Penguins, HIV, biltong, and Nelson Mandela: Stats about South Africa

Posted on November 15th, 2013 by BreAnn

South Africa is such a diverse and unique country, full of amazing culture, brilliant coastlines and landscapes, and home to some of the most amazing wild animals in the world! When James took a job in South Africa back in September, we were thrilled and intrigued to spend a few months in such a different place in the world… and BOY, what a fascinating country to experience and learn about!

The CONTINENT of Africa… with the COUNTRY of South Africa being the furthest to the South

I feel that Africa, in general, is a continent that Americans know very little about, especially when it comes to the FACTS and truths about each country within Africa itself. I think the overall misconception is that all of the African countries (including South Africa) are very poor and the majority of the people live in mud huts with dangerous animals roaming freely within cities and towns across the continent. The truth is, not all of the African countries are poor, many cities are actually very westernized (including Cape Town where we are currently living), and for the most part, Africa’s wildlife is confined to national parks and reserves

Also, it is important to note: AFRICA IS CONTINENT… not a country itself. SOUTH AFRICA is a COUNTRY within the CONTINIENT of Africa. It is often mistaken that when people say they are from South Africa, the person they are talking to will ask, “Well what country IN South Africa?” not realizing that South Africa is the actual NAME of the country!

When you look at a map of the continent, you’ll see that South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa. It has over 1,700 miles of coastline that stretches along the South Atlantic and Indian oceans. To the north lie the neighboring countries of Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe; to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland.

A flight from the United States to South Africa will take you around 22 total hours of flying, with a stopover usually in London, or through Germany or Switzerland.


Below are more facts and statistics about the interesting country of South Africa!

Capital: Pretoria (administrative), Cape Town (legislative), Bloemfontein (judicial). South Africa has no legally defined capital city. The country’s three branches of government are split over different cities. Cape Town, as the seat of Parliament, is the legislative capital; Pretoria, as the seat of the President and Cabinet, is the administrative capital; and Bloemfontein, as the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal, is the judicial capital.

Here is some of the South African Rand I just pulled out of my purse 🙂

Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)

Population: 53 million people. 79.2% Black African, 8.9% Coloured, 8.9% White, 2.5% Indian or Asian, 0.5% other. South Africa hosts a sizeable refugee and asylum seeker population, with the majority coming from Zimbabwe, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia.

Government: South Africa is a parliamentary republic, although unlike most such republics the President is both head of state and head of government, and depends for his tenure on the confidence of Parliament. The National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, consists of 400 members and is elected every five years by a system of party-list proportional representation. The National Council of Provinces, the upper house, consists of ninety members, with each of the nine provincial legislatures electing ten members. After each parliamentary election, the National Assembly elects one of its members as President; hence the President serves a term of office the same as that of the Assembly, normally five years. No President may serve more than two terms in office.

Map showing the dominant home languages in South Africa (2011). A language is dominant if it more than 50% of the population in a ward speak it at home, or more than 33% speak it and no other language is spoken by more than 25%.

Economy: GDP: $595 billion, GDP Per capita: $11,525. South Africa is ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank, and is considered to be a newly industrialized country. Its economy is the largest and most developed in Africa, and the 28th-largest in the world. Despite South Africa’s relatively high GDP per capita, it is still burdened with about a quarter of the population being unemployed and living on less than US$1.25 a day.

Language: South Africa has eleven official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Most South Africans can speak more than one language. The main language of government is English even if South Africans often take pride in using indigenous languages for any purpose. English is the fourth most common first language in the country (9.6%), but is understood in most urban areas and is the dominant language in government and the media.

Religion: Christians account for 79.8% of the population, Muslims 1.5%, Hindus 1.2%, traditional African religion 0.3% and Judaism 0.2%. 15.1% have no religious affiliation, 0.6% are other and 1.4% are unspecified.

Literacy Rate: 93% (2011)

Climate/Seasons: South Africa has a generally temperate climate, due in part to being surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, by its location in the climatically milder southern hemisphere and due to the average elevation rising steadily towards the north (towards the equator) and further inland. Winters in South Africa occur between June and August

Enjoying a South Africa braai (BBQ)

Foods: South African cuisine is heavily meat-based and has spawned the distinctively South African social gathering known as a braai, or barbecue. One main food/snack that many people try when visiting South Africa is biltong, which are lean strips of beef or venison are cured in coriander and vinegar before being allowed to air dry (James and I have tried this already… pretty good, actually!) Traditional African food is generally cooked over an open fire or in a three-legged pot (or potjie), so meat tends to be served in either stewed or grilled form. A starch usually accompanies the meat: mieliepap (maize porridge), potatoes or rice. Beetroot, carrots, cabbage and pumpkin are the vegetables most commonly served. Typical South African dishes include tripe, morogo, chakalaka, amadumbe, and the ubiquitous boerewors roll.

Unemployment Rate: 25% (2013)

Education: South Africa has a 3 tier system of education starting with primary school, followed by high school and tertiary education in the form of (academic) universities and universities of technology. Learners have twelve years of formal schooling, from grade 1 to 12.

Life expectancy: Life expectancy in South Africa is ONLY 53 YEARS OLD (2011)! This low number is due to the huge AIDS/HIV epidemic in the country, and is often most predominant in poorer areas and within black communities. The life expectancy in 2009 was 71 years for a white South African and 48 years for a black South African.

James driving in South Africa… on the right side of the car and the left side of the road

Driving: The legal driving age in South Africa is 18. People drive on the LEFT side of the road (opposite of the US) and on the RIGHT side of the car.

Drinking/Smoking age: The legal drinking age in South Africa is 18. Cigarettes and any other tobacco products may not be sold to persons under the age 18. It is also it illegal to smoke in public areas unless in a specific demarcated smoking zone. It is also prohibited to smoke in private vehicles with minors under the age of 12.



Interesting South Africa facts:

  • We visited the South African penguins!! They were SO CUTE!!

    South Africa has a penguin colony, which thrives thanks to the cold Antarctic currents on the west coast near the Cape. (James and I visited these adorable penguins last weekend on November 9th— it was SO fantastic!!)

  • Ranked third best overall in the world, South Africa is one of only 12 countries supplying tap water that is fit to drink.
  • The first ever human heart transplant was performed by South African surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard, at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town in 1967.
  • South Africa is the only African country to have successfully developed nuclear weapons. It then became the first country with nuclear capability to voluntarily renounce and dismantle its program and in the process signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1991.
  • South Africa is the world’s leader in mining and minerals. It has nearly 90% of the platinum metals on earth, 80% of the manganese, 73% of the chrome, 45% of the vanadium and 41% of the gold.
  • One in every 10 South Africans is HIV-positive, according to Statistics South Africa 2013 mid-year population estimate. South Africa is believed to have more people with HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world. In 2010, an estimated 280,000 South Africans died of HIV/AIDS. The 2011 Census indicated that there were over 2 million Aids orphans in the country.
  • South Africa is partnering with Zimbabwe and Mozambique in tearing down fences between the countries’ game parks to create a joined 35 000km2 game park, which will become the largest conservation area in the world. Comparatively, it will be bigger than Switzerland.
  • South Africa has over 46 million active cell phones (in a population 53 million) ranking in the top 5 globally in terms of mobile phone coverage. It should come as no surprise that the country that invented touchtone dialing offers world-class telecommunications… Today, more South Africans use cell phones than radio, television and personal computers.
  • South Africa has the most official languages in the world (Guiness World Records). South Africa has 11 official languages: English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, Xitsonga, siSwati, isiNdebele and Tshivenda. Although India has 18 languages recognised by its constitution and can be considered as official, each language is recognised as the official language of a certain area e.g Kashmiri in Kashmir.
  • Sadly, it is estimated that 500,000 women are raped in South Africa every year with the average woman more likely to be raped than to complete secondary school. A 2009 survey found one in four South African men admitted to raping someone and another survey found one in three women out of 4000 surveyed women said they had been raped in the past year. Rapes are also perpetrated by children (some as young as ten).
  • Summary of Nelson Mandela and his role in South Africa: Nelson Mandela was born in 1918 in South Africa and became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s. For 20 years, he directed a campaign of peaceful, non-violent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies. Mandela ended up serving 27 years in prison (for various charges… for political offenses, sabotage, leading a strike, etc.) During this time, he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers. However, while incarcerated, Mandela was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program. He was freed in 1990. Soon thereafter, Nelson Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their efforts to dismantle the country’s apartheid system. In 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president. 
  • We saw this ostrich in the wild not too far from Cape Town!

    South Africa is home to:
    · The largest bird – ostrich
    · The largest land mammal – elephant
    · The tallest creature – giraffe
    · The largest reptile – leatherback turtle
    · The largest fish – whale shark
    · The heaviest flying bird – khori bustard
    · The largest antelope – eland
    · The fastest land mammal – cheetah
    · The smallest mammal – least dwarf shrew
    · Four of the five fastest land animals: the cheetah, wildebeest, lion, and Thomson’s gazelle.

  • Since the 1940s, South African golfers have won more golf majors than any other nation, apart from the United States.


So… that’s South Africa!  Did any of these facts or statistics surprise you?  Is your conception of the country or the continent of Africa any different now? Please comment below if you have anything to share!


[To see photos of our adventures in Cape Town, South Africa so far, click here.]




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