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Full country name: The Republic of South Africa
Area: 1,221,037 sq km
Population: 43.1 million
Capitals: Pretoria (administrative); Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative)
People: 77% black, 10% white (60% of whites are of Afrikaner descent, most of the rest are of British descent), 8% mixed race, 2.5% of Indian or Asian descent
Languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi, English, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda, Ndebele
Religion: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and traditional religions
Government: Republic and independent member of the British Commonwealth
President: Thabo Mbeki
GDP: US$146 billion
GDP per head: US$2133
Annual growth: 0.9%
Major industries: Mining, finance, insurance, food processing
Major trading partners: USA, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy
Visas: Entry permits are issued free on arrival to visitors on holiday from many Commonwealth and most Western European countries, as well as Japan and the USA. If you aren't entitled to an entry permit, you'll need to get a visa (also free) before you arrive.
Health risks: Malaria is mainly confined to the eastern half of South Africa, especially on the lowveld (coastal plain). Bilharzia is also found mainly in the east but outbreaks do occur in other places, so you should always check with knowledgeable local people before drinking water or swimming in it.
Time: GMT/UTC plus two hours
Electricity: 220/230V (250V in Pretoria), 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to go: Located south of the Tropic of Capricorn, South Africa is mostly dry and sunny.
The Western Cape has dry and sunny summers with maximum temperatures of 28 degree Celsius. It is often windy, however, and the south-easterly "Cape Doctor", which lays Table Mountain's famous "tablecloth" (a thick cloud mass that drapes across the mountain), can reach gale force. Winters can be cold, with average minimum temperatures of around 5 degree Celsius and maximum temperatures of around 17 degrees Celsius. Cape Town has what is described as a Mediterranean climate. It can be relatively cold and wet over winter, between June and August.
The eastern highveld region including Gauteng and the Free State, has a dry, sunny climate in winter (from June to August), with maximum temperatures around 20 degree Celsius and crisp nights when temperatures drop to around 5 degree Celsius. Between October and April there are late-afternoon showers that are often accompanied by spectacular thunder and lightening.
Mpumalanga and the Northern Province are very hot in the summer. Between June and August, which is the dry season, it is sunny and warm.
The Transkei area of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal can be hot and humid in the summer; this is a summer rainfall area.
Geography: South Africa is a large country, stretching nearly 2000km from the Limpopo River in the north to the Cape Agulhas in the south, and nearly 1500km from Port Nolloth in the west to Durban in the east.
There are three major parts to the country's physical geography: the vast interior plateau, or the highveld; the narrow coastal plain, or the lowveld; and the Kalahari Basin.
In the east the divide between the highveld and the lowveld is marked by dramatic escarpments, notably the Drakensberg.