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Area: 1.2 million sq. km. (470,462 sq. mi.).

Cities: Capitals--Administrative, Pretoria; legislative, Cape Town; judicial, Bloemfontein. Other cities -- Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth.

Terrain: Plateau, savanna, desert, mountains, coastal plains.

Climate: moderate; similar to southern California.


Nationality: Noun and adjective--South African(s).

Annual growth rate (1997 est.): 1.51%.

Population (1997): 38 million.

Composition: black 75%; white 14%; colored 9%; Asian (Indian) 2%.

Languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhsa, Zulu (all official languages).

Religions: Predominantly Christian; traditional African, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish.

Education: Years compulsory--7-15 years for all children. The Schools Bill, passed by Parliament in 1996, aims to achieve greater educational opportunities for black children, mandating a single syllabus and more equitable funding for schools.

Health (1997 est.): Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births)--53.2. Life expectancy--58 yrs., women; 54 yrs., men.


Type: Executive--president; bicameral parliament.

Independence: The Union of South Africa was created on May 31, 1910; became sovereign state within British empire in 1934; became a Republic on May 31, 1961; left the Commonwealth in October 1968. Nonracial, democratic constitution came into effect April 27, 1994; rejoined the Commonwealth in May 1994.

Branches: Executive--president (chief of state) elected to a five-year term by the National Assembly. Legislative--bicameral parliament consisting of 490 members in two chambers. National Assembly (400 members) elected by a system of proportional representation. National Council of Provinces consisting of 90 delegates (10 from each province) and 10 non-voting delegates representing local government. Judicial--Constitutional Court interprets and decides constitutional issues; Supreme Court of Appeal is the highest court for interpreting and deciding nonconstitutional matters.

Administrative subdivisions: Nine provinces: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, North-West, Northern Cape, Northern Province, Western Cape.

Political parties: African National Congress (ANC), National Party (NP), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Vryheidsfront/Freedom Front (FF), Democratic Party (DP), Pan-African Congress (PAC), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), United Democratic Movement (UDM), Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO), and Conservative Party (CP).

Suffrage: Citizens and permanent residents 18 and older.


GDP (1997 proj.): $115.5 billion.

GDP growth rate (FY 1997-98): 1.5%-1.7%.

GDP per capita (1997 est.): $3,040.

Unemployment (1997 est.): 30%.

Natural resources: Almost all essential commodities, except petroleum and bauxite. Manufacturing (1997): About 24% of GDP. A world leader in the areas of railway rolling stock, synthetic fuels, and mining equipment and machinery.

Industry: Types--minerals, automobiles fabricated material, machinery, textiles, chemicals, fertilizer.

Trade (1996): Exports--$29.3 billion: gold, other minerals and metals, agricultural products. Major markets--United Kingdom, U.S., Germany, Italy, Japan, East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa. Imports--$30.1 billion: machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, textiles, scientific instruments. Major suppliers--Germany, U.S., Japan, United Kingdom, Italy.

GDP composition (1997): Agriculture 5%, services, 58%, industry 37%; world's largest producer of platinum, gold, and chromium; also significant coal production.

Exchange rate (Jan. 31, 1998.): 4.94 rand=U.S.$1.


Until 1991, South African law divided the population into four major racial categories: Africans (black), whites, coloreds, and Asians. Although this law has been abolished, many South Africans still view themselves and each other according to these categories. Africans comprise about 75% of the population and are divided into a number of different ethnic groups. Whites comprise about 14% of the population. They are primarily descendants of Dutch, French, English, and German settlers who began arriving at the Cape in the late 17th century. Coloreds are mixed race people, primarily descending from the earliest settlers and the indigenous peoples. They comprise about 9% of the total population. Asians descend from Indian workers brought to South Africa in the mid-19th century to work on the sugar estates in Natal. They constitute about 2% of the population and are concentrated in the Kwazulu-Natal Province.

Education is in a state of flux. Under the apartheid system, schools were segregated, and the quantity and quality of education varied significantly across racial groups. Although the laws governing this segregation have been abolished, the long and arduous process of restructuring the country's educational system is just beginning. The challenge is to create a single nondiscriminatory, nonracial system which offers the same standards of education to all people.


People have inhabited Southern Africa for thousands of years. Members of the Khoisan language groups are the oldest surviving inhabitants of the land; however, only a few are left in South Africa today, and they are located in the western sections. Most of today's black South Africans belong to the Bantu language group, which migrated south from central Africa, settling in the Transvaal region sometime before AD 100. The Nguni, ancestors of the Zulu and Xhosa, occupied most of the eastern coast by 1500.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the Cape of Good Hope, arriving in 1488. However, permanent white settlement did not begin until 1652, when the Dutch East India Company established a provisioning station on the Cape. In subsequent decades, French Huguenot refugees, the Dutch, and Germans began to settle in the Cape. Collectively, they form the Afrikaner segment of today's population. The establishment of these settlements had far-reaching social and political effects on the groups already settled in the area, leading to upheaval in these societies and the subjugation of their people.

By 1779, European settlements extended throughout the southern part of the Cape and east toward the Great Fish River. It was here that Dutch authorities and the Xhosa fought the first frontier war. The British gained control of the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the 18th century. Subsequent British settlement and rule marked the beginning of a long conflict between the Afrikaners and the English.

Beginning in 1836, partly to escape British rule and cultural hegemony and partly out of resentment at the recent abolition of slavery, many Afrikaner farmers (Boers) undertook a northern migration which became known as the "Great Trek." This movement brought them into contact and conflict with African groups in the area, the most formidable of which were the Zulus. Under their powerful leader, Shaka (1787-1828), the Zulus conquered most of the territory between the Drakensburg Mountains and the sea (now Kwazulu-Natal).

In 1828, Shaka was assassinated and replaced by his half-brother Dingane. In 1838, Dingane was defeated and deported by the Voortrekkers (people of the Great Trek) at the battle of Blood River. The Zulus, nonetheless, remained a potent force, defeating the British in the historic battle of Isandhlwana before themselves being finally conquered in 1879.

In 1852 and 1854, the independent Boer Republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State were created. Relations between the republics and the British Government were strained. The discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1870 and the discovery of large gold deposits in the Witwatersrand region of the Transvaal in 1886 caused an influx of European (mainly British) immigration and investment. Many blacks also moved into the area to work in the mines. The construction by mine owners of hostels to house and control their workers set patterns that later extended throughout the region.

Boer reactions to this influx and British political intrigues led to the Anglo-Boer Wars of 1880-81 and 1899-1902. British forces prevailed in the conflict, and the republics were incorporated into the British Empire. In May 1910, the two republics and the British colonies of the Cape and Natal formed the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. The Union's constitution kept all political power in the hands of whites.

In 1912, the South Africa Native National Congress was formed in Bloemfontein and eventually became known as the African National Congress (ANC). Its goals were the elimination of restrictions based on color and the enfranchisement of and parliamentary representation for blacks. Despite these efforts, the government continued to pass laws limiting the rights and freedoms of blacks.

In 1948, the National Party (NP) won the all-white elections and began passing legislation codifying and enforcing an even stricter policy of white domination and racial separation known as "apartheid" (separateness). In the early 1960s, following a protest in Sharpville in which 69 protesters were killed by police and 180 injured, the ANC and Pan-African Congress (PAC) were banned. Nelson Mandela and many other anti-apartheid leaders were convicted and imprisoned on charges of treason.

The ANC and PAC were forced underground and fought apartheid through guerrilla warfare and sabotage. In May 1961, South Africa relinquished its dominion status and declared itself a republic. Later that year, it withdrew from the Commonwealth, in part because of international protests against apartheid. In 1984, a new constitution came into effect in which whites allowed coloreds and Asians a limited role in the national government and control over their own affairs in certain areas. Ultimately, however, all power remained in white hands. Blacks remained effectively disenfranchised.

Popular uprisings in black and colored townships in 1976 and 1985 helped to convince some NP members of the need for change. Secret discussions between those members and Nelson Mandela began in 1986. In February 1990, State President F.W. de Klerk--who had come to power in September 1989--announced the unbanning of the ANC, the PAC, and all other anti-apartheid groups. Two weeks later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

In 1991, the Group Areas Act, Land Acts, and the Population Registration Act--the last of the so-called "pillars of apartheid"--were abolished. A long series of negotiations ensued, resulting in a new constitution promulgated into law in December 1993. The country's first nonracial elections were held on April 26-29, 1994, resulting in the installation of Nelson Mandela as President on May 10, 1994.


Following the 1994 elections, South Africa was governed under an Interim Constitution. This constitution required the Constituent Assembly (CA) to draft and approve a permanent constitution by May 9, 1996. After review by the Constitutional Court and intensive negotiations within the CA, a revised draft was certified by the Constitutional Court on December 2, 1996. President Mandela signed the new Constitution into law on December 10, and it entered into force on February 3, 1997.

The Government of National Unity (GNU) established under the Interim Constitution remains in effect until the next national elections in 1999. The parties originally comprising the GNU--the ANC, the NP, and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)--shared executive power. On June 30, 1996, the NP withdrew from the GNU to become part of the opposition.

The Parliament consists of two houses--the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces--which are responsible for drafting the laws of the republic. The National Assembly also has specific control over bills relating to monetary matters. The current 400-member National Assembly was retained under the new Constitution, although the Constitution allows for a range of between 350 and 400 members. The Assembly is elected by a system of "list proportional representation." Each of the parties appearing on the ballot submits a rank-ordered list of candidates. The voters then cast their ballots for one party. Seats in the Assembly are allocated based on the percentage of votes each party receives. In the 1994 elections, the ANC won 252 seats in the Assembly, the NP 82, the IFP 43, the Vyheidsfront/Freedom Front (FF) 9, the Democratic Party (DP) 7, the Pan-African Congress (PAC) 5, and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) 2.

The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) consists of 90 members, 10 from each of the nine provinces. The NCOP replaced the former Senate as the second chamber of Parliament and was created to give a greater voice to provincial interests. It must approve legislation that involves shared national and provincial competencies as defined by an annex to the Constitution. Each provincial delegation consists of six permanent and four rotating delegates.

The president is the executive head of state. Following the April 1994 elections, the National Assembly elected Nelson Mandela president. In addition, both the largest and second largest parties--the ANC and NP--chose one executive deputy president each. With the withdrawal of the NP from the GNU, the ANC's Thabo Mbeki is currently the sole executive deputy president. The president's responsibilities include assigning cabinet portfolios, signing bills into law, and serving as commander in chief of the military. The president must work closely with the executive deputy president and the cabinet. There are 27 posts in the cabinet, 24 of which are currently held by the ANC and 3 by the IFP.

The third arm of the central government is an independent judiciary. The Constitutional Court is the highest court for interpreting and deciding constitutional issues, while the Supreme Court of Appeal is the highest court for non-constitutional matters. Most cases are heard in the extensive system of High Courts and Magistrates Courts. The Constitution's Bill of Rights provides for due process, including the right to a fair, public trial within a reasonable time of being charged and the right to appeal to a higher court. The Bill of Rights also guarantees fundamental political and social rights of South Africa's citizens.

Challenges Ahead

The new Government of South Africa has made remarkable progress in consolidating the nation's peaceful transition to democracy. Programs to improve the delivery of essential social services to the majority of the population are underway. Access to better opportunities in education and business is becoming more widespread. Nevertheless, transforming South Africa's society to remove the legacy of apartheid will be a long-term process requiring the sustained commitment of the leaders and people of the nation's disparate groups.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), chaired by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has helped to advance the reconciliation process. Constituted in 1996 and due to finish its work in 1998, the TRC is empowered to investigate apartheid-era human rights abuses committed between 1960 and May 10, 1994, to grant amnesty to those who committed politically motivated crimes and to recommend compensation to victims of abuses. The TRC's mandate is part of the larger process of reconciling the often conflicting political, economic, and cultural interests held by the many peoples that make up South Africa's diverse population. The ability of the government and people to agree on many basic questions of how to order the country's new society will be a critical challenge stretching into the 21st century.

One important issue continues to be the relationship of provincial and local administrative structures to the national government. Prior to April 27, 1994, South Africa was divided into four provinces and 10 black "homelands," four of which were considered independent by the South African Government. Both the Interim Constitution and the new 1997 Constitution abolished this system and substituted nine provinces. Each province has an elected legislature and chief executive--the provincial premier. Although in form a federal system, in practice the nature of the relationship between the central and provincial governments has yet to be determined and is the subject of considerable debate, particularly among groups desiring a greater measure of autonomy from the central government. A key step in defining the relationship came in 1997, when provincial governments were given more than half of central government funding and permitted to develop and manage their own budgets.

Although South Africa's economy is in many areas highly developed, the exclusionary nature of apartheid and distortions caused in part by the country's international isolation until the 1990s have left major weaknesses. The economy is now in a process of transition as the government seeks to address the inequities of apartheid, stimulate growth, and create jobs. Business, meanwhile, is becoming more integrated into the international system, and foreign investment has increased dramatically over the past several years. Still, the economic disparities between population groups are expected to persist for many years, remaining an area of priority attention for the government.

Human Rights

The new Constitution's Bill of Rights provides extensive guarantees, including the following: equality before the law and prohibitions against discrimination; the right to life, privacy, property, and freedom and security of the person; prohibition against slavery and forced labor; and freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and association. The legal rights of criminal suspects also are enumerated, as are citizens' entitlements to a safe environment, housing, education, and health care. The Constitution provides for an independent and impartial judiciary, and, in practice, these provisions are respected.

Since the abolition of apartheid, levels of political violence in South Africa have dropped dramatically. In some areas, such as parts of KwaZulu-Natal Province, tensions remain extremely high. Political and extrajudicial killings continue to occur. Violent crime and organized criminal activity is at high levels and is a grave concern. Partly as a result, vigilante action and mob justice sometime occur.

Some members of the police commit abuses, and deaths in police custody and as a result of excessive force remain serious problems. The government has taken action to investigate and punish some of those who commit such abuses. In April 1997, the government established an Independent Complaints Directorate to investigate deaths in police custody and deaths resulting from police action.

Although South Africa's society is undergoing a rapid transformation, discrimination against women and the disabled continues, and violence against women and children is a serious problem.

Principal Government Officials

State President--Nelson Mandela (ANC)

Executive Deputy President--Thabo Mbeki (ANC)


Foreign Affairs--Alfred Nzo (ANC)

Justice--Dullah Omar (ANC)

Defense--Joe Modise (ANC)

Finance--Trevor Manuel (ANC)

Home Affairs--Mangosuthu Buthelezi (IFP)

Safety and Security--Sydney Mufamadi (ANC)

Trade and Industry--Alec Erwin (ANC)

Agriculture and Land Affairs--Derek Hanekom (ANC)

Health--Nkosazana Zuma (ANC)

Welfare and Population Development--Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi (ANC)

Education--Sibusiso Bengu (ANC)

Labor--Tito Mboweni (ANC)

Art, Culture, Science and Technology--Lionel Mtshali (IFP)

Water Affairs and Forestry--Kader Asmal (ANC)

Environment Affairs and Tourism--Pallo Jordan (ANC)

Mineral and Energy Affairs--Penuell Maduna (ANC)

Transport--Mac Maharaj (ANC)

Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development--Mohammed Valli Moosa (ANC)

Housing--Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele (ANC)

Posts, Telecommunications, and Broadcasting--Jay Naidoo (ANC)

Public Works--Jeff Radebe (ANC)

Public Enterprises--Stella Sigcau (ANC)

Public Service and Administration--Zola Skweyiya (ANC)

Sport and Recreation--Steve Tshwete (ANC)

Correctional Services--Sipo Mzimela (IFP)

The Republic of South Africa maintains an embassy in the United States at 3051 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel. (202) 232-4400.


South Africa has a productive and industrialized economy that paradoxically exhibits many characteristics associated with developing countries, including a division of labor between formal and informal sectors--and uneven distribution of wealth and income. The formal sector, based on mining, manufacturing, services, and agriculture, is well developed.

The transition to a democratic, nonracial government, begun in early 1990, stimulated a debate on the direction of economic policies to achieve sustained economic growth while at the same time redressing the socioeconomic disparities created by apartheid. The Government of National Unity's initial blueprint to address this problem was the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). The RDP was designed to create programs to improve the standard of living for the majority of the population by providing housing--a planned 1 million new homes in 5 years--basic services, education, and health care. While a specific "ministry" for the RDP no longer exists, a number of government ministries and offices are charged with supporting RDP programs and goals.

In June 1996, the government announced a new market-driven economic plan--"Growth, Employment and Redistribution: A Macroeconomic Strategy" (GEAR). The GEAR emphasizes a private sector/market-based approach; parastatal privatization; and conservative fiscal and monetary policies to facilitate economic growth, job creation, and accelerated trade liberalization. South Africa aims to maintain an attractive business environment and encourages both foreign and domestic investment.

Financial Policy

South Africa has a sophisticated financial structure with a large and active stock exchange that ranks 19th in the world in terms of total market capitalization. The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) performs all central banking functions. The SARB is independent and now operates in much the same way as Western central banks, influencing interest rates and controlling liquidity through its interest rates on funds provided to private sector banks. Quantitative credit controls and administrative control of deposit and lending rates have largely disappeared.

The South African Government has taken steps to gradually reduce remaining foreign exchange controls, which apply mainly to South African residents. Private citizens are now allowed a one-time investment of up to 200,000 rand in offshore accounts and are free to hold foreign currency accounts in South African banks. In January 1998, the Finance Ministry removed the ceiling on foreign exchange holdings for commercial banks.

Trade and Investment

South Africa has rich mineral resources. It is the world's largest producer and exporter of gold and also exports a significant amount of coal. The value-added processing of minerals to produce ferroalloys, stainless steels, and similar products is a major industry and an important growth area. The country's diverse manufacturing industry is a world leader in several specialized sectors, including railway rolling stock, synthetic fuels, and mining equipment and machinery.

Agriculture accounts for about 5% of the gross domestic product. Major crops include citrus and deciduous fruits, corn, wheat, dairy products, sugarcane, tobacco, wine, and wool. South Africa has many developed irrigation schemes and generally is a net exporter of food.

South Africa's transportation infrastructure is well developed, supporting both domestic and regional needs. The Johannesburg International Airport serves as a hub for flights to other Southern African countries. The domestic telecommunications infrastructure provides modern and efficient service to urban areas, including widespread access to cellular and internet services. In 1997, Telkom, the South African telecommunications parastatal, was partly privatized and entered into a strategic equity partnership with a consortium of two companies, including a U.S. telecommunications company. The South African Government pledged to reinvest $1 billion of the purchase price into to Telkom to facilitate network modernization and expansion into unserved areas.

South Africa's GDP is expected to increase gradually during the next few years. Annual GDP growth since 1994 has fluctuated between an estimate of 1.5% and 3.4%. The government estimates that the economy must achieve growth at a minimum of 6% to offset unemployment, which is officially stated to be about 30%. In an effort to boost economic growth and spur job creation, the government has launched special investment corridors to promote development in specific regions, and also is working to encourage small, medium, and microenterprise development. One of the great successes of the ANC government has been to get CPI inflation,

which had been running in the double digits for over 20 years, under control. By December 1997, inflation had fallen to 6.1%. The government also has made inroads into reducing the fiscal deficit and increasing foreign currency reserves. Several factors could impact on this positive direction, including repercussions from financial crises in other areas of the world, low prices for minerals and metals, particularly gold, and continued lack of fiscal accountability by South Africa's provincial governments.

Exports and imports account for 44% of the GDP. South Africa's major trading partners include the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, and Japan. South Africa's trade with other Sub-Saharan African countries, particularly those in the Southern Africa region, has increased substantially. South Africa is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). In August 1996, South Africa signed a regional trade protocol agreement with its SADC partners. While the agreement has yet to be ratified, negotiations continue to finalize tariff bindings and move the region toward economic integration.

South Africa has made great progress in dismantling its old economic system, which was based on import substitution, high tariffs and subsidies, anti-competitive behavior, and extensive government intervention in the economy. The new leadership has moved to reduce the government's role in the economy and to promote private sector investment and competition. It has significantly reduced tariffs and export subsidies, loosened exchange controls, cut in half the secondary tax on corporate dividends, and improved enforcement of intellectual property laws. It is in the process of drafting a new competition law. A U.S.-South Africa bilateral tax treaty went into effect on January 1, 1998.

South Africa is a contracting party to the Generalized Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). U.S. products qualify for South Africa's most- favored-nation tariff rates. Many South African shipments to the United States receive U.S. Generalized System of Preferences treatment. South Africa still maintains a list of restricted goods requiring import permits. Nevertheless, the government remains committed to the simplification and continued reduction of tariffs within the WTO framework and maintains active discussions with that body and its major trading partners.

As a result of a November 1993 bilateral agreement, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) can now assist U.S. investors in the South African market with services such as political risk insurance and loans and loan guarantees. In July 1996, the United States and South Africa signed an investment fund protocol for a $120 million OPIC fund that will make equity investments in South and Southern Africa. The Trade and Development Agency also has been actively involved in funding feasibility studies and identifying investment opportunities in South Africa for U.S. businesses.


South Africa's Government is deeply concerned about managing the country's rich and varied natural resources in a responsible and sustainable manner. It 1997, it ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Numerous South African non-governmental organizations are engaged in the public policy debate on climate change, habitat conservation, and sustainable development.


The United States has maintained an official presence in South Africa since 1799, when an American consulate was opened in Cape Town. The U.S. Embassy is located in Pretoria, and consulates general are in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. Americans and South Africans also have many non-governmental ties; for example, black and white American missionaries have a long history of activity in South Africa.

From the 1970s through the early 1990s, U.S.-South Africa relations were severely affected by South Africa's racial policies. However, since the abolition of apartheid and democratic elections of April 1994, the United States has enjoyed an excellent bilateral relationship with South Africa. During President Nelson Mandela's October 1994 state visit to the United States, the U.S.-South Africa Binational Commission was created. The Commission, which meets biannually, is designed to promote cooperation between the two countries in such areas as trade and investment, agriculture, human resources development and education, conservation and the environment, energy and technology, and defense. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States also provides assistance to South Africa to help it meet its development goals. Peace Corps volunteers began working in South Africa in 1997.

Principal U.S. Officials

Ambassador--James A. Joseph

Deputy Chief of Mission and Minister-Counselor--Robert M. Pringle

Commercial Minister-Counselor--Millard W. Arnold, Jr.

Economic Minister-Counselor--Ann R. Berry

Political Counselor--Reed Fendrick

Administrative Counselor--Michael J. Hinton

Public Affairs Officer--Thomas Hull

Defense Attache--Col. Keith Betsch, USA

USAID Director--Aaron Williams

Agricultural Attache--Dr. Besa L. Kotati

Consul General Cape Town--April Glaspie

Consul General Durban--Frederick C. Hassani

Consul General Johannesburg--Gregory W. Engle


For more information, visit the State Department’s home page.

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