(From Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia)

South Africa

The Republic of South Africa occupies the southernmost portion of the African continent. It stretches north to south from the Limpopo River to Cape Agulhas. The Indian Ocean lies to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The strategic sea route around the Cape of Good Hope has long made South Africa important in world commerce.

South Africa shares boundaries with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland<; it completely surrounds Lesotho. The country's four historic provinces (the former British colonies of Cape Province and Natal and the former Boer republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal) and ten black African "homelands" (four of which— Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana, and Venda—had been granted an "independence" recognized only by South Africa and themselves) were redivided into nine provinces in 1994. The nine are Eastern Cape; Free State; Gauteng; KwaZulu/Natal; Mpumalanga; Northern Cape; Limpopo, which was formerly Northern Province; North-West; and Western Cape. South Africa has three capitals: Pretoria (administrative), Cape Town (legislative), and Bloemfontein (judicial).

The South African economy is the most diversified and developed in Africa. There are, however, significant economic, social, and political differences between the racial groups. Until 1991 all development took place within the framework of apartheid; this system of legalized racial separation had been rigidly enforced by the ruling white minority since 1948. South Africa's first free and full elections were held in April 1994. One of the major challenges facing the new black-led government that took office in May 1994 and its successors was to remedy the inequities produced by decades of apartheid.

Land and Resources

South Africa is a country with a great diversity of natural landscapes and resources. Its 2,955-km (1,836-mi) coastline has few natural harbors. It is rimmed by a narrow undulating coastal lowland that gives way to a series of folded sedimentary mountain ranges—including the Cedarberg, the Swartberg, and the Baviannskloof—collectively known as the Cape Ranges. Farther east is the Drakensberg, consisting of the country's highest and most spectacular mountains. The Drakensberg parallels the Indian Ocean northward into Eastern Transvaal. Mountain passes are frequently blocked by heavy winter snowfalls. South Africa's highest peak, Injasuti (3,408 m/11,181 ft), is in the Drakensberg near the border with Lesotho.

The Drakensberg and its outward-facing escarpments (the Great Escarpment) separate the coastal lowlands of former Natal and Cape provinces from the high interior plateaus commonly known as the highveld. There elevations range from 1,220 to 1,830 m (4,000 to 6,000 ft). The terrain is undulating and broken in places by isolated hills and low mountain ranges. These include the gold-bearing Witwatersrand, which trends east-west across Gauteng province. The highveld contains most of South Africa's extraordinary mineral wealth and Vredefort Dome, the largest and oldest known meteor-impact site in the world.

Along the northwest border with Botswana, the high plateau gives way to the Kalahari Desert. Between the Cape Ranges and the Great Escarpment lies the Great Karoo, a broad, semiarid basin of mesas and buttes.


None of South Africa's rivers is navigable, primarily because of inadequate rainfall and broken terrain. Most of the interior plateau is drained by the Orange River and its two main tributaries, the Vaal and the Caledon. Some of the waters of the Orange have been diverted around Bloemfontein and Kimberley and south to the Cape coast as part of what was originally known as the Orange River Project. This project was designed to provide water for irrigation, for hydroelectric power, and for urban populations. By the turn of the 21st century, the complex water-resource developments associated with the Orange River were spread over six of the country's nine provinces. Since 1997, they have also included upstream supplies from the giant Lesotho Highlands Water Project. The Limpopo forms part of South Africa's northern boundary and drains much of the former Transvaal. Smaller rivers rise in the Drakensberg and cut deep valleys across the foothills and lowlands along the eastern coast. Since 1998 the government has controlled all of the country's water; previous riparian rights were abolished.


South Africa has great climatic diversity. A Mediterranean climate prevails in the southwest around Cape Town. A humid subtropical climate occurs along the KwaZulu/Natal coast. Much of the northern highveld has a savanna climate. Temperate steppe conditions prevail in the central part of the country. Semidesert and desert climates are found in the Northern Cape interior and northwest. The mean annual temperature ranges from 23° C (73° F) in the north to 12° C (54° F) in the southern and eastern regions.

The highest precipitation (more than 1,000 mm/40 in a year) occurs in the Drakensberg and coastal KwaZulu/Natal. The lowest (less than 200 mm/8 in a year) occurs along the Namaqualand coast north of Cape Town. About 65% of the country receives less than 500 mm (20 in) of precipitation annually; this is the minimum required for dry-grain farming.


Most South African soils are not especially fertile. Unleached alkaline soils characterize the arid regions; thin immature soils are found in the winter-rainfall regions with moderate temperatures; and red lateritic soils predominate in the lowlands of KwaZulu/Natal and the former Transvaal. Soil erosion is severe in the Drakensberg.

Vegetation and Wildlife

Less than 0.2% of South Africa is naturally forested. The most extensive forests are in the mountains and near Knysna, in Western Cape province. Afforestation projects have been undertaken in the Drakensberg. Savanna vegetation occurs in Limpopo province and the eastern lowveld, and grasslands cover the highveld and dry southwest. One of the most biologically diverse areas in the world in terms of flora is the Cape Floral Region, in historic Cape Province; it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

South Africa's wildlife is extremely rich and diverse. Elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, zebras, antelopes, and other wildlife are protected in such game reserves as Kruger National Park (which is now part of the multinational Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park), Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (which is administered jointly with Botswana's Gemsbok National Park as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park), Hluhluwe, and Mkuze and in Greater Saint Lucia Wetland Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bird life is varied, and more than 100 species of snakes are native to the area.


South Africa's population consists of four racial groups: indigenous Africans, or blacks (75.2% of the total); whites (13.6%); Coloureds (8.6%); and Asians (2.6%). The Africans may be divided into four major ethnolinguistic groups: the Nguni (including the Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, and Ndebele), who are concentrated east of the Drakensberg and constitute 60% of South Africa's Bantu-speaking peoples; the Sotho< (including the Tswana, Pedi, and Basotho), who live primarily in Limpopo, Northern Cape, and Free State; and the Venda and Thonga peoples of Limpopo. A small number of Khoisan-speaking peoples—the San and Khoikhoi—live in and near the Kalahari Desert. The number of illegal immigrants who flock to South Africa from elsewhere in Africa in search of economic opportunity, estimated at anywhere from 2 million to 8 million in 1998, has increased since the end of white rule and since the virtual collapse of the economy in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Under apartheid the South African government recognized ten separate black "nations," defined in ethnolinguistic terms. Each was assigned a homeland. Some 60% of blacks lived outside their prescribed homelands, which collectively constituted only 13% of South Africa's total land area. The homelands were reincorporated into South Africa in 1994.

The whites form the second-largest racial group. They long dominated South Africa's political institutions and continue to control much of the postapartheid economy. They comprise two main groups: Afrikaners (60% of the total), who are descended from 17th-century Dutch settlers in Cape Province and refugee French Huguenots and German Protestants; and the English-speaking group (34% of the total), who are descendants of British settlers who arrived as early as 1820 and more recent immigrants from the United Kingdom and from former British colonies in Africa. There are also many recent immigrants from Germany, Italy, Greece, Eastern Europe, and the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique. The great majority of non-Afrikaner whites in South Africa hold or are entitled to foreign passports. Almost 90% of the whites are urban dwellers.

The Coloureds are persons of mixed race whose origins date back to the 17th century when Europeans interbred with local Africans and imported Malay slaves. They live mostly in Western Cape and form the largest racial group in metropolitan Cape Town. Three-fourths are urban dwellers. Culturally they are closer to Afrikaners than to blacks.

The Asians are concentrated in KwaZulu/Natal, especially metropolitan Durban. Because their forebears came from different parts of the Indian subcontinent in the late 1800s, they are ethnically and linguistically diverse. Asians were long forbidden to live in the Orange Free State. Most are urban dwellers. They generally work in commerce, industry, and finance.


South Africa's rate of population growth is typical of the developing world. The highest growth rate is among blacks; the lowest, among whites. White immigration, long encouraged by the government, generally exceeded emigration, but immigration rates have declined as a result of urban violence and uncertainties about the postapartheid era. Internal migration, primarily of blacks from rural to urban areas in search of jobs, increased from the 1990s on because of the end of apartheid and severe economic problems. The hated pass laws, which required blacks to have specially stamped passbooks to remain in white areas for more than 72 hours, were abolished in 1986; the practice of classifying South Africans by race at birth was discontinued in 1991. The Land Acts of 1913 and 1936 and the Group Areas Act of 1966, which segregated communities and limited blacks to a small percentage of South Africa's land, were repealed in 1991. Between 1960 and 1985, however, it is estimated that some 3.5 million blacks—along with much smaller numbers of other races—were moved against their will to conform to apartheid regulations specifying where people of various races might live. Even after discrimination in land ownership ended, most blacks could not afford to buy property in former white areas. Land redistribution is one of the most difficult issues facing the present government.

Johannesburg is the nation's largest city and the center of the nation's industrial core. Other large cities include the port cities of Cape Town and Durban, now part of eThekwini municipality; Bloemfontein, now amalgamated into the larger municipality of Mangaung; East London, now part of Buffalo City); Germiston, now incorporated into Ekurhuleni municipality; the diamond center of Kimberley; Pietermaritzburg, now part of Msunduzi; Port Elizabeth, now consolidated with Nelson Mandela municipality; and Pretoria, now subsumed into Tshwane. All cities were segregated by law until 1991, with nonwhite townships located on the peripheries of white cities. Soweto, the largest of the country's former black townships, is now part of Johannesburg. Since 2000, Soweto and other black settlements on the outskirts of many formerly white cities have been amalgamated into much larger, multiracial municipal entities. These entities are administered by appointed mayors and elected councils. They reflect an effort to provide basic services and greater economic opportunities to blacks living in and near South Africa's major urban conglomerations, who were generally not well served during the apartheid era.

Language and Religion

Afrikaans and English were the only official languages during white rule; Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu now have equal status. Afrikaans, derived from Dutch, is the mother tongue of the Afrikaners and the principal language of the Coloureds; it is the first language of about 6.2 million South Africans. English is increasingly used as the language of business and politics in South Africa's cities. More Afrikaners are bilingual than English-speaking. Most urban blacks speak English and Afrikaans in addition to their native language. The Bantu languages are not mutually intelligible. Zulu, the most widely spoken of the Bantu languages, is the first language of about 9.8 million South Africans; it is understood by more than 70% of all South Africans. Xhosa is next, with some 7.7 million speakers. Many blacks speak Fanakalo, a lingua franca developed among black workers in the mines.

The Dutch Reformed church, which professes a fundamentalist-type Calvinist Protestantism, has more than 4 million members, most of them Afrikaners and Coloureds; in 1998 it agreed to admit black members. The Roman Catholic church claims 2.6 million adherents. The Anglican church, whose spiritual head from 1986 to 1996 was Desmond Tutu (a black awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his leading role in the antiapartheid struggle), has 1.3 million members. The Methodists claim 2 million followers. Most Africans belong to black independent churches or follow traditional religious practices. About 60% of the Asians are Hindus. The Jewish community numbers some 80,000.

Health and Education

Wide disparities exist between races in health indicators and facilities. Life expectancy at birth is 59 years for blacks and Coloureds, 65 years for Asians, and 72 years for whites. Gastroenteritis, malnutrition, and tuberculosis are leading causes of death among blacks; cardiovascular diseases and cancer are the primary causes of death among whites. The black infant mortality rate is more than six times the rate for whites. By 2004, health authorities estimated that one in five adult South Africans was infected with the AIDS virus, the highest rate in the world; AIDS was already the cause of about 40% of the country's adult deaths and was expected to cut life expectancy almost in half by 2010. In May 1994, in an effort to improve health care for blacks, the government decreed that all public clinics and hospitals must give free treatment to children under 6 years of age and to pregnant women. A major clinic-building program was planned to reduce the resultant pressure on public hospitals. Nevertheless, health care remained inadequate in some parts of the country.

Beginning in 2000, South Africa experienced a large-scale outbreak of cholera, which was centered in KwaZulu/Natal. Starting in 2006, it also experienced the spread of a strain of extensively drug-resistant (XDR) tuberculosis that many feared would eventually threaten millions across sub-Saharan Africa. The government has pledged to provide safe water and sanitary facilities to all of its citizens by 2010, and some 9 million of the 14 million people lacking access to clean water were connected to water systems between 1994 and 2003. But the privatization of municipal water, electricity, and sewage facilities in fact led to cutoffs in service to users in numerous poor communities that were provided with reliable utilities that many of their inhabitants were unable to afford. This contributed to epidemics of cholera and other diseases. It also sparked new demands for free basic utility services to residents of shantytowns and impoverished rural areas. The government eventually agreed to provide a minimum amount of safe water to all households at no charge, rather than at the previous reduced fee.

Schooling has been compulsory for children of all population groups between the ages of 7 and 16 since 1995. In a legacy from the apartheid era, many primary schools are still located on private farmlands, where they had been built by landowners to educate the children of their black farm laborers. The disruption to black education in urban areas after the school boycotts began in 1976 was devastating. It created an ill-educated and uneducated "lost generation" of 3 million to 4 million black youths whose expectations for the future will be difficult to meet. Expenditures for black education have since increased, although many black children still do not attend school. Much of this additional funding has been devoted to basic education for adults. The nation's universities were formerly segregated by race. They are now open to all students, but by 2002 the percentage of white students who continued their education beyond high school was about four times that of Coloureds and blacks. That year, the government announced that it would restructure the system of higher education to make it more accessible to the nonurban poor. If the traditionally white universities did not make substantial progress toward reintegration within five years, a quota system was to be introduced. The number of universities was to be gradually reduced from 21 to 11.

The Arts

Each population group has contributed to South Africa's rich and diverse artistic heritage. African art, dance, and literature have gained international acclaim and popularity. Albert Luthuli, author of Let My People Go (1962), was South Africa's first Nobel Prize winner (for peace, 1960). Other prominent black writers include Thomas Mofolo, B. W. Vilikazi, Peter Abrahams, and Ezekiel Mphahlele.

Internationally known white English-language authors include Athol Fugard, Nobel laureate (for literature, 1991) Nadine Gordimer, Alan Paton, Stuart Cloete, and Roy Campbell. André Brink, Uys Krige, Nobel laureate (for literature, 2003) J. M. Coetzee, Breyten Breytenbach, Ingrid Jonker, and Étienne Leroux are prominent Afrikaner writers. Alex La Guma, Dennis Brutus, and Adam Small are important Coloured authors. All published work in South Africa was long subject to strict censorship, as was reporting by foreign journalists.

The country has several professional orchestras, fine museums, and theatrical groups. Although the national film industry is still in its infancy, South African–born Charlize Theron was awarded a best-actress Academy Award for her work in the film Monster (2003); the film Tsotsi (2005), based on a book by Athol Fugard and directed by South African Gavin Hood, won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film.

Economic Activity

The discovery of diamonds near Kimberley (1867) and gold on the Witwatersrand (1886) helped transform South Africa. Once a land of subsistence farmers, it became a modern industrial state controlled by the white minority but reliant on black labor. Minerals provided the stimulus for railroad expansion from the coast to the interior. The mines brought black Africans into the wage economy. They also created demand for explosives, machinery, energy, and many other goods and services. Development occurred unevenly, however. While white areas witnessed rapid industrialization and economic growth, the homelands remained economically disadvantaged. The latter had limited manufacturing, few industrial resources, high unemployment, and only marginal subsistence agriculture.

The economy developed as private investment from Western Europe and the United States increased. Today South Africa is the strongest industrial state on the African continent. In the 1980s the United States and various other nations imposed economic sanctions on South Africa in an effort to end apartheid. Foreign-owned companies were pressed to dispose of South African investments (disinvest); those which remained in South Africa were asked to adhere to the Sullivan Principles, which called for nondiscrimination in the workplace. The last of these sanctions, which had placed severe strains on the economy, were lifted in 1994.

The new government announced an ambitious program to improve life for the black majority. Some 1 million homes were to be built, running water and flush toilets were to be provided to 1 million families, 2.5 million jobs were to be generated through a public works program, and 30% of agricultural land was to be redistributed. The government planned to finance these projects with cuts in the defense budget. By 1998, inflation and the deficit had been reduced and foreign investment had increased. World prices for South Africa's major commodities exports declined with the collapse of the Russian economy, however. Overall economic performance lagged well behind expectations, and black majority rule had generally failed to end white control of the economy. To satisfy black aspirations, the government introduced a number of affirmative-action policies designed to expand the black middle class by providing blacks with better jobs and more access to land, mineral, and water resources. Nevertheless, by 1999 about 61% of blacks lived below the poverty line (as compared with only 1% of whites). Black unemployment stood at 42% (white unemployment at 4%). Approximately 87% of all black African children under the age of 12 still did not receive a nutritionally adequate diet.

A government study released in 2000 indicated that affirmative-action programs appeared to be fueling disparities in income between a small class of well-to-do blacks and the impoverished black majority. In addition, the overall unemployment rate, particularly among blacks, continued to rise as job creation failed to keep up with the rate of population growth. One recent study reported that the income of black South African households declined by 19% between 1995 and 2000; that of white households increased by 15%. By 2002 the black middle class had grown to nearly four times the size of the white middle class. Despite this fact, black unemployment in 2005 stood at nearly 32%, compared with less than 20% for Coloureds and Asians and just over 5% for whites. These disparities have been exacerbated by AIDS and have contributed to a serious crime problem.

Agriculture and Fishing

Despite the limited supply of arable land (roughly 12% of the total area), South Africa is virtually self-sufficient in foodstuffs. Agriculture, which contributed less than 3% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2006, was adversely affected by drought in the early 1990s and again in 2002 and by severe flooding caused by the heaviest rainfall in decades in early 2000. Fields in predominantly black areas are generally cultivated by women; the chief subsistence crops are corn and sorghum. Although the government had promised to redistribute 30% of white-owned farmland to nonwhites by 1999, this did not take place; the deadline was later extended to 2014. By early 2004 just 2% of such land had been transferred. The slow pace of land reform fueled black resentment. In 2004, with nearly 90% of all commercial farmland still owned by some 50,000 white farmers, government officials said that they would consider legislation to force white farmers unwilling to sell their land to do so. The principal cash crops, grown almost exclusively by whites, are sugarcane, corn, wheat, citrus fruits, cotton, tobacco, and grapes. Cattle and sheep raising are also important. South Africa has a major fishing industry based at Cape Town and Durban.

Mining and Power

Minerals account for approximately 45% of the country's foreign-exchange earnings; they contributed 5.9% of the GDP in 2000. South Africa leads the world in the production of gold, chrome, and vanadium. It is among the leading producers of gem and industrial diamonds, uranium, antimony, asbestos, manganese, and platinum. Petroleum and bauxite are the only major industrial resources that have not been found in commercial amounts, although the exploitation of petroleum deposits off the southwestern seacoast has begun. South Africa also possesses 60% of all African coal reserves; the largest deposits are in KwaZulu/Natal and the former Transvaal. Mining depends heavily on cheap black migrant labor, domestic and foreign. In June 2002 the lower house of the South African legislature passed a controversial bill transferring all of the country's mineral rights from private companies to the state. The enactment of final legislation on this matter was delayed by differences between the mining firms and the government on its exact language. In October 2002 the cabinet approved a draft charter under which about 26% of South Africa's existing mines would be under black ownership within ten years. The measure was designed to increase the role of blacks in an industry that had long been dominated by whites.

Coal mined domestically meets nearly 80% of South Africa's primary energy needs. The country is among the world's leading producers of synthetic fuels; oil-from-coal plants built by the national energy corporation were expected to eventually provide about 60% of the domestic fuel-oil supply. The first nuclear power plant in the nation became operational in 1984. (In 1993 the government acknowledged that it had built six "Hiroshima"-type nuclear bombs during the 1980s but later dismantled them.) Roughly 70% of all electricity generated on the African continent is generated in South Africa. By 2003 the number of South Africans with access to electricity exceeded 60%, up from 30% in 1993. The government is attempting to increase this percentage through the use of renewable resources; these include sunlight, wind, water, and biogas produced from decomposing cattle waste. The state-run energy company is planning to build the world's first commercial pebble-bed modular nuclear reactor. This type of reactor does not use traditional uranium rods. It therefore produces less waste and makes a nuclear meltdown virtually impossible. Cape Town, famous for its gale-force winds, initiated a pilot wind-energy project in 2006; it planned to generate 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Nevertheless, the increase in domestic power demand led to frequent blackouts. In early 2008 a lack of reliable power led the nation's largest gold-, platinum-, and diamond-mining companies to temporarily suspend production. The economic impact of the power crisis spread beyond South Africa's borders as it stopped supplying power to its neighbors. Zimbabwe and Mozambique were the worst affected.


The South African government long encouraged the growth of industry to make the country self-sufficient and independent of external pressure. The black-led government that came to power in 1994 continued to promote industrial development to reduce unemployment. Factories in the Witwatersrand account for about half of the country's manufacturing; this region is the most diversified industrial zone in Africa. A further 25% of manufacturing income is derived from the port cities of Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and East London. Ports and multifaceted industrial complexes were established in the 1970s at Richards Bay in KwaZulu/Natal and Saldhana Bay northwest of Cape Town. Further industrial decentralization is being encouraged. Most South African manufactured goods are marketed domestically. Industry contributed 30% of the GDP in 2006. Leading industries include food processing, metalworking, and the manufacture of clothing, textiles, iron and steel, and machinery.


The country's chief exports are gold (which accounts for about 20% of all export earnings), other metals and metal products, foodstuffs, diamonds, chemicals, machinery, and transportation equipment. South Africa is the leading trade partner in a customs union that includes Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. It is the dominant economic power in the southern third of Africa. Nearly all the imports and exports of Lesotho, Botswana, and Swaziland and more than half the trade of Congo (Zaire), Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe pass through South Africa. The disruption of traffic on rail lines from the landlocked interior to ports in Mozambique and Angola by South African–backed antigovernment guerrillas in those countries further increased regional dependence on South Africa's transportation system. In 1979, in order to lessen their dependence on South Africa, nine black-ruled nations in the region formed what is now the Southern African Development Community (SADC). As apartheid was dismantled in the early 1990s, South Africa's trade with the black-ruled nations of Africa increased; it was admitted to the SADC in 1994. South Africa also moved beyond Africa, where its opportunities for new markets were relatively limited; it improved its ties to other economic powers in the developing world, such as India and Egypt. In December 2000 it agreed to begin negotiations to gain admission to Mercosur, the South American trading bloc anchored by Brazil.

By early 2002 there were increasing concerns about the declining value of the South African rand. While this improved the competitiveness of South African exports on the world market and fueled the growth of tourism, it made imports more expensive. Much of the decline was believed to be due to the escalating economic meltdown in neighboring Zimbabwe (once South Africa's major trade partner) and the impact of AIDS on the economy. Zimbabwe's economic woes were estimated to have reduced South Africa's rate of growth by 0.4% annually between 2000 and 2003.


The 1984 constitution replaced the formerly all-white parliament with a tricameral legislature with chambers for whites, Asians, and Coloureds. In fact, whites continued to dominate the decision-making process. Blacks were regarded as citizens of the homelands and denied representation in the South African government. The 1984 constitution made the head of government a state president with power to appoint the cabinet. Prime Minister P. W. Botha, head of the National party, which had held power from 1948, became state president in 1984. He resigned in August 1989. His successor, F. W. de Klerk, had become party leader in February and remained in office after September 1990 elections.

By 1993 the essence of political power lay in the pragmatic relationship between de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, the leader of the antiapartheid African National Congress (ANC), who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. From December 1991 to November 1993, representatives of South Africa's major political parties and some black homelands negotiated the nation's political future. In September 1993 parliament approved the creation of a Transitional Executive Council (with a black majority); this body was given the power to veto government actions affecting South Africa's first free and full elections. These elections were held in April 1994. They created a transitional government of national unity that served until new elections were held in June 1999.

The interim constitution for this government abolished the homelands. It established a strong federal system with nine provinces, each with its own legislature. The central government had a National Assembly elected by proportional representation that was to write a permanent constitution and make laws. The Senate was replaced by a National Council of Provinces elected by the new provincial legislatures that was to protect regional interests. The leader of the winning party in the 1994 elections—Nelson Mandela of the ANC—became president of South Africa. All parties receiving at least 5% of the vote were represented in his cabinet.

On May 8, 1996, the legislature adopted a new permanent constitution, under which elections were held in 1999. It included a far-ranging bill of rights and created a strong central government headed by a state president chosen by the party winning more than 50% of the vote in national elections. The cabinet, selected by the president, no longer had posts reserved for minority parties.


The first known inhabitants of present-day South Africa were San and Khoikhoi hunter-gatherers; they were followed southward by Bantu-speaking peoples between A.D. 1000 and 1500. Thulamela, a sophisticated industrial kingdom located in northern South Africa near the border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique, flourished from the 13th to the 15th century. Recent archaeological finds indicate that its inhabitants sold gold and ivory to Asia and Arabia and were skilled craftspeople who worked in numerous metals.

In 1488, Portuguese mariners led by Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck established the first European settlement at Table Bay (now Cape Town) in 1652 as a station for the Dutch East India Company. Dutch pioneers spread eastward. In 1779 war broke out between Xhosa migrating south and the Dutch near the Great Fish River.

Britain controlled the Cape sporadically during the Napoleonic Wars and formally received the territory in 1814 under provisions made by the Congress of Vienna. Large-scale British settlement began in 1820. To preserve their Calvinist way of life, the Dutch (Boer) farmers began (1836) to move into the interior on the so-called Great Trek. In 1838 about 70 Voortrekkers were massacred by Zulu. Andries Pretorius then led the Boers against the Zulu, defeating them that year in the Battle of Blood River. The Voortrekkers eventually set up independent republics, including the Orange Free State (1854) and the South African Republic (1852; later the Transvaal).

The discovery of diamonds and gold in the late 1800s drew British immigrant entrepreneurs (Uitlanders, or "foreigners") into the interior. Conflict over ownership ensued. Paul Kruger (Oom Paul), leader of the Transvaal, resisted British attempts to claim the area. Such efforts included those by Cecil Rhodes, prime minister of the British-controlled Cape Colony, who encouraged the Uitlanders to take over the Transvaal. The unsuccessful Jameson Raid, engineered by the British in 1895 and intended to aid the Uitlanders in an uprising, added to the mounting tension. Eventually, the South African War (1899–1902) erupted between the British and the Boers, with the British the victors. In 1910 such leaders as Jan Smuts helped create the Union of South Africa, with dominion status, out of the former British colonies and the two defeated Boer republics. Louis Botha, a moderate Afrikaner advocating close cooperation with the British, became the first prime minister.

Between the two world wars, mining and manufacturing expanded. The Depression of the 1930s, however, forced black Africans and white farmers alike into the cities to compete for unskilled jobs. As a result, both African and Afrikaner nationalism emerged. At the same time, a segregationist policy was adopted by James Barry Hertzog's government (1924–39); it was designed to preserve South Africa as a white country in which black Africans would be restricted as far as possible to reserves. The Coloured population, whose voting rights had been protected by the 1910 constitution, was disenfranchised.

The Introduction of Apartheid

In 1948, Daniel F. Malan's National party was elected to office and introduced the policy of apartheid—"separate development"—which was designed to ensure white supremacy. During the premiership of Hendrik F. Verwoerd, parliament adopted (1959) the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act. This act created the legal machinery by which ten African homelands would eventually receive independence. The homelands, reserved for 74% of the country's total population, were territorially fragmented and overpopulated and had limited resources. Transkei received nominal independence in 1976; Bophuthatswana, a year later; Venda, in 1979; and Ciskei, in 1981. No country except South Africa recognized the homelands as independent countries, and they were reintegrated into South Africa in 1994.

African opposition to apartheid intensified in the 1950s. It was spearheaded by the ANC and the Pan African Congress (PAC). These organizations were banned in 1960 following the Sharpeville massacre near Vereeniging in which 69 Africans, demonstrating against the pass laws, were killed by police. In 1961 the Union of South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations due to opposition within that body to apartheid policies, and the Republic of South Africa was declared. Opposition to apartheid at home became more violent. In 1976 some 400 persons were killed when riots broke out in Soweto and other black townships. The government retaliated by detaining its critics, including Stephen Biko, a black activist whose death in police custody in 1977 aroused international protest. Many black activists were imprisoned on Robben Island.

Reform and Reaction

Under P. W. Botha, who replaced B. J. Vorster as prime minister in 1978, the government tried to share power without losing white control. Black labor unions were legalized in 1979. In 1985 the ban on multiracial political parties was repealed, limits on the number of black workers who could be employed by industrial concerns were ended, and interracial marriages were permitted. In 1986 the pass laws controlling the movement of blacks to the cities were scrapped; blacks were granted property rights in black urban areas. In 1987 segregation was no longer required in some urban areas.

These attempts at reform created more negative reactions than constructive outcomes. Ultraconservatives within the National party were bitterly opposed to the changes; they defected to form two new parties—the Conservative party (CP) and the Herstigte Nasionale party (HNP). The National party remained in power after the 1987 elections, but the CP garnered enough votes to become the parliamentary opposition.

During that same period most Africans thought the reforms did not go far enough, and opposition became both more violent and more effective. Elections for new black town councils established in 1983 were boycotted by about 80% of black voters. In 1984 the United Democratic Front (UDF)—a multiracial umbrella group of more than 600 organizations—marshaled protests against the new constitution. The UDF successfully urged Asian and Coloured voters to boycott elections for the tricameral legislature. The low turnout of nonwhite voters minimized the legitimacy of the new parliament. This growing opposition stimulated groups such as the black-power Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO) to reject peaceful cooperation with the government. It also fueled the international sanctions movement. Black antiapartheid protests took many forms: rent strikes, consumer and school boycotts, demonstrations, and industrial strikes. Violence against police, against blacks cooperating with the white regime, and against members of rival political and ethnic groups spread. This resulted in harsh reactions from the government, which ultimately declared (1986) a state of emergency and imposed severe restrictions on press coverage of the violence. More than 17,000 Africans were killed between 1984 and 1993; many more thousands were injured or imprisoned. In the 1989 parliamentary elections the National party lost seats to both the Left and the Right, although it maintained its majority.

Dismantling Apartheid

With the shift in leadership from Botha to de Klerk, significant changes took place in early 1990. Change began with the lifting of the 30-year ban on the ANC and the release of Mandela, the most popular leader among blacks. During 1990 and 1991 the ANC abandoned its armed struggle against the government, the basic apartheid laws were repealed, the UDF disbanded, and the government accepted a UN-supervised plan for the return of political exiles. Formal multiparty negotiations to end white minority rule began in December 1991. A whites-only referendum in March 1992 overwhelmingly endorsed the reform process.

Disagreements about the shape of an interim government turned primarily on whether it would be the highly centralized unitary state sought by the ANC or a federal structure with extensive authority allocated to the local level. The latter format was desired by smaller groups dependent upon regional support, such as the Zulu-based Inkatha and some Afrikaner groups. Violent conflict between followers of the ANC, Inkatha, and other black groups also threatened the transition.

In 1993 the National party and the ANC agreed to participate in a government of national unity. During a transitional period, a permanent constitution would be written by the national assembly to be elected in April 1994. This effectively ruled out a black majority government in the near future. An interim constitution approved in late 1993 included a bill of rights, abolished the homelands, and granted considerable authority to nine provinces under a strong federal system. In March 1994 the leader of Bophuthatswana, who opposed the accord, was deposed by government forces. That same month, the government took control of Ciskei. On April 19, Inkatha agreed to join in the first all-race elections, held on April 26–29.

The ANC won a majority of the vote in the historic 1994 elections, but not the two-thirds required to control the writing of the new constitution. Mandela became the nation's first black president. De Klerk, whose National party secured 20.4% of the vote, was second deputy executive president. Inkatha, with 10.5% of the vote, was also included in the cabinet. The ANC drew a majority in seven of the nine new provinces. The National party won in Western Cape and Inkatha in KwaZulu/Natal. The transition was a smooth one, despite continuing tensions between the ANC and Inkatha. In 1995, Archbishop Tutu was appointed head of a controversial Truth and Reconciliation Commission; this body was charged with investigating human rights abuses during the apartheid era. Mandela formally signed a new permanent constitution into law in December 1996. He also endorsed Thabo Mbeki as his successor. De Klerk, who had withdrawn his National party from Mandela's government in 1996 to become the official opposition, resigned as party leader in 1997. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was issued in October 1998. It held the white minority government, Inkatha, and the ANC responsible for politically motivated killings during the apartheid era; its strongest criticisms, however, were reserved for the system of apartheid itself.

When new national elections were held on June 2, 1999, the ANC captured 266 of 400 legislative seats—just one short of the two-thirds majority required to revise the constitution. Later the Minority Front, a primarily Indian party that won just a single legislative seat, agreed to vote with the ANC, thus giving it a two-thirds majority. The Democratic party (known as the Democratic Alliance since 2000), which attracted right-wing whites and middle-class blacks by campaigning on an anticrime platform, garnered 10% of the vote and 38 seats to become the official opposition. The Inkatha Freedom party won 8% of the vote and a narrow majority in KwaZulu/Natal, where it formed a coalition government with the ANC. The renamed New National party secured only 7% of the vote and 28 seats (as compared with 82 seats in 1994). It lost its majority in Western Cape province as well. A total of 13 parties won legislative seats. The new legislature was inaugurated on June 14, and Mbeki formally succeeded Mandela as president of South Africa on June 16.

In January 2000, as mandated by the new constitution, the legislature passed a law explicitly forbidding discrimination on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity and created a special group of judges to hear charges of such discrimination. This law, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, became effective on Sept. 1, 2000. It is controversial because it requires a defendant charged with discrimination to prove his or her innocence, rather than for the accuser to prove guilt.

In June 2002 thousands of victims of the apartheid era who had still not received the compensation recommended in 1998 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission filed a lawsuit in an effort to end the reparation delays. Among those being sued were Mbeki and commission chair Tutu. This was just one of a rash of lawsuits filed on behalf of apartheid victims. A series of bombings in Soweto in October 2002—the first coordinated attacks by white separatists since the end of the apartheid era—were linked to extremists demanding a white-ruled state of their own. The attacks were condemned by the political parties representing most of South Africa's white population.

When South Africa's third postapartheid elections were held on Apr. 14, 2004, the ANC captured nearly 70% of the popular vote and 279 of 400 legislative seats. The Democratic Alliance won 50 seats; the Inkatha Freedom party, 28. The ANC also secured an absolute majority in seven of the nine provincial legislatures, and the largest number of seats in KwaZulu/Natal and Western Cape. Mbeki was reelected by the legislature and sworn in to a second 5-year term as president on April 27. He pledged to use his party's mandate to continue the fight against poverty and unemployment. Nevertheless, Mbeki was increasingly out of touch with the poor and working class. He lost a December 2007 battle for party leadership to Jacob Zuma, a former guerrilla leader whom he had dismissed as vice-president in 2005. In January 2008 the ANC said that Zuma would be its 2009 presidential candidate, although he still faced charges of corruption, money laundering, fraud, and racketeering.

Foreign Affairs

Although South Africa signed nonaggression pacts with Swaziland (1982) and Mozambique (1984) and a cease-fire with Angola (1984), its defense forces struck repeatedly at suspected ANC bases in Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in the 1980s. It also continued to wage war in Angola and Namibia against nationalist guerrillas of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO). In addition, it allegedly continued its support of indigenous antigovernment guerrillas in Angola and Mozambique. South Africa's relations with the rest of Africa improved after Namibia gained independence (1990) and peace accords were signed in Angola (1991) and Mozambique (1992). International sanctions were lifted in 1994 at the request of Nelson Mandela. That same year South Africa formally ceded sovereignty over disputed Walvis Bay to Namibia and rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations.

Postapartheid South Africa has become a leading advocate of regional economic integration and of international arms control and human rights. From September 1998, SADC troops from South Africa and a smaller number from Botswana intervened militarily in Lesotho at the request of its government to put down a mutiny there by dissident soldiers. This marked the first time that South Africa's postapartheid government had intervened militarily in the affairs of one of its neighbors. The South African government also attempted to negotiate an end to the political crisis in Lesotho caused by disputed elections earlier that year. Unlike Angola and Zimbabwe, it supported peaceful mediation rather than military action to end a civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). In May 2001, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell visited South Africa on his first official visit to the continent; he called for increased efforts in the fight against the AIDS epidemic. Later that year, South Africa sent peacekeeping forces into Burundi to protect members of a new transitional government of national unity installed under terms of a peace accord negotiated by Mandela.

South Africa's trade with and investment in other African nations has expanded dramatically since the end of its apartheid-era isolation. This development has been met with mixed reactions. The 2002 Earth Summit was held in Johannesburg. U.S. president George W. Bush visited South Africa in July 2003. Although he praised its free-market economy and successful transition to democracy, he declinined to meet with Mandela, who had been openly critical of the Iraq War and other aspects of the Bush administration's foreign policy. One of the government's most pressing tasks was its effort to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the crisis in neighboring Zimbabwe. By 2007, an estimated 2 million to 3 million Zimbabweans had sought refuge in South Africa.

Alan C. G. Best

Reviewed by Marion E. Doro

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