We're always looking for ways to make better. Have an idea? See something that needs fixing? Let us know!



Country Profile

Area: 1,228,376 sq km
Population: 49,991,300 (July 2010 estimate)
Capital city: Pretoria/Tshwane (1.78 million)
People: African/Black, White, Coloured, Indian/Asian
Languages: South Africa has eleven officially recognised languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Sepedi, Sesotho, siSwati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
Religion(s): All principal religions are represented in South Africa, but the majority is Christian 79.8% at the 2001 census).
Currency: (ZAR) Rand (100 cents = 1 Rand)
Major political parties: African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA), The Congress of the People (COPE), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), United Democratic Movement (UDM), Independent Democrats (ID), South African Communist Party (SACP)
Government: ANC Alliance - ANC/SACP/Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
Head of State: President Mr Jacob Zuma
Foreign Minister: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane
Membership of international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Commonwealth, Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South African Government website (

Back to the Top


Basic economic facts

GDP: US$287 billion (2009 estimate)
Annual growth: -1.8% (2009 estimate)
Inflation: 8.6% annually (February 2009)
Major industries: mining (world's largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, machinery, textile, iron & steel, chemicals, fertiliser, foodstuffs; financial services; manufacturing; wholesale & retail trade; transport, storage & communication; mining; other
Major trading partners: US, UK, Germany, Japan
Exchange rate: (August 2010 average) ZAR US$ – 7.23
In part, South Africa has a sophisticated economy based on manufacturing, mining and financial services, in which macro-economic indicators like interest rates and the strength of the Rand are critical. But it also has an economy consisting of the very poor who eke out a living through near-subsistence agriculture or the informal sector, for whom economic statistics mean little. Relatively small improvements in living standards can make a huge difference to their lives. Unemployment levels are officially 25.3% (August 2010) but some commentators quote figures as high as 40%.

The South African Government has viewed economic restructuring through privatisation as important for growth and employment generation in the long run, despite short-term transitional costs. There have been political difficulties in pushing privatisation forward. The left-leaning and union elements within the ANC governing alliance are strongly opposed to privatisation which, they argue, involves handing control of state assets to a white and 'black elite' dominated business sector. The Government has recently shifted its focus from pursuing wholesale privatisation to developing profit oriented public sector enterprises. Strike action in 2006 demonstrated strong union resistance to restructuring in the state-owned transport parastatal, Transnet, that aimed to sell off non-core operations. Since 1994 the South African Government has followed prudent economic policies which are beginning to be reflected in increased rates of growth.
International Monetary Fund - South Africa (

Black Economic Empowerment

Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is the main thrust of attempts to correct the imbalance in ownership of the economy and distribution of wealth. Its intention is to redress the exclusion of the majority of South Africans from the mainstream economy by supporting and favouring the economic empowerment of previously disadvantaged people in the private sector.

A Black Economic Empowerment Commission chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa reported to the Government in 2001 and in March 2003 the Government released a strategy document entitled South Africa's Economic Transformation, A Strategy for Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment. It provides a clear definition and guidelines for businesses to follow. In 2004, the Government published the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act and Codes of Good Practice to increase the pace of BEE and to broaden it beyond pure business ownership to include management, employment, skills development and corporate social investment.

Back to the Top


The British - already rulers in Cape Colony and Natal - took control of the Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State (OFS) in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. On 31 May 1910 Transvaal, the OFS, Cape Colony, and Natal joined together as the Union of South Africa and were formally declared a Dominion under the British Crown. In 1913, the Land Act was introduced to prevent blacks buying land outside the Native Reserves; the 1923 Native (Urban Areas) Act established segregation in the cities. The National Party (NP) electoral victory in 1948 heralded an intensification of segregation under their policy of apartheid ('separateness'). Over the next decade a series of legislative measures sought to restructure South African society to conform to apartheid doctrine.

The South African Native National Congress, later renamed the African National Congress (ANC), was formed in 1912 to protest against the impending Land Act. Repressive NP policies in the 1950s led the ANC to turn to mass civil disobedience; also the breakaway Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) formed in 1959. After protests following the police killing of 67 peaceful demonstrators at a PAC gathering at Sharpeville in 1960, the ANC and the PAC were banned. The following year, the ANC formed a military wing - Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK - 'Spear of the Nation') - which was led by Nelson Mandela and included white members of the South African Communist Party (SACP). In the same year, South Africa was declared a Republic and left the Commonwealth. Mandela was detained in 1962 and sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sabotage in 1964. The 1960s were also marked by large-scale forcible resettlement of more than 1.5 million South Africans.

Attempts to introduce Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in schools led to widespread protests that erupted into violent unrest after police fired on schoolchildren in Soweto in June 1976. P.W.Botha took over as Prime Minister in 1978; he increased the role of the military in the state. In November 1983 white voters approved his constitutional plan in a referendum for a tricameral parliament comprising separate houses for whites, coloureds and Indians. The United Democratic Front (UDF) was formed to oppose the plan, on the grounds that it excluded the black majority. In 1984 elections were held and P.W.Botha became South Africa's first executive president. The black townships erupted in violence, supported by strikes in the mining industry. On 12 June 1986 the existing State of Emergency was extended to the whole country. As many as 24,000 people, mainly young, were detained without trial and soldiers replaced police in the townships. Such measures brought the unrest under control during 1987.

P.W.Botha suffered a stroke in early 1989 and later relinquished the NP leadership to Klerk. The latter was confirmed as State President at elections in September 1989. In 1990 he released Mandela after 27 years in prison and rescinded the ban on the ANC, PAC, SACP and 33 other organisations, including the UDF. The repeal of all apartheid legislation was announced in February 1991 and completed by mid-year. Multiparty talks resulted in agreement on an interim constitution that was approved by the tricameral parliament in December that year.

Back to the Top


South Africa rapidly reintegrated into the international community after the isolation of the apartheid years. It was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 1994 and hosted the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Durban in November 1999. South Africa was Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) from August 1998 to March 2003. It hosted the inaugural meeting of the African Union (AU) in July 2002 and was the first Chair, and is a key member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South Africa joined other African and Asian countries in signing the New Africa Asia Strategic Partnership in Jakarta on 24 April 2005, and held the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China during 2006. South Africa was a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from 2007-2008. South Africa is standing again for the Africa seat on the UNSC in October (2011-2012). South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World CupTM from 11 June to 11 July.

South Africa's new administration is increasingly focused on a foreign policy that helps it deliver its five domestic priorities. Key to this is a secure and integrated continent that is able to take its rightful place in the international community. Its foreign policy therefore is focussed on conflict resolution and development in Africa and on developing partnerships with other like-minded nations to present the South's case in multinational fora. It has backed its political activities by providing peacekeepers and development support in Burundi, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and mediated on behalf of the AU in the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire.

The AU has endorsed SADC’s regional lead on Zimbabwe. The South Africans are keen to secure stability in their northern neighbour, in part to help curb the flood of Zimbabweans south and alleviate growing pressure on their own services (which has resulted in incidents of xenophobic violence); there are currently three million Zimbabweans living in South Africa. President Zuma took over from former President Mbeki as the SADC appointed Facilitator of the Global Political Agreement between the political parties in Harare to help bolster the fragile power-sharing agreement there.
African Union (
South Africa responded quickly to the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. The Government condemned terrorism without equivocation, offering the US humanitarian support and the full co-operation of its security agencies. It opened a Financial Intelligence Centre in November 2003, which considerably strengthened its anti-money laundering capacity. In 2003, South Africa joined the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body that sets the global standards in combating money laundering and terrorist financing. South Africa is also a member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG), the only FATF-style regional body in Africa.

New Partnership for Africa's Development (NePAD)

See the key theme area on this website: NePAD: New Partnership for Africa's Development (#) .

UK-South Africa bilateral relations

Bilateral relations and links between the UK and South Africa are strong, covering fields as diverse as climate change, trade liberalisation, development, and HIV/AIDS. This is underlined by the number of high-level visits in both directions and by the biennial UK-South Africa Bilateral Forum (last held in July 2008 in South Africa, with the next due to take place in the first half of 2011).

Visits by senior British figures to South Africa have included State Visits by HM The Queen in 1995 and 1999, and four visits by then Prime Minister Tony Blair (January and November 1999; February 2006; and early 2007). Lord Mark Malloch Brown, then Minister for Africa, attended President Zuma’s presidential inauguration (May 2009) and met representatives of the new Government while attending the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town (June 2009). Current Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham visited in December 2010. South African President Jacob Zuma made a State Visit to the UK in March 2010, following State Visits by former Presidents Nelson Mandela (1996) and Thabo Mbeki (2001).

Back to the Top


South Africa's land area is 1,228,376 sq km (larger than the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany combined). It borders Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe to the north, and entirely surrounds Lesotho (a total land border of 4,750 km). It has a coastline of 2,954 km, with few natural harbours.

The coastal strip is below 1,500 feet fringed by steep mountain ranges, with a high plateau in the interior ranging up to 6,000 feet above sea level. On the west coast, the cold Atlantic current creates arid scrubland terrain. Higher levels of rainfall on the central plateau produce grassland. A continuous mountain range runs down the east coast warmed by the Indian Ocean giving a sub-tropical climate. The north of the country has savannah-type vegetation, whilst the southern tip has a Mediterranean-type climate.

Back to the Top


Trade and investment with the UK

The UK is in South Africa’s ‘Premier League’ of trading partners, with an annual bilateral relationship of over £8 billion, set to double by 2015 following challenging targets set by Ministers during President Jacob Zuma’s State Visit to the UK in March 2010, focusing on key business sectors such as higher education and skills, ICT, health, natural resources, energy, infrastructure/engineering and financial services.

South Africa is the UK’s largest export and import market in Africa: in 2008 South Africa accounted for 30% of the UK’s total exports to Africa and 40% of the UK’s imports from Africa. In 2008, South Africa was the UK’s 23rd largest export market and accounted for 1.03% of UK exports of goods worldwide. South Africa was the 18th most important import market with 1.33% of UK imports.

South Africa is fourth on the list of key emerging markets for global investors, with a wealth of opportunities for UK expertise across almost every sector of the economy, including access to the rest of Africa’s 300+ million customers.

South Africa is an ideal export market for UK companies due to similar financial and legal systems, a familiar business culture where English is the primary business language and a time difference which is never more than two hours.

Covering only 3% of the African continent, South Africa accounts for a massive 40% of industrial output and is by far the most sophisticated free-market economy in Africa. The South African Government has embarked on an ambitious five year capital expenditure programme worth approximately £74 billion, with the majority of the spending taking place in public infrastructure and power generation.

In recent years there has been significant investment in South Africa by household British names such as Barclays Bank, Rolls Royce, Cadbury's, Vodafone, Virgin Mobile and Associated British Foods. This demonstrates South Africa’s enormous potential as an investment destination for UK companies. UK companies have also been active before and during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.

Some 600 South African companies are present in the UK (four out of five South African businesses in Europe are based in the UK), with information technology, light engineering, creative industries, financial services and consultancy being the most prominent sectors. Significant investors include Old Mutual, SAB Miller, Investec, DiData, De Beers, Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Sasol. Most of the provisions of the EU-South Africa Trade, Co-operation and Development Agreement (TDCA) came into force on 1 January 2000.

The UK is the second largest European trader with South Africa (after Germany). The TDCA has boosted South Africa's trading prospects with Europe, and liberalisation towards a free trade area over the 12-year transition period will strengthen the UK's commercial position in South Africa.

UK Trade & Investment Country Profile: South Africa (

Advance fee/419 fraud

Many people and companies in the UK (and elsewhere) receive letters, faxes and e-mails, purporting to come from Nigerian, and increasingly often South African, individuals or government departments, offering them large sums of money in exchange for allowing use of their bank accounts. These are frauds, and the money does not exist. Four One Nine fraud takes its name from the relevant section of the Nigerian Criminal Code.

Four One Nine fraudsters are increasingly using the internet as e-mails are more difficult for Law Enforcement Agencies to intercept. To give the fraud an air of credibility, the e-mails are often linked to current events or high profile individuals. The fraudsters also hack into authentic websites of banks and companies and copy details of their executives. Receipt of a 419 e-mail should be reported to the abuse team of your Internet Service Provider (ISP), for example If you are in the UK and have actually lost money you should inform the Fraud Desk at the Metropolitan Police - Email: (">Frozen pensions

State pensions to UK residents in South Africa are not increased annually in line with inflation. Instead, they are frozen, either from the date the person first became entitled to a state pension, or from the date that they left the UK, depending on which is the later. Some pensioners living overseas do receive increases that keep their pensions in line with inflation, but only in those countries where the UK has reciprocal social security agreements. This is not the case in South Africa.

The issue of index-linking state pensions was the subject of a landmark Court of Appeal decision in the Annette Carson (UK resident in South Africa) case. This confirmed that the Government has no duty to up-rate state pensions to those living abroad where there is no legal requirement to do so, or where there is no reciprocal arrangement in place. An appeal lodged by Ms Carson was rejected by the House of Lords in May 2005.


In 2006 the Department for International Development Southern Africa (DFID-SA) launched the Regional Plan for Southern Africa to work on growth and poverty with South Africa across borders in Southern Africa. The Regional Plan responds to the recommendations from the Commission for Africa and commitments made by G8 leaders in 2005 to give better and more aid towards Africa’s development. The plan will support the priorities of the African Union, NEPAD and SADC in the Southern Africa region. By 2010, DFID’s support will lead to:

-- South African supermarkets sourcing 30% more inputs from other Southern African countries (rather than on the international market);

-- a 5% increase in fruit and vegetable exports from Southern Africa;

-- more effective border posts with a 30% reduction in waiting time;

-- transport costs for landlocked countries reduced by 25% due to improved roads, ports and rail infrastructure;

-- at least three countries in the region able to predict and plan for hunger needs of their people;

malaria-related deaths falling by 50%;

-- a 50% increase in Tuberculosis case detection and treatment;

a reduction in HIV infection rates.

DFID-SA will join up with the other European Union donors to support poverty reduction in South Africa. We will work more closely with South Africa to further develop its role and influence in the region. Through the Regional Plan, we will contribute £100 million to poverty reduction in Southern Africa over the next five years. United Nations Development Programme ( World Bank (

Back to the Top


The ANC won South Africa's first non-racial general elections in April 1994. Mandela became President and a Government of National Unity was formed; Commonwealth membership was restored and the remaining international sanctions against South Africa lifted. South Africa took up her seat in the UN after a 20-year absence. Parliament approved a new South African Constitution on 8 May 1996. Mandela handed over leadership of the ANC to Thabo Mbeki in December 1997, who succeeded him as State President following the general elections of 1999. In 2007 Jacob Zuma took over from Mbeki as leader of the ANC.

On 22 April 2009, South Africa held its fourth General Election since the end of apartheid. ANC President Jacob Zuma was elected President for a five-year term. The ANC won 65.9% of the national vote (down from 69.7% in 2004). The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) won the Province of the Western Cape from the ANC and increased its national share to 16.7%. New party Coalition of the People (COPE - formed from former ANC members) achieved 7.4%, emerging as the official opposition in five of South Africa's Provinces. COPE is the third largest party (in terms of representation) in South Africa. The combined share of the smaller parties halved from 2004 to 4.72%.

Back to the Top


South Africa has a strong commitment to upholding human rights. It has a Human Rights Commission, set up in 1995. A justiciable Bill of Rights is enshrined in the 1996 Constitution enforceable through South Africa's Constitutional Court. It is a signatory to the principal UN Human Rights Instruments.

Human Rights Annual Report 2006 (#)

Back to the Top

Last Updated: December 2010

South Africa Main Page Country Profiles Main Page


Click any image to enlarge.

National Flag

(R) South African Rand (ZAR)
Convert to Any Currency


Locator Map