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Official name: Republic of South Africa
Juan from Colombia. Cape of Good Hope Openarms!
Form of state: A federal state, comprising a national government and nine provincial governments.
Legal system: Based on Roman-Dutch law and the 1996 Constitution.
Population (mid-2011): 50.59-million
Measures: metric system
Currency: One rand (R) = 100 cents
Time: Two hours ahead of GMT
Internet domain: .za
Area: 1 219 090 square kilometres
Agriculture: 81.6% of total land area
Arable land: 12.1% of total
Irrigated land: 10.15% of arable land
Capitals: Pretoria (administrative), Cape Town (legislative), Bloemfontein (judicial)
Provinces: Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumulanga, Northern Cape, Limpopo, North West, Free State, Western Cape
Currency: Rand (R)
Key industries: Mining (world’s largest producer of platinum, chromium), automobile assembly, metal-working, machinery, textiles, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilisers, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair.
Main trading partners (2009): Exports – China 10.34%, US 9.19%, Japan 7.59%, Germany 7.01%, UK 5.54%, Switzerland 4.72% Imports – China 17.21%, Germany 11.24%, US 7.38%, Saudi Arabia 4.87%, Japan 4.67%, Iran 3.95%
National legislature: Bicameral Parliament elected every five years, comprising a 400-seat National Assembly and a 90-seat National Council of Provinces.
Electoral system: List-system of proportional representation based on universal adult suffrage
Elections: National elections were held in 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009. The next national election will take place within 90 days of April 22, 2014.
Head of state: The President is elected by the National Assembly. Under the Constitution, the President is permitted to serve a maximum of two five-year terms. The current President is Jacob Zuma, who was sworn in on 9 May 2009.
South Africa is a vigorous multiparty democracy with an independent judiciary and a free and diverse press.
Until 1994, the country was known for apartheid – white-minority rule. South Africa’s remarkable ability to put centuries of racial hatred behind it in favour of reconciliation was widely considered a social miracle, inspiring similar peace efforts in Northern Ireland, Rwanda and elsewhere.
The highest law of the land is the new Constitution, which came into force on 4 February 1997, and is considered to be one of the most progressive in the world. The Constitution’s Bill of Rights protects equality, freedom of expression and association, property, housing, healthcare, education, access to information, and access to courts. Protecting those rights is the country’s independent judiciary, subject only to the Constitution and the law.
With 13 parties in Parliament, South Africa has a vibrant political system. The African National Congress is the governing party, and strongly in the majority, though the opposition parties are robust and vocal.
South Africa is a medium-sized country, with a total land area of 1 219 090 square kilometres, or roughly equivalent in size to Niger, Angola, Mali or Colombia. It is one-eighth the size of the US, about a third the size of the European Union, twice the size of France and over three times the size of Germany. It measures some 1 600km from north to south, and roughly the same from east to west.
The country lies between 22º and 35º south, flanked on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the Indian Ocean, whose waters meet at the country’s – and Africa’s – most southern tip, Cape Agulhas.
The coastline stretches 2 798 kilometres from a desert border in the northwest, down the icy Skeleton Coast to Cape Agulhas, then up along the green hills and wide beaches on the coast of the Indian Ocean, to a border with subtropical Mozambique in the northeast.
The low-lying coastal zone is narrow for much of that distance, soon giving way to a mountainous escarpment that separates it from the high inland plateau.
A subtropical location, moderated by ocean on three sides of the country and the altitude of the interior plateau, makes South Africa a warm and sunny country. But it’s also dry, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm. While the Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is mostly a summer-rainfall region.
South Africa has nine provinces, which vary considerably in size.
The smallest is tiny and crowded Gauteng, a highly urbanised region, and the largest the vast, arid and empty Northern Cape, which takes up almost a third of South Africa’s total land area.
South Africa is a nation of diversity, with 50.58-million people and a variety of cultures, languages and religious beliefs.
According to Statistics South Africa’s mid-2011 estimates, the country’s population stands at 50,586,757 people.
Africans are in the majority at 40 206 275, making up 79.5% of the total population.
The white population is estimated at 4 565 825 (9.0%), the coloured population at 4 539 790 (9.0%) and the Indian/Asian population at 1 274 867 (2.5%).
Females make up about 52% of the population, and males 48%.
South Africa is a multilingual country. The country’s democratic Constitution, which came into effect on 4 February 1997, recognises 11 official languages, to which it guarantees equal status. These are: Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho sa Leboa, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga
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.
According to the 2001 census, isiZulu is the most common home language is, spoken by nearly a quarter of the population. It is followed by isiXhosa at 17.6%, Afrikaans at 13.3%, Sepedi at 9.4%, and Setswana and English each at 8.2%.
Sesotho is the mother tongue of 7.9% of South Africans, while the remaining four official languages are spoken at home by less than 5% of the population each.
Most South Africans are multilingual, able to speak more than one language. English- and Afrikaans-speaking people tend not to have much ability in indigenous languages, but are fairly fluent in each other’s language. Most South Africans speak English, which is fairly ubiquitous in official and commercial public life. The country’s other lingua franca is isiZulu.
According to the 2001 census the overwhelming majority of South Africans, or 79.8%, are Christian. The independent African Zion Christian churches predominate, being the faith of 15.3% of the total population, and 19.2% of all Christians.
Roughly 15% of the population have no religion, and 1.4% are undetermined about their faith. Islam is the religion of 1.5% of South Africans, Hinduism that of 1.2%, African traditional belief 0.3%, Judaism 0.2% and other beliefs 0.6%.
In terms of population groups, Christianity is most common among white and coloured South Africans, being the faith of 86.8% of the people in both groups. It’s slightly less dominant among black South Africans, among whom it falls in line with the national average, being the religion of 79.9% of black people. Roughly a quarter (24.4%) of the Indian population are Christian.
The predominant form of Christianity among black South Africans is the independent and indigenous Zion Christian faith, the religion of 23.7% of black Christians. Black people also have the highest rate of unbelief, with 17.5% saying they have no religion, and 1.3% being undetermined.
Most white South African Christians (42.8%) belong to the Reformed churches, such as the Dutch Reformed Church. Some 9.2% of white Christians are Methodist, 7.8% Pentecostal or Charismatic, 7.7% Apostolic and 7.6% Catholic. White people have the second-highest rate of unbelief, with 8.8% saying they have no religion and 2% being undetermined. Judaism is most common in this community, being the religion of 1.4% of white South Africans.
Predominant churches among coloured Christians are Apostolic (18.6%), Pentecostal or Charismatic (14.2%), Anglican (10.4%) and Catholic (10.2%). Of the other religions, Islam predominates, being the faith of 7.4% of all coloured South Africans. Only 3.8% of the coloured population say they have no religion, and 1.3% are undetermined.
Hinduism is the most common religion (47.3%) in the Indian/Asian population group, followed by Islam (24.7%) and Christianity (24.2%). There is a fairly even spread of churches among Indian and Asian Christians. This group is most certain of their faith, with only 2.3% reporting that they have no religion, and 0.94% being undecided.
School life spans 13 years or grades, from grade 0, otherwise known as grade R or “reception year”, through to grade 12 or “matric” – the year of matriculation. General Education and Training runs from grade 0 to grade 9. Under the South African Schools Act of 1996, education is compulsory for all South Africans from the age of seven (grade 1) to age 15, or the completion of grade 9. General Education and Training also includes Adult Basic Education and Training.
According to the latest available statistics, in 2007 South Africa had 14 167 086 pupils and students enrolled in all sectors of the education system, attending 35 231 educational institutions and served by 452 971 teachers and lecturers.
The breakdown of schools includes 26 065 ordinary schools and 9 163 other education institutions – namely, special schools, early childhood development (ECD) sites, public adult basic education and training (ABET) centres, public further education and training (FET) institutions, and public higher education (HE) institutions.
Of the total enrolled pupils, 12 048 821 (85%) were in public schools and 352 396 (2.5%) were in independent schools. Of the pupils in other institutions, 761 087 (5.4%) were in public HE institutions, 320 679 (2.3%) were in public FET institutions, 292 734 (2.1%) were in public ABET centres, 289 312 (2%) were in ECD centres, and 102 057 (0.7%) were in special schools.
The total of 26 065 ordinary schools comprised 15 358 primary schools, with 6 316 064 pupils and 191 199 teachers; 5 670 secondary schools, with 3 831 937 pupils and 128 183 teachers; and 5 037 combined and intermediate schools, with 2 253 216 pupils and 74 843 teachers.
Other educational facilities included 2 278 ABET centres, 50 public FET institutions, 4 800 ECD centres and 21 HE institutions.
South Africa has a vibrant higher education sector, with close on a million students enrolled in the country’s 21 state-funded tertiary institutions: 11 universities, five universities of technology, and five comprehensive institutions.
At about 5.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 20% of total state expenditure, South Africa has one of the highest rates of public investment in education in the world.
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