South Africa: fast facts

South African facts at your fingertips. Get up-to-date information on the country's land area, population, gross domestic product, inflation rate, infrastructure, mineral wealth, key economic sectors and more, as well as details on the 2010 World Cup, black economic empowerment, democracy, education ... and reasons to visit. More fast facts … Even more fast facts … And finally … South Africa's geography and climate

South Africa's geography and climate
South Africa lies between 22 and 35 degrees south, flanked on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the Indian Ocean, whose waters meet at the country's most southern tip, Cape Agulhas.

The long coastline stretches 2 798 kilometres from a desert border in the north-west, down the icy and treacherous Skeleton Coast to Cape Agulhas, then up along rolling green hills and wide beaches fronting the warm Indian Ocean, to a border with subtropical Mozambique in the north east.

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. In some places, notably the province of KwaZulu-Natal in the east, a greater distance separates the coast from the escarpment.

South Africa is famous for its sunshine. A subtropical location, moderated by ocean on three sides of the country and the altitude of the interior plateau, account for the warm temperate conditions so typical of South Africa - and so popular with its foreign visitors.

It's a relatively dry country, 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 generally a summer-rainfall region.

The people of South Africa

The people of South Africa
South Africa is a nation of diversity, with over 47-million people and a variety of cultures, languages and religious beliefs.

According to Statistics South Africa's mid-2006 estimates, the country's population stands at some 47.4-million. Africans are in the majority at 37.7-million, making up 79.5% of the total population. The white population is estimated at 4.4-million (9.2%), the coloured population at 4.2-million (8.9%) and the Indian/Asian population at 1.2-million (2.5%).

South Africa's population by race
South Africa's population by race (Data source: Statistics South Africa)

South Africa has 11 official languages, and plenty of unofficial ones besides. English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life - but only the fifth most spoken home language.

While more than three-quarters of South Africa's population is black African, this category is neither culturally nor linguistically homogenous. Nine of the official languages are African, reflecting a variety of ethnic groupings which nonetheless have a great deal in common in terms of background, culture and descent.

South Africa's population by language
South Africa's population by language (Data source: Statistics South Africa)

In terms of religion, the 2001 census found that 11.1% of the population are Zion Christian, 8.2% Pentecostal or Charismatic Christian, 7.1% Catholic, 6.8% Methodist, 6.7% Dutch Reformed, 3.8% Anglican, 36% other Christian, 1.5% Muslim, 3.7% "other" or unspecified, with a further 15.1% having no religion.

South Africa's population by religion
South Africa's population by religion (Data source: Statistics South Africa)

Democracy in South Africa

Democracy in South Africa
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.

Now ruled by a democratic government of all races, South Africa is often referred to as the "rainbow nation", a phrase coined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu.

The highest law of the land is the new Constitution, considered to be one of the most progressive in the world - and with a Bill of Rights second to none.

The rights protected include 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 16 parties in parliament, South Africa has a vibrant political system. The African National Congress is in the majority, but opposition parties remain robust and vocal.

South Africa came out tops in the BBC's 2005 Who Runs Your World? survey. While 65% of the world's citizens say their country is not run by the will of the people, 59% of South Africans say their nation is – the highest score of the 68 countries surveyed.

South Africa also ranks 31st out of 167 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2005 global index of press freedom – beating developed democracies such as Japan, Spain, Italy and the US.

Education in South Africa

Education in South Africa
South Africa's investment in education has tripled since the end of apartheid. In 1994, the government spent R31.8-billion on education; in 2006, the budget allocation was R92.1-billion. At 6.6% of the country's GDP and 17.7% of total government spending, the country's education spending rate is among the highest in the world.

Of South Africa's over 12-million potential learners, more than 90% are in school – a far higher enrolment rate than in most developing countries.

The state-funded National Student Financial Aid Scheme has been significantly expanded. While the scheme paid out R21-million to fund the higher education of disadvantaged students in 1991, this had risen to a total of R1.2-billion for 2005.

Nonetheless, it's acknowledged that a skills shortage stands in the way of both the government's massive public infrastructure programmes and private investment. Professional skills in engineering, science, finance and management, as well as technical and artisan skills, are critically needed as the South African economy moves into higher gear.

For this reason, the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (Jipsa), a high-powered task team to identify urgent skills needs and advise on how they can be met, was launched in early 2006. Bringing together the government, business and labour unions, the initiative has already identified several key interventions.

These include mentoring programmes, fast-tracking trainees with overseas placement, special training programmes, bringing back retirees and expatriate South Africans, and drawing in new immigrants.

The government is also to spend R1.9-billion on upgrading Further Education and Training colleges, and the country's 21 universities are to reshape their programmes in humanities and increase student numbers in science and technology.

  • Education in South Africa The 2010 Fifa World Cup

    2010 Fifa World Cup
    In May 2004 Fifa president Seph Blatter announced that South Africa had beaten four other countries to win the right to host the Football World Cup in 2010 - the first time the festival of soccer will be held on African soil

    The Fifa country inspection team concluded that South Africa had an "excellent" potential for hosting a successful tournament, citing our medical services, transport, telecommunication, hotels, sports infrastructure - and passion for the beautiful game.

    The cup is set to create some 129 000 jobs, contribute R21-billion to the country's GDP and generate R7.2-billion in government taxes, with the anticipated 350 000 visitors spending a whopping R9.8-billion during the month-long event.

    But the more enduring benefit will be to open the eyes of the world to the fact that here, at the southern tip of Africa, lies a stable and sophisticated country offering both breathtaking natural beauty and lucrative investment opportunities.

    The 2010 event is set to earn Fifa its largest revenue ever, with US$3.1-billion in corporate sponsorship and broadcasting rights already secured for the next four years, and more likely to follow. This is almost double the $1.8-billion earned by the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

    Nine South African cities will host the tournament: Johannesburg, the economic hub of Africa; Pretoria, the country's capital; Cape Town, a sophisticated international tourist destination known as Africa's Riviera; Durban on the balmy Indian Ocean coast; as well as Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Rustenburg, Nelspruit and Polokwane.

    Ten stadiums are to be upgraded or specially built for the event, at a total cost of over R7.3-billion. Some 3-million tickets will be available for the 64 matches. One third, or a million, will be allocated to South African football fans, another million to international visitors, and the third million to sponsors, teams and the "Fifa family".

    In 2010, the people of the world will be able to catch every game of the Fifa World Cup live on their mobile phones. South African company MTN, the leading cellular operator in Africa and a global Fifa sponsor, has invested US$65-million to secure the right to broadcast exclusive mobile content.

    Doing business in South Africa

    Doing business in South Africa
    South Africa is a middle-income emerging market with abundant natural resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy and transport sectors, a stock exchange ranked among the top 20 in the world, and a modern infrastructure supporting efficient distribution of goods throughout the southern African region.

    Economic growth has been steady and unprecedented. Real gross domestic product (GDP) rose by 3.7% in 2002, 3.1% in 2003, 4.9% in 2004, 5% in 2005, 5.4% in 2006 - the highest since 1981 - and 5.1% in 2007.

    In the fourth quarter of 2007, South Africa recorded its 33rd quarter of uninterrupted expansion in real GDP since September 1999 - the longest economic upswing in the country's history.

    GDP growth in South Africa
    Growth in South Africa's gross domestic product (Data source: Statistics South Africa)

    South Africa's economy has been completely overhauled since the advent of democracy in the country in 1994. Bold macroeconomic reforms have boosted competitiveness, growing the economy, creating jobs and opening South Africa up to the markets of the world.

    Over the years these policies have built up a rock-solid macroeconomic structure. Taxes have been cut, tariffs dropped, the fiscal deficit reined in, inflation curbed and exchange controls relaxed.

    Economic growth and prudent fiscal management have seen South Africa's budget deficit (the difference between the government's total expenditure and its total receipts, excluding borrowing) drop dramatically, from 5.1% of GDP in 1993/94 to 0.5% in 2005/06 - the second-lowest fiscal deficit in the country's history after the 0.1% reached during the gold boom in 1980.

    In 2006/07, the country posted its first ever budget surplus, of 0.3%.

    Despite lower taxes across the board, the upbeat economy, improved tax compliance and a steadily improving tax and customs administration have seen government revenue surging, hitting R475.8-billion in 2006/07 - over three times the figure for 1996/97.

    Tax revenue in South Africa
    Tax revenue in South Africa (Data source: National Treasury)

    In 2006 the World Bank ranked South Africa at 29th for ease of doing business - the highest score in Africa and ahead of similar emerging markets such as India, Russia, the Czech Republic, Mexico, China and Brazil.

    A recent survey of business cost-effectiveness by London's Economist Intelligence Unit ranked South Africa at 10th out of 31 countries.

    In 2005 the value of South African companies' mergers and acquisitions jumped 63% to R269-billion, up from R165-billion in 2004, according to Ernst & Young. Some R57-billion of this was inward investment - and equal to the total foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country over the previous five years - helping South Africa's FDI edge past India for the first time ever.

    South Africa's central bank, the SA Reserve Bank, maintains its independence from the government. Its programme of inflation targeting has had good results: the real interest rate has stabilised and the currency remains at competitive levels. Consumer inflation averaged 4.6% in 2006 - compared to 9.8% in 1994.

    South Africa's inflation rate (CPIX)
    South Africa's inflation rate (Data source: Statistics South Africa)

    According to the World Wealth Report by Merrill Lynch, the number of South African dollar millionaires rose by nearly 16% in 2005, putting it in the top three countries with the fastest-growing population of the super-rich in the world.

    With all this the country is still one of the cheapest places in the world to do business - thanks to a favourable exchange rate - while still offering sophisticated living standards.

    Incentives for investment

    Incentives for investment
    South Africa offers generous investment incentives, with tariff reforms and relaxed import controls in line with its General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and World Trade Organisation obligations

    All business sectors are open to investors, no government approval is required, and there are almost no restrictions on the form or extent of foreign investment.

    A survey by the World Bank and Department of Trade and Industry has rated South Africa's investment climate as "favourable" in comparison to that of other African countries, and Malaysia, Brazil, Poland and China. The report cites the country's legal protection of property, labour productivity, low tax rates, reasonable regulation, low level of corruption and good access to credit.

    Incentives for exporters include export marketing assistance, zero-rating for value added tax on exports of goods and services and relief from various customs and excise duties.

    Since 2004 foreign companies have been allowed to list on the JSE stock exchange and the Bond Exchange of South Africa, helping attract additional foreign direct investment.

    The Department of Trade and Industry's incentive schemes include investment support, small business development, a competitiveness fund, various innovation and technology schemes, export assistance and industrial development zone programmes.

    South Africa's nine provinces also offer regional incentives, including reduced interest rates, reduced rentals for land and buildings, cash grants for relocation of plant and employees, and reduced rates for basic facilities, railage and other transport.

    Planned industrial, technology and agritourism development initiatives include the Maputo Corridor in Mpumalanga, the Gauteng special economic zone and the Wild Coast and Fish River areas in the Eastern Cape.

    South Africa also has healthy access to major export markets through a number of progressive free-trade agreements. A deal with the European Union gives 95% of our exports duty-free access to the EU over the next 10 years, while 86% of European imports are free of duties.

    The US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) allows South African producers to export an ever-increasing number of products to the United States - free of import duty.

    The Southern African Development Community Free Trade Agreement, to be implemented by 2008, will play a key role in fostering regional prosperity by encouraging intra-regional trade and promoting investment and technology transfers between the 14 SADC member countries.

    Article last updated: April 2007

    SAinfo reporter

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