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Republic of South Africa, also known by other
official names, is a country located at the southern
tip of the continent of Africa. The South African
coast stretches 2,798 kilometres (1,739 mi) and
borders both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. To
the north of South Africa lie Namibia, Botswana
and Zimbabwe, to the east are Mozambique and Swaziland,
while the Kingdom of Lesotho is an independent
enclave surrounded by South African territory.
Modern human beings have inhabited South Africa
for more than 100,000 years. At the time of European
contact, its indigenous peoples reflected migrations
from other parts of Africa, where new tribes had
become dominant. Two major groups were Xhosa and
In 1652, a century and a half after the discovery
of the Cape Sea Route, the Dutch East India Company
founded a refreshment station at what would become
Cape Town. Cape Town became a British colony
in 1806. European settlement expanded during the
1820s as the Boers (original Dutch, Flemish, German
and French settlers) and the British 1820 Settlers
claimed land in the north and east of the country.
Conflicts arose among the Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaner
groups who competed for territory.
The discovery of diamonds and later gold triggered
the conflict known as the Anglo-Boer War, as the
Boers and the British fought for the control of
the South African mineral wealth. Although the
Boers were defeated, the British gave limited
independence to South Africa in 1910 as a British
dominion. Within the country, anti-British policies
among white South Africans focused on independence.
During the Dutch and British colonial years, racial
segregation was informal. Power was held by the
colonists. In the Boer republics and subsequent
South African governments, the system became legally
institutionalised segregation known as apartheid.
They established three classes of racial stratification:
whites, coloured (including mixed-race people
of European and African origins, as well as Asians,
and mixed-race Asians), and blacks, or indigenous
natives. Apartheid was established by law in 1948,
and additional legislation, such as the Immorality
Act outlawing relations among people of different
racial groups, hardened the legal boundaries.
At the same time, political movements grew internally
among indigenous, mixed-race and whites who opposed
apartheid. At one time the Communist Party actively
supported racial justice.
South Africa achieved its political independence
in 1961 when it was declared a republic. The leading
National Party legislated for a continuation of
apartheid, despite opposition both in and outside
of the country.
In 1990 then-president F.W. de Klerk began to
dismantle the apartheid legislation In 1994 South
Africa held its first democratic election. Nelson
Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC)
came to power, and the country rejoined the Commonwealth
South Africa is known for its diversity in cultures,
languages, and religious beliefs. Eleven official
languages are recognised in the constitution.
English is the most commonly spoken language in
official and commercial public life; however,
it is only the fifth most-spoken home language.
South Africa is ethnically diverse, with the largest
Caucasian, Indian, and racially mixed communities
in Africa. Although 79.6% of the South African
population is Black, this category is neither
culturally nor linguistically homogeneous. People
within this classification represent a variety
of ethnic groups and speak a number of different
Bantu languages, nine of which have official status.
Midyear 2007, the South African population was
estimated at 47.9 million. (Credit:
is the world's second-largest and second most-populous
continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km²
(11.7 million sq mi) including adjacent islands,
it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area
and 20.4% of the total land area.
about 922 million people (as of 2005) in 61 territories,
it accounts for about 14.2% of the World's human
population. The continent is surrounded by the
Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Suez Canal
and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean
to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the
west. There are 53 countries, including Madagascar
and various island groups, associated with the