Southern Africa



1.      Regional Characteristics

o        Physical Characteristics

o        Climate

o        Population

o        Culture

o        HIV/ AIDS & other health problems

o        Economic Development  

2.      Demographic Analysis

o        2006 Population 

o        Under 15/ Over 65

o        Infant Mortality

o        Percent Urban

o        GNI PPP

3.      Countries

o        Mozambique

o        Madagascar

o        Angola

o        Zimbabwe

o        Malawi

o        Zambia

o        Namibia

o        Botswana

4.      References

5.      Review Questions


Regional Characteristics

Southern Africa consists of all of the countries that lie south of Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania, except South Africa itself. Southern Africa is a plateau region marked by many escarpments, cliffs or steep slopes at the edge of a plateau. The major river of the region is the Zambezi, which defines the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Another river that runs through Southern Africa is the Orange-Vaal; that connects Southern Namibia into South Africa. Southern Africa does not contain any of the volcanic and earthquake activity that is a characteristic of East Africa.

The climate of Southern Africa varies, becoming drier further south you get from the equator, consisting of savannah grasslands to deserts. The eastern side of the region has more moisture due to the influence of the Indian Ocean. Namibia lies on the western side of Southern Africa and its dry climate receives an average annual rainfall of 4 to 12 inches. As you move further to the east, Mozambique receives an average annual rainfall of 30 to 56 inches. Precipitation in southern Africa follows the general pattern of global precipitation. Since the area is roughly 20 degrees away from the equator, it follows patterns observable in South America, Central America and Australia. Due to systems of atmospheric and oceanic circulation, as well as heat and moisture transfer, there is a dearth of moisture in the western and central portion of these areas. At the same latitude, the continents receive more moisture along the eastern coasts.

The population of Southern Africa’s eight countries totals 95.2 million in 2006. As there are very few large cities, the population is greatly dispersed. Areas of copper mining tend to attract clusters of the region's population. The population also tends to settle in areas of higher elevation where the temperatures are cooler either on top of the plateau or some places near a waterfront.

Southern Africa represents a diverse region with more than 90 different ethnic groups in the country of Angola alone. Religion varies from the traditional African religions to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, which were brought to Africa from the Portuguese and the British. Although the former Portuguese colonies have deemed Portuguese as the official language and former British colonies have deemed English as the official language, Bantu languages dominate most of the region.

AIDS is a serious problem for Southern Africa. Most of Southern Africa is in the middle of an HIV epidemic, but the AIDS epidemic has yet to be experienced. The distinction between AIDS and HIV is not clear in most people's minds in this area. Four to eight years after HIV is diagnosed, people begin falling ill and dying in significant numbers. Curtailing the epidemic faces the additional hurdles of a majority of people in Southern Africa who see a traditional healer for illnesses, instead of a doctor, and the shortage of "Western" medicine available.

Many other health problems plague Southern Africa. Malaria, a parasitic infection transmitted to humans by a mosquito, is found in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Symptoms range from: fever and flu-like symptoms, to chills, general soreness and tiredness. If not treated, Malaria can cause anemia, kidney failure, coma and death. Other illnesses transmitted by a mosquito are found in pockets of Southern Africa. These include Yellow Fever (Botswana), Dengue Fever (Zimbabwe), and sleeping sickness. There is no specific treatment for Yellow or Dengue fever. Diseases in Southern Africa can also be transmitted through contaminated water or food. Typhoid Fever is a bacterial infection. It has symptoms of fever, headaches, tiredness, loss of appetite and constipation. Typhoid is treatable with antibiotics. Cholera, transmitted by contaminated water, has been reported from most of the countries of Southern Africa. Parasites are responsible for parasitic infections and are transmitted through contaminated food and water, through direct contact with soil or water containing larvae or by biting insects.

In mineral terms, the Southern part of Africa is the richest. Large amounts of minerals have attracted many migrant workers to work in the mines in Northern Zambia. The enormous amount of minerals in this region include copper, chrome, asbestos, gold, chromium, diamonds, platinum, coal, iron ore, petroleum, manganese, lead, and zinc. Agriculture constitutes most of the region’s economy. Export crops include tobacco, cotton, tea, coffee, corn, wheat and other cereals. The pastoral industry of Southern Africa includes dairy and beef cattle, and wool. Unfortunately, despite this wealth and productivity, the countries of Southern Africa are severely underdeveloped due to political crises and armed conflicts that have devastated entire states.

Demographic Analysis


2006 Pop.


Under 15


Over 65


Infant Mortality

Percent Urban








2, 210


















































The table above presents a demographic analysis of Southern Africa.  Out of the eight countries, Mozambique has the highest population in Southern Africa as of 2006. For the most part, the populations of these countries are fairly consistent.  The only major difference in population is found in Botswana with 1.8 million and Namibia with 2.1 million.  This is probably due to the dessert climate of these two countries.

When comparing the percent of the population under fifteen and over sixty-five, there is a similar range in numbers.  The percent of people under fifteen is somewhere between 38-47 percent, which is much higher than the percent over 65.  Therefore, it is obvious that the older population is much smaller than the younger population.

The population data sheet indicates that there is a large range of numbers when comparing the infant mortality rate in these countries.  For example the highest infant mortality rate is found in Angola with 139 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2006, while Namibia only has 44.  Angola, known to be one of the underdeveloped countries of the world, has a high number of infant deaths. 

The percent of the urban population is below 55 percent. The two extremes are Botswana with 54 percent and Malawi with 14 percent.  The other six countries are closer in range.  Developed countries of the world are typically above 80% urban.

The last selected category is the GNI PPP.  There is a large range in numbers for the GNI PPP.  Botswana is the highest with 10,250 and Malawi has a low of 650.  That is a difference of 9,600.  When comparing the GNI in Southern Africa to other countries in the world, it is relatively low. 



Mozambique is the most populous country in Southern Africa. The population of Mozambique is 19.9 million. The capital of Maputo is the largest city in Mozambique, with a population of 1.4 million. Most of the population is concentrated in coastal areas along the Zambezi River, and in the Angonia Plateau. Before declaring independence on June 25, 1975, Mozambique was a Portuguese colony. Under Portuguese rule, the chief sources of income were cashew and coconut plantations. The location of Mozambique, off of the Indian Ocean, allowed the country to handle the external trade of Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa’s Witwatersrand mining and industrial complex. Once independence was gained, Mozambique chose a Marxist form of government modeled after the Soviets. Unhappy with the type of government chosen, a rebel movement was formed which gained support from South Africa. In the 1990s, Mozambique changed political courses and reached an accommodation with South Africa. Today, Mozambique is one of the world's most underdeveloped countries characterized by famines, social dislocation, political disorder, and economic chaos. The economy depends heavily on foreign assistance.


Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island found in the Indian Ocean. The population of the island is 17.8 million and steadily increasing. Madagascar experienced colonial invasion from Portugal, Britain and France. By 1895, Madagascar had become a French colony and remained so until it proclaimed its independence June 6, 1960. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, suffering from chronic malnutrition, under funded health and education facilities, and severe deforestation and land erosion. Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, accounts for 70% of the islands export earnings. Since 1993, corruption and political instability have caused even further economic decay. The majority of the work force is engaged in subsistence agriculture. The most unique feature of Madagascar is its long-term isolation, which has appeared to create its own Garden of Eden in the plant and animal world. Primates found here are found nowhere else; 33 varieties of lemurs are unique to the island. Many species of birds, amphibians and reptiles will be found nowhere in the world but on the island of Madagascar.


Angola has a population of 15.8 million. The land area of Angola is slightly less than twice that of Texas. Angola is rich in mineral resources and further geological exploration is likely to add more to the list. The major resources include petroleum, diamonds, iron ore, manganese, copper, uranium, phosphates, and salt. Like Mozambique, Angola was a former Portuguese colony. When the country first gained independence, the economy was thriving. However, Angola chose a Marxist form of government with a communist course. Unhappy with the form of government that was chosen, a rebel movement was formed which gained financial and military support from South Africa. Today the government of Angola consists of a multi-party democracy with a strong presidential system. The one thing that saved Angola from complete devastation was Cabinda, a small enclave separated from the main territory along the coast in the north at the western end of Zaire. Cabinda, separated from the conflict, contains oil reserves and was able to continue to produce revenues throughout the war. A peace treaty was signed on November 20, 1994 and is generally holding, but the provisions of the treaty remain to be implemented.


Zimbabwe, also known as Rhodesia, is located north of South Africa and has a population of 13.1 million. This landlocked country is rich in minerals, which are found in the Great Dyke, a geologic formation that stretches north and south across the center of Zimbabwe. Large coal reserves are located in the west near the city of Hwange. Zimbabwe is a leading world supplier of chromium ore, gold, and nickel.  Agriculture employs 70% of the labor force and supplies almost 40% of its exports. The major cash crop is tobacco; however, due to economic sanctions placed on the exportation of tobacco in the 1970s, there has been a shift to the production of maize, millet, sorghum, and wheat. Mining, accounting for 5% of Zimbabwe's economy and employment, accounts for about 40% of its exports. In the mid 1960’s, the British tried to move the country toward sovereignty. The white minority (approximately 2% of the total population) declared independence from London in 1965 with hope of retains control of Zimbabwe. The black majority, unhappy with the situation, rebelled and a civil war broke out. On April 18, 1980, the civil war ended with settlement and black majority rule, a true independence for the country of Zimbabwe.


Malawi, formerly a colony of Great Britain, gained its independence on July 6, 1964. The country of Malawi has one of the densest populations in Africa. Malawi’s population in 2006 was 12.8 million, placing it as number 69 in population among the 193 nations of the world.  Lake Malawi, lying in part of the rift valley that runs north to south through Malawi, is the third largest lake in Africa. Although some marble and limestone are produced, Malawi does not contain much mineral wealth and ranks among the world’s least developed countries. The economy is predominately agricultural, with about 90% of the population living in rural areas. The principle crops include corn, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables, and peanuts. Major agricultural exports include tobacco, tea, peanuts, and sugar. Malawi is also a major producer of tung oil, which is used in the paint and varnish industries.


Formerly part of the British colonial empire, Zambia achieved independence in the 1960s. Zambia has a population of 11.9 million. Zambia declared its independence from the United Kingdom on October 24, 1964. Zambia is a nearly pure homogenous area with 98.1% of its population African. The population is predominately rural as the majority of the working population is engaged in subsistence farming. Despite continuing progress in privatization and budgetary reform, Zambia's economy is still struggling. Inflation, while slowing somewhat, continues to be a major concern for the government. Zambia's copper mining industry, which accounts for over 80% of the nation's foreign currency intake, is struggling. The copper mines of Zambia are among the richest in the world. However, downturns in copper prices, coupled with the expense of long distance transportation, have produced severe economic consequences for Zambia. Other major exports include zinc, cobalt, lead and tobacco.


Namibia, formerly South-West Africa, has a population of only 2.1 million.  It is named after the Namib Desert. The Namib Desert in Namibia extends along the east coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Due to the extremely dry and hot climate, the majority of the population is concentrated in the north. Windhoek, the centrally located capital of Namibia, has a population of 185,000.  Namibia was once a former German colony.  After World War I, South Africa took over Namibia and it has now gained its independence. Namibia is struggling economically. Before independence, Namibia relied on South Africa. Now, much of the productive activity remains in foreign hands. Mining accounts for almost 25% of Namibia’s exports. Namibia is the fourth largest exporter of non-fuel minerals in Africa and the world's fifth largest producer of uranium. Rich diamond deposits make Namibia a primary source for gem quality diamonds. Over half of the population depends on agriculture, primarily subsistence agriculture, for its livelihood.


The country of Botswana is located in the heart of the Kalahari Desert. It has a population of only 1.8 million. Botswana is named after the majority of the population, the Tswana. Gaborone is the capital and main business center of Botswana. The country was taken under British rule in 1885 and regained independence on September 30, 1966. Although Botswana opposes the former racial policies of South Africa, good relations are maintained between the two countries due to Botswana's economic reliance upon South Africa.  Botswana's economy has historically been based on cattle raising and crops. In the late 1960s, the discovery and exploitation of minerals switched economical dependence to the export of minerals, mainly diamonds. Copper and nickel deposits are located in the Selebi-Pikwe area. Manufacturing is limited to food and mineral processing.


1.) de Blij, H.J., Peter O. Muller. Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts. 9th ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2000.

2.) de Blij, H.J., Peter O. Muller. The World Today: Concepts and Regions in Geography. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.

3.) Rowntree, Les, Martin Lewis, Marie Price, and William Wyckoff.  Diversity Amid Globalization: World Regions, Environment, Development. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006.

4.) 2006 World Population Data Sheet. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2006. 

Review Questions

1. The natural environment of Botswana is dominated by:

A. the mountains associated with the Great Escarpment

B. chronic water shortages

C. coastal swamps and deltas

D. tropical rainforests

E. coastal lowlands


2. What country was a former colony of Germany and was named South West Africa before getting its present name?

A. Angola

B. Botswana

C. Namibia

D. Zambia

E. Malawi


3. Who settled on the Island of Madagascar?

A. the Indians

B. Europeans

C. The British

D. Malaysians


4. What country has the highest population?

A. Namibia

B. Mozambique

C. Angola

D. Madagascar

E. none of the above


5. What is true about the climate?

A. It stays the same no matter what coast you are on

B. there is more precipitation on the west coast

C. There is little precipitation on either coast

D. It gets lower from east coast to the west coast


6. Which Southern African country, once a colony of Portugal, has considerable oil production from an exclave called Cabinda and invited Cuban troops to support its Marxist government during the 1980’s?

A. Zambia

B. Malawi

C. Angola

D. Mozambique

E. Zimbabwe


7. This Southern Africa country, once called Rhodesia, was ruled by a white minority government from its independence in 1965 until Black African rule was achieved in 1980:

A. Malawi

B. Zimbabwe

C. Zambia

D. Namibia

E. Mozambique


8. What is true about Angola?

A. The land area of Angola is slightly less than twice that of Texas

B. Used to have a Marxist form of government

C. The exclave province Cabinda contains oil reserves

D. The government of Angola now consists of a multi-party democracy with a strong presidential system

E. all of the above


9. The Southern African country with the least amount of mineral wealth is:

A. Angola

B. Zambia

C. Zimbabwe

D. Malawi

E. Namibia


10. Which of the following statements about Southern Africa is true?

A. Due to close proximity to the equator most countries have a tropical climate

B. Most countries still remain colonies

C. The area is sparsely populated

D. The western part of the regions receives much more precipitation than the eastern part

E. Because of a common past and culture, most residents share a single, common language


Submitted by April Thomas-Jensen on April 24, 1996; Resubmitted by Karen Thompson on April 30, 1997; Resubmitted by Eric Rysdam on November 2, 2000; Resubmitted by Quyen Tran & Kyla Schrad on April 25, 2007.