South Africa: A land of diversity
South Africa, even with its tainted political past, is one of the most visited countries in Africa. With nine provinces, 11 official languages and a fusion of cultures, the first thing you will realise on arriving in South Africa is its diversity. Not only cultural but also geographical.
Situated at the southern tip of Africa, South Africa has a landmass of 1,233,404 square kilometres edged on 3 sides by a nearly 3,000 kilometres of coastline. It is bordered in the north by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and also wraps itself around two independent countries, Lesotho and Swaziland.
South Africa has three capital cities, although there is some debate at the moment that there should only be one. For now, the “Mother City” Cape Town in the south is the legislative capital, Pretoria in the north the administrative capital and Bloemfontein in the centre the judicial capital.
It is relatively easy to reach all parts of South Africa as all the major centres have first class airports with international airports such as the OR Tambo International Airport near the main financial hub, Johannesburg, Cape Town International on the Cape Peninsula and the King Shaka International Airport north of the port city of Durban on the east coast.
Nelson Mandela Bay on the south east coast is also served by the Port Elizabeth “International” Airport, but international flights never land there – apart from during the 2010 Football World Cup when some international flights actually did land in Port Elizabeth. There are also 90 regional airports, of which the most prominent George Airport on the south coast, Kimberley in the Northern Cape, Bloemfontein in the Free State and some smaller airports like the Kruger Mpumalanga “International” Airport (KMIA) in Nelspruit in Mpumalanga in the north east and Polokwane Airport in the Limpopo Province.
The greatest South African to ever live was Nelson Mandela, a statesman who spent 27 years in prison for his role in the struggle against the former white minority rulers’ policy of apartheid: a system designed to separate races in the county. Apartheid in various forms was enforced from 1948 to the early 1990s. The first democratic elections were held in South Africa in 1994 in which the liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC), won convincingly. The party remains in power.
The top 10 cities to visit are:
- Cape Town in the Western Cape, renowned as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is in fact a seaside playground with good food and many wine routes nearby to sample some of the continent’s best cultivars.
- Johannesburg in the Gauteng province was founded on a gold rush. It remains the financial and entertainment epicentre of the country. Locals all it Jozi, and they will show you how it rocks.
- Durban in KwaZulu-Natal is hot in more ways then one: from its sultry nightlife, weather, beaches and heady cultural mix to its famous curries – “Durb’s” is scorching!
- Pretoria is also in Gauteng and not for from Johannesburg. It is seemingly stately with its numerous international embassies, monuments and museums, but is also sports-mad with plenty entertainment in theatres, music venues and nightclubs.
- Port Elizabeth (also known as Nelson Mandela Bay or Metro with surrounding Uitenhage and Despatch included) is situated in the Eastern Cape. Locals call it the “friendly city” while visitors call it the “windy city”. It’s an easy-going bayside metropolis known for its beautiful beaches and is close to many malaria free game reserves – private and state-owned.
- Bloemfontein in the Free State province is in the heart of the country. It’s known for its historic buildings, hospitality and gardens. No wonder it is called the ‘City of Roses’.
- Nelspruit in Mpumalanga is the Gateway to the Kruger National Park and the world-famous game reserves of Sabi-Sabi. See the Big 5!
- Kimberley in the Northern Cape was founded on diamonds. This historic city is home to the Kimberley mine museum and the Great Hole of Kimberley: an open mine dug by hand by miners.
- Polokwane, meaning ‘place of hope’ in the Limpopo province opens the way to the Great Limpopo Transfronteir Park and the mystical, eco-adventure landscapes of Venda, the area where the venda people live on the South African-Zimbabwean border.
- Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal’s hinterland is cherished for its history, colonial character and picturesque countryside. It is also the entry to the Valley of a Thousand Hills with its traditional Zulu huts and traditional lifestyle.
South Africa is Castle Country, with Castle Lager being the official home brewed beer brewed by SAB Miller. However, Castle is being outsold in the township areas by Carling Black Label, a strong lager.
The local currency is the South African Rand – code ZAR. At the moment if hovers to around R22 to Sterling and R16 to the US dollar.
The 11 official languages are: English, Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.
South Africa requires a valid yellow fever certificate from all foreign visitors and citizens over 1 year of age travelling from an infected area or having been in transit through infected areas. For visa requirements, please contact your nearest South African diplomatic mission. Certain areas in South Africa, especially the north east carries a risk of contracting malaria. Contact your doctor or a travel clinic before you travel and take the necessary medication.
British and Irish passport holders visiting South Africa on holiday for up to 90 days don’t need a visa. With effect from 1 June 2015, parents travelling with children into or out of South Africa can be asked to show the child’s full birth certificate, and where only one parent is accompanying, proof of parental or legal authority to travel with the child. Some of these rules were recently relaxed but check before you travel.