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South Africa is one of the most diverse and enchanting countries in the world. Exotic combinations of Big Five game parks, acres of pristine beaches, rugged mountains, lush and fertile valleys, spectacular scenery, fascinating people, history and culture offer the traveller a unique and inspiring experience.
Our Nation††† †
Since the democratic elections of 1994, South Africa has seen a boom in cultural tourism, mainly focused on the four main black tribal groups and the San Bushmen. How they all came to share this space at the bottom end of Africa is complex tale of mysterious movements, conquests - and cattle.
Much later, southern Africa became home to the hunter-gathering San Bushmen, followed by the pastoral Khoi (Hottentot) and their livestock. They were joined by many more with the mass migration southwards of the abaNtu ("people") and their long-horned cattle in successive streams, possibly spurred on by the desiccation of the Sahara more than 6 000 years ago.
The Asian Influence
There is ongoing evidence of ancient trade between the abaNtu and Arab cultures, with Persian and even Chinese artifacts being discovered at thousand-year-old sites in the northern reaches of South Africa. The coin of the day was gold, ivory, copper - and, of course, beads.
More than 300 years of European (mainly Dutch and English) settlement halted the migration of the abaNtu. But as the European settlers moved north, they found vast swathes of the country empty of people. They weren't to know it then, but they were seeing the results of the Mfecane ("time of hunger or forced removal") of the early 1800s. It was a human catastrophe of giant proportions. The great Nguni and Sotho tribes fought for space and domination throughout southern Africa, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of people across the sub-continent.
The mid-1900s ushered in South Africa's most reviled political system: Apartheid. This period of skewed social engineering and racial segregation, designed for the protection of the white minority, bred the Bantustan system of forced removals across the country (another kind of Mfecane).
The descendants of the abaNtu living in South Africa today consist of four major groups, broken up into nine distinctive ethnic sub-divisions: the Sotho (North Sotho, South Sotho and Tswana), the Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi and Ndebele), the Shangaan-Tsonga and the Venda people. Each tribe has its own fascinating set of myths, legends and traditions.
Limpopo province in the north, boasts the cultures of the Shangaan, Tswana, Venda and Pedi. The most remarkable archaeological site in the province is Mapungubwe, on the Limpopo River, also one of South Africaís World Heritage Sites. The area has direct links to the ancient Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe.
The North West Province celebrates the Tswana culture in the main. The Kaditshwene Iron Age ruins on the way to the Botswana border once housed nearly 20 000 people of the Bahurutshe clan. They were skilled coppersmiths, ironsmiths and stone masons and kept huge herds of cattle in their hilltop city.
In Mpumalanga Province, you'll come across Shangaan, Ndebele and Swazi tribes. The South Ndebele Open Air Museum at Botshabelo near Middelburg is a colourful exercise in tribal design and paintwork. It's a working museum where you can meet the various Ndebele villagers and photograph their stunning outfits.
Swinging back into KwaZulu-Natal Province (KZN), the intricacies of Zulu culture top the visitor's list. The presence of the famed King Shaka is everywhere.
Head south to the Eastern Cape, a place which Nelson Mandela calls home. Here, the Xhosa and Pondo rule.
The Xhosa made up the southern spear of the mass abaNtu migration, which was stopped by the 1820 Settlers at the Great Fish River. This led to nine Frontier Wars before the two groups settled down side by side. As rich as both the Xhosa and Pondo cultures are, the emphasis in this region is on more recent political history. This is where the "freedom culture" has its roots in the life stories of world icons like Mandela and the late Steve Biko.††† †
Divided into 9 provinces, it also has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Most South Africans speak English, accepted as the business language, and French, German and Italian are also spoken in most of the Larger Hotels.
South Africaís climate is mostly Semiarid. The East Coast has a subtropical climate influenced by the Indian Ocean; the West Coast is cooler due to being at the Atlantic Ocean, becoming hot and dry towards Namibia. The Two seas meet at Cape Agulhas, although many believe it to be at the more scenic Cape Point at the tip of the Cape of Good Hope. Generally the days are sunny, but it cools down considerably at night. Temperatures in the north donít vary too much from that at the coast, but these interior plateau regions experience summer rainfall, and the Western Cape Coastal regions experience winter rainfall.
Visas/ Passport requirements:
All visitors require a valid passport, and those from certain countries may also require a visa. On entering South Africa, citizens of most Commonwealth countries, most European countries and the US will receive a free entry permit, which allows you to stay for up to 90 days. Passports need to be valid for at least six months upon entering and have to contain at least 2 consecutive blank pages. Information on Visa requirements can be obtained from your local travel agent, a South African Embassy or the department of Home Affairs in Pretoria, South Africa.
NO immunization is required for visitors entering South Africa, other than for those who have left an area infected by Yellow Fever. In such cases, visitors will need a valid International yellow-fever vaccination certificate. There are a few areas, namely the Kruger National Park and areas in Kwa-Zulu Natal that are malaria-risk areas, and taking prophylaxis is most advisable
The Currency of the country is Rand (R), divided into 100 cents. Bank-notes are in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Rands. The international Symbol for the currency is ZAR. All major credit cards are accepted throughout the country except for the purchase of fuel/ petrol.
VAT at a current rate of 14% is levied on the majority of products in South Africa. Foreign tourists may clain a VAT refund at their exit point for all purchases, which exceed R250.00. Remember to keep all your original tax Invoices/ Till-slips/ proof of payments in order to facilitate this.
Local Time: GMT +2
Electricity: 220V/ 230V/ 250V/ 50 Hz. The Plug fits a three-pin 15A socket.
Driving: Left hand Side.† Please be advised that the South African Traffic Department are now enforcing a law which was passed in 1998 that travelers to South Africa wishing to rent a motor vehicle whilst in this country must be in possession of a valid "International Drivers Permit/License". Should travelers neglect to obtain this document before leaving their country of residence, they will not be permitted to hire a vehicle in South Africa.
Visiting South Africa?† See Frequently Asked Questions.†