South Africa is full of astonishing facts. From having the world’s highest commercial natural bungee jump to Nelson Mandela being known by six different names – there’s plenty to discover!
Here are five things you should know about South Africa, commonly referred to as the Rainbow Nation for its multi-cultural history and as an outstanding example of reconciliation after decades of apartheid.
1. The Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park in South Africa is a vast wildlife sanctuary recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s premier parks. Situated near Mozambique and Zimbabwe borders in northeast South Africa, its initial formation occurred when then President Paul Kruger declared it as government wildlife park during late 1800s; since then it has expanded and now spans 7,523 square miles.
The park boasts an astoundingly diverse ecosystems and animal population. It boasts some of the highest concentrations of leopards and rhinos found anywhere, as well as African painted dogs – critically endangered species – found anywhere. Cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippopotamis, buffalos and many other highlights can also be found here; not forgetting ancient rock art sites.
Kruger National Park is renowned for its incredible natural beauty, and evidence indicates our ancestors lived here up to two million years ago. Evidence of this can be seen by its abundance of sandveld formation in its far northern corner formed when rampant sandstorms brought sediment from Kalahari Desert; due to the soft nature of this particular type of sand it became the favorite home of Eland, which are abundant throughout Kruger and often depicted on ancient rock drawings.
Kruger Park can best be experienced by air; three airports exist within close proximity: Nelspruit, Hoedspruit and Skukuza. You could also fly directly into Johannesburg before making the journey out into Kruger.
2. The San People
The San (also referred to as Bushmen) are hunter-gatherers that inhabited Southern Africa long before Bantu-speaking agriculturalists settled the area. As one of Africa’s oldest hunter-gatherer cultures, their ancestors once occupied territories such as Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe Lesotho and South Africa.
The San first came to globalized world’s notice during the 1950s when South African author Laurens van der Post published a six-part television documentary. Van der Post had long held an admirable fascination for native African cultures and was given permission by BBC to travel to Kalahari Desert and document lives of San people that were gradually disappearing into oblivion.
Even in their hostile environment, the San have an intricate culture. Their tradition includes gift-giving and the production of intricate eggshell jewellery and drawings as well as music and spiritual practices. Furthermore, their survival enabled by expert trackers enabled them to find food easily; caves or shelters near waterholes provided them with easy access to potable water for drinking purposes.
Today, San people continue living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle while they steadily lose their ancestral land. Adapting to modern society while passing down traditions is becoming increasingly challenging; traditional knowledge may also be dissolving as people no longer possess the skills required for hunting and gathering food for daily sustenance from plants and animals.
Many ancient tribes have struggled to maintain their traditions as they engage with more modern societies, but the San are making an outstanding effort to uphold their most important beliefs and traditions while taking full advantage of what modern society can provide them.
3. The Khoi People
South Africa is renowned for being a nation with multiple ethnic groups, often being known as the Rainbow Nation. While progress has been made since apartheid’s end in 1994, inequality and disparities persist between various population groups.
The Khoi People have lived in southern Africa for at least 2 millennia. Their nomadic lifestyle and deep connection to the land speak volumes for their resourcefulness and resilience; their food a testament of this, with their most famous dish being Biltong; dried and cured beef that has become an international favorite snack food. Furthermore, they possess an in-depth knowledge of native plants which they utilize both medicinally and culinary purposes.
White colonial expansion and land seizure had a devastating effect on Khoikhoi society from the late 17th century onwards, as their numbers steadily diminished. Many were integrated into existing clan and family groups of the Xhosa; others settled as farmworkers or bondsmen; yet some Khoikhoi are still keeping to old traditions today – one such place being Richtersveld National Park where traditional |haru oms (portable rush-mat covered domed huts) still reside among their people residing.
Huts serve as reminders of their nomadic lives and are easily portable, enabling them to move whenever grazing lands become scarce. Their language of click sounds is still spoken in some regions and they continue to practice their traditions while respecting their environment as home. Recent socio-political changes in South Africa have begun dismantling apartheid-era racial categories by giving Khoikhoi and San communities their right to self-identify as Indigenous groups.
4. The Springbok Antelope
The Springbok (or Springbuck) is an iconic animal in South Africa. It is best known for its distinctive markings – dark lines from its mouth to eyes and curled, lyre-shaped horns; both male and female Springbok possess these features which sets them apart from closely related Impala species. Other unique characteristics of a Springbok include long legs and light brown coat. Male Springbok have up to 50 cm horn length.
Cheetahs are desert-adapted animals found across southern Africa’s treeless plains and deserts. Although fast runners, cheetahs cannot outrun them despite their speed – yet.
Springbok are best-known for their incredible ability to “pronk,” or perform stiff-legged vertical leaps of up to two meters high, as a sign of excitement or deterrence against predators or mating displays. Springbok may also emit low bellows as greetings or emit an alarmed alarm call when threatened or alarmed; their large herds usually include adult females with their young offspring plus one or more dominant males who act as protectors and forage providers.
Springbok are predominantly active between dawn and dusk and spend much of their lives grazing on succulent plants for sustenance, instead relying on food sources as their sole source of moisture. As national icons of South Africa, springbok can be seen on both its flag and currency as well as on rugby jerseys of its rugby union team.
5. The Rainbow Nation
South Africa, often referred to as the Rainbow Nation, boasts a diverse population with diverse peoples and cultures that span continents from across Africa. Home to 11 official languages and ethnic groups from diverse countries around Africa.
At one time, South Africa was ruled by one of the most deplorable, inhumane and brutal systems on Earth – apartheid – which legalised racial segregation and denied education, housing, jobs income and lifespan to its black majority population.
Since 1994 and the end of apartheid, South Africa has transformed considerably with many divisions gradually dissolving. South Africans born after 1994 are often described as having more economics-based values rather than those which once divided them.
But that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away; many of the same ills remain, including poverty levels, unsustainable state spending and high crime rates in certain areas. And corruption still pervades the economy.
Remind yourself that South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries on earth, from its majestic deserts and forests to mountains and oceans, record-breaking animals, world-famous wines and cuisine, record-setting athletes and some of the most stunning beaches imaginable. Additionally, its impressive scientific community boasts multiple Nobel prize winners who have made significant discoveries like yellow fever vaccine and computed Axial Tomography scan. Lastly, South Africa also holds eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites while being the first African country to recognise same-sex marriage!