South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland


  1. Physical Characteristics
  2. Development Through Time
  3. Population
  4. Demographic Analysis (FROM POPULATION DATA SHEET)
    • Population Growth
    • Under 15 / Over 65
    • Infant Mortality
    • Percent Urban
    • GNI PPP
  5. Development
  6. Lesotho and Swaziland
  7. References
  8. Review Question

Physical Characteristics

South Africa lies on the southern tip of the African continent and is bordered on the north by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland. It is bordered on the east and south by the Indian Ocean and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. This unique location has provided a point of transit for ships from different places such as Great Britain and India. Enclosed within South Africa in the east is the country of Lesotho.

The main rivers of South Africa are the Orange, Vaal, and Limpopo. The Orange River is the longest river in the country, stretching some 1300 miles. It originates in Lesotho and flows in a northwestern direction, and finally empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The westernmost part of the Orange River forms the boundary between South Africa and Namibia. The Vaal River originates near Swaziland in the northeastern section of the country. It flows in a southwestern direction and eventually joins the Orange River. The Limpopo River originates in the northeast and flows northwest to the Botswana border. It then flows east along the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe before entering Mozambique and continuing to the Indian Ocean. Overall, the rivers of South Africa are irregular in flow and dry much of the year. Consequently, the rivers are of little use for navigation or hydroelectric power but are used for irrigation.

In the center of South Africa lies a great plateau region, which occupies about two-thirds of the country. Here cold winters and cool summers are the norm. The elevation of the plateau is greatest along the southeastern edge, which is marked by the Drakensberg Mountains. The plateau is divided into three regions based on elevation: the Highveld (4,000 to 6,000 feet), the Bushveld (less than 4,000 feet), and the Middle Veld (2,000 to 4,000 feet). The Highveld, which covers most of the plateau, is characterized by level terrain. The northern limit of the Highveld includes the city of Johannesburg. North of the Highveld is the Bushveld, which is broken into basins by rock ridges. The Bushveld slopes downward from east to west and towards the Limpopo River. The western section of the plateau is known as the Middle Veld. It also slopes downward in a westerly direction.

The climate of South Africa is the opposite of the United States In that the Winter is in and around July, while the Summer is in and around January. During the Winter when the pressure is high over the Central Plateau it produces cool air and sunny skies in most of South Africa. But far to the south it gets very cold with thunderstorms and constant overcast. During the summer when the pressure is low over the Central Plateau it produces a lot of rain for the majority while the coastal regions are dry and hot. Temperature and Rainfall both decrease going from east to west. The average rainfall on the far east tip is 75 inches a year, while the western section gets about 1 inch a year. The average temperature on the east coast is 71 degrees and the average on the west coast is only 57 degrees.

Development Through Time

The oldest inhabitants of South Africa were known as the San. They used a click language, clicking the tongue on top of the mouth, as a means for communication. Then in 1652, the first Dutch settlers arrived. They founded the coastal city of Cape Town and settled there. The Dutch were mostly farmers and cattle herders and had few outside influences. For the most part, the Dutch got along fairly well with the other native peoples. Eventually they developed their own culture and language and began occupying the interior part of South Africa. Descendants of the Dutch people came to be known as Boer people.

The Zulus were a Bantu people that overtook the San and created the kingdom of Zulu. They dominated the southern region of South Africa until the mid to late 1800's. Then they came into conflict with the British. On July 4, 1879, the British won a decisive battle over the Zulus and ended the independence of the Zulu nation. However, the Zulus remained a strong force and today are still largely found in the province the Europeans called Natal. The Zulus eventually played a prominent role in the downfall of Apartheid.

In the 1800's the British came to South Africa to mine the rich minerals of the country. At first the British occupied the coasts of South Africa and got along fine with the Boers. Then in the late 1800's, the British decided to take over the interior of the country. As a result, in October 1899, the British declared war on the Dutch in a war known as the Boer War. The British's reason for war was that they wanted the resources of the interior, especially around the city of Kimberly where diamonds were mined. The Dutch farmers did have some initial success, but in 1902 they lost to the British. The people of Great Britain and the rest of the world criticized the British for fighting poor farmers. After the war in 1910 the Union of South Africa was established. Not until the 1940's did the Aftrikaners establish absolute power.


The population of South Africa is 43.5 million. About 45% of the population is classified as urban. South Africa has a multiracial and multiethnic population. The reason South Africa is so heterogeneous is because people came to the country from all different places such as Western Europe, South and Southeast Asia, and other parts of Africa itself. Whites make up 17% of the population and are primarily from British, Dutch, German, and French Huguenot descent. The people of Dutch ancestry known as Afrikaners or Boers make up about 60% of the white population.

Black people make up 75% of South Africa's population. The Blacks belong to several ethnic groups such as the Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, and Swazi. The Zulu are the largest of these groups, making up about 22% of the black population.

Another group of people in South Africa are known as the Coloured people. Coloured people are of mixed racial origin, mainly black and white. They speak Afrikans and attend Afrikans churches. Today, most of the coloured population lives in or around Cape Town, a result of early intermarriage between whites and blacks.

Today South Africa has about 1.1 million Asians, most from India, among its population. These people were brought by the British to work in the mines because the defeated Zulu refused to work for the British. They are most numerous in the Natal province in the city of Durban. A small number of people of Malay origin are also included in the Asian population. They live mostly in the Cape provinces. The Coloured and Asian populations are very diverse in language, culture, and religion.

The Bantu people of South Africa includes more than 200 tribes That most likely migrated from Cameroon. Among the best known tribes are the Zulu. The Bantu vary greatly in physical type and cultural patterns. The Bantu's religious practices, music, arts, and crafts are also extremely diverse.


In 1948, the Afrikaners regained control from the British and implemented a strict racial segregation policy known as Apartheid. Apartheid was a policy of separate development designed to guarantee political and social domination by the country's white minority over the nonwhite population. The system was hard to keep going for many reasons including the difficulty distinguishing between white and black people. The apartheid system left a profound impact on South African society. Whites enjoyed a standard of living comparable to those of most developed countries in the world, while all nonwhites, especially blacks, received a standard of living comparable to those of Third World countries. During this period there was urban migration to cities so people could find work. Blacks were able to work in white parts of the city only during the day and with a work permit, and then had to return to their townships at night.

The Homelands concept was that places were set aside, within South Africa, by the government for the blacks. Only 14% of the land was set aside for the blacks, whom made up 70% of the people. These homelands were declared separate countries, although virtually no country other than South Africa recognized them. Eventually, protest movements led to the formation of the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela. Consequently, the Afrikaners practiced many human rights violations on protestors and imprisoned Mandela for 18 years.

Although opposition to the Apartheid began in the 1960's they began to intensify and get violent in the 1980's. Many corporations refused to do business with South African firms which made the businesses of South Africa oppose Apartheid because they were losing money. Regardless of race, South African athletes were no longer allowed to participate in the Olympics or the World Cup of Soccer. Things were changing and the whites had to allow free elections. In 1994, they elected ANC leader Nelson Mandela and in 1999 they elected another black man by the name of Thabo Mbeki.

Agriculture in South Africa is not very suitable for crop raising because of limited rainfall and infertile soil. Consequently, about 90% of the farmland in South Africa is devoted to rasing livestock, especially sheep, goats, cattle, hogs, and poultry. However, South Africa is still able to produce almost all the crops they need for food. They produce wheat on the central region and corn on the east coast. Coastal fishing is also an important agricultural industry in South Africa.

Although most of Southern Africa's best ports, factories, and minerals can be found in South Africa the economic development of has been greatly effected by its racist policies. As a result, other countries would not trade with them. Countries also disinvested in South Africa and condemned it for its human rights transgressions. South Africa's greatest resources are it's minerals, coal, chromium, platinum, diamonds, and uranium. The country is the world's largest producer of gold, representing more than 25% of the world total. Gold is mined primarily in Witwatersrand, the site of the richest gold fieldin the world. Most of South Africa's coal is found in the northeast between the countries of Lesotho and Swaziland. South Africa is also the fifth largest producer of diamonds in the world. Most of the diamonds come from the diamond fields near Kimberly, which were discovered in 1870. Although South Africa has successfully disbanded Apartheid and made it illegal to segregate residentially, their society is still ridden with problems. The groups of people that fought together to end Apartheid are now fighting amongst themselves. With the rise in crime and the startling number of citizens that suffer from AIDS they need to concentrate on saving their nation or it will be worse than it was before.

Lesotho and Swaziland

Lesotho and Swaziland are completely separate countries whose land is engulfed by South Africa. Lesotho, with an area of 11,718 square miles and a population of 2.1 million people, became an independent country in 1966. It is commonly called the "Switzerland of Africa". Although a separate entity from South Africa it’s economy is totally dependent on it. Wool and mohair are the chief exports of this mountainous country. Swaziland has an area of 6,704 square miles and a population of 1 million people. It became an independent nation in 1968 and its principal language is English. Swaziland’s main exports are sugar, wood pulp, and asbestos.


Blij,, Muller, Peter O. Geography: Realms Regions and Concepts 2000. By John Wiley and Sons, INC. 2000.

Haub, Carl, Cornelius, Diana, 2000 World Population Data Sheet, book edition, Copyright 2000, Population Reference Bureau, June 2000.

Rowntree, Les, Lewis, Martin, Price, Marie, and Wyckoff, William, Diversity Amid Globalization, World Regions, Environment, Development, By Prentice Hall, INC. Upper Saddle, New Jersey.


Review Questions

1. South Africa's homeland states: A. could only be settled by whites according to the laws of apartheid; B. are the provinces that comprise the Dutch/Boer culture hearth; C. were areas designated for settlement by blacks under the separate development program; D. were colonies of Asians and Coloureds that have been established within the borders of the country; E. None of the above.

2. The richest of all African countries is well-endowed with a variety of resources, except oil. European settlers first arrived here in 1652 and now account for 17.5% of the population: A. South Africa; B. Zimbabwe; C. Angola; D. Mozambique; E. Nambia.

3. The plateau of South Africa, which comprises 66% of the country, is characterized by three separate regions. These regions are: A. Highveld, Middle Veld, and Lowveld; B. Highveld, Bushveld, and Treeveld; C. Highveld, Bushveld, and Middle Veld; D. Bushveld, Middle Veld, and Lowveld.

4. Blacks belong to several different ethnic groups in South Africa. The largest of these groups, making up about 22% of the black population are the: A. Xhosa; B. Zulus; C. Sotho; D. Swazi; E. Pedi.

5. Apartheid was a policy developed and implemented in South Africa that: A. gave blacks, who were the majority of the population, absolute power; B. forced all Asians, most of whom were from India, to return to Asia; C. declared elephants an endangered species that no longer may be killed for their tusks; D. guaranteed political and social domination by the country's white minority over the nonwhite population; E. both A and B.

6. What disease is growing spreading rapidly in South Africa: A. Syphilis; B. Gonorrhea; C. AIDS; D. Herpes; E. Pneumonia.

7. What is the population of Swaziland: A. 2.1 million; B. 1.7 million; C. 1 million; D. 2.2 million.

8. Who was the current president of South Africa from 1993 to 2001: A. Nelson Mandela; B. Thabo Mbeki; C. Jesse Jackson; D. Derek Martinson.

9. Blacks make up what percentage of South Africa’s population: A. 75%; B. 86%; C. 57%; D. 15%; E. 93%.

10. South Africa is the leading exporter of A. Sheep; B. Wood Pulp; C. Computers; D. Gold; E. Automobiles.

Submitted by Ryan Tucker on 4/24/96 Resubmitted by Karen Tucker on 4/22/97 Re-resubmitted by Brian Turley on 4/30/97. Resubmitted by Chris Tate on 11/3/00