Since colonisation by both the Dutch and English, South Africa was ruled by a white minority government, which enforced a separation of races with its policy called apartheid.
Constitutional Republic/Parliamentary Republic
South Africa has eleven official languages. English is the official medium of instruction in many schools and universities. Other languages include isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, siSwati, Tshivenda, and isiNdebele.
Major ethnic groups include Black African 80.9%, coloured (mixed race) 8.8%, white 7.8%, Indian/Asian 2.5%
Christian 86%, ancestral, tribal, animist, or other traditional African religions 5.4%, Muslim 1.9%, other 1.5%, None 5.2%
South Africa's People
The education system in South Africa has been transformed since the abolition of apartheid, but this transformation has been slow – the South African primary and secondary education system is regarded as being of low standard and was listed in bottom place globally for maths and science by the World Economic Forum (2015). There remains a significant gap in education standards between rich and poor communities. Higher Education in South Africa, on the other hand, has seen heavy investment and now competes on the world stage.
South Africa has a three-tier education system of primary, secondary and further or higher education. The primary and secondary school sector is divided into; non fee- paying public schools, fee-paying public schools and private schools. Attendance at school compulsory for all children age 7-15.
In the post-apartheid period, increasing numbers of highly skilled white workers emigrated, citing dissatisfaction with the political situation, crime, poor services, and a reduced quality of life.
South Africa’s stability and economic growth has acted as a magnet for refugees and asylum seekers from nearby countries, despite the prevalence of discrimination and xenophobic violence. Refugees have included an estimated 350,000 Mozambicans during its 1980s civil war and, more recently, several thousand Somalis, Congolese, and Ethiopians. Nearly all of the tens of thousands of Zimbabweans who have applied for asylum in South Africa have been categorized as economic migrants and denied refuge.
South Africa is a middle-income emerging market with an abundant supply of natural resources; well-developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors; and a stock exchange that is Africa’s largest and among the top 20 in the world.
Economic growth has decelerated in recent years, although it is estimated to increase in 2020. Unemployment, poverty, and inequality – among the highest in the world – remain a challenge. Official unemployment is roughly 27% of the workforce, and runs significantly higher among black youth. Even though the country’s modern infrastructure supports a relatively efficient distribution of goods to major urban centres throughout the region, unstable electricity supplies retard growth. Eskom, the state-run power company, is building three new power stations and is installing new power demand management programs to improve power grid reliability but has been plagued with accusations of mismanagement and corruption and faces an increasingly high debt burden.
South Africa’s economic policy has focused on controlling inflation while empowering a broader economic base; however, the country faces structural constraints that also limit economic growth, such as skills shortages, declining global competitiveness, and frequent work stoppages due to strike action. The government faces growing pressure from urban constituencies to improve the delivery of basic services to low-income areas, to increase job growth, and to provide university level-education at affordable prices. Political infighting among South Africa’s ruling party and the volatility of the rand risks economic growth. International investors are concerned about the country’s long-term economic stability; in late 2016, most major international credit ratings agencies downgraded South Africa’s international debt to junk bond status.
Primary, Secondary and Tertiary industries (economic structures)
Major economic exports
Social, Economic, and Governance indicators
Taken from the Ibrahim Index of African Governance
Ranked out of 54 African countries
Violence against women and sexual minorities is high
Timeline of important events
The Union of South Africa parliament enacts the Status of the Union Act, which declares the country to be "a sovereign independent state". The move followed on from Britain's passing of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, which removed the last vestiges of British legal authority over South Africa.
Policy of apartheid (separateness) adopted when National Party (NP) takes power.
Population classified by race. Group Areas Act passed to segregate blacks and whites. Communist Party banned. ANC responds with campaign of civil disobedience, led by Nelson Mandela.
Seventy black demonstrators killed at Sharpeville. ANC banned.
South Africa declared a republic, leaves the Commonwealth. Mandela heads ANC's new military wing, which launches sabotage campaign.
International pressure against government begins, South Africa excluded from Olympic Games.
Township revolt, state of emergency.
FW de Klerk replaces PW Botha as president, meets Mandela. Public facilities desegregated. Many ANC activists freed.
ANC unbanned, Mandela released after 27 years in prison. Namibia becomes independent.
Start of multi-party talks. De Klerk repeals remaining apartheid laws, international sanctions lifted. Major fighting between ANC and Zulu Inkatha movement.
Agreement on interim constitution.
ANC wins first non-racial elections. Mandela becomes president, Government of National Unity formed, Commonwealth membership restored, remaining sanctions lifted. South Africa takes seat in UN General Assembly after 20-year absence.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu begins hearings on human rights crimes committed by former government and liberation movements during apartheid era.
Parliament adopts new constitution. National Party withdraws from coalition, saying it is being ignored.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission report brands apartheid a crime against humanity and finds the ANC accountable for human rights abuses.
ANC wins general elections, Thabo Mbeki takes over as president.
Constitutional court orders government to provide key anti-Aids drug at all public hospitals. Government had argued drug was too costly.
Bomb explosions in Soweto and a blast near Pretoria are thought to be the work of right-wing extremists. Separately, police charge 17 right-wingers with plotting against the state.
Government approves major programme to treat and tackle HIV/Aids. It envisages network of drug distribution centres and preventative programmes. Cabinet had previously refused to provide anti-Aids medicine via public health system.
Ruling ANC wins landslide election victory, gaining nearly 70% of votes. Thabo Mbeki begins a second term as president.
President Mbeki sacks his deputy, Jacob Zuma, in the aftermath of a corruption case.
Around 100,000 gold miners strike over pay, bringing the industry to a standstill.
South Africa becomes the first African country, and the fifth in the world, to allow same-sex unions.
Hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers take part in the biggest strike since the end of apartheid. The strike lasts for four weeks and causes widespread disruption to schools, hospitals and public transport.
Wave of violence directed at foreigners hits townships across the country. Dozens of people die and thousands of Zimbabweans, Malawians and Mozambicans return home.
A judge throws out a corruption case against ruling ANC party Chief Jacob Zuma, opening the way for him to stand as the country's president in 2009. President Mbeki resigns over allegations that he interfered in the corruption case against Mr Zuma. ANC deputy leader Kgalema Motlanthe is chosen by parliament as president.
ANC wins general election.
Parliament elects Jacob Zuma as president. Economy goes into recession for first time in 17 years.
Township residents complaining about poor living conditions mount violent protests.
Civil servants stage nation-wide strike.
Local elections, with opposition Democratic Alliance nearly doubling its share of the vote since the last poll. President Zuma mediates in Libyan conflict.
National Assembly overwhelmingly approves information bill accused by critics of posing a threat to freedom of speech. The ANC says it is needed to safeguard national security.
Police open fire on workers at a platinum mine in Marikana, killing at least 34 people, and leaving at least 78 injured and arresting more than 200 others. Prosecutors drop murder charges in September against 270 miners after a public outcry, and the government sets up a judicial commission of inquiry in October.
Former ANC youth leader Julius Malema is charged with money laundering over a government tender awarded to a company partly owned by his family trust. Mr Malema says the case is a politically motivated attempt to silence his campaign against President Zuma, in particular over the Marikana shootings.
Platinum mine owner Amplats fires 12,000 striking miners as wave of wildcat strikes shows little sign of abating.
The anti-corruption ombudsman heavily criticises President Zuma for a twenty million dollar upgrade to his private home.
Ruling ANC party wins a majority in general elections.
President Zuma announces plans to limit farm sizes and ban foreign farmland-ownership in an attempt to redistribute land to black farmers – a longstanding ANC pledge. Power utility Eskom rations electricity to prevent power cuts, blaming years of poor maintenance.
A spate of anti-immigrant attacks leaves several people dead.
Government receives unwelcome international attention over allegations of bribery to disgraced international footballing body Fifa to secure 2010 World Cup, and allowing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to visit despite International Criminal Court arrest warrant over genocide and war-crimes charges.
Supreme Court rules President Zuma violated the constitution for not repaying public money used to improve his private residence.
President Zuma dismisses widely-respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, leading to the country's credit rating being cut to junk status.
President Zuma resigns under pressure from the governing ANC over corruption charges, which chooses veteran trade unionist and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as his successor.
ANC wins the majority in the general elections. Cyril Ramaphosa becomes the President of the Republic of South Africa.
Xenophobic attacks break out and foreign businesses are targeted. Two foreign nationals are killed in the violence. Other African nations begin to offer voluntary repatriation to their citizens. Protests break out against high rates of gender-based violence in South Africa.
History of Peace Processes
Summary of Current Conflicts
Aftermath of Apartheid
In the aftermath of Apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with what happened under apartheid. The TRC consisted of three committees. The Human Rights Violations Committee investigated human rights abuses that took place between 1960 and 1994, based on statements made to the TRC. The Committee established the identity of the victims, their fate or present whereabouts, and the nature and extent of the harm they have suffered; and whether the violations were the result of deliberate planning by the state or any other organisation, group or individual.
The Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee provided victim support to ensure that the Truth Commission process restored victims’ dignity; and formulated policy proposals and recommendations on rehabilitation and healing of survivors, their families and communities at large. The envisaged overall function of all recommendations was to ensure non repetition, healing and healthy co-existence. A President’s Fund, funded by Parliament and private contributions, has been established to pay urgent interim reparation to victims in terms of the regulations prescribed by the President.
The Amnesty Committee considered applications for amnesty were done in accordance with legal provisions. Applicants could apply for amnesty for any act, omission or offence associated with a political objective committed between 1 March 1960 and 11 May 1994.
While the TRC has been commended for facilitating a peaceful transition to democracy, it has received much criticism for not dealing with systemic issues and prioritising reconciliation over retribution. In recent years, significant conflict has resulted from the systemic legacy of Apartheid including protests on university campuses and service delivery protests.
The National Peace Accord was an agreement amongst several political parties concluded during the transitional period between Apartheid and democracy in an attempt to mitigate violence. The NPA created national, regional and local structures that drew on volunteers to monitor the behaviour of its signatories and address issues of justice and local conflict mediation. Despite its limitations – dealing with the symptoms of violence rather than its causes and lacking legal force – the NPA helped contain violence, altered the attitude of the security forces and introduced an element of public accountability and pressure for peace.
From September 1994, soon after the elections, the new government started closing down the peace structures without stating its reasons. This decision was possibly taken in the belief that the new Constitution provided democratic mechanisms at all levels that supplanted the need for the NPA structures.