Famed for its wildlife, archaeological discoveries and complex history, South Africa is a fascinating country. Nicknamed the Rainbow Nation, the country is home to many different peoples and cultures and you’ll hear dozens of different languages being spoken. So, if you are planning a trip to the southernmost country on the African continent, here are some of the most interesting facts about South Africa to know before you go.
7 Interesting Facts about South Africa
1. Two oceans border South Africa
Its official name is the Republic of South Africa and it is the southernmost country of the African continent. The Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean border it to the south and it also shares borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. In fact, the kingdom of Lesotho is within South Africa’s borders and it is from the snowcapped peaks of this landlocked nation where South Africa gets most of its water.
2. South Africa has 11 official languages
The nickname for South Africa is ‘the rainbow nation’, this is because of its colourful mix of cultures. The population, as of 2020, is 59,308,690. The country has 11 official languages and at least 35 unofficial indigenous languages. The official languages of South Africa are: Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venḓa, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans and English. With over 11.5 million speakers, Zulu is the most common language in South Africa. Xhosa is the second most widely spoken language of South Africa with 8.1 million native speakers.
3. It has three capital cities
South Africa is the only country in the world to have three capital cities. The strategic placement of capital cities throughout the country ensures power is shared across the region. The three capital cities of South Africa are Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein. Pretoria, in the province of Gauteng, is the administrative capital, and the ultimate capital of the country. Cape Town, in the Western Cape province, is the legislative capital and home to the country’s Parliament. Bloemfontein, in the Free State province, is the judicial capital and home to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
4. South Africa is a haven for wildlife
South Africa is famous for its diverse wildlife and is home to almost 10 per cent of the world’s known bird, fish and plant species. It is also home to about 6 per cent of the world’s mammal and reptile species. There are 297 species of mammal, of which 30 are threatened. South Africa is where you’ll also find Kruger National Park. With an area of 19,485 km2 (7,523 sq mi), this is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and one of the largest national parks in the world. It also has more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve. Here, you’ll find all the big five game animals – lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, African bush elephant, African buffalo.
5. The region is known as the Cradle of Humankind
In the Sterkfontein limestone caves, Archaeologists discovered some of the earliest human and animal fossils ever found. Experts say some of these fossils are more than four million years old. Probably the most important of these fossils is “Mrs Ples”, a 2.1-million-year-old Australopithecus skull. Another famous fossil from here is “Little Foot”. This is an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton that is more than 3-million years old. Australopithecus means “southern ape” and is a type of primate that is closely related to, if not actually ancestors of, modern humans. Due to these archaeological discoveries, the region is called the Cradle of Humankind. Archaeologists have also discovered cave paintings in South Africa that date to around 75,000 years ago. UNESCO inscribed these Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa onto its World Heritage list in 1999.
6. South Africa has 10 World Heritage sites
Overall, UNESCO has designed 10 places in South Africa as World Heritage sites. These are: Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains; Cape Floral Region Protected Areas; iSimangaliso Wetland Park; Khomani Cultural Landscape; Maloti-Drakensberg Park; Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape; Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape; Robben Island; Vredefort Dome; and the fossil hominid sites as mentioned above.
7. Nelson Mandela was the first president of democratic South Africa
The first democratically elected leader in South Africa was Nelson Mandela. He was an anti-apartheid activist, lawyer, and former political prisoner. He was also the country’s first black head of state and was in office from May 1994 to June 1999. Mandela served 27 years in prison, including time in Robben Island. Authorities arrested him in 1962 and convicted him in 1964 of conspiring to overthrow the state. In 1990, President F. W. de Klerk released Mandela and they both went on to lead efforts to end apartheid and both received the Nobel Peace Prize.