The Republic of South Africa, also known by other official names, is a country located at the southern tip of the continent of Africa. The South African coast stretches 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) and borders both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. To the north of South Africa lie Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland, while the Kingdom of Lesotho is an independent enclave surrounded by South African territory.
Modern human beings have inhabited South Africa for more than 100,000 years. At the time of European contact, its indigenous peoples reflected migrations from other parts of Africa, where new tribes had become dominant. Two major groups were Xhosa and Zulu peoples.
In 1652, a century and a half after the discovery of the Cape Sea Route, the Dutch East India Company founded a refreshment station at what would become Cape Town. Cape Town became a British colony in 1806. European settlement expanded during the 1820s as the Boers (original Dutch, Flemish, German and French settlers) and the British 1820 Settlers claimed land in the north and east of the country. Conflicts arose among the Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaner groups who competed for territory.
The discovery of diamonds and later gold triggered the conflict known as the Anglo-Boer War, as the Boers and the British fought for the control of the South African mineral wealth. Although the Boers were defeated, the British gave limited independence to South Africa in 1910 as a British dominion. Within the country, anti-British policies among white South Africans focused on independence. During the Dutch and British colonial years, racial segregation was informal. Power was held by the colonists. In the Boer republics and subsequent South African governments, the system became legally institutionalised segregation known as apartheid. They established three classes of racial stratification: whites, coloured (including mixed-race people of European and African origins, as well as Asians, and mixed-race Asians), and blacks, or indigenous natives. Apartheid was established by law in 1948, and additional legislation, such as the Immorality Act outlawing relations among people of different racial groups, hardened the legal boundaries. At the same time, political movements grew internally among indigenous, mixed-race and whites who opposed apartheid. At one time the Communist Party actively supported racial justice.
South Africa achieved its political independence in 1961 when it was declared a republic. The leading National Party legislated for a continuation of apartheid, despite opposition both in and outside of the country.
In 1990 then-president F.W. de Klerk began to dismantle the apartheid legislation. In 1994 South Africa held its first democratic election. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) came to power, and the country rejoined the Commonwealth of Nations.
South Africa is known for its diversity in cultures, languages, and religious beliefs. Eleven official languages are recognised in the constitution. English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life; however, it is only the fifth most-spoken home language. South Africa is ethnically diverse, with the largest Caucasian, Indian, and racially mixed communities in Africa. Although 79.6% of the South African population is Black, this category is neither culturally nor linguistically homogeneous. People within this classification represent a variety of ethnic groups and speak a number of different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. Midyear 2007, the South African population was estimated at 47.9 million. About a quarter of the population live on less than US$ 1.25 a day.
As of 2013 apartheid patterns of residential segregation remained in place with small islands of middle-class prosperity surrounded by a sea of townships, black slums. Segregation extended to separate neighborhoods for coloured, mixed-race, people and groups of Asians. Poor whites have their own segregated slums. Conventional amenities such as electric power, water, and sewer are not available in the many of the townships which are located on waste land far from employment. Transportation costs take a major portion of low-wage workers wages.
Notes and references
- "Trading Privilege for Privation, Family Hits a Nerve in South Africa" article by Lydia Polgreen in The New York Times September 15, 2013
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