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June 2010

South Africa

South Africa

South Africa (officially, Republic of South Africa) lies at the southern most tip of the African continent. Its administrative capital is Pretoria, the legislative capital is Cape Town and the judicial capital is Bloemfontein; other major cities include: Johannesburg, Durban, and Port Elizabeth. The terrain of South Africa is a vast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain. Its climate is mostly semiarid and subtropical along the east coast.

Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of modern day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the Dutch settlers (the Boers) trekked north to found their own republics. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration and intensified the subjugation of the native inhabitants. The Boers resisted British encroachments but were defeated in the Boer War (1899-1902); however, the British and the Afrikaners, as the Boers became known, ruled together beginning in 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a whites-only referendum.

In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid - the separate development of the races - which favored the white minority at the expense of the black majority. The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 brought an end to apartheid and ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. Jacob Zuma became president after the ANC won general elections in April 2009.

The natural resources of South Africa are: gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, and natural gas. Natural hazards faced by the country are primarily prolonged droughts. The estimated population of South Africa is 49,109,107 (July 2010); the area of the country is 1.2 million sq. km. (470,462 sq. mi.).

The 2010 FIFA World Cup (beginning June 11th) will hold matches in several South African cities: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Mangaung/Bloemfontein, Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, Nelspruit, Polokwane, Rustenburg, and Tshwane/Pretoria.

U.S. State Department Background Notes; CIA World Factbook, 2/2010; 5/2010