South Africa

Quick Facts

Region: Africa



About 92 percent of South Africans are Christians, 2 percent are Hindus, and 2 percent are Muslims. Hindus are mainly Indian, and Muslims either Indian or Coloured although there has been some growth of Islam among Coloured people in recent years. The Christian churches include over 4000 African independent churches that collectively claim over 8.5 million adherents. African independent churches originally broke off from various mission churches. The majority of these independent churches are Zionist or Apostolic churches, with some independent branches of the Pentecostal movement. Most Afrikaners belong to one of the three Dutch Reformed churches whose 4.5 million members also include about half of the Coloured people and a small number of black people. The Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (Afrikaans for 'Dutch Reformed Church') is the largest of the Dutch Reformed churches with 4 million members including the Coloured and African membership. It was a racially segregated church that supported the state during the apartheid years, but then recanted and moved closer to other churches. Other denominations include Roman Catholics (2.91 million), Methodists (2.25 million), Anglicans (1.46 million), Lutherans (0.96 million), and Presbyterians (0.56 million). The larger churches in this group were prominent in the struggle against apartheid, at least at the leadership level. Most people who claim no religious affiliation are African traditionalists. Their religion has a strong cultural base and rituals vary according to ethnic group. They generally recognize a supreme being, but ancestors are much more important, and they believe in manipulation of the power of spirits. Traditionalists have had some contact with Christianity and many are in a transitional position, incorporating aspects of both religions into their beliefs and worship.


Until apartheid ended in 1994 only Afrikaans and English were official languages, although they represent the home languages of only 15 percent and 9 percent of the total population, respectively. The 1994 constitution added nine African languages to the list of recognized, official languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho sa Leboa (Northern Sotho or Pedi), Tswana, Sesotho (Southern Sotho), Tsonga, Venda, Ndebele, and siSwati. Some of these African languages are mutually understood and many black South Africans can speak two or more of them, in addition to English and Afrikaans. These 11 languages are the primary languages of 98 percent of South Africans. Many Indians also speak Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Gujarati, and Urdu. In practice English and, to a lesser extent, Afrikaans retain a dominant position, with English as the main medium of instruction in schools and most universities. The black population is composed of four main linguistic groups, all of whom speak Bantu languages belonging to the Benue-Congo subgroup of the Niger-Congo language family. The Tsonga and Venda constitute the other two major linguistic groupings. The country's white population are either Afrikaans or English speaking.

Area (sq. km):
1,221,037 square meters


GMT +2

When To Travel

A number of different geographic regions form South Africa. The lowveld, which covers most of the coastal areas, generally offers warm summers and cool winters – although further towards the Cape the winter months (June-August) are decidedly cold. From September to November the weather is unpredictable, and the warmest months are from December to March. The highveld, which takes in much of the interior, including Johannesburg and the eastern Transvaal, is at close to 1670 m and this has a tempering effect on the climate, making the summer months cooler and the winters very cold. Rain can be expected at any time of the year, and summer rain is common.

South Africa enjoys a generally warm, temperate climate with most of the country experiencing light rainfall and long hours of sunshine. Since most of South Africa is at a high elevation, temperatures tend to be lower than those of other regions at similar latitudes. Of note is the striking difference between temperatures on the east and west coasts as the east coast is influenced by the warm Agulhas Current whilst the west coast is influenced by the cold Benguela Current. Rainfall is typically unpredictable. The Western cape region has a Mediterranean climate with westerly winds from the Atlantic bringing winter rainfall mostly between June and September. Throughout the remainder of the country including the eastern provinces rainfalls primarily in summer between October and April. In the drier regions of the plateaus the amount of rainfall and the beginning of the rainy season vary greatly from year to year. Snow is rare except in the higher parts of the Drakensberg, but winter frosts occur on the higher parts of the plateau.


PLEASE NOTE: If visiting Cape Town, the Cableway up to Table Mountain will be closed for annual maintenance from 22 July to 25 August 2013.

Useful Travel Facts


The major international airport is Johannesburg's Oliver Tambo International Airport, whilst international flights also land in Cape Town International Airport. There are many domestic airports throughout the country.


The international dialling code for South Africa is +27. Telephone calls, especially international ones, can be expensive when made from a hotel. We suggest you check the price first. If you have a mobile phone it should be a relatively simple procedure to arrange ‘global roaming’ with your service provider; however, charges are generally very high so be sure to check this option thoroughly. You should also check with your service provider to see if your mobile phone is compatible with the networks used in Africa. Phone calls made from public telephone offices are generally your cheapest option, but the most economical and convenient option is to get yourself a South African SIM card and insert that in your mobile phone.


The electricity supply in Africa is rated at 220 volts/50 cycles, and appliances requiring 240 volts will work normally. If you bring electrical appliances you should also bring an international adaptor. Round three pin plugs are the most common types in southern Africa.


One of the trademark products of South Africa is the alcoholic drink - amarula. This is a creamy liqueur very similar to Bailey's and is made form the fruit of the marula tree.


South Africa has the normal array of African curios on offer. These include wooden carvings, beaded jewellery, soapstone carvings, products made from skins and hides.

Visa: Australians, Americans, Canadians, British and New Zealanders do not currently require a visa for South Africa. Upon arrival you will be given a free three-month multi-entry visa stamp. For all other nationalities please reconfirm your visa requirements with your travel agent. Please note that you require six blank pages and your passport needs to have a minimum of six months validity to enter South Africa. Also note that to enter South Africa you may be required to show proof of onward travel plans and a valid yellow fever certificate (especially if entering or re-entering from East African countries or Zambia).

A new immigration regulation will take effect from 1st October 2014, whereby parents will need to produce an original unabridged birth certificate if they are travelling with children. The new regulation has been put in place to protect children from being abducted, kidnapped and preventing child trafficking. The Department of Home Affairs has urged all parents to apply for unabridged certificates for their children. This is an requirement of the immigration regulation 6 (12)(a) for parents travelling with children. More information can be found here:

Useful Words & Phrases

Further Reading

South Africa - Lonely Planet

The Covenant - James A Michener

Cry The Beloved Country - Alan Paton

The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay

Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela

White Thorn - Bryce Courtenay