Popularly referred to as ‘the rainbow nation’, South Africa boasts a melting pot of cultures, each with its own unique customs and traditions. Eleven official languages are enshrined in the constitution. The majority (around 80%) of South Africa’s population consists of black Africans. Although numerous tribes and subdivisions exist – Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Venda, Ndebele and Tswana, to name a few of the most prominent – these groups can all connect their heritage to the Bantu-speakers who migrated to Southern Africa in the early part of the first millennium.
Zulus and Xhosas maintain the highest-profile ethnic identity, with 23% of South Africans speaking Zulu as a first language (including current president Jacob Zuma) and 16% speaking Xhosa as a first language (including former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Both groups consider themselves ‘warrior nations’, with remarkable histories of brave resistance against and victory over early colonialists, and legendary figures like Shaka Zulu, Dingane and Cetshwayo.
Although ‘colored’ was initially used as a broad term for anyone who did not fit neatly into the ‘black’, ‘white’ or ‘Indian’ racial categories of the apartheid era, a distinct colored identity exists throughout South Africa. The coloreds’ diversity stretches from the descendants of European colonialists raping their black slaves, political prisoners and exiles from the Dutch East Indies, and in some cases the mixed descendants of South Africa’s oldest inhabitants – the Khoi-San – today known as the Griquas. A prominent subgroup is the Cape Muslims, or Cape Malays, which can trace their origins to India, Indonesia and parts of East Africa. These influences are prevalent in traditional Cape cuisine. 80% of coloreds are Afrikaans-speakers.
Despite their disproportionate influence on the country’s history, South African whites make up a mere 9% of the country’s population. They are typically either Afrikaans-speaking descendants of early European settlers, or English speakers with their roots dating back to the British colonialists of the 1800s. Regardless of their European origins, Afrikaners have a stout and unique local identity and history, including significant events like the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape, the plight of the Voortrekkers as they crossed the treacherous Drakensberg Mountains and the devastating Anglo-Boer War.
The smallest population group belongs to the Asians, which consist largely of Indians. Their origins can be traced to indentured laborers brought to KwaZulu-Natal in the 19th century, which is why the majority of South African Indians still reside in Durban and other urban areas of the province. South African Indians have created their own cultural identity with traditions and tastes unique their geography, like breyani (a fusion of Hindu and Cape Malay influences similar to Indian biryani), samoosas (a South African version of samosas) and bunny chow (a hollowed out loaf a bread filled with curry).
The 17th and 18th centuries in South Africa brought about an extension of the economic world order. Traveling from the Cape of Good Hope to the interior, the European settlers met with the indigenous peoples, who brought with them an African tradition from the north. At the time this area was sparsely inhabited. The 19th century saw the beginning of British colonialism, which resulted in the Great Trek of the Dutch settlers to the north of the Orange River. This migration brought Western civilization to the interior of South Africa. Dutch, French and German music and songs are still characteristic and part of the Afrikaner culture.
Unfortunately, African tradition clashed with Western civilization, and on many occasions warfare was the result between European authorities and the various African peoples. English as well as Afrikaans literature gave different viewpoints, and their contradictions and ideas were spread to the Western world. Wars took place between the Xhosas and the Cape Colony, boundary wars between the British and Afrikaners against the Basotho, inter-tribal warfare amongst the Zulus, the Tswanas and the Matebele under the leadership of Mzilikazi during the difaqane.
It is not a myth that large areas of the interior of South Africa were emptied by the difaqane, allowing Europeans to settle there after the intertribal wars were ended by the Battles of Blood River (1838) and Mosega (1837). The discovery of diamonds and gold during the latter half of the 19th century marked the beginning of the influx of large numbers of foreigners, capital and Western amenities. Urban development in specific islands of prosperity laid the basis for economic upliftment of all peoples in this part of the world.
Notwithstanding the want for peace, cultural differences amongst the different population groups prohibited the formation of a unitary state in Southern Africa, although British rule intended such a country under the British flag. The 20th century was marked by World Wars I and II and, as an aftermath of these wars, a struggle between the two language groups, Afrikaans and English, which resulted in a whites-only government in the Union of South Africa from 1910 and the Republic of South Africa from 1961.
Under white Afrikaner majority rule, recognition of the vast cultural differences amongst the population groups gave rise to the idea of separate development, duly discredited world-wide as apartheid. Supported the world over, the struggle enabled the African National Congress (ANC) to come to power in 1994, uniting South Africa for the first time as a democratic nation. The 20 years which have followed our first democratic elections have seen great improvements in various areas such as social development and economic prosperity and South Africa has once again taken its rightful position on the world stage.
South Africa is a well-developed country with a few cities and a large number of towns which provide the economic, cultural and social infrastructure in the areas in which they are located. African Sky offers safaris and tours which include visits to some of the most notable cities and towns of South Africa. In the southern part of South Africa, you will find the Western Cape Province. This province is home to the oldest and most historically preserved towns of South Africa. Especially notable cities and towns in this region include Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swellendam, Knysna and George.
In the northern part of South Africa, you will find the city of Johannesburg in the Gauteng province. It is the economic heart of the country and the African continent. Gauteng is also home to the capital city of Pretoria, which houses the administrative functions of our government and offers a few unique experiences of its own. The cities and towns of KwaZulu-Natal most frequently visited by tourists include Durban and the coastal towns of Umhlanga and Ballito. The dense indigenous vegetation and magnificent sandy beaches which line the shores of the Indian Ocean endow the towns of KwaZulu-Natal with a special character.
Mpumalanga is a holidaymaker's paradise. The hot, steamy climate and the good soil makes the capital city of Nelspruit a top citrus fruit producer. There are many accommodation establishments in Nelspruit, as it is the gateway to the Kruger National Park. There is an airport in Nelspruit as well as daily train services. White River, a farming and tourism center, lies about 20km north of Nelspruit and travelers love the variety of curio stores. White River is also a good base for visiting the Kruger National Park.
In the Free State, Bloemfontein is a popular stopover city for those traveling from Gauteng to Cape Town. The city has plenty of museums and monuments for those interested in culture. Its botanical garden is home to many Karoo plants as well as interesting birds and reptiles. Clarens is a fabulous weekend getaway, lying in the magnificent Maluti Mountains of the eastern Free State. The village is an artist's haven, but it is the exquisite countryside that draws adventurers to it.
The province of Limpopo is regarded as an adventure destination, offering many 4x4 and wilderness trails. The Kruger National Park also forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Tzaneen, the second largest town in Limpopo, has a subtropical climate and has made the area significant as a fruit and vegetable producing area. The Letaba River offers magnificent views of Magoebaskloof, George's Valley and Wolkberg.
Rustenburg and the Magaliesberg are important towns in the North West. A number of establishments and places of interest, like the Magalies Meander, offer city dwellers the chance to experience true country hospitality.