Photos of South Africa

Plaque explaining the geology of Table Mountain.



Some of the earliest human remains in the fossil record were 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 settlers of Dutch descent -- known then as "Boers," or farmers, but later called Afrikaners -- 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 the growing European settlements. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred mass immigration, predominantly from Europe.

The Zulu kingdom's territory was incorporated into the British Empire after the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, and the Afrikaner republics were incorporated after their defeat in the Second South African War (1899-1902). Beginning in 1910, the British and the Afrikaners ruled together under the Union of South Africa, which left the British Commonwealth to become a fully self-governing 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 and suppressed the Black majority and other non-White groups. The African National Congress (ANC) led the resistance 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 from some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to unban the ANC and negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule.

The first multi-racial elections in 1994 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 under successive administrations. President Cyril RAMAPHOSA, who was reelected as the ANC leader in 2022, has made some progress in reigning in corruption. 

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.



Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa

Geographic coordinates

29 00 S, 24 00 E


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)

comparison ranking: total 26

Area - comparative

slightly less than twice the size of Texas

Area comparison map:
Area comparison map

Land boundaries

total: 5,244 km

border countries (6): Botswana 1,969 km; Lesotho 1,106 km; Mozambique 496 km; Namibia 1,005 km; Eswatini 438 km; Zimbabwe 230 km


2,798 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

continental shelf: 200 nm or to edge of the continental margin


mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights


vast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain


highest point: Ntheledi (Mafadi) 3,450 m

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m

mean elevation: 1,034 m

Natural resources

gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas

note: South Africa was the World's leading chromite ore producer in 2022 with an output of 18,000 mt

Land use

agricultural land: 79.4% (2018 est.)

arable land: 9.9% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 0.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 69.2% (2018 est.)

forest: 7.6% (2018 est.)

other: 13% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

16,700 sq km (2012)

Major rivers (by length in km)

Orange (shared with Lesotho [s], and Namibia [m]) - 2,092 km; Limpoporivier (Limpopo) river source (shared with Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique [m]) - 1,800 km; Vaal [s] - 1,210 km
note – [s] after country name indicates river source; [m] after country name indicates river mouth

Major watersheds (area sq km)

Atlantic Ocean drainage: Orange (941,351 sq km)

Major aquifers

Karoo Basin, Lower Kalahari-Stampriet Basin

Population distribution

the population concentrated along the southern and southeastern coast, and inland around Pretoria; the eastern half of the country is more densely populated than the west as shown in this population distribution map

Natural hazards

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

Geography - note

South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Eswatini

People and Society


total: 60,442,647

male: 29,664,388

female: 30,778,259 (2024 est.)

comparison rankings: female 25; male 24; total 25


noun: South African(s)

adjective: South African

Ethnic groups

Black African 81.4%, Coloured 8.2%, White 7.3%, Indian/Asian 2.7%, other 0.4% (2022 est.)

note: Coloured 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


isiZulu or Zulu (official) 25.3%, isiXhosa or Xhosa (official) 14.8%, Afrikaans (official) 12.2%, Sepedi or Pedi (official) 10.1%, Setswana or Tswana (official) 9.1%, English (official) 8.1%, Sesotho or Sotho (official) 7.9%, Xitsonga or Tsonga (official) 3.6%, siSwati or Swati (official) 2.8%, Tshivenda or Venda (official) 2.5%, isiNdebele or Ndebele (official) 1.6%, other (includes South African sign language (official) and Khoi or Khoisan or Khoe languages) 2%; note - data represent language spoken most often at home (2018 est.)

major-language sample(s):
Die Wereld Feite Boek, n’ onontbeerlike bron vir basiese informasie. (Afrikaans)

The World Factbook, the indispensable source for basic information. (English)


Christian 85.3%, African traditional 7.8%, Muslim 1.6%, Hindu 1.1%, other 1.3%, none 2.9% (2022 est.)

Demographic profile

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, and has remained at this level as of 2022. 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 65 years as of 2022. 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

0-14 years: 27.2% (male 8,227,690/female 8,194,392)

15-64 years: 65.3% (male 19,524,873/female 19,947,839)

65 years and over: 7.5% (2024 est.) (male 1,911,825/female 2,636,028)

2023 population pyramid:
2023 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 52.2

youth dependency ratio: 43.9

elderly dependency ratio: 8.4

potential support ratio: 10.9 (2021 est.)

Median age

total: 30.4 years (2024 est.)

male: 30.1 years

female: 30.6 years

comparison ranking: total 136

Population growth rate

1.07% (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 90

Birth rate

17.7 births/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 82

Death rate

6.9 deaths/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 124

Net migration rate

-0.2 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 104

Population distribution

the population concentrated along the southern and southeastern coast, and inland around Pretoria; the eastern half of the country is more densely populated than the west as shown in this population distribution map


urban population: 68.8% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 1.72% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Major urban areas - population

10.316 million Johannesburg (includes Ekurhuleni), 4.890 million Cape Town (legislative capital), 3.228 million Durban, 2.818 million PRETORIA (administrative capital), 1.296 million Port Elizabeth, 934,000 West Rand (2023)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.02 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1 male(s)/female

15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.73 male(s)/female

total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2024 est.)

Maternal mortality ratio

127 deaths/100,000 live births (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: 59

Infant mortality rate

total: 21.9 deaths/1,000 live births (2024 est.)

male: 23.9 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 20 deaths/1,000 live births

comparison ranking: total 71

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 71.9 years (2024 est.)

male: 70.3 years

female: 73.5 years

comparison ranking: total population 166

Total fertility rate

2.27 children born/woman (2024 est.)

comparison ranking: 78

Gross reproduction rate

1.12 (2024 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 99.7% of population

rural: 90.3% of population

total: 96.7% of population

unimproved: urban: 0.3% of population

rural: 9.7% of population

total: 3.3% of population (2020 est.)

Current health expenditure

8.6% of GDP (2020)

Physicians density

0.79 physicians/1,000 population (2019)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 96.6% of population

rural: 86.4% of population

total: 93.2% of population

unimproved: urban: 3.4% of population

rural: 13.6% of population

total: 6.8% of population (2020 est.)

Major infectious diseases

degree of risk: intermediate (2023)

food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever

vectorborne diseases: sexually transmitted diseases:  HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B (2024)

water contact diseases: schistosomiasis

Obesity - adult prevalence rate

28.3% (2016)

comparison ranking: 30

Alcohol consumption per capita

total: 7.21 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

beer: 3.99 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

wine: 1.21 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

spirits: 1.31 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

other alcohols: 0.7 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total 58

Tobacco use

total: 20.3% (2020 est.)

male: 34% (2020 est.)

female: 6.5% (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 84

Child marriage

women married by age 15: 0.9%

women married by age 18: 3.6%

men married by age 18: 0.6% (2016 est.)

Education expenditures

6.6% of GDP (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: 27


definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 95%

male: 95.5%

female: 94.5% (2019)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 13 years

male: 13 years

female: 14 years (2020)


Environment - current issues

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

party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protection, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping-London Convention, Marine Dumping-London Protocol, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling

signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements


mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights

Land use

agricultural land: 79.4% (2018 est.)

arable land: 9.9% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 0.3% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 69.2% (2018 est.)

forest: 7.6% (2018 est.)

other: 13% (2018 est.)


urban population: 68.8% of total population (2023)

rate of urbanization: 1.72% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Revenue from coal

2.4% of GDP (2018 est.)

comparison ranking: 3

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 19.75 micrograms per cubic meter (2019 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 476.64 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 55.89 megatons (2020 est.)

Waste and recycling

municipal solid waste generated annually: 18,457,232 tons (2011 est.)

municipal solid waste recycled annually: 5,168,025 tons (2011 est.)

percent of municipal solid waste recycled: 28% (2011 est.)

Major rivers (by length in km)

Orange (shared with Lesotho [s], and Namibia [m]) - 2,092 km; Limpoporivier (Limpopo) river source (shared with Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique [m]) - 1,800 km; Vaal [s] - 1,210 km
note – [s] after country name indicates river source; [m] after country name indicates river mouth

Major watersheds (area sq km)

Atlantic Ocean drainage: Orange (941,351 sq km)

Major aquifers

Karoo Basin, Lower Kalahari-Stampriet Basin

Total water withdrawal

municipal: 3.11 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)

industrial: 4.09 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)

agricultural: 11.99 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)

Total renewable water resources

51.35 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)


Country name

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

parliamentary republic


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

9 provinces; Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape


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

Freedom Day, 27 April (1994)


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 2020

Legal system

mixed legal system of Roman-Dutch civil law, English common law, and customary law

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction


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: 5 year


18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: President Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since 15 February 2018) 

head of government: President Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since 15 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 2024) note - the president is both chief of state and head of government

election results:
2019: Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (ANC) elected president by the National Assembly unopposed

2014: Jacob ZUMA (ANC) reelected president by the National Assembly unopposed 


Legislative branch

description: bicameral Parliament consists of:

National Council of Provinces (90 seats; nine 10-member delegations, each with 6 permanent delegates and 4 special delegates, 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; half the members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies and half in a single nationwide constituency, both by proportional representation popular vote; members serve 5-year terms)

elections: National Council of Provinces and National Assembly - last held on 29 May 2024 (next to be held on 29 May 2029)

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; composition - men 30, women 24, percentage women 44.4%; note - 36 appointed seats not filled

National Assembly - percent of vote by party - ANC 40.1% DA 21.8%, MK 14.5%, EFF 9.5%, IFP 3.8%, PA, 2.06%, FF+ 1.3%, Action SA 1.2%, ACDP 0.60%, UCM 0.49%, RISE 0.42%, BOSA 0.041%, ATM 0.40%, Al Jam-ah 0.24%, NCC 0.23%, PAC 0.23%, UAT 0.22%, GOOD 0.18% other 4.38%; seats by party - ANC 159, DA 87, MK 58, EFF 39, IFP 17, PA 9, FF+ 6, Action SA 6, ACDP 3, UDM 3, RISE  2, BOSA 2, ATM 2, AL Jam-ah 2, NCC 2, PAC 1, UAT 1, GOOD 1; composition - men 210, women 181, percentage women 46.3%; total Parliament percentage women 46.1%

Judicial branch

highest court(s): 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

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 [Andries TLOUAMMA]
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 [Velenkosini HLABISA]
National Freedom Party or NFP (vacant)
Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania or PAC [Mzwanele NYHONTSO]
United Christian Democratic Party or UCDP [Modiri Desmond SEHUME]
United Democratic Movement or UDM [Bantu HOLOMISA]

International organization participation

ACP, AfDB, AIIB, 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, UNISFA, UNITAR, UNOOSA, UNWTO, UPU, Wassenaar Arrangement, WCO, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO, ZC

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: Ambassador (vacant); Chargé d’Affaires Ndumiso Ndima NTSHINGA (since 30 October 2023)

chancery: 3051 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008

telephone: [1] (202) 413-1953

FAX: [1] (202) 265-1607

email address and website:

consulate(s) general: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York

Diplomatic representation from the US

chief of mission: Ambassador Reuben E. BRIGETY II (since 11 August 2022)

embassy: 877 Pretorius Street, Arcadia, Pretoria

mailing address: 9300 Pretoria Place, Washington DC  20521-9300

telephone: [27] (12) 431-4000

FAX: [27] (12) 342-2299

email address and website:

consulate(s) general: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg

Flag description

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)

springbok (antelope), king protea flower; national colors: red, green, blue, yellow, black, white

National anthem

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

National heritage

total World Heritage Sites: 10 (5 cultural, 4 natural, 1 mixed)

selected World Heritage Site locales: Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa (c); iSimangaliso Wetland Park (n); Robben Island (c); Maloti-Drakensberg Park (m); Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (c); Cape Floral Region Protected Areas (n); Vredefort Dome (n); Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape (c); Khomani Cultural Landscape (c); Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (n)


Economic overview

upper middle-income South African economy; hard hit by COVID-19; poor utilities management; key rare earth goods exporter; high income inequality; hosts Africa’s largest stock exchange; rising unemployment, especially youth; land rights changes

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$807.295 billion (2022 est.)
$792.161 billion (2021 est.)
$756.579 billion (2020 est.)

note: data in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 33

Real GDP growth rate

1.91% (2022 est.)
4.7% (2021 est.)
-5.96% (2020 est.)

note: annual GDP % growth based on constant local currency

comparison ranking: 167

Real GDP per capita

$13,500 (2022 est.)
$13,300 (2021 est.)
$12,900 (2020 est.)

note: data in 2017 dollars

comparison ranking: 121

GDP (official exchange rate)

$405.271 billion (2022 est.)

note: data in current dollars at official exchange rate

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

7.04% (2022 est.)
4.61% (2021 est.)
3.21% (2020 est.)

note: annual % change based on consumer prices

comparison ranking: 110

Credit ratings

Fitch rating: BB- (2020)

Moody's rating: Ba2 (2020)

Standard & Poors rating: BB- (2020)

note: The year refers to the year in which the current credit rating was first obtained.

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 2.8% (2017 est.)

industry: 29.7% (2017 est.)

services: 67.5% (2017 est.)

comparison rankings: services 84; industry 78; agriculture 155

GDP - composition, by end use

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.)

Agricultural products

sugarcane, maize, milk, potatoes, wheat, grapes, chicken, oranges, apples, soybeans (2022)

note: top ten agricultural products based on tonnage


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

-2.49% (2022 est.)

note: annual % change in industrial value added based on constant local currency

comparison ranking: 193

Labor force

24.367 million (2022 est.)

note: number of people ages 15 or older who are employed or seeking work

comparison ranking: 28

Unemployment rate

28.84% (2022 est.)
28.77% (2021 est.)
24.34% (2020 est.)

note: % of labor force seeking employment

comparison ranking: 217

Youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24)

total: 64.2% (2021 est.)

male: 59.8%

female: 69.3%

comparison ranking: total 2

Population below poverty line

55.5% (2014 est.)

note: % of population with income below national poverty line

Gini Index coefficient - distribution of family income

63 (2014 est.)

note: index (0-100) of income distribution; higher values represent greater inequality

comparison ranking: 1

Average household expenditures

on food: 21.3% of household expenditures (2021 est.)

on alcohol and tobacco: 5.1% of household expenditures (2021 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share

lowest 10%: 0.9%

highest 10%: 50.5% (2014 est.)

note: % share of income accruing to lowest and highest 10% of population


0.22% of GDP (2022 est.)
0.22% of GDP (2021 est.)
0.24% of GDP (2020 est.)

note: personal transfers and compensation between resident and non-resident individuals/households/entities


revenues: $84.19 billion (2020 est.)

expenditures: $121.204 billion (2020 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

-4.4% (of GDP) (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: 162

Public debt

75.42% of GDP (2021 est.)
77.38% of GDP (2020 est.)
64.59% of GDP (2019 est.)

note: central government debt as a % of GDP

comparison ranking: 46

Taxes and other revenues

25.85% (of GDP) (2021 est.)

note: central government tax revenue as a % of GDP

comparison ranking: 43

Current account balance

-$1.698 billion (2022 est.)
$15.5 billion (2021 est.)
$6.701 billion (2020 est.)

note: balance of payments - net trade and primary/secondary income in current dollars

comparison ranking: 143


$136.112 billion (2022 est.)
$130.882 billion (2021 est.)
$94.059 billion (2020 est.)

note: balance of payments - exports of goods and services in current dollars

comparison ranking: 40

Exports - partners

China 16%, US 7%, Germany 7%, India 6%, Japan 6% (2022)

note: top five export partners based on percentage share of exports

Exports - commodities

gold, platinum, coal, cars, diamonds (2022)

note: top five export commodities based on value in dollars


$127.596 billion (2022 est.)
$104.867 billion (2021 est.)
$79.039 billion (2020 est.)

note: balance of payments - imports of goods and services in current dollars

comparison ranking: 44

Imports - partners

China 21%, Germany 9%, India 7%, US 5%, Saudi Arabia 4% (2022)

note: top five import partners based on percentage share of imports

Imports - commodities

refined petroleum, cars, crude petroleum, vehicle parts/accessories, broadcasting equipment (2022)

note: top five import commodities based on value in dollars

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold

$60.553 billion (2022 est.)
$57.597 billion (2021 est.)
$55.008 billion (2020 est.)

note: holdings of gold (year-end prices)/foreign exchange/special drawing rights in current dollars

comparison ranking: 39

Debt - external

$179.871 billion (2019 est.)
$173.714 billion (2018 est.)

comparison ranking: 43

Exchange rates

rand (ZAR) per US dollar -

Exchange rates:
16.356 (2022 est.)
14.779 (2021 est.)
16.459 (2020 est.)
14.448 (2019 est.)
13.234 (2018 est.)


Electricity access

population without electricity: 3 million (2020)

electrification - total population: 89.3% (2021)

electrification - urban areas: 87.3% (2021)

electrification - rural areas: 93.3% (2019)


installed generating capacity: 62.728 million kW (2020 est.)

consumption: 202,285,870,000 kWh (2019 est.)

exports: 14.482 billion kWh (2019 est.)

imports: 7.823 billion kWh (2019 est.)

transmission/distribution losses: 22.904 billion kWh (2019 est.)

comparison rankings: installed generating capacity 21; transmission/distribution losses 194; imports 29; exports 14; consumption 21

Electricity generation sources

fossil fuels: 87.9% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

nuclear: 5.2% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

solar: 1.6% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

wind: 2.6% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

hydroelectricity: 2.5% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

tide and wave: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

geothermal: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

biomass and waste: 0.2% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

Nuclear energy

Number of operational nuclear reactors: 2 (2023)

Number of nuclear reactors under construction: 0

Net capacity of operational nuclear reactors: 1.85GW (2023)

Percent of total electricity production: 6% (2021)

Percent of total energy produced: 2.3% (2021)

Number of nuclear reactors permanently shut down: 0


production: 248.388 million metric tons (2020 est.)

consumption: 170.308 million metric tons (2020 est.)

exports: 74.965 million metric tons (2020 est.)

imports: 2.054 million metric tons (2020 est.)

proven reserves: 9.893 billion metric tons (2019 est.)


total petroleum production: 97,900 bbl/day (2021 est.)

refined petroleum consumption: 622,500 bbl/day (2019 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate exports: 9,000 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate imports: 397,700 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil estimated reserves: 15 million barrels (2021 est.)

Refined petroleum products - production

487,100 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 33

Refined petroleum products - exports

105,600 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 42

Refined petroleum products - imports

195,200 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 34

Natural gas

production: 1,229,544,000 cubic meters (2019 est.)

consumption: 4,771,551,000 cubic meters (2019 est.)

exports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

imports: 3,542,007,000 cubic meters (2019 est.)

proven reserves: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions

470.358 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from coal and metallurgical coke: 387.835 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from petroleum and other liquids: 73.163 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from consumed natural gas: 9.361 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total emissions 12

Energy consumption per capita

98.474 million Btu/person (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 61


Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 1.31 million (2022 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2 (2022 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 61

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 100.26 million (2022 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 167 (2022 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 18

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: South Africa’s telecom sector boasts one of the most advanced infrastructures on the continent; the focus in recent years has been on back haul capacity and on fiber and LTE networks to extend and improve internet service connectivity; several satellite solutions also appeared in 2023, aimed at providing additional backhaul and improving connectivity in rural areas; the mobile sector has developed strongly in recent years, partly due to the poor availability and level of service of fixed-line networks, which meant that many people had no alternative to mobile networks for voice and data services (2024)

domestic: fixed-line is 2 per 100 persons and mobile-cellular is 167 telephones per 100 persons (2022)

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)

Broadcast media

the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) operates 6 free-to-air TV stations;, 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 users

total: 42.48 million (2021 est.)

percent of population: 72% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 24

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 1,303,057 (2020 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2 (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 68


National air transport system

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 (2018) mt-km


575 (2024)

comparison ranking: 13


49 (2024)


94 km condensate, 1,293 km gas, 992 km oil, 1,460 km refined products (2013)


total: 30,400 km (2021)

standard gauge: 80 km (2021) 1.435-m gauge (80 km electrified)

narrow gauge: 19,756 km (2014) 1.065-m gauge (8,271 km electrified)

comparison ranking: total 8


total: 750,000 km

paved: 158,124 km

unpaved: 591,876 km (2016)

comparison ranking: total 11

Merchant marine

total: 110 (2023)

by type: bulk carrier 3, general cargo 1, oil tanker 7, other 99

comparison ranking: total 86


total ports: 8 (2024)

large: 2

medium: 4

small: 1

very small: 1

ports with oil terminals: 7

key ports: Cape Town, Durban, Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay, Saldanha Bay

Military and Security

Military and security forces

South African National Defense Force (SANDF): South African Army (includes Reserve Force), South African Navy (SAN), South African Air Force (SAAF), South African Military Health Services

Ministry of Police: South African Police Service (2024)

note: the South African Police Service includes a Special Task Force for counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and hostage rescue operations

Military expenditures

0.7% of GDP (2023 est.)
0.8% of GDP (2022 est.)
0.9% of GDP (2021 est.)
1.1% of GDP (2020 est.)
1% of GDP (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 144

Military and security service personnel strengths

approximately 75,000 active-duty personnel (40,000 Army; 7,000 Navy; 10,000 Air Force; 8,000 Military Health Service; 10,000 other, including administrative, logistics, military police); 180,000 South African Police Service (2023)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

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 aging European-, Israeli-, and US-origin weapons and equipment; the SANDF has received only a limited number of imported weapons in recent years (2023)

Military service age and obligation

18-22 (18-26 for college graduates) years of age for voluntary military service for men and women; 2-year service obligation (2023)

note: in 2020, women comprised about 30% of the military

Military deployments

up to 1,500 Mozambique; 1,150 Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) (2024)

Military - note

the SANDF’s primary responsibilities include territorial and maritime defense, supporting the Police Service, protecting key infrastructure, and participating in international peacekeeping missions; the SANDF traditionally has been one of Africa’s most capable militaries, but in recent years its operational readiness and modernization programs have been hampered by funding shortfalls; it participates regularly in African and UN peacekeeping missions and is a member of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Standby Force; in 2021, it sent up to 1,500 troops to Mozambique as part of a multinational SADC force to help combat an insurgency, and South African forces are a key component of the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; in recent years, the SANDF has been deployed internally to assist the Police Service with quelling unrest and assisting with border security

the Army in recent years has reorganized, and its combat forces are organized into four “modern” brigades, each designed for specific missions and responding to modern-day threats such as “asymmetric” warfare; the new brigades are separated into airborne, light infantry, mechanized, and motorized forces; the Navy operates a mixed force of warships, patrol craft, submarines, and support vessels; its principal combatants are four frigates and three attack submarines; the Navy also has a maritime rapid reaction squadron that includes naval infantry and combat divers; the Air Force has squadrons of multipurpose fighter, ground attack, and transport aircraft, as well as attack and transport helicopters

the SANDF was created in 1994 to replace the South African Defense Force (SADF); the SANDF was opened to all South Africans who met military requirements, while the SADF was a mostly white force (only whites were subject to conscription) with non-whites only allowed to join in a voluntary capacity; the SANDF also absorbed members of the guerrilla and militia forces of the various anti-apartheid opposition groups, including the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, and the Inkatha Freedom Party, as well as the security forces of the formerly independent Bantustan homelands (2023)


Space agency/agencies

South African National Space Agency (SANSA; established 2010); South Africa Council for Space Affairs (SACSA; statutory body established 1995); South African Radio Telescope Observatory (SARAO) (2024)

Space launch site(s)

Arniston launch facility (Western Cape) used to support space launch vehicle and ballistic missile program (1980s-1990s); it is now a weapons testing facility called the Denel Overberg Test Range (2024)

Space program overview

the largest producer of satellites (particularly nanosatellites) in Africa; areas of focus for development include remote sensing (RS) capabilities, such as optical instruments and synthetic aperture radar systems, space engineering, ground support to space operations (tracking, telemetry, etc.), and space science, particularly astronomy; SANSA is responsible for aggregating RS data for southern African countries; has a sounding rocket program for carrying experimental payloads for research purposes; cooperates with foreign space agencies and industries, including those of China, France, India, Russia, and the US; participates in international programs such as the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Project, an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope by 2030; has a substantial number of state- and privately-owned aerospace companies, as well as academic and research institutions involved in space-related activities (2024)

note: further details about the key activities, programs, and milestones of the country’s space program, as well as government spending estimates on the space sector, appear in Appendix S


Terrorist group(s)

Terrorist group(s): Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS)

note: details about the history, aims, leadership, organization, areas of operation, tactics, targets, weapons, size, and sources of support of the group(s) appear(s) in Appendix-T

Transnational Issues

Refugees and internally displaced persons

refugees (country of origin): 22,388 (Somalia), 15,240 (Ethiopia) (mid-year 2022); 42,132 (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (refugees and asylum seekers) (2024)

IDPs: 5,000 (2020)

Trafficking in persons

tier rating: Tier 2 Watch List — South Africa does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so; the government increased investigations and convictions of traffickers, investigated and prosecuted some allegedly complicit government officials, coordinated with foreign governments on trafficking investigations and the repatriation of victims, and increased inspections to investigate forced labor; officials adopted an anti-trafficking National Action Plan, accredited two shelters, and expanded awareness-raising activities; however, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts, compared with the previous reporting period, to expand its anti-trafficking capacity; while the government approved regulations under the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act on immigration, the regulations had not been put into effect at the end of the reporting period; a lack of inter-agency coordination in identifying, referring, and certifying victims most likely hindered protection efforts; law enforcement personnel lacked the capacity and training to effectively identify and refer victims; victims were inappropriately penalized for offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked, even after officials identified them as trafficking victims; reports of low-level official complicity persisted; because the government has devoted significant resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, South Africa was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3; therefore, South Africa remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year (2023)

trafficking profile: Human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in South Africa, as well as South Africans abroad; traffickers recruit victims from neighboring countries and rural areas within South Africa and exploit them in sex trafficking locally and in urban centers; adults and children, particularly from poor and rural areas, and migrants are forced into labor in domestic service, mining, food services, construction, criminal activities, agriculture, and the fishing sector; high unemployment and socioeconomic stratification increased the vulnerability of exploitation, particularly of youth, Black women, and foreign migrants; traffickers recruit victims who are unemployed and struggle with drug use, and commonly use substance abuse to control victims, including children; parents with substance abuse problems sometimes exploit their children in sex trafficking to pay for drugs; despite high unemployment, migrants travel from East, Central, and Southern Africa to South Africa looking for economic opportunity, particularly from Ethiopia and Mozambique, and are vulnerable to exploitation; official complicity in trafficking crimes, especially by police and immigration officials, facilitated trafficking; syndicates, often dominated by Nigerians, force women from Nigeria and countries bordering South Africa into commercial sex; South African trafficking rings exploit girls as young as 10 years old in sex trafficking; some brothels, previously identified as locations for sex trafficking, continue to operate with officials’ tacit approval; syndicates also recruit South African women to go to Europe, where some are forced into commercial sex, domestic service, or drug smuggling; Chinese business owners exploit Chinese, South African, and Malawian adults and children in factories, sweatshops, and other businesses; the Cuban government may have forced Cuban medical workers to work in South Africa (2023)

Illicit drugs

leading regional importer of chemicals used in the production of illicit drugs especially synthetic drugs;