South Africa: Introduction

  • © MPOnlineRedaktion

    © MPOnlineRedaktion


South Africa is a massive country, and visitors will be spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do. Walks on the Indian Ocean’s sandy beaches, hikes along the stunning Garden Route coastline, hot air ballooning, game park excursions, shark-cage diving or whale watching from the coast are but a few of the options on offer. Distances between key cities are huge. Johannesburg is approximately 1600km (1000mi) from Cape Town, with the semi-desert Karoo region between the two. The coastline stretches some 3000km (1865mi) along the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

A visit to the Kruger National Park is a must

It is up to you how you choose to explore the country: be it by luxury train, motorbike or by car, which is the best option as the country‘s main motorways are excellent. Sheep farms that stretch for miles are a common sight and farmers are now also opening their doors to tourists. Hospitality on the farms is first rate, and the perfect way to get to know the predominantly Afrikaans rural community. Travel via Kimberley when you do the Johannesburg to Cape Town trip, as it is here where the biggest diamond rush of all time took place in the 19th century. Biodiversity in the nature and game reserves is enormous, and a visit to the Kruger National Park, one of the world‘s largest wildlife conservation areas, is a must.

Its moderate sunny climate makes the southernmost tip of Africa an ideal travel destination all year round. October to April are the spring and summer months, which are especially appealing to visitors from the northern hemisphere seeking a reprieve from their dreary winters. When you do the long drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town, and once you have made your way through the final mountain range that separates the Cape from the interior, you will feel as though you have arrived in the Garden of Eden. Stretching before you are vineyards, orchards and fields as far as the eye can see. In the distance, one can see the ocean and Cape Town with its unmistakable landmark, Table Mountain. In the valley below you are wine estates, where you can can sample wines in a picture-perfect setting.

A picture-perfect landscape

It is worth mentioning that the Atlantic coastline up to Namibia remains largely unspoilt. Namaqualand is renowned for its spring flowers, which turn the countryside into a multi-coloured sea of wild flowers from August to October. The Atlantic Ocean can be very cold but the further you head eastwards, away from Cape Town and along the Indian Ocean, the warmer the sea becomes. The popular Garden Route takes you through Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, which forms the first part of this route. It is in the big cities in particular that you will come into contact with the diversity of cultures that is synonymous with South Africa.

Durban, the KwaZulu-Natal metropolis, is home to the Zulu – one of Africa’s proudest tribes – and the next largest group is Asian Indians, who make up about 20 per cent. Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal north coast are popular holiday destinations due to the year round mild tropical climate. Further inland, you will find the captivating Valley of a Thousand Hills and Drakensberg Mountain range – its highest peak, Mont-aux-Sources, lies 3299m (10823ft) above sea level, and is part of the spectacular panorama that awaits you in the Royal Natal National Park.

Then there are the beaches between Mtubatuba and the Mozambican border that are particularly beautiful. In contrast to the lush green KwaZulu-Natal with its abundant rain, there is the Free State and the Northern Province, both of which rely on summer rains and revert to a dry and dusty landscape in winter. It is at this time of year that Africa is at its most impressive. Sunshine during the day juxtaposed by night temperatures that can drop by up to 20° C (68° F) to temperatures below freezing!

The two largest cities, Tshwane and Johannesburg, have almost merged into one, however each has retained its own distinctive identity. Johannesburg is a fast-paced glitzy financial metropolis, whilst Tshwane is a quietly reflective administrative capital. Sprawling townships and squatter camps still abound on both their peripheries, even 18 years after the country’s transition to full democracy in 1994. Some are now equipped with water and electricity, an initiative applauded by the United Nations. The state builds thousands of new houses every year but the population figures are on the rise.

The first European settlement was in Cape Town

Cape Town, affectionately referred to as the Mother City, is where European settlement had its beginnings. When the Portuguese seafarer Bartholomew Diaz came upon the Cape of Storms at the end of the 15th century, it was already home to the Khoisan and San Bushmen. The first settlers in the area surrounding Cape Town were from the Netherlands (later known as the Boers), from Germany, and French Huguenots driven out of France for their faith, who arrived in 1688, and they went on to establish South African’s viticulture industry. When the English, keen to expand their colonial might, arrived in the Cape and introduced some relatively liberal human rights policies, many of the Boers headed inland in 1835.

After a hard fight for freedom, Great Britain declared Cape Town a crown colony in 1899. The British and Boers fought bitterly until the beginning of the 20th century, when the South African Union was founded in 1910. From 1948 onwards, the country became increasingly isolated internationally for its apartheid policies. Crippled by sanctions, the country’s turning point came about during the leadership of President FW (Frederik Willem) de Klerk, who took over government in 1989. He released African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela after almost 30 years in detention, abolished all apartheid laws and set the stage for a peaceful transition to democracy. After the first free elections in 1994, Nelson Mandela was voted into power as South African State President.

South Africa – the rainbow nation

South Africa has since become known as the ‘rainbow nation’ for its colourful mix of cultures and religions. It has eleven official languages – Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Northern Sotho, Sesotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Swati, Ndebele, Venda and English – the latter of which has become the country’s lingua franca and is predominantly spoken in the cities. There are two capital cities: Pretoria, part of the city of Tshwane, is the seat of government while Cape Town is the parliamentary capital. ‘A world in one country – South Africa’ is the very apt slogan synonymous with the country.

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