South Africa History

South Africa is often called the cradle of humankind, for this is where archaeologists discovered 2,5-million-year-old fossils of our earliest ancestors, as well as 100 000-year-old remains of modern man.

The first European settlement in southern Africa was established by the Dutch East India Company in Table Bay (Cape Town) in 1652. Created to supply passing ships with fresh produce, the colony grew rapidly as Dutch farmers settled to grow crops.

South Africa’s democracy was a victory over struggle and a triumph for diversity.

Our rich, deep, and diverse cultures and complex history combine to create a rich tapestry of human experience. The country’s liberation from apartheid and the construction of a multi-racial democratic dispensation is a benchmark for the universal aspirations of peace, freedom, equality and dignity.

The land

South Africa occupies the most southern tip of Africa with its long coastline stretching more than 3 000 kilometres (km), from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast southwards around the tip of Africa and then north to the border of subtropical Mozambique on the Indian Ocean.

Stretching latitudinally from 22°S to 35°S and longitudinally from 17°E to 33°E, South Africa’s surface area covers 1 219 602 km2.

Physical features range from bushveld, grasslands, forests, deserts and majestic mountain peaks, to wide unspoilt beaches and coastal wetlands.

The country shares common boundaries with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and eSwatini, while the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is landlocked by South African territory in the south-east.

The Prince Edward and Marion islands, annexed by South Africa in 1947, lie some 1 920 km south-east of Cape Town.


The population of South Africa was estimated to be 60,6 million by the end of June 2022.

In 2022, the mid-year population estimates indicated that about 28,07% of the population was aged younger than 15 years (17,01 million) and approximately 9,2% (5,59 million) was aged 60 years or older.

Gauteng still comprises the largest share of the South African population, with approximately 16,10 million people (26,6%) living in this province. KwaZulu-Natal is the province with the second-largest population, with an estimated 11,54 million people (19,0%) living there. With a population of approximately 1,31 million people (2,2%), Northern Cape remains the province with the smallest share of the South African population.


South Africa’s Constitution recognises 11 official languages: Sepedi (also known as Sesotho sa Leboa), Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

Besides the official languages, scores of others – African, European, Asian and more – are spoken in South Africa, as the country lies at the crossroads of southern Africa. Other languages spoken in the country and mentioned in the Constitution are the Khoi, Nama and San languages, sign language, Arabic, German, French, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu. There are also a few indigenous creoles and pidgins.

English is generally understood across the country, being the language of business, politics and the media, and the country’s lingua franca.


South Africa is a constitutional democracy with a three-tier system of government and an independent judiciary. The national, provincial and local levels of government all have legislative and executive authority in their own spheres and are defined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 as distinctive, interdependent and interrelated.

Operating at both national and provincial levels are advisory bodies drawn from South Africa’s traditional leaders. It is a stated intention in the Constitution that the country be run on a system of cooperative governance. Government is committed to building a free, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and successful South Africa.

The Constitution

The Constitution was approved by the Constitutional Court on 4 December 1996 and took effect on 4 February 1997. It is the supreme law of the land. No other law or government action can supersede the provisions of the Constitution.