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Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of modern day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the Dutch settlers (the Boers) trekked north to found their own republics. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration and intensified the subjugation of the native inhabitants. The Boers resisted British encroachments but were defeated in the Boer War (1899-1902); however, the British and the Afrikaners, as the Boers became known, ruled together beginning in 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a whites-only referendum. In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid - the separate development of the races - which favored the white minority at the expense of the black majority. The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson MANDELA, spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 brought an end to apartheid and ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. South Africa since then has struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in decent housing, education, and health care. ANC infighting, which has grown in recent years, came to a head in September 2008 when President Thabo MBEKI resigned, and Kgalema MOTLANTHE, the party's General-Secretary, succeeded him as interim president. Jacob ZUMA became president after the ANC won general elections in April 2009. In January 2011, South Africa assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2011-12 term.


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Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa

Geographic coordinates
29 00 S, 24 00 E

Map references

Area World Ranking: 25
Total 1,219,090 sq km
Land 1,214,470 sq km
Water 4,620 sq km
Includes Prince Edward Islands (Marion Island and Prince Edward Island)

Area - comparative
Slightly less than twice the size of Texas

Land boundaries
Total 4,862 km
Border countries
Botswana 1,840 km, Lesotho 909 km, Mozambique 491 km, Namibia 967 km, Swaziland 430 km, Zimbabwe 225 km

2,798 km

Maritime claims
Territorial sea 12 nm
Contiguous zone 24 nm
Exclusive economic zone 200 nm
Continental shelf
200 nm or to edge of the continental margin

Mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights

Vast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain

Elevation extremes
Lowest point Atlantic Ocean 0 m
Highest point Njesuthi 3,408 m

Natural resources
Gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas

Land use
Arable land 12.1%
Permanent crops 0.79%
Other 87.11% (2005)

Irrigated land
14,980 sq km (2003)

Total renewable water resources
50 cu km (1990)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)
Total 12.5 cu km/yr (31%/6%/63%)
Per capita 264 cu m/yr (2000)

Natural hazards
Prolonged droughts
The volcano forming Marion Island in the Prince Edward Islands, which last erupted in 2004, is South Africa's only active volcano

Environment - current issues
Lack of important arterial rivers or lakes requires extensive water conservation and control measures; growth in water usage outpacing supply; pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and urban discharge; air pollution resulting in acid rain; soil erosion; desertification

Environment - international agreements
Party to
Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
Signed, but not ratified
None of the selected agreements

Geography - note
South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Swaziland


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  South Africa (Pretoria):

  GPS points from South Africa (Pretoria)

Rhenosterkop Canal Northern Cape

Zwartberg Limpopo Province

Kukolanga Province Of Eastern Cape

Vioolbaai Province Of The Western Cape

Inadi Kwazulu-natal

Roodeplaat Gauteng

Klip Banks Fontein Province Of The Western Cape

Breerkop Northern Cape
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