South Africa                                                中文簡介

Full country name: The Republic of South Africa
Area: 1,221,037 sq km
Population: 43.1 million
Capitals: Pretoria (administrative); Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative).
People: 77% black, 10% white (60% of whites are of Afrikaner descent, most of the rest are of British descent), 8% mixed race, 2.5% of Indian or Asian descent.
Languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi, English, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda, Ndebele.
Religion: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and traditional religions.
Government: Republic and independent member of the British Commonwealth
President: Thabo Mbeki

GDP: US$146 billion
GDP per head: US$2133
Annual growth: 0.9%
Inflation: 7.8%
Major industries: Mining, finance, insurance, food processing
Major trading partners: USA, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy

Facts for the Traveler
Visas: Entry permits are issued free on arrival to visitors on holiday from many Commonwealth and most Western European countries, as well as Japan and the USA. If you aren't entitled to an entry permit, you'll need to get a visa (also free) before you arrive.
Health risks: Malaria is mainly confined to the eastern half of South Africa, especially on the lowveld (coastal plain). Bilharzia is also found mainly in the east but outbreaks do occur in other places, so you should always check with knowledgeable local people before drinking water or swimming in it.
Time: GMT/UTC plus two hours
Electricity: 220/230V (250V in Pretoria), 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs

Currency: rand ©

  • Budget: US$5-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-20
  • Top-end: US$20 and upwards

  • Budget: US$7-25
  • Mid-range: US$25-50
  • Top-end: US$50 and upwards

South Africa is a big wallop of a country, extending nearly 2000km from the Limpopo River in the north to Cape Agulhas in the south and nearly 1500km from Port Nolloth in the west to Durban in the east. Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland run from west to east along South Africa's northern border and Lesotho soars above the grassland towards the south-east. The country can be divided into three major parts: the vast interior plateau (the highveld), the Kalahari Basin, and a narrow coastal plain (the lowveld).

Its position just south of the Tropic of Capricorn makes South Africa a mostly dry and sunny place but the climate is moderated by its topography and the surrounding oceans. Basically, the farther east you go, the more handy your rain-gear becomes, but there are also damp pockets in the south-west, particularly around Cape Town. The coast north from the Cape becomes progressively drier and hotter, culminating in the desert region just south of Namibia. Along the south coast the weather is temperate, but the east coast becomes increasingly tropical the further north you go. When it gets too sticky, head for the highlands, which are pleasant even in summer. The north-eastern hump gets very hot and there are spectacular storms there in summer. In winter the days are sunny and warm.

When it comes to land mammals, South Africa hogs the superlatives: it's got the biggest (the African elephant), the smallest (the pygmy shrew), the tallest (the giraffe) and the fastest (the cheetah). The country is also home to the last substantial populations of black and white rhinos - with horns intact. You're most likely to encounter these critters in one of South Africa's national parks, but you should keep an eye out for lurking crocodiles in lowveld streams and rampaging hippos in the northern coastal regions. No slacker when it comes to birdlife, South Africa is home to the ostrich (the world's largest bird), the Kori bustard (the largest flying bird), as well as sunbirds, flamingoes and the sociable weaver birds who live in 'cities' of woven grass.

The region's flora is spectacular, with wildflowers from peaceful lilies to raging red-hot pokers in the grasslands, weird succulents blooming after spring rains, and one of the world's six floral kingdoms - the Cape Floral Kingdom - prettying up the Western Cape. Large areas in the north are covered by a savannah-type vegetation, characterised by acacias and thorn trees, and there are forest remnants along the southern coast and in the north-east.

South Africa is a multiracial society and defining distinct subgroups by skin colour only will potentially get you into trouble. Those of Afrikaner and British descent won't be too happy to be confused with one another, and there are several major and many minor groupings in the traditional black cultures.

The mingling and melding in South Africa's urban areas, along with the suppression of traditional cultures during the apartheid years, means that the old ways of life are fading, but traditional black cultures are still strong in much of the countryside. Across the different groups, marriage customs and taboos differ, but most traditional cultures are based on beliefs in a masculine deity, ancestral spirits and supernatural forces. In general, polygamy is permitted and a lobolo(dowry) is usually paid. Cattle play an important part in many cultures, as symbols of wealth and as sacrificial animals.

The art of South Africa's indigenous populations can be one of the only ways to connect with lost cultures. Rock and cave paintings by the San, some of which date back 26,000 years, are a case in point. In other cases, such as the elaborate 'coded' beadwork of the Zulus, traditional art has been adapted to survive in different circumstances. Zulu is one of the strongest surviving black cultures and massed Zulu singing at Inkatha Freedom Party demonstrations is a powerful expression of this ancient culture. The Xhosa also have a strong presence; they are known as the red people because of the red-dyed clothing worn by most adults. The Ndebele are a related group, who live in the north-western corner of what is now Mpumalanga in strikingly painted houses.

The Afrikaners' distinct culture has developed in a deliberate isolation, which saw them wandering around with cows and the Bible while 19th-century Europe experimented with democracy and liberalism. Today's rural communities still revolve around the conservative Dutch Reformed Churches, but 'Afrikaner redneck' is far from a tautology.

Aside from the Afrikaners, the majority of European South Africans are of British extraction. The British are generally more urbanised and have tended to dominate the business and financial sectors. The Afrikaners (more or less rightly) feel that they are more committed to South Africa, and have a charming term for the man with one foot in South Africa and one in Britain: soutpiel or salt dick (his penis dangling in the ocean). There is also a large and influential Jewish population and a significant Indian minority.

The British can take most of the blame for the food dished up in South Africa, although the situation is improving dramatically. Steak or boerewors sausage, overboiled vegies and chips are the norm, and where the food gets more adventurous it often turns out pretty scary. Vegetarians will not have a good culinary time. African dishes are not commonly served in restaurants, although you can get a cheap rice and stew belly-filler from street stalls in most towns. Beer and brandy are the popular swills, and South Africa's excellent wines are becoming more and more popular.

Although South Africa is home to a great diversity of cultures, most were suppressed during the apartheid years when day-to-day practice of traditional and contemporary cultures was ignored, trivialised or detroyed. In a society where you could be jailed for owning a politically incorrect painting, serious art was forced underground and blandness ruled in the galleries and theatres. The most striking example of this was the bulldozing of both District Six, a vibrant multicultural area in Cape Town, and Johannesburg's Sophiatown, where internationally famous musicians learned their craft in an area once described as 'a skeleton with a permanent grin'. Groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo have managed to bring South Africans sounds to a wide Western audience, both during and after apartheid.

One of the most exciting aspects of the new South Africa is that the country is in the process of reinventing itself and, with such a large proportion of the population marginalised from the economic mainstream, this is occurring without much input from professional image makers. Hopeful signs include gallery retrospectives of black artists, both contemporary and traditional, and musicians from around Africa performing in major festivals. The new South Africa is being created on the streets of the townships and cities.