55 Fun Facts about South Africa

south-africa-grunge-flag

COVID-19: The information in this post is updated as much as possible in light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Please check the status of flights, activities etc. before you depart, as entry requirements and restrictions are constantly changing at a fast pace.

South Africa is a truly fascinating and magnificent country packed with incredible wildlife, the most breathtaking landscapes, and a complex history. 

Home to a multi-ethnic society encompassing a wide variety of languages, cultures and religions, it is aptly named the ‘Rainbow Nation’, and is famous for its popular tourist destinations and warm hospitality.

Officially called the Republic of South Africa (RSA), South Africa is the southernmost country of the African continent, sharing land borders with six other countries including Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and two tiny landlocked countries: Swaziland, and Lesotho – the latter being an enclave country – meaning it’s situated entirely within South Africa.

In this post I’ve compiled together 55 of the most cool, weird, and fascinating facts and useful information on South Africa.

Scroll on to read 55 Fun Facts about South Africa:

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South Africa infographic

15 General Facts about South Africa

 

#1. The only country in the world where 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners lived on the same street

Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu had houses on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Johannesburg.

 

 

#2. The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of the world’s 6 floral kingdoms 

 

tobias-reich-cape-town

And it’s the only one that is 100% contained within a single country.

 

 

#3. South Africa has incredibly rich and diverse environments

Some countries have deserts and some have subtropical forests right? South Africa is one of the few countries on the planet that consists of deserts, wetlands, grasslands, bush, subtropical forests, mountains and escarpments!

 

 

#4. The only country to voluntarily abandon its nuclear weapons programme

South Africa is the only country one earth to build and then decide to dismantle its entire nuclear weapons programme. Former president Frederik Willem de Klerk said South Africa had built six crude atomic bombs and had started a seventh during a 15-year clandestine project, before deciding to voluntarily dismantle its arsenal in 1989.




#5. Home of the world’s most luxurious train

 

Rovos_Rail_Dining_Car

The South African Rovos Rail is considered the most luxurious trail service in the world. A train journey from Johannesburg to Cape Town taking 17 hours costs more than a flight between the two cities that takes just two hours!

 

 

#6. South Africa has 10% of the total birds species on earth

About 900 different types of birds can be found all over the country, from ostriches to peacocks, and vultures to penguins.

 

 

#7. The world’s oldest human remains were found in South Africa

The discoveries are believed to be well over 160,000 years old – making them the oldest known human remains.

 

 

#8. Home to some of the best dinosaur fossils

The Karoo region in Western Cape is home to some of the best fossils of early dinosaurs. In fact, it’s estimated some 80% of the mammalian fossils found to date were found in the Karoo.




#9. Johannesburg has the world’s largest man-made forest

There are a whopping 6 million trees in Johannesburg alone, and it’s believed to be the site of the largest man-made forest on earth.

 

 

#10. You can swim with penguins in South Africa

 

harry-cunningham-penguins

Another awesome fact is that you can actually swim with colonies of Jackass penguins  here! They are located at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town near Cape Town, as well as further down the coast in Betty’s Bay.

 

 

#11. An entire country is located entirely inside South Africa

The Kingdom of Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa. There are only three enclave states in the world, the other two being San Marino and The Vatican (both surrounded by Italy).

 

 

#12. Cape Town is 5th in line for having the best blue sky on earth

That’s according to the UK’s National Physical Laboratory.




#13. The Orange River forms part of the border between South Africa and Namibia

Its source is situated in the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho, and it flows all the way across the country to the Atlantic in the west, making it the longest river in the country.

 

 

#14. South Africa has an abundance of diamond mines

Diamonds were first discovered on the banks of the Orange River between 1866 and 1867, and the first gold in the Transvaal, in the late 19th Century.

 

 

#15. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of South Africa

 

agulhas

Cape Agulhas, situated 75 miles (120km) from Cape Town, is the place where the official dividing line between the two oceans pass. This is where the warm-water Agulhas current of the Indian Ocean meets with the cold-water Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean and turns back on itself.

9 Facts about South African Culture & People 

 

#16. KwaZulu-Natal Province has its own monarchy

Despite the country’s status as a democratic republic, there is a monarchy in KZN (KwaZulu-Natal) Province specially provided for by the Constitution. Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu is the King of the Zulu Nation, has 27 kids and 6 wives, and lives quite literally like a king!




#17. Home to world-famous writers

South Africa is known for it’s literature and has produced some world-famous authors including, among others, J.R.R. Tolkien, Alan Paton, Breyten Bretenbach, Nadine Gordimer, Andre Brink, and Olive Schreiner.

 

 

#18. The aboriginal people of South Africa are the San and the Khoi

 

Bosquimanos-Grassland_Bushmen_Lodge,_Botswana_05

The hunter-gatherer Sans and the pastoral Khoi peoples became known as the KhoiSan and lived in modern day Western Cape around 300AD. Zulu and Xhosa tribes established large kingdoms in the region during the 15th Century.

 

 

#19. South Africa has the most official languages of any country

There are 11 official languages and they re: isiZulu (the sot commonly spoken), Afrikaans, isiXhosa (second most common), siSwati, Sesotho, Xitsonga, Sepedi, isiNdebele, Setswana, Tshivenda, and English, which is the language of business, politics and media. There is also a large number of other non-official languages. Most Africans speak more than one language.

 

 

#20. Land of famous sports stars

Famous sports stars from South Africa include cricketers AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, rugby player Francois Pienaar, athletes Caster Semenya and Oscar Pistorius, Princess Charlene of Monaco (Olympic swimmer), and Kevin Pietersen who played cricket for England.




#21. World famous celebrities from South Africa

Other famous celebrities born in South Africa include the world’s richest man Elon Musk, movie stars Charlize Theron, Sid James and Basil Rathbone, and US TV host Trevor Noah.

 

 

#22. South African Revolutionaries and Activists

 

Nelson_Mandela_Capture_Site

Nelson Mandela is regarded as perhaps the most famous political activist in the world, but did you know there are numerous other activities and freedom fighters that played a crucial role in the fight against apartheid and inspired many oppressed people around the world. They include Desmond Tutu, Oliver Tambo, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Miriam Makeba, and Steve Biko, an important civil-rights activist who was brutally murdered by police in custody.

 

 

#23. South Africa celebrates its annual Heritage Day on 24 September

On this day, the people of South Africa get together to celebrate their diverse cultures, traditions and beliefs. You’ll most likely find people dressed in traditional attire and enjoying a braai (barbecue).

 

 

#24. In 2006, South Africa became the 1st African country & the 5th country in the world to recognise same-sex marriage

South Africa is a world leader in LGBTQ+ rights, despite homophobia being extremely rife on the African continent. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation became illegal in 1996, and Gays have served openly in the military since 1998. Same-sex couples can marry, adopt children, and have equal access to IVF and surrogacy. That being said, LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination and personal attacks in rural areas.




10 Facts about South African food & drink

 

#25. Bobotie is the national dish of South Africa

Originally brought over to the Cape region by Asian settlers, the delicious dish is cooked in many homes and restaurants. Minced meat is simmered with spices (usually curry powder) as well as herbs, dried fruit and grated coconut, topped with a mixture of egg, and then baked until set.

 

 

#26. South Africa is the second largest producer of fruit on the planet

 

 

#27. South African cuisine is as diverse as the people in South African culture

 

braai

Meat forms the main ingredient of meals throughout South Africa. Dishes unique to the country include bunny chows, koeksusters, Melkert, and of course the braai, South Africa’s equivalent to the BBQ in other countries.

 

 

#28. South Africa is the largest meat producer in Africa

 

 

#29. Wine has been produced in South Africa since the 17th Century

The country first corked wine way back in 1659 and is now one of the world’s largest producers of wine.

 

 

#30. The world’s longest continuous wine route is found in South Africa

It’s situated in the famous Cape Winelands region in the Western Cape.




#31. South Africa’s Cape Winelands consists of around 560 wineries and 4,400 primary producers

 

cape-winelands

Route 62 runs through the region and is considered the longest win route in the world. This alone is a good reason to visit South Africa if you haven’t yet been!

 

 

#32. Rooibos (Red bush) Tea is grown exclusively in South Africa

The reddish tea is naturally free from caffeine and tannins and is anti-oxidant-rich, making it a superb health drink. It is only found in the Cederberg, Western Cape.

 

 

#33. Most of the world’s macadamia nuts come from South Africa

 

 

#34. SABMiller is the world’s second biggest brewery

South African brewery SABMiller ranks as the largest brewing company in the world, by volume. Whilst Saffers love their beer, the real reason why the brewery is so huge is because SABMiller supplies up to 50% of China’s beer.




11 Mind-blowing facts about South Africa

 

#35. The Table Mountain is one of the world’s oldest mountains

 

patrick-ward-table-mountain

The iconic Table Mountain in Cape Town is believed to be one of the oldest mountains in the world, at 260 million years old. Not only that, it is one of the world’s 7 New Natural Wonders, and is also one of the planet’s 12 main energy centres, radiating magnetic, electric and spiritual energy.

 

 

#36. The Powerhouse of the African Continent 

A whopping Two-thirds of Africa’s electricity is generated in South Africa!

 

 

#37. Approximately 80% of all of Africa’s rail infrastructure is found in South Africa alone!

 

 

#38. South Africa is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of mining and minerals

The country is extremely rich with an abundance of various precious metals and resources, it’s considered the world’s leader, holding nearly 90% of all platinum metals on earth and around 41% of all the world’s gold.




#39. The world’s oldest crater lies near Johannesburg

 

Vredefort-Crater

South Africa is home to the oldest meteor scar in the world – the Vredefort Dome in a town called Parys. Situated southwest of Johannesburg, the crater is so huge it can be seen from space. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 

#40. There are more flower species on the Table Mountain than there are in the UK

There are a whopping 8,200 species of flowers found on Table Mountain in Cape Town – which is more than those found in the entire United Kingdom! They include Yellow Everlastings, Ericas, and Cape Daisies.

 

 

#41. The world’s first successful heart surgery was in a Cape Town hospital

On 3rd December 1967 South African Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. The groundbreaking surgery was carried out on Louis Washkansky and Dr. Barnard was assisted by a large and exceptional team of surgeons, nurses and technicians. One of the assistants was Hamilton Naki, a black laboratory assistant who had assisted Dr. Barnard with research leading to the transplant. During the Apartheid era, Naki had no access to higher education due to his race, and despite this, he learned from and assisted university researchers and went on to do amazing work.

 

 

#42. Tugela Falls is the world’s tallest waterfall

 

Tugela_falls

Situated in the Drakensberg Mountains close to the border of Lesotho, Tugela Falls is the world’s highest waterfalls, not only by total height from sea-level, but recent debates by experts believe it to be taller than Angel Falls in Venezuela! (Photo)

 

 

#43. South Africa is the first country in the world to successfully turn coal into oil




#44. You can do the world’s highest bungee jump in South Africa

Take a trip to Tsitsikamma, on the Garden Route at the border between Western Cape and Eastern Cape to see the world’s highest commercial bungee jump! Those brave enough can take the 216 metre leap off Bloukrans Bridge and plunge towards the Bloukrans River below. An absolute must for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies!

 

 

#45. 80% of South Africa’s people are indigenous (Black), yet 80% of all the land and resources are owned by white people

This is one of the more shocking facts that I discovered when traveling around South Africa. It began with the influx of European settlers seeking to get rich off the vast land and resources, and with Dutch (and then British) colonial rule, it led to huge land grabs and polices that eventually brought in Apartheid. It’s the reason why there is still so much inequality in the country today.

10 Facts about South Africa for kids

 

#46. The only country in the world with 3 capital cities

They are: Cape Town, the legislative capital, Pretoria, the executive capital, and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital.

 

 

#47. Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to arrive in South Africa

In 1487, Bartolomeu Dias discovered what he called the “Cape of Storms”, which the Portuguese king then changed to the “Cape of Good Hope”. The reasoning behind this name is that the cape gave the Portuguese a new chance to find a sea route to India.

 

 

#48. The national animal of South Africa is the Springbok, the only southern African gazelle

 

springbok

You can spot them on open bush and grassland by water. The Springbok is also the emblem and nickname of the South African national rugby team.

 

 

#49. South Africa is three times bigger than Texas, and five times bigger than Japan

The country ranks 24th in the world in terms of land size.




#50. South Africa was colonised by the Dutch and then the British

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck established a colony in the Cape on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. This was so they could provide fresh food to ships making their way to Asia from Europe. There were very few indigenous people living in the Cape region, and as a result, slaves were brought from Indonesia, Madagascar and India to work in the colony.

In 1795, Great Britain took the Cape from the Dutch East India Company to stop France from gaining it via their takeover of The Netherlands. The British returned the Cape back to the Dutch in 1803, but annexed it in 1807 when the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt. The British succeeded in colonising all of South Africa until 1910 when the Union of South Africa was formed.

 

 

#51. South Africa is home to the Least Dwarf Shrew, the smallest mammal in the world

 

Least-dwarf-shrew

 

 

#52. There are more than 3000 shipwrecks in South Africa

Thousands of shipwrecks lay at the seabed and all around the South African coast, most dating back at least 500 years. This is due to South Africa’s strategic position on the planet, back when European seafaring powers had to connect their colonial lands in the East and West Indies via the southern tip of Africa.

 

 

#53. The world’s largest bird, the ostrich, is found in South Africa




#54. The Boer Wars and Union

The First Boer War occurred in 1880-1881, between the British and Boer Republics. The wars were fought when the British sought to annexe the Boer Republics (established when Dutch settlers moved north away from the Cape during the Great Trek). 

The British lost the First Boer War, and returned to fight 18 years later in the Second Boer War, in 1899. With a larger army and using scorched earth tactics, the Boers had no chance of winning, which led to a British victory in 1902.  

Although the British succeeded in annexing all of South Africa into the British Empire, all the colonies (Natal, Orange Free State, Transvaal and the Cape) formed a Union in 1910 and were granted semi-autonomous rule.

 

 

#55. The world’s largest reptile, the Leatherback Turtle, is found in South African waters

 

Leatherback_sea_turtle

So there you have it – 55 of the most fascinating, curious, and fun facts about South Africa.

I hope you find this post an interesting read, and that it inspires you to visit this vibrant, diverse and exciting country some day!

 

Further Reading: More Facts Posts




South Africa Wiki Facts:

 

General Information

More information, statistics and general information about South Africa, updated as of 2022:

  • Motto: ǃke e꞉ ǀxarra ǁke” (IXam) (Unity in Diversity)
  • Government: Unitary dominant-party parliamentary republic with an executive presidency
  • President: Cyril Ramaphosa
  • Deputy President: David Mabuza
  • Independence from United Kingdom: 31 May 1910 (Union), 11 December 1931 (self governance), 31 May 1961 (Republic)
  • Land area: 1,221,037km2 (471,445 sq miles) (rank: 24th)
  • Capital city: Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial)
  • Largest city: Johannesburg
  • Population: 60,142,978 (rank 24th)
  • Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
  • Languages: English, Zulu, Swazi, Afrikaans, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Xitsonga, Xhosa, Tshivenda, isiNdebele
  • Religions: Christianity (78%), no religion (10.9%), tradtional faiths (4.4%), Islam (1.6%), Hinduism (1%), others (2.7%)
  • National Holiday: Human Rights Day (21 March), Freedom Day (27 April), Heritage Day (24 September)
  • Highest Mountain: Thabana Ntlenyana, 3,482m (11,424ft) 
  • Largest Lake: Lake Sibaya, KZN
  • National Dish: Bobotie
  • National Flower: King Protea
  • Member of African Union: Yes
  • Official Website: www.gov.za
  • Time zone: UTC+2
  • Driving side: left
  • Country Number/Prefix: +27
  • Country Code: ZA

10 Largest Cities in South Africa

 

Here’s the ten largest cities in South Africa. Though not one of the three capitals, Johannesburg tops the list. It’s followed by the legislative capital Cape Town, located on the Cape Peninsula on the southwest coast. Ethekwini (including Durban), comes in third, on the Eastern Cape coast. Source: World Atlas

Rank

City

Population

1

Johannesburg

4,434,827

2

Cape Town

3,740,026

3

Ethekwini (includes Durban)

3,442,361

4

Ekurhuleni

3,178,470

5

Tshwane

2,921,488

6

Nelson Mandela Bay

1,152,115

7

Buffalo City

755,200

8

Mangaung

747,431

9

Emfuleni

721,663

10

Polokwane

628,999

Commonly Asked Questions

Here are 5 lesser-known facts about South Africa:

  1. Approximately 80% of all of Africa’s rail infrastructure is found in South Africa alone!
  2. Most of the world’s macadamia nuts come from South Africa.
  3. The only country to voluntarily abandon its nuclear weapons programme
  4. You can swim with penguins in South Africa
  5. The Kingdom of Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa

Here are 10 fun and exciting facts about South Africa:

  1. The only country in the world with 3 capital cities
  2. You can swim with penguins in South Africa
  3. South Africa is the second largest producer of fruit on the planet
  4. The Table Mountain is one of the world’s oldest mountains
  5. Tugela Falls is world’s tallest waterfall
  6. The world’s longest continuous wine route is found in South Africa
  7. The world’s first successful heart surgery was in a Cape Town hospital
  8. There are more than 3000 shipwrecks in South Africa
  9. You can do the world’s highest bungee jump in South Africa
  10. The world’s oldest crater lies near Johannesburg
  1. The only country in the world where 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners lived on the same street. Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu had houses on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Johannesburg.
  2. The South African Rovos Rail is considered the most luxurious trail service in the world.
  3. South Africa is home to the oldest meteor scar in the world – the Vredefort Dome in a town called Parys. 

South Africa is known for its stunning natural beauty, varied topography, and rich, cultural diversity. Along with stunning beaches, breathtaking mountain ranges and exotic wildlife, the country has become a popular global tourist destination for travellers.

Many different peoples make up South Africa, each with their own language and history. There are 11 official languages in the country (with many more unofficial ones). This colourful mix and huge melting pot of diversity is what gives South Africa its nickname, the “Rainbow Nation”.

Bootie is the national dish of South Africa. Originally brought over to the Cape region by Asian settlers, the delicious dish is cooked in many homes and restaurants. Minced meat is simmered with spices (usually curry powder) as well as herbs, dried fruit and grated coconut, topped with a mixture of egg, and then baked until set.

Book Your Trip to South Africa: Budget Tips & Tricks

 

Flights:

As always, I source the cheapest flights on the web from Skyscanner and Kiwi.com. They are considered the top flight search engines for the best deals.

Accommodation:

I use Booking to find fantastic cheap stays with free cancellation options. 

Travel Insurance:

Travel insurance will protect you from theft, injury, illness, and cancellations. A safety net in case anything goes wrong, I never leave without it. World Nomads is my favourite agent for total peace of mind.

Tours:

I book all my fave activities and guided tours on Get Your Guide & Viator – they do superb deals whilst offering excellent customer support.

Head over to my Travel Tools page for all my best travel tips & advice and everything you need for your trip.

Thank you for reading 55 Fun Facts about South Africa.

 

Do you know any more cool facts about South Africa? What’s your favourite? Let me know in the comments!


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Billy

Billy

Lover of epic adventures, budget travel, and fine coffee. When not travelling, Billy teaches dance, and creates performances on commissioned projects.

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Hey there! I’m Billy, the guy behind BRB | Gone Somewhere Epic. I’ve been travelling around the world for six years, having an absolute blast going on epic adventures, without breaking the bank. Click here to read more about the art of budget travel.

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