011.
13. Nelson Mandela has six different names in South Africa.
Sure, Nelson Mandela is known to most people by simple “Nelson Mandela.” But there are another couple names for him. At birth, he was Rolihlahla Mandela. At school in the small town of Qunu, his teachers named him ‘Nelson.’ During his rites of passage ceremony at age 16, he was named Dalibhunga (‘creator of the council’). He is known by South Africans by the moniker Madiba, his clan name. In Xhosa, he is referred to by the words for ‘father’ (Tata) and ‘grandfather’ (Khulu). Do you want to know more about Nelson Mandela? Check out this article or commit to his autobiography!
There’s certainly more to learn about South Africa than can be explained in 13 facts. Hopefully, though, you’ve learned at least one thing about the Rainbow Nation that you didn’t know before. Take a not-so-quick trip down to Cape Town, visit the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, sit on beaches watching penguins, learn about the history of apartheid and colonialism, all while eating delicious South African fare. You can only learn so much from our articles before giving into the urge to visit!
Share your favourite South African facts in the comments - I can’t wait to hear them!