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Africa :: South Africa Print
Page last updated on November 24, 2020
  • Introduction :: South Africa
  • Background field listing

    Some of the earliest human remains in the fossil record are found in South Africa. By about A.D. 500, Bantu speaking groups began settling into what is now northeastern South Africa displacing Khoisan speaking groups to the southwest. Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of present-day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the settlers of Dutch descent (Afrikaners, also called "Boers" (farmers) at the time) trekked north to found their own republics, Transvaal and Orange Free State. In the 1820s, several decades of wars began as the Zulus expanded their territory, moving out of what is today southeastern South Africa and clashing with other indigenous peoples and with expanding European settlements. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration from Europe.

    The Anglo-Zulu War (1879) resulted in the incorporation of the Zulu kingdom's territory into the British Empire. Subsequently, the Afrikaner republics were incorporated into the British Empire after their defeat in the Second South African War (1899-1902). However, the British and the Afrikaners ruled together beginning in 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a whites-only referendum. In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid – billed as "separate development" of the races - which favored the white minority at the expense of the black majority and other non-white groups. The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson MANDELA, spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule.

    The first multi-racial elections in 1994 following the end of apartheid ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. South Africa has since struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in wealth, housing, education, and health care. Jacob ZUMA became president in 2009 and was reelected in 2014, but resigned in February 2018 after numerous corruption scandals and gains by opposition parties in municipal elections in 2016. His successor, Cyril RAMAPHOSA, has made some progress in reigning in corruption, though many challenges persist. In May 2019 national elections, the country’s sixth since the end of apartheid, the ANC won a majority of parliamentary seats, delivering RAMAPHOSA a five-year term.

  • Geography :: South Africa
  • Location field listing
    Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa
    Geographic coordinates field listing
    29 00 S, 24 00 E
    Map references field listing
    Area field listing
    total: 1,219,090 sq km
    land: 1,214,470 sq km
    water: 4,620 sq km

    note: includes Prince Edward Islands (Marion Island and Prince Edward Island)

    country comparison to the world: 26
    Area - comparative field listing
    slightly less than twice the size of Texas
    Area comparison map: Area comparison map
    Land boundaries field listing
    total: 5,244 km
    border countries (6): Botswana 1969 km, Lesotho 1106 km, Mozambique 496 km, Namibia 1005 km, Eswatini 438 km, Zimbabwe 230 km
    Coastline field listing
    2,798 km
    Maritime claims field listing
    territorial sea: 12 nm
    exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
    contiguous zone: 24 nm
    continental shelf: 200 nm or to edge of the continental margin
    Climate field listing
    mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights
    Terrain field listing
    vast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain
    Elevation field listing
    mean elevation: 1,034 m
    lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
    highest point: Njesuthi 3,408 m
    Natural resources field listing
    gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas
    Land use field listing
    agricultural land: 79.4% (2011 est.)
    arable land: 9.9% (2011 est.) / permanent crops: 0.3% (2011 est.) / permanent pasture: 69.2% (2011 est.)
    forest: 7.6% (2011 est.)
    other: 13% (2011 est.)
    Irrigated land field listing
    16,700 sq km (2012)
    Population distribution field listing
    the population concentrated along the southern and southeastern coast, and inland around Pretoria; the eastern half of the country is more densly populated than the west as shown in this population distribution map
    Natural hazards field listing

    prolonged droughts

    volcanism: the volcano forming Marion Island in the Prince Edward Islands, which last erupted in 2004, is South Africa's only active volcano

    Environment - current issues field listing
    lack of important arterial rivers or lakes requires extensive water conservation and control measures; growth in water usage outpacing supply; pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and urban discharge; air pollution resulting in acid rain; deforestation; soil erosion; land degradation; desertification; solid waste pollution; disruption of fragile ecosystem has resulted in significant floral extinctions
    Environment - international agreements field listing
    party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
    signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
    Geography - note field listing
    South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Eswatini
  • People and Society :: South Africa
  • Population field listing
    56,463,617 (July 2020 est.)

    note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected

    country comparison to the world: 26
    Nationality field listing
    noun: South African(s)
    adjective: South African
    Ethnic groups field listing
    black African 80.9%, colored 8.8%, white 7.8%, Indian/Asian 2.5% (2018 est.)

    note: colored is a term used in South Africa, including on the national census, for persons of mixed race ancestry who developed a distinct cultural identity over several hundred years

    Languages field listing
    isiZulu (official) 24.7%, isiXhosa (official) 15.6%, Afrikaans (official) 12.1%, Sepedi (official) 9.8%, Setswana (official) 8.9%, English (official) 8.4%, Sesotho (official) 8%, Xitsonga (official) 4%, siSwati (official) 2.6%, Tshivenda (official) 2.5%, isiNdebele (official) 1.6%, other (includes Khoi, Nama, and San languages) 1.9% (2017 est.)
    note: data represent language spoken most often at home
    Religions field listing
    Christian 86%, ancestral, tribal, animist, or other traditional African religions 5.4%, Muslim 1.9%, other 1.5%, nothing in particular 5.2% (2015 est.)
    Demographic profile field listing

    South Africa’s youthful population is gradually aging, as the country’s total fertility rate (TFR) has declined dramatically from about 6 children per woman in the 1960s to roughly 2.2 in 2014. This pattern is similar to fertility trends in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and sets South Africa apart from the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, where the average TFR remains higher than other regions of the world. Today, South Africa’s decreasing number of reproductive age women is having fewer children, as women increase their educational attainment, workforce participation, and use of family planning methods; delay marriage; and opt for smaller families.

    As the proportion of working-age South Africans has grown relative to children and the elderly, South Africa has been unable to achieve a demographic dividend because persistent high unemployment and the prevalence of HIV/AIDs have created a larger-than-normal dependent population. HIV/AIDS was also responsible for South Africa’s average life expectancy plunging to less than 43 years in 2008; it has rebounded to 63 years as of 2017. HIV/AIDS continues to be a serious public health threat, although awareness-raising campaigns and the wider availability of anti-retroviral drugs is stabilizing the number of new cases, enabling infected individuals to live longer, healthier lives, and reducing mother-child transmissions.

    Migration to South Africa began in the second half of the 17th century when traders from the Dutch East India Company settled in the Cape and started using slaves from South and southeast Asia (mainly from India but also from present-day Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia) and southeast Africa (Madagascar and Mozambique) as farm laborers and, to a lesser extent, as domestic servants. The Indian subcontinent remained the Cape Colony’s main source of slaves in the early 18th century, while slaves were increasingly obtained from southeast Africa in the latter part of the 18th century and into the 19th century under British rule.

    After slavery was completely abolished in the British Empire in 1838, South Africa’s colonists turned to temporary African migrants and indentured labor through agreements with India and later China, countries that were anxious to export workers to alleviate domestic poverty and overpopulation. Of the more than 150,000 indentured Indian laborers hired to work in Natal’s sugar plantations between 1860 and 1911, most exercised the right as British subjects to remain permanently (a small number of Indian immigrants came freely as merchants). Because of growing resentment toward Indian workers, the 63,000 indentured Chinese workers who mined gold in Transvaal between 1904 and 1911 were under more restrictive contracts and generally were forced to return to their homeland.

    In the late 19th century and nearly the entire 20th century, South Africa’s then British colonies’ and Dutch states’ enforced selective immigration policies that welcomed "assimilable" white Europeans as permanent residents but excluded or restricted other immigrants. Following the Union of South Africa’s passage of a law in 1913 prohibiting Asian and other non-white immigrants and its elimination of the indenture system in 1917, temporary African contract laborers from neighboring countries became the dominant source of labor in the burgeoning mining industries. Others worked in agriculture and smaller numbers in manufacturing, domestic service, transportation, and construction. Throughout the 20th century, at least 40% of South Africa’s miners were foreigners; the numbers peaked at over 80% in the late 1960s. Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, and Eswatini were the primary sources of miners, and Malawi and Zimbabwe were periodic suppliers.

    Under apartheid, a "two gates" migration policy focused on policing and deporting illegal migrants rather than on managing migration to meet South Africa’s development needs. The exclusionary 1991 Aliens Control Act limited labor recruitment to the highly skilled as defined by the ruling white minority, while bilateral labor agreements provided exemptions that enabled the influential mining industry and, to a lesser extent, commercial farms, to hire temporary, low-paid workers from neighboring states. Illegal African migrants were often tacitly allowed to work for low pay in other sectors but were always under threat of deportation.

    The abolishment of apartheid in 1994 led to the development of a new inclusive national identity and the strengthening of the country’s restrictive immigration policy. Despite South Africa’s protectionist approach to immigration, the downsizing and closing of mines, and rising unemployment, migrants from across the continent believed that the country held work opportunities. Fewer African labor migrants were issued temporary work permits and, instead, increasingly entered South Africa with visitors’ permits or came illegally, which drove growth in cross-border trade and the informal job market. A new wave of Asian immigrants has also arrived over the last two decades, many operating small retail businesses.

    In the post-apartheid period, increasing numbers of highly skilled white workers emigrated, citing dissatisfaction with the political situation, crime, poor services, and a reduced quality of life. The 2002 Immigration Act and later amendments were intended to facilitate the temporary migration of skilled foreign labor to fill labor shortages, but instead the legislation continues to create regulatory obstacles. Although the education system has improved and brain drain has slowed in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, South Africa continues to face skills shortages in several key sectors, such as health care and technology.

    South Africa’s stability and economic growth has acted as a magnet for refugees and asylum seekers from nearby countries, despite the prevalence of discrimination and xenophobic violence. Refugees have included an estimated 350,000 Mozambicans during its 1980s civil war and, more recently, several thousand Somalis, Congolese, and Ethiopians. Nearly all of the tens of thousands of Zimbabweans who have applied for asylum in South Africa have been categorized as economic migrants and denied refuge.

    Age structure field listing
    0-14 years: 27.94% (male 7,894,742/female 7,883,266)
    15-24 years: 16.8% (male 4,680,587/female 4,804,337)
    25-54 years: 42.37% (male 12,099,441/female 11,825,193)
    55-64 years: 6.8% (male 1,782,902/female 2,056,988)
    65 years and over: 6.09% (male 1,443,956/female 1,992,205) (2020 est.)
    population pyramid: population pyramid
    Dependency ratios field listing
    total dependency ratio: 52.2
    youth dependency ratio: 43.8
    elderly dependency ratio: 8.4
    potential support ratio: 11.9 (2020 est.)
    Median age field listing
    total: 28 years
    male: 27.9 years
    female: 28.1 years (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 142
    Population growth rate field listing
    0.97% (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 108
    Birth rate field listing
    19.2 births/1,000 population (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 78
    Death rate field listing
    9.3 deaths/1,000 population (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 50
    Net migration rate field listing
    -0.2 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 110
    Population distribution field listing
    the population concentrated along the southern and southeastern coast, and inland around Pretoria; the eastern half of the country is more densly populated than the west as shown in this population distribution map
    Urbanization field listing
    urban population: 67.4% of total population (2020)
    rate of urbanization: 1.97% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)
    total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030: PDF
    Major urban areas - population field listing
    9.677 million Johannesburg (includes Ekurhuleni), 4.618 million Cape Town (legislative capital), 3.158 million Durban, 2.566 million PRETORIA (administrative capital), 1.254 million Port Elizabeth, 898,000 West Rand (2020)
    Sex ratio field listing
    at birth: 1.02 male(s)/female
    0-14 years: 1 male(s)/female
    15-24 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
    25-54 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
    55-64 years: 0.87 male(s)/female
    65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female
    total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2020 est.)
    Maternal mortality rate field listing
    119 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 66
    Infant mortality rate field listing
    total: 27.8 deaths/1,000 live births
    male: 31 deaths/1,000 live births
    female: 24.6 deaths/1,000 live births (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 63
    Life expectancy at birth field listing
    total population: 64.8 years
    male: 63.4 years
    female: 66.2 years (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 198
    Total fertility rate field listing
    2.22 children born/woman (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 91
    Contraceptive prevalence rate field listing
    54.6% (2016)
    Drinking water source field listing
    improved: urban: 98.9% of population
    rural: 87.4% of population
    total: 95.5% of population
    unimproved: urban: 1.1% of population
    rural: 12.6% of population
    total: 4.5% of population (2017 est.)
    Current Health Expenditure field listing
    8.1% (2017)
    Physicians density field listing
    0.91 physicians/1,000 population (2017)
    Hospital bed density field listing
    2.3 beds/1,000 population (2010)
    Sanitation facility access field listing
    improved: urban: 95.6% of population
    rural: 80.9% of population
    total: 90.6% of population
    unimproved: urban: 4.4% of population
    rural: 19.1% of population
    total: 9.4% of population (2017 est.)
    HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate field listing
    17.3% (2019 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 4
    HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS field listing
    7.5 million (2019 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 1
    HIV/AIDS - deaths field listing
    72,000 (2019 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 1
    Major infectious diseases field listing
    degree of risk: intermediate (2020)
    food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
    water contact diseases: schistosomiasis
    note: widespread ongoing transmission of a respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is occurring throughout South Africa; as of 10 November 2020, South Africa has reported a total of 735,906 cases of COVID-19 or 12,408 cumulative cases of COVID-19 per 1 million population with 312 cumulative deaths per 1 million population; on 24 May 2020, the Government of South Africa announced the lockdown alert level for South Africa will be lowered to level 3 with effect on 1 June 2020, except for some areas designated as “coronavirus hotspots”; per the lockdown, all airports in South Africa are closed to commercial traffic
    Obesity - adult prevalence rate field listing
    28.3% (2016)
    country comparison to the world: 31
    Children under the age of 5 years underweight field listing
    5.9% (2016)
    country comparison to the world: 76
    Education expenditures field listing
    6.2% of GDP (2018)
    country comparison to the world: 29
    Literacy field listing
    definition: age 15 and over can read and write
    total population: 87%
    male: 87.7%
    female: 86.5% (2017)
    School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education) field listing
    total: 14 years
    male: 13 years
    female: 14 years (2018)
    Unemployment, youth ages 15-24 field listing
    total: 53.4%
    male: 49.2%
    female: 58.8% (2018 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 3
  • Government :: South Africa
  • Country name field listing
    conventional long form: Republic of South Africa
    conventional short form: South Africa
    former: Union of South Africa
    abbreviation: RSA
    etymology: self-descriptive name from the country's location on the continent; "Africa" is derived from the Roman designation of the area corresponding to present-day Tunisia "Africa terra," which meant "Land of the Afri" (the tribe resident in that area), but which eventually came to mean the entire continent
    Government type field listing
    parliamentary republic
    Capital field listing
    name: Pretoria (administrative capital); Cape Town (legislative capital); Bloemfontein (judicial capital)
    geographic coordinates: 25 42 S, 28 13 E
    time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
    etymology: Pretoria is named in honor of Andries PRETORIUS, the father of voortrekker (pioneer) leader Marthinus PRETORIUS; Cape Town reflects its location on the Cape of Good Hope; Bloemfontein is a combination of the Dutch words "bloem" (flower) and "fontein" (fountain) meaning "fountain of flowers"
    Administrative divisions field listing
    9 provinces; Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape
    Independence field listing
    31 May 1910 (Union of South Africa formed from four British colonies: Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State); 22 August 1934 (Status of the Union Act); 31 May 1961 (republic declared); 27 April 1994 (majority rule)
    National holiday field listing
    Freedom Day, 27 April (1994)
    Constitution field listing
    history: several previous; latest drafted 8 May 1996, approved by the Constitutional Court 4 December 1996, effective 4 February 1997
    amendments: proposed by the National Assembly of Parliament; passage of amendments affecting constitutional sections on human rights and freedoms, non-racism and non-sexism, supremacy of the constitution, suffrage, the multi-party system of democratic government, and amendment procedures requires at least 75% majority vote of the Assembly, approval by at least six of the nine provinces represented in the National Council of Provinces, and assent of the president of the republic; passage of amendments affecting the Bill of Rights, and those related to provincial boundaries, powers, and authorities requires at least two-thirds majority vote of the Assembly, approval by at least six of the nine provinces represented in the National Council, and assent of the president; amended many times, last in 2013
    International law organization participation field listing
    has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction
    Citizenship field listing
    citizenship by birth: no
    citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of South Africa
    dual citizenship recognized: yes, but requires prior permission of the government
    residency requirement for naturalization: 1 year
    Suffrage field listing
    18 years of age; universal
    Executive branch field listing
    chief of state: President Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since 15 February 2018); Deputy President David MABUZA (26 February 2018); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government; Jacob ZUMA resigned the presidency on 14 February 2018
    head of government: President Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since 15 February 2018); deputy president David MABUZA (26 February 2018)
    cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president
    elections/appointments: president indirectly elected by the National Assembly for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 22 May 2019 (next to be held in May 2024)
    election results: Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (ANC) elected president by the National Assembly unopposed
    Legislative branch field listing
    description: bicameral Parliament consists of:
    National Council of Provinces (90 seats; 10-member delegations appointed by each of the 9 provincial legislatures to serve 5-year terms; note - the Council has special powers to protect regional interests, including safeguarding cultural and linguistic traditions among ethnic minorities)
    National Assembly (400 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote to serve 5-year terms)
    elections: National Council of Provinces and National Assembly - last held on 8 May 2019 (next to be held in 2024)
    election results: National Council of Provinces - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - ANC 29, DA 13, EFF 9, FF+ 2, IFP 1; note - 36 appointed seats not filled
    National Assembly - percent of vote by party - ANC 57.5%, DA 20.8%, EFF 10.8%, IFP 3.8%, FF+ 2.4%, other 4.7%; seats by party - ANC 230, DA 84, EFF 44, IFP 14, FF+ 10, other 18; composition - men 237, women 163, percent of women 40.8%
    Judicial branch field listing
    highest courts: Supreme Court of Appeals (consists of the court president, deputy president, and 21 judges); Constitutional Court (consists of the chief and deputy chief justices and 9 judges)
    judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court of Appeals president and vice president appointed by the national president after consultation with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), a 23-member body chaired by the chief justice and includes other judges and judicial executives, members of parliament, practicing lawyers and advocates, a teacher of law, and several members designated by the president of South Africa; other Supreme Court judges appointed by the national president on the advice of the JSC and hold office until discharged from active service by an Act of Parliament; Constitutional Court chief and deputy chief justices appointed by the president of South Africa after consultation with the JSC and with heads of the National Assembly; other Constitutional Court judges appointed by the national president after consultation with the chief justice and leaders of the National Assembly; Constitutional Court judges serve 12-year nonrenewable terms or until age 70
    subordinate courts: High Courts; Magistrates' Courts; labor courts; land claims courts
    Political parties and leaders field listing
    African Christian Democratic Party or ACDP [Kenneth MESHOE]
    African Independent Congress or AIC [Mandla GALO]
    African National Congress or ANC [Cyril RAMAPHOSA]
    African People's Convention or APC [Themba GODI]
    Agang SA [Mike TSHISHONGA]
    Congress of the People or COPE [Mosiuoa LEKOTA]
    Democratic Alliance or DA [John STEENHUISEN]
    Economic Freedom Fighters or EFF [Julius Sello MALEMA]
    Freedom Front Plus or FF+ [Pieter GROENEWALD]
    GOOD [Patricia de LILLE]
    Inkatha Freedom Party or IFP [Mangosuthu BUTHELEZI]
    National Freedom Party or NFP [Zanele kaMAGWAZA-MSIBI]
    Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania or PAC [Luthanado MBINDA]
    United Christian Democratic Party or UCDP [Isaac Sipho MFUNDISI]
    United Democratic Movement or UDM [Bantu HOLOMISA]
    International organization participation field listing
    ACP, AfDB, AU, BIS, BRICS, C, CD, FAO, FATF, G-20, G-24, G-5, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC (national committees), ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC (NGOs), MIGA, MONUSCO, NAM, NSG, OECD (enhanced engagement), OPCW, Paris Club (associate), PCA, SACU, SADC, UN, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNITAR, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC
    Diplomatic representation in the US field listing
    chief of mission: Ambassador Nomaindiya MFEKETO (since 8 April 2020)
    chancery: 3051 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
    telephone: [1] (202) 232-4400
    FAX: [1] (202) 265-1607
    consulate(s) general: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York
    Diplomatic representation from the US field listing
    chief of mission: Ambassador Lana MARKS (since 28 January 2020)
    telephone: [27] (12) 431-4000
    embassy: 877 Pretorius Street, Arcadia, Pretoria
    mailing address: P.O. Box 9536, Pretoria 0001
    FAX: [27] (12) 342-2299
    consulate(s) general: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg
    Flag description field listing
    two equal width horizontal bands of red (top) and blue separated by a central green band that splits into a horizontal Y, the arms of which end at the corners of the hoist side; the Y embraces a black 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 flag colors do not have any official symbolism, but the Y stands for the "convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity"; black, yellow, and green are found on the flag of the African National Congress, while red, white, and blue are the colors in the flags of the Netherlands and the UK, whose settlers ruled South Africa during the colonial era

    note: the South African flag is one of only two national flags to display six colors as part of its primary design, the other is South Sudan's

    National symbol(s) field listing
    springbok (antelope), king protea flower; national colors: red, green, blue, yellow, black, white
    National anthem field listing
    name: National Anthem of South Africa
    lyrics/music: Enoch SONTONGA and Cornelius Jacob LANGENHOVEN/Enoch SONTONGA and Marthinus LOURENS de Villiers

    note: adopted 1994; a combination of "N'kosi Sikelel' iAfrica" (God Bless Africa) and "Die Stem van Suid Afrika" (The Call of South Africa), which were respectively the anthems of the non-white and white communities under apartheid; official lyrics contain a mixture of Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English (i.e., the five most widely spoken of South Africa's 11 official languages); music incorporates the melody used in the Tanzanian and Zambian anthems

  • Economy :: South Africa
  • Economy - overview field listing

    South Africa is a middle-income emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors; and a stock exchange that is Africa’s largest and among the top 20 in the world.

    Economic growth has decelerated in recent years, slowing to an estimated 0.7% in 2017. Unemployment, poverty, and inequality - among the highest in the world - remain a challenge. Official unemployment is roughly 27% of the workforce, and runs significantly higher among black youth. Even though the country's modern infrastructure supports a relatively efficient distribution of goods to major urban centers throughout the region, unstable electricity supplies retard growth. Eskom, the state-run power company, is building three new power stations and is installing new power demand management programs to improve power grid reliability but has been plagued with accusations of mismanagement and corruption and faces an increasingly high debt burden.

    South Africa's economic policy has focused on controlling inflation while empowering a broader economic base; however, the country faces structural constraints that also limit economic growth, such as skills shortages, declining global competitiveness, and frequent work stoppages due to strike action. The government faces growing pressure from urban constituencies to improve the delivery of basic services to low-income areas, to increase job growth, and to provide university level-education at affordable prices. Political infighting among South Africa’s ruling party and the volatility of the rand risks economic growth. International investors are concerned about the country’s long-term economic stability; in late 2016, most major international credit ratings agencies downgraded South Africa’s international debt to junk bond status.

    GDP (purchasing power parity) field listing
    $767.2 billion (2017 est.)
    $757.2 billion (2016 est.)
    $752.9 billion (2015 est.)

    note: data are in 2017 dollars

    country comparison to the world: 30
    GDP (official exchange rate) field listing
    $349.3 billion (2017 est.)
    GDP - real growth rate field listing
    0.06% (2019 est.)
    0.7% (2018 est.)
    1.4% (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 191
    GDP - per capita (PPP) field listing
    $13,600 (2017 est.)
    $13,600 (2016 est.)
    $13,800 (2015 est.)

    note: data are in 2017 dollars

    country comparison to the world: 119
    Gross national saving field listing
    16.1% of GDP (2017 est.)
    16.6% of GDP (2016 est.)
    16.4% of GDP (2015 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 128
    GDP - composition, by end use field listing
    household consumption: 59.4% (2017 est.)
    government consumption: 20.9% (2017 est.)
    investment in fixed capital: 18.7% (2017 est.)
    investment in inventories: -0.1% (2017 est.)
    exports of goods and services: 29.8% (2017 est.)
    imports of goods and services: -28.4% (2017 est.)
    GDP - composition, by sector of origin field listing
    agriculture: 2.8% (2017 est.)
    industry: 29.7% (2017 est.)
    services: 67.5% (2017 est.)
    Agriculture - products field listing
    corn, wheat, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables; beef, poultry, mutton, wool, dairy products
    Industries field listing
    mining (world's largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, metalworking, machinery, textiles, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilizer, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair
    Industrial production growth rate field listing
    1.2% (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 151
    Labor force field listing
    14.687 million (2020 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 36
    Labor force - by occupation field listing
    agriculture: 4.6%
    industry: 23.5%
    services: 71.9% (2014 est.)
    Unemployment rate field listing
    28.53% (2019 est.)
    27.09% (2018 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 204
    Population below poverty line field listing
    16.6% (2016 est.)
    Household income or consumption by percentage share field listing
    lowest 10%: 1.2%
    highest 10%: 51.3% (2011 est.)
    Budget field listing
    revenues: 92.86 billion (2017 est.)
    expenditures: 108.3 billion (2017 est.)
    Taxes and other revenues field listing
    26.6% (of GDP) (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 107
    Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-) field listing
    -4.4% (of GDP) (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 163
    Public debt field listing
    53% of GDP (2017 est.)
    51.6% of GDP (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 92
    Fiscal year field listing
    1 April - 31 March
    Inflation rate (consumer prices) field listing
    5.3% (2017 est.)
    6.3% (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 174
    Current account balance field listing
    -$10.626 billion (2019 est.)
    -$13.31 billion (2018 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 191
    Exports field listing
    $94.93 billion (2017 est.)
    $75.16 billion (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 39
    Exports - partners field listing
    China 9.5%, US 7.7%, Germany 7.1%, Japan 4.7%, India 4.6%, Botswana 4.3%, Namibia 4.1% (2017)
    Exports - commodities field listing
    gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment
    Imports field listing
    $89.36 billion (2017 est.)
    $79.57 billion (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 40
    Imports - commodities field listing
    machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, scientific instruments, foodstuffs
    Imports - partners field listing
    China 18.3%, Germany 11.9%, US 6.6%, Saudi Arabia 4.7%, India 4.7% (2017)
    Reserves of foreign exchange and gold field listing
    $50.72 billion (31 December 2017 est.)
    $47.23 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 39
    Debt - external field listing
    $156.3 billion (31 December 2017 est.)
    $144.6 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 41
    Exchange rates field listing
    rand (ZAR) per US dollar -
    13.67 (2017 est.)
    14.6924 (2016 est.)
    14.6924 (2015 est.)
    12.7581 (2014 est.)
    10.8469 (2013 est.)
  • Energy :: South Africa
  • Electricity access field listing
    population without electricity: 3 million (2019)
    electrification - total population: 94% (2019)
    electrification - urban areas: 95% (2019)
    electrification - rural areas: 92% (2019)
    Electricity - production field listing
    234.5 billion kWh (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 21
    Electricity - consumption field listing
    207.1 billion kWh (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 21
    Electricity - exports field listing
    16.55 billion kWh (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 11
    Electricity - imports field listing
    10.56 billion kWh (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 24
    Electricity - installed generating capacity field listing
    50.02 million kW (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 21
    Electricity - from fossil fuels field listing
    85% of total installed capacity (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 73
    Electricity - from nuclear fuels field listing
    4% of total installed capacity (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 24
    Electricity - from hydroelectric plants field listing
    1% of total installed capacity (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 150
    Electricity - from other renewable sources field listing
    10% of total installed capacity (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 81
    Crude oil - production field listing
    1,600 bbl/day (2018 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 89
    Crude oil - exports field listing
    0 bbl/day (2015 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 197
    Crude oil - imports field listing
    404,000 bbl/day (2015 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 22
    Crude oil - proved reserves field listing
    15 million bbl (1 January 2018 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 86
    Refined petroleum products - production field listing
    487,100 bbl/day (2015 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 33
    Refined petroleum products - consumption field listing
    621,000 bbl/day (2016 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 32
    Refined petroleum products - exports field listing
    105,600 bbl/day (2015 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 42
    Refined petroleum products - imports field listing
    195,200 bbl/day (2015 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 34
    Natural gas - production field listing
    906.1 million cu m (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 70
    Natural gas - consumption field listing
    5.069 billion cu m (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 60
    Natural gas - exports field listing
    0 cu m (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 187
    Natural gas - imports field listing
    4.162 billion cu m (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 39
    Natural gas - proved reserves field listing
    0 cu m (1 January 2012 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 196
    Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy field listing
    572.3 million Mt (2017 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 11
  • Communications :: South Africa
  • Telephones - fixed lines field listing
    total subscriptions: 1,934,778
    subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 3.46 (2019 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 57
    Telephones - mobile cellular field listing
    total subscriptions: 92,600,942
    subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 165.6 (2019 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 18
    Telecommunication systems field listing
    general assessment: the telecommunication system is the best-developed and most modern in Africa; mobile Internet accounts for about 95% of Internet connections; 94% with access to WiMAX/LTE services; LTE-A services launched for commercial use; the mobile sector for both voice and data service demand most investment; first region to launch commercial 5G services; regulator made provisions to anticipate spike in data traffic resulting from COVID-19 lockdown (2020)
    domestic: fixed-line 3 per 100 persons and mobile-cellular 166 telephones per 100 persons; consists of carrier-equipped open-wire lines, coaxial cables, microwave radio relay links, fiber-optic cable, radiotelephone communication stations, and wireless local loops; key centers are Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Pretoria (2019)
    international: country code - 27; landing points for the WACS, ACE, SAFE, SAT-3, Equiano, SABR, SAEx1, SAEx2, IOX Cable System, METISS, EASSy, and SEACOM/ Tata TGN-Eurasia fiber-optic submarine cable systems connecting South Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, Asia, South America, Indian Ocean Islands, and the US; satellite earth stations - 3 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean and 2 Atlantic Ocean) (2019)
    note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated
    Broadcast media field listing
    the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) operates 4 TV stations, 3 are free-to-air and 1 is pay TV;, a private station, is accessible to more than half the population; multiple subscription TV services provide a mix of local and international channels; well-developed mix of public and private radio stations at the national, regional, and local levels; the SABC radio network, state-owned and controlled but nominally independent, operates 18 stations, one for each of the 11 official languages, 4 community stations, and 3 commercial stations; more than 100 community-based stations extend coverage to rural areas
    Internet country code field listing
    Internet users field listing
    total: 31,107,064
    percent of population: 56.17% (July 2018 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 25
    Broadband - fixed subscriptions field listing
    total: 1,107,013
    subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2 (2018 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 68
  • Transportation :: South Africa
  • National air transport system field listing
    number of registered air carriers: 17 (2020)
    inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 243
    annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 23,921,748 (2018)
    annual freight traffic on registered air carriers: 716.25 million mt-km (2018)
    Civil aircraft registration country code prefix field listing
    ZS (2016)
    Airports field listing
    407 (2020)
    country comparison to the world: 20
    Airports - with paved runways field listing
    total: 130 (2020)
    over 3,047 m: 11
    2,438 to 3,047 m: 6
    1,524 to 2,437 m: 46
    914 to 1,523 m: 60
    under 914 m: 7
    Airports - with unpaved runways field listing
    total: 277 (2020)
    2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
    1,524 to 2,437 m: 19
    914 to 1,523 m: 178
    under 914 m: 79
    Pipelines field listing
    94 km condensate, 1293 km gas, 992 km oil, 1460 km refined products (2013)
    Railways field listing
    total: 20,986 km (2014)
    standard gauge: 80 km 1.435-m gauge (80 km electrified) (2014)
    narrow gauge: 19,756 km 1.065-m gauge (8,271 km electrified) (2014)
    other: 1,150 km (passenger rail, gauge unspecified, 1,115.5 km electrified) (2014)
    country comparison to the world: 13
    Roadways field listing
    total: 750,000 km (2016)
    paved: 158,124 km (2016)
    unpaved: 591,876 km (2016)
    country comparison to the world: 10
    Merchant marine field listing
    total: 103
    by type: bulk carrier 2general cargo 1, oil tanker 6, other 94 (2019)
    country comparison to the world: 90
    Ports and terminals field listing
    major seaport(s): Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay, Saldanha Bay
    container port(s) (TEUs): Durban (2,699,978) (2017)
    LNG terminal(s) (import): Mossel Bay
  • Military and Security :: South Africa
  • Military and security forces field listing
    South African National Defence Force (SANDF): South African Army (includes Reserve Force), South African Navy (SAN), South African Air Force (SAAF), South African Military Health Services (2019)
    Military expenditures field listing
    1% of GDP (2019)
    1% of GDP (2018)
    1% of GDP (2017)
    1.1% of GDP (2016)
    1.1% of GDP (2015)
    country comparison to the world: 119
    Military and security service personnel strengths field listing
    the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is comprised of approximately 75,000 personnel (40,000 Army; 7,000 Navy; 10,000 Air Force; 8,000 Military Health Service; 10,000 other) (2020 est.)
    Military equipment inventories and acquisitions field listing
    the SANDF's inventory consists of a mix of domestically-produced and foreign-supplied equipment; South Africa's domestic defense industry produced most of the Army's major weapons systems (some were jointly-produced with foreign companies), while the Air Force and Navy inventories include a mix of European, Israeli, and US-origin weapons systems; since 2010, Sweden was the largest supplier of weapons to the SANDF (2019 est.)
    Military deployments field listing
    1,050 Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) (2020)
    Military service age and obligation field listing
    18-26 years of age for voluntary military service; women are eligible to serve in noncombat roles; 2-year service obligation (2019)
  • Transnational Issues :: South Africa
  • Disputes - international field listing

    South Africa has placed military units to assist police operations along the border of Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to control smuggling, poaching, and illegal migration; the governments of South Africa and Namibia have not signed or ratified the text of the 1994 Surveyor's General agreement placing the boundary in the middle of the Orange River

    Refugees and internally displaced persons field listing
    refugees (country of origin): 27,113 (Somalia), 17,726 (Ethiopia), 5,273 (Republic of the Congo) (2019); 59,675 (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (refugees and asylum seekers) (2020)
    Illicit drugs field listing
    transshipment center for heroin, hashish, and cocaine, as well as a major cultivator of marijuana in its own right; cocaine and heroin consumption on the rise; world's largest market for illicit methaqualone, usually imported illegally from India through various east African countries, but increasingly producing its own synthetic drugs for domestic consumption; attractive venue for money launderers given the increasing level of organized criminal and narcotics activity in the region and the size of the South African economy