ABOUT SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa, home to approximately 52 million people, is an amazingly diverse and richly cultured country sitting at the foot of the African continent and the last land mass on a North/South transit from Europe prior to reaching Antarctica. Neighboured by land to the North by Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and to the East by Mozambique and Swaziland, South Africa’s Southern and Eastern borders are made up of over 2500km of coastline and stunning beaches lapped by the Indian and Atlantic Oceans making this a country of real contrasts and natural beauty.
With an intriguing formative political history, South Africa’s cultures and people reflect the exceptional diversity of its scenery and terrain which in combination, make the ‘Rainbow Nation’ one of the world’s most exciting volunteer and holiday destinations.
Home to vibrant Cape Town and Natural World Wonder Table Mountain, hundreds of beautiful beaches, breath-taking scenery, the famous Big 5 and of course, the Kruger Park – South Africa truly has something to offer for everyone and sights, people and experiences that will leave a positive and lasting impression on all who visit this epic country!
Climatically, South Africa displays the same diversity across its land area of around 1.2million square kilometers as its terrain and cultural influences. Overall, ‘The Rainbow Nation’ enjoys a generally temperate, Mediterranean style climate though this does vary greatly across the country. In the far Northwest towards the Namibian border lies a distinct desert climatic region housing the Southern portion of the Namib Desert, this same climatic zone extends through most of the interior and North of the country with little rainfall and high average temperatures. Towards the Northeast though, and owing largely to the influence of the Indian Ocean, this desert zone develops into a lush, subtropical region housing the world famous Kruger Park and border with Mozambique. The Southern coastal regions of the country are generally temperate with wet winters and warm summers and it is this climate to which the famous Garden Route partly owes its lushious greenery!
Across South Africa, and particularly in the temperate Southern coastal regions of the Western Cape, Winter generally occurs from approximately May to August with Summer generally regarded as being from late November all the way through to April. South Africa is definitely a sunny country, averaging 8-10 daily sunshine hours in most regions with an average annual rainfall of only around 450mm but again, this does vary across the country. Average rainfall is greatest in the East under the tropical influence bought by the Indian Ocean and gradually decreases the further West, and from South to North you move producing semi-desert biomes along our North Western borders. For most of the country, rain falls mainly in the summer months in brief but heavy afternoon thunderstorms, the exception to this being the Western Cape (Cape Town area) where the Mediterranean style climate tends to produce more rain in the wintertime and dry, hot summers.
Even in winter though, remember daytime temperatures may still average around 20 degrees celcius even if does get a bit cooler overnight! Whatever time of year you decide to visit South Africa though and whatever the weather may be, you can always be assured of a warm welcome!
Culturally, South Africa is a hugely diverse nation and it is this variety since the end of Apartheid (literally meaning ‘the state of being apart’ or ‘apart-hood’) that has given rise to the ‘Rainbow Nation’ concept under which today’s South Africa is beginning to flourish. This diversity of cultures is largely due to the formative effects of hundreds of years of separate colonisation’s, recent governance and political change which today, sees languages spoken, beliefs and ethnicity all hugely varied as a result – indeed South Africa’s constitution officially recognises 11 different languages which is among the highest of any country in the world!
Within South Africa, two of the more commonly spoken languages are both of European origin being English, commonly used in public and commercial life and Afrikaans (of Dutch origin) which serves as the main language of most white and coloured South Africans. South Africans of black ancestry (approx 80% of the population) share a variety of ethnicities and speak a variety of Bantu languages dependent on their origins (various ‘Bantu’ languages are spoken across Sub-Saharan Africa) with the most common of these being Xhosa and Zulu dependent on the region.
Previous evidence of Apartheid, a dark remnant of South Africas past.
Probably the major formative factor of the South Africa we see today though was Apartheid which fortunately no longer officially exists in today’s society but regrettably, many of the after effects still remain. In brief, Apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa classifying inhabitants into four racial groups (black, white, coloured and Indian) with all non-white groups suffering forced segregation in residential areas, education, medical care, beaches and often enduring inferior public services compared to those of whites. Under these segregational laws, different races were also forced to live in separated communities and despite now being 20 years since its abolition, the remnants and effects of this system are still seen in South Africa on a widespread scale with a high percentage of the countries inhabitants still living in these ‘townships’ or ‘lokasies’.
Owing largely to the lack of service provision (including sewerage, running water and electricity on occasions and depending on location) during this time, scarcity of employment and exceptionally high population density within such townships, inequality and social issues in such townships are still present, but, thankfully, for the most part are improving gradually.
With the exuberance though and vibrance of South Africa’s people and the abolition of Apartheid now being a distant memory for most, the future is bright for the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and a warm, friendly welcome is guaranteed to all volunteers choosing to visit this amazing country!
South Africa across its large land mass is again a country of huge contrasts, varying geographical features and vegetation biomes. Today, South Africa’s various geographical biomes are predominantly governed by climate and show a marked variance from West to East of the country. The West and North of South Africa are exceptionally dry, semi-arid desert regions compared to the Eastern limits of the country where under the influence of the Indian Ocean, a much ‘greener’, tropical South Africa is evident and the home of the world-renowned Kruger National Park.
South Africa’s variety of local biomes also cover an equally varied topological makeup. From the length of South Africa’s 2500km of coastline, a narrow, low lying coastal plain then runs inland before giving way to the Great Escarpment which acts as barrier between the coast and the high inland plateau.
The high lying inland plateau is home again to several distinct regions such as the Highveld, Great and Little Karoo to name just a few of the more well-known areas. These areas though have no distinct boundaries and are largely defined by the underlying vegetation.
To fully describe all of South Africa’s geographical characteristics would be a mammoth task – suffice to say though from the lowveld and tropical regions of the East Coast through winter skiing possibilities in the high interior to the desert regions of the North and East, South Africa is very much a country of contrasts and unique natural beauty sure to hold something to capture the imagination of all who visit this amazing country!
SOME USEFUL INFO ON SOUTH AFRICA
Time Zone: GMT +2
Population: Approx 52 Million
Currency: South African Rand (ZAR) (U.S $1 = approx R10)
Flight time from Europe: Approx 11 hours
Cape Town (legislative)
80% Black African
+ many tribal dialects
International Dial Code: +27
Internet TLD: .co.za
Drive on the: Left
Electricity (plug) type: 220/230V – 3 Round Pin Plug