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You are here » Home Page » South Africa Profile

South Africa Profile

Area: 1,228,376 sq km
Population: 50.6 million (IMF: 2011 estimate)
Capital city: Pretoria/Tshwane (1.78 million)
People: African/Black, White, Coloured, Indian/Asian
Languages: South Africa has eleven officially recognised languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Sepedi, Sesotho, siSwati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
Religion(s): All principal religions are represented in South Africa, but the majority is Christian 79.8% at the 2001 census).
Currency: (ZAR) Rand
Major political parties: African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA), The Congress of the People (COPE), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), United Democratic Movement (UDM), Independent Democrats (ID), South African Communist Party (SACP)
Government: ANC Alliance - ANC/South African Communist Party (SACP)/Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
Head of State: President Mr Jacob Zuma
Foreign Minister: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane
Membership of international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Commonwealth, Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Southern African Development Community (SADC), G20. BASIC, BRICS and IBSA.

Basic economic facts

GDP: US$408 billion (IMF 2011 estimate)
Annual growth: 3.1% (2011)
Inflation: 5.0% annually (2011 average)
Major industries: Finance, real estate and business services; General government, Wholesale, retail & motor trade, catering and accommodation, Manufacturing-automobile assembly, machinery, textile, iron & steel, chemicals, fertiliser, foodstuffs;; Mining (platinum, gold, chromium),  other
Major trading partners: China, USA,  Germany, Japan, UK
Exchange rate: £1 = South African Rand (ZAR) 13.27 (May 2012)

South Africa has a sophisticated and diversified economy where finance, real estate and business services contribute 20.7% to GDP, manufacturing contributes 13.4% and mining plays a critical role in job creation.  For these sectors macro-economic indicators like interest rates and the strength of the Rand are critical. But it also has an economy consisting of the very poor who eke out a living through near-subsistence agriculture or the informal sector, for whom economic statistics mean little. Relatively small improvements in living standards can make a huge difference to their lives.

Prudent macroeconomic policies and tight banking regulation limited the impact of the global downturn on South Africa during the global financial crisis. And years of fiscal responsibility provided the space for the government to respond effectively when the country briefly dipped into recession in 2009. The National Treasury continues to implement a counter cyclical fiscal policy and forecasts a deficit of 4.8% of GDP for 2011/12 declining to 3% by 2014/15.

The National Treasury warned in February 2012 that the global outlook had once again deteriorated and that much of Europe, South Africa’s major trading partner, risked slipping into recession. This could harm domestic growth prospects. The National Treasury downgraded its growth forecast for 2012 from 3.4% to 2.7%. It is then expected to recover, reaching 4.2% by 2014. The forecasted growth rate falls short of the 6% rate analysts believe the country needs to tackle its stubbornly high unemployment levels. The official unemployment figure is 25.2% but the real figure is probably nearer 40%. Two thirds of all unemployed are below the age of 35.

The South African Government has embarked on an ambitious multi-year capital expenditure programme worth approximately £70 billion, to tackle infrastructure bottlenecks in energy, transport and water. It is hoped that the infrastructure programme will create short term employment and also provide the infrastructure necessary for the economy to grow at a faster pace in the longer term.

South Africa’s trade rhetoric is firmly focused on the BRICS (which it officially joined in February 2011) and it strives to be seen as the ‘gateway to Africa.’ But it still has strong links to the Western economies. Its trade with the EU, at £30bn, is still over double that of its single largest trading partner, China, at £13bn.

International Monetary Fund - South Africa
Black Economic Empowerment

Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is the main thrust of attempts to correct the imbalance in ownership of the economy and distribution of wealth. Its intention is to redress the exclusion of the majority of South Africans from the mainstream economy by supporting and favouring the economic empowerment of previously disadvantaged people in the private sector.

A Black Economic Empowerment Commission chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa reported to the Government in 2001 and in March 2003 the Government released a strategy document entitled South Africa's Economic Transformation, A Strategy for Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment. It provides a clear definition and guidelines for businesses to follow. In 2004, the Government published the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act and Codes of Good Practice to increase the pace of BEE and to broaden it beyond pure business ownership to include management, employment, skills development and corporate social investment.

International relations

South Africa rapidly reintegrated into the international community after the isolation of the apartheid years.  It was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 1994 and hosted the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Durban in November 1999.  South Africa was Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) from August 1998 to March 2003.  It hosted the inaugural meeting of the African Union (AU) in July 2002 and was the first Chair, and is a key member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South Africa joined other African and Asian countries in signing the New Africa Asia Strategic Partnership in Jakarta on 24 April 2005, and held the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China during 2006.   South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup from 11 June to 11 July. South Africa is currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (from 2011-2012). South Africa hosted COP17 in Durban in December 2011, the UNFCCC negotiations, which secured agreement towards a legally binding outcome on climate change. South Africa continues to Chair the negotiations until the eve of COP18 at the end of 2012.

South Africa's new administration is increasingly focused on a foreign policy that helps it deliver its domestic priorities.  Key to this is a secure and integrated continent that is able to take its rightful place in the international community.  Its foreign policy therefore is focussed on conflict resolution and development in Africa and on developing partnerships with other like-minded nations to present the South's case in multinational fora.  It has backed its political activities by providing peacekeepers and development support in Burundi, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and mediated on behalf of the AU in the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.

The AU has endorsed SADC’s regional lead on Zimbabwe.  South Africa has been directly impacted by a flood of Zimbabweans south which has put pressure on its own services (and resulted in incidents of xenophobic violence); there are currently three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa.  President Zuma is the SADC appointed Facilitator of the Global Political Agreement between the political parties in Harare to help bolster the fragile power-sharing agreement there.


South Africa's land area is 1,228,376 sq km (larger than the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany combined). It borders Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe to the north, and entirely surrounds Lesotho (a total land border of 4,750 km). It has a coastline of 2,954 km, with few natural harbours.

The coastal strip is below 1,500 feet fringed by steep mountain ranges, with a high plateau in the interior ranging up to 6,000 feet above sea level. On the west coast, the cold Atlantic current creates arid scrubland terrain. Higher levels of rainfall on the central plateau produce grassland. A continuous mountain range runs down the east coast warmed by the Indian Ocean giving a sub-tropical climate. The north of the country has savannah-type vegetation, whilst the southern tip has a Mediterranean-type climate.

Covering only 3% of the African continent, South Africa accounts for a massive 40% of industrial output and is by far the most sophisticated free-market economy in Africa. The South African Government has embarked on an ambitious five year capital expenditure programme worth approximately £74 billion, with the majority of the spending taking place in public infrastructure and power generation.

World Bank

The ANC won South Africa's first non-racial general elections in April 1994. Nelson Mandela became President and a Government of National Unity was formed; Commonwealth membership was restored and the remaining international sanctions against South Africa lifted. South Africa took up her seat in the UN after a 20-year absence. Parliament approved a new South African Constitution on 8 May 1996. Mandela handed over leadership of the ANC to Thabo Mbeki in December 1997, who succeeded him as State President following the general elections of 1999. In 2007 Jacob Zuma took over from Mbeki as leader of the ANC.

On 22 April 2009, South Africa held its fourth General Election since the end of apartheid. ANC President Jacob Zuma was elected President for a five-year term. The ANC won 65.9% of the national vote (down from 69.7% in 2004). The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) won the Province of the Western Cape from the ANC and increased its national share to 16.7%. New party Coalition of the People (COPE - formed from former ANC members) achieved 7.4%, emerging as the official opposition in five of South Africa's Provinces. COPE is the third largest party (in terms of representation) in South Africa. The combined share of the smaller parties halved from 2004 to 4.72%. 

South Africa held local elections on 17 May 2011. Turnout was 57% and the ruling ANC won comfortably with 61.95% of the vote (down from 66%). But inroads were made by the principal opposition party: the DA) won 24% of the vote- up from 16%. The improved DA support illustrated the success of its efforts to shed its white middle class image and build a reputation for getting things done for local communities. The next key moments for the ANC and President Zuma will be the 2012 leadership conferences.  Presidential elections will take place in South Africa in 2014.

The press

The Star - Johannesburg-based daily, city's oldest newspaper

The Sowetan - Johannesburg-based tabloid

Daily Sun - mass-circulation tabloid

Beeld - largest Afrikaans daily

Mail & Guardian - weekly, operates Mail & Guardian online

Business Day - daily

Financial Mail - business weekly

Sunday Times/The Times - South Africa's oldest Sunday newspaper; publishes subscription-only daily


SABC - state broadcaster, operates three national TV networks, two pay-TV channels - free-to-air commercial network

M-Net - pay-TV, pan-African audience


SABC - state broadcaster with 20 regional and national services in 11 languages, including: national English-language network SAfm; contemporary music station 5 FM; national Afrikaans station Radio Sonder Grense; national Zulu station Ukhozi FM; Sesotho station Lesedi FM

Channel Africa - SABC's external radio service, targeted at the African continent

YFM - popular Johannesburg commercial R&B, soul and hip-hop station

702 Talk Radio - Johannesburg commercial news and talk station

News agency

South African Press Association (SAPA)

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