Originally inhabited by Khoikhoi and San peoples, South Africa saw a large influx of Bantu-speaking people (originally from the Cameroon area) from 300AD onwards. By the time that the first Europeans arrived, Bantu-speaking people had become the dominant ethnic group. Portuguese colonists were the first Europeans to establish settlements, but were replaced by Dutch colonists in 1652 (around the area of modern-day Cape Town). This initial colonisation saw slaves being moved to South Africa from places as diverse as Indonesia, Madagascar and India, in order to provide labour on behalf of the Dutch East India Company.
The British seized the Cape in 1795, as Dutch naval and mercantile power had faded and there was a prospect of Napoleon occupying the area. This new sovereignty was not officially recognised until the Congress of Vienna in 1815, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The discovery of diamonds at Kimberley in 1867, and the subsequent discovery of gold in Witwatersrand in the Transvaal (around 1884), led to further migration during a period known as the ‘Mineral Revolution’. This upheaval led to an increased subjugation of the indigenous people, and ultimately caused the British and Dutch-speaking colonists to engage in conflict during the Boer Wars.
The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, following the unification of Britain's Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Transvaal Colony and Orange River Colony. In 1931 the union was effectively granted independence from the United Kingdom, as the Statute of Westminster meant that the United Kingdom could no longer legislate on behalf of South Africa, though the country did not officially become a republic until 1961.
Segregationist legislation had been in place for a number of years but, under control of the newly elected National Party in 1948, the existing system of racial discrimination was formalised and extended as the apartheid (Afrikaans: ‘separateness’) era began. The large-scale denial of human rights continued until multi-racial democratic elections were held in 1994, and Nelson Mandela's subsequent rise to power after 27 years of imprisonment.
Nowadays, South Africa's economy is the largest and most developed in Africa, though poverty is still very high, with a quarter of the population living on less than US$1.25 per day.
Coordinates: 30°00'S 25°00'E
Capital Coordinates: 25°44'S 28°11'E
Other Main Cities: Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town
Official Language(s): Afrikaans, English, Southern Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu
Ethnic Group(s): 79.2% Black African, 8.9% Coloured, 8.9% White, 2.5% Indian or Asian, 0.5% other
Demonym: South African
Currency: South African Rand, ZAR
GDP: $623.201 billion
Time Zone: SAST (UTC+2)
International Dialling Code: 27
Internet TLD: .za
Electricity Voltage: 230 Volts AC (50Hz)