Area Guide – South Africa

Here you will gain an insight into the history of South Africa, its geography and its people. We have also added some information that could be of use when travelling to South Africa.

At the tip of Africa lies “The place where two oceans meet': Cape Point where the lighthouse stands like a sentinel on the rocks and is lashed by strong winds and seas. Spreading northwards from this dramatic point, the hinterland of South Africa extends over an area of more than 1.2 million square metres bordered by 2,500 miles of coastline. On the eastern coast the warm current of the Indian Ocean sweeps down from the Tropics, bringing abundant rain and lush semi-tropical vegetation. Meanwhile to the west, the icy Atlantic Ocean with its Benguela current originating in Antarctica, pounds the coast. This cold current carries with it rich fish stocks but as it doesn't free its moisture, it accounts for the desert to be found on this side of South Africa.

Inland, South Africa builds from the narrow coastal plain, through mountain ranges to a high central plateau. Here the vegetation varies from the semi-arid areas of the Karoo to the grasslands of the upper plains known as the Highveld. Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, is located here at a height of 1753 metres above sea level. Travel on beyond to the Lowveld and to Rudyard Kipling's “Great, grey, green greasy Limpopo river “ which forms the northern border with Zimbabwe.

The earliest inhabitants of South Africa were the Khoikhoi and San people they met with. These were virtually wiped out by the settlers from the Dutch East India Company when they landed at the Cape in 1652. The survivors of the San moved to the more inhospitable desert areas of the country while the Khoikhoi were decimated by European diseases, while a few married into the Malay slave population and their culture was completely wiped out. The drive for land led settlers to push further inland and here they came into conflict with first the Xhosa people who lived on the east coast and, further north, the Zulus. Wars, enslavement and land occupation followed, much of it fuelled by the discovery of diamonds and gold. Both the Boers and the British fought the indigenous peoples in their quest for land and riches. The Boer War at the end of the nineteenth century led to South Africa becoming a British Colony.

In 1933, a coalition government led by General Smuts gained independence from Britain while a delegation from the ANC was totally ignored. During the 1950's apartheid policies were made law and were ruthlessly applied until 1992 when the leader of the ANC, Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were released and the process of democratisation began. The first full and free elections in South Africa were held in 1994 with Nelson Mandela and the ANC winning a clear majority.

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu called South Africans the Rainbow Nation, his analogy was an apt description because the population of South Africa is extremely varied. Not only are there the various black peoples, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho and Ndbele to name a few, but a thriving Asian population exists, along with white people from many European countries, as well as a mixed race community. A look at the eleven official languages gives an idea of the diversity in South Africa's population. Although English is the lingua franca and the first official language of the country, it is not the native tongue of many of its people. Travelling through the country, you are likely tol hear all of the following: Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. Many European languages including German, Greek and Portuguese are also spoken in minor communities.

Today, South Africa is divided into nine provinces:

  • Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape in the west and south.
  • Free State in the central region.
  • Limpopo and North West in the north and northwest.
  • KwaZulu-Natal in the eastern region.
  • Gauteng and Mpumalanga in the northeast.

The South African climate is as diverse as its landscape and people. KwaZulu-Natal has a luxuriant subtropical vegetation and climate with year round warmth and summer rainfall. Down the coast to the Eastern Cape the climate is temperate, while in the Western Cape you will experience Mediterranean type weather and plant life. Inland the winters are dry with warm days and cold nights and the areas in the North near the Limpopo are tropical. Being in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed and visitors from Europe can enjoy full summer when their home countries are in the grip of winter.

No visit to South Africa would be complete without a trip to one of the many game reserves where you can see “The big five' - lions, rhinoceros, elephant, leopard and buffalo. However it would be a shame to limit your viewing to them as South Africa has a wealth of flora and fauna on offer. The Cape is justly proud of its floral kingdom where species well known to gardeners throughout the world originated. Numerous types of antelope roam through unexpected areas many elusive and difficult to spot.

The dry, Cape West Coast blooms in years when there have been desert rains and the arid landscape is carpeted with flowers as far as the eye can see. Travel along the Garden Route through forests of yellow wood and stinkwood trees with moss hanging from branches like eerie ghosts; then wind though spectacular mountain passes to the shore where the oceans wash the long stretches of white sand. Here surfers from all corners of the world gather to enjoy the challenges offered by the enormous waves that sweep the coast. In all, South Africa is a traveller's dream, offering a variety of sights and a myriad of opportunities for sport and adventure.

Information Required When Travelling to South Africa


Visas are not required if you hold a valid passport from one of the following countries and you do not intend to stay more than 90 days:

Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom Guernsey and Jersey, Isle of Man and Virgin Islands, Republic of Ireland.


Yellow Fever vaccination certificates are required for journeys starting in, or crossing the Yellow Fever belt of Africa and from South America.

Time Zone:

GMT + 2 hours


220 – 230 v 50 Hz

Weights and Measures:


Tel. Dialling Code:


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