Knowing a few interesting facts about South Africa can broaden your knowledge and understanding of this amazing country. There are so many things to know that will help you appreciate the country’s rich cultural heritage, and its diverse and unique history.
South Africa has played a significant role in world events and is known for its stunning natural beauty and wildlife, as well as its struggles with apartheid and the ongoing efforts towards reconciliation and equality.
As one of the largest economies on the African continent, understanding a bit more about South Africa is important for business, trade, and global relations. Let’s dig into these fun and interesting facts about South Africa!
Interesting Facts About South Africa
1. A Land of Diversity
This amazing country features a landscape like no other on earth, which is one of my favorite fun facts about South Africa. While a variety of places have several different ecosystems that are prominent, South Africa features pretty much all of them! Deserts, wetlands, mountains, forests, subtropical coastal areas and grasslands are just some of the landscapes you’ll come across when you explore this incredible country!
2. Second in Beer Production
SABMiller is the second-largest brewery in the world. Locals love their beer but not as much as China; the company supplies around 50% of China’s beer.
3. A huge Bicycle Race
It features up to 35,000 cyclists and it runs 109 kilometers across the south peninsula of Cape Town and Chapman’s Peak Coastal Drive. This is the Cape Town Cycle Tour and it’s the biggest bicycle race in the entire world.
4. A Brave Move in an Increasingly Hostile World
While many countries already have them and refuse to let them go and others are trying to get them, South Africa voluntarily started to dismantle its nuclear weapon arsenal in 1989. It’s the only country in the world to do so.
5. A First in Healthcare
Heart surgery is no joke and in 1967, the first successful surgery of this type was performed at a hospital in Cape Town.
6. Many Bird Species
One of South Africa’s most notable claims to fame in the natural world is the fact that the country is home to about 10% of the bird species on the planet. Approximately 900 species of birds, including penguins, ostriches and vultures, can be spotted around the country. If you’re looking for something unique to do when visiting South Africa, you can actually view the largest colony of African Penguins at Boulders Beach near Cape Town.
7. A Migration Seen from Space
It’s up to 15 kilometers long, three kilometers wide and 40 meters deep and can be seen from space. I’m talking about an annual event known as the Sardine Run. This fish migration takes place every year between May and July and sees the fish travel from cooler waters off Cape Point to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
8. Solid Proof that Humans Originated in Africa
Human remains that were discovered in South Africa are thought to be much older than 160,000 years, which is one of the coolest South Africa facts.
That makes these remains the oldest ever discovered anywhere and also provides some pretty solid proof to the age-old belief that humans originated in South Africa.
9. A Shipwreck Hunters Dream
South Africa is located in a unique position that’s known for adverse weather conditions, particularly near the coast and in the waters surrounding it. These conditions play a big role in the more than 3,000 shipwrecks that can be found around the coast, many of them dating back as far as 500 years!
10. A Country within a Country
Now, this is one of the most fascinating facts about South Africa. The entire Kingdom of Lesotho, which is an entirely separate nation from South Africa, is entirely surrounded by South Africa. In other words, it’s situated right in the center of the country! We loved renting a car in South Africa, and road tripping into Lesotho years ago!
11. A Young Country
The median age in South Africa is 27 which makes it one of the youngest countries in the world.
12. A Country Rich in Diamonds and Gold
Diamonds were first uncovered in South Africa in the mid-1800s and the discovery of gold followed not long after in the latter part of that century. Today, it’s thought that as much as 49% of the world’s diamonds and 20% of the world’s gold comes from South Africa (Many others are in Namibia and Botswana).
In 1905, the biggest diamond ever uncovered anywhere on earth was found in a mine in Pretoria. It was a 3,106-carat diamond, weighing a whopping 1.33 pounds, and called the Cullinan Diamond. It was cut into several smaller diamonds, the largest of which is known as the Great Star of Africa and is set in the British Crown Jewels.
It’s also worth mentioning that South Africa is also a huge producer of other precious metals and the country is also the first to turn coal into oil.
13. South Africa has many Official Languages
This is one of the not so well known facts about South Africa. While it’s normal for a country to have up to three official languages, South Africa has 11 which makes it the country with the most official languages in the world.
The language used for business and media communications is English which most people speak along with Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans.
14. First the Portuguese, then the Dutch and British
Contrary to popular belief, the Portuguese were the first European explorers to land in South Africa but they didn’t colonize it. That came later with the Dutch followed by the British.
A number of well-known celebrities have roots in South Africa including Charlize Theron, Sig James, Elon Musk and Basil Rathbone.
16. Bobotie is a Must-try When in South Africa
Prepared and served in many homes and eateries around the country, Bobotie is not just a delicious and popular dish in South Africa, it’s also the national dish! If minced meat cooked with spices, herbs and dried fruit and capped with egg before baking sounds good, you won’t have a problem finding this dish anywhere around the country.
17. Inequality is Rife
Even though 80% of South Africa’s population is Black (Coloured 8.8%, White 8.4%, Indian/Asian 2.5%), 80% of the land and resources are owned by white people of Dutch and British descent whose ancestors came to the country seeking riches in its resources.
To this day, South Africa has a high level of income inequality, with one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world. The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality, with 0 representing perfect equality (where everyone has the same income) and 1 representing perfect inequality (where one person has all the income).
As of 2021, the estimated Gini coefficient for South Africa was around 0.63, which is considered to be extremely high. This inequality is largely due to the legacy of apartheid, which resulted in a highly unequal distribution of wealth and resources between different racial groups in the country.
Despite some efforts to reduce inequality in recent years, it remains a significant challenge in South Africa, and addressing it will require sustained and focused action from the government and other stakeholders.
18. Fruit for Everyone
Apples, bananas, berries, coconuts, grapefruit, nectarines, papaya, plums, watermelon, lemons, limes, pears. You name the fruit and it’s likely produced in South Africa.
19. Rooibos Tea comes From South Africa
It has recently gained popularity everywhere else, but South Africa has long been the world’s only producer of Rooibos Tea.
20. An Old Peak
Table Mountain is thought to be one of the oldest mountains on the planet at around 260 million years old. Today, it’s one of the seven Natural Wonders and a popular place for tourists from all over the world.
21. Blooming Table Mountain
It may sound hard to believe, but Table Mountain has more species of flowers than the entire United Kingdom! Over 8,000 species grow on the mountain.
22. The Tallest Waterfall on Earth
At 3,225 feet, Tugela Falls in the Drakensberg Mountains is now considered to be the highest waterfall on earth and one of the most stunning waterfalls in Africa. It was once thought to be Angel Falls in Venezuela which is now a close second.
23. Three Capitals for One Country
This is one of our top things to know about South Africa! If someone were to ask what the capital of South Africa is, they would get a peculiar answer! They would be told that there are not one but three capitals of South Africa and it’s the only country in the world to have three capital cities. Cape Town, Pretoria and Bloemfontein are the three cities that serve as capitals and each serves a different purpose.
24. A Human Rights First
Despite a long history of human rights violations in other areas, South Africa became the first country on the African continent to legalize same-sex marriage in 2006. Also notable is that it’s the fifth country worldwide to do so.
25. A Large Landmass
It’s three times larger than Texas and five times larger than Japan and South Africa is 24th of all countries in the world in terms of landmass.
26. Home to a Very Small Animal
The Least Dwarf Shrew is common in South Africa and it’s known for being the smallest mammal on earth.
27. Where Mighty Oceans Meet
The southern tip of South Africa is a unique point in the country because it’s where the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean meet. At this point, known as Cape Agulhas, the weather conditions on the water can be unpredictable and sometimes quite treacherous due to the mixing of warm and cold water and the meeting of various ocean currents.
28. The Highest Place to Take a Leap
If you’re looking for the ultimate bungee jumping experience, South Africa has it! Situated in Tsitsikamma in the Western Cape region of the country, you’ll find the highest commercial bungee jump in the world. When you leap off Bloukrans Bridge, which is the highest bridge In Africa, you’ll plunge 709 feet to the Bloukrans River Valley below.
29. HIV is Very Common in South Africa
South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world. It also has the highest level of income inequality in the world which is thought to be one of the factors contributing to the high rates of infection.
30. A City with a lot of Trees
In Johannesburg, it’s estimated that there are around six million trees. The city is also thought to be home to the biggest man-made forest on the planet.
31. A Man of Many Names
Most people around the world know him as Nelson Mandela but the same man is also known by five other names, all of them given to him for different reasons. He was born Rolihlahla but was given a much easier-to-pronounce English name, Nelson, by his school teacher who couldn’t pronounce his birth name.
At 16, he was given another name and later in life, he went by several other names mostly used by people in his home country.
32. Apartheid was Law for a Time
South Africa was not a good place to live for Black people during the period of Apartheid that lasted almost five decades. During this time, whites ruled the country and had more rights than blacks. Segregation became the norm and many blacks were forced to leave the country while others were jailed, exiled, or killed.
After years of protests and civil disobedience, the laws were repealed and Nelson Mandela, a man known for his human rights work and for serving 27 years in prison for fighting these injustices, was elected president. Apartheid is a very long subject that is essential to learn about before traveling to South Africa, we suggest you read up on here, or watch a few movies about South Africa.
33. Travel in the Lap of Luxury
Imagine a train ride so exclusive that the ticket to travel its main route costs more than a plane ticket to travel between the same two cities. Well, there is such a luxurious train ride. At least for the hefty price, you would hope it’s luxurious!
The South African Rovos Rail is said to be the most luxurious train service on earth. The luxury accommodations and lavish amenities make the 17-hour journey from Johannesburg and Cape Town much more comfortable than a cramped flight between the two destinations!
Boarding in Cape Town, is one of the most romantic things to do in Cape Town!
34. What’s a Springbok
If you’ve never heard of the Springbok, you will in South Africa because this gazelle-like mammal is the national animal of the country. They are so common and revered in the country that a rugby team is named after the animal. Keep your eyes open for them in areas of wide-open bush and grasslands near bodies of water.
35. An Old and Large Meteor Crater
Located near Johannesburg, there’s a meteor crater so large it can be seen from space! The crater, known as Vredefort Dome, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
36. Where Macadamia Nuts Hail From
The majority of the macadamia nuts produced in the world come from South Africa.
37. What are the Odds?
South Africa has its share of Nobel Peace Prize winners but two of them share a peculiar thing in common; Both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived on the same street, Vilakazi Street, in Johannesburg.
38. A World Leader in Wine Production
The road to becoming one of the world’s top wine-producing countries was not a long one for South Africa. Wine only started being produced in the country in the mid-1600s but today, South African wine is enjoyed all over the world.
The country is home to the longest continuous wine route in the world. Route 62 through the Cape Winelands region is 850 kilometers long and features 560 wineries and over 4,000 producers. Two of the most popular places to visit in South Africa if you love wine are Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
We hope you enjoyed these facts about South Africa. For more facts around the world see below.
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