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South Africa Essay, Research Paper

Throughout the years South Africa has had many internal problems such as apartheid, small wars within the country, and poverty. Since the early 1990s most of these problems have subsided with the exception of poverty. Before 1994 there were only two official languages in South Africa, now the government recognizes eleven different languages. With the vast land of this region comes numerous religions, cultures, and beliefs. After many trials and tribulations, today South Africa is on the path to become a respected nation something it has not seen in years due to apartheid.

The Language, Religion and Politics of South Africa.

South Africa is located on the southern tip of Africa, bounded North by Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe and northeast by Mozambique and Swaziland. The Indian Ocean is located along the southern part of the country. South Africa has 2,700 miles of coastline, which makes this country a great place to import and export goods and services. Being easily accessiblie has help form the different cultures of this land, not to mention is various Religions and Languagues.


Until apartheid ended in 1994 only Afrikaans and English were official languages, although they represent the home languages of only 15 percent and 9 percent of the total population, respectively. Afrikaans is spoken not only by Afrikaners but also by 83 percent of Colored people. English is the primary language of many whites, but also is spoken by 95 percent of Asians. The 1994 constitution added nine African languages to the list of recognized, official languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho sa Leboa (Northern Sotho or Pedi), Tswana, Sesotho (Southern Sotho), Tsonga, Venda, Ndebele, and siSwati. Some of these African languages are mutually understood and many blacks can speak two or more of them, in addition to English and Afrikaans. Together these 11 languages are the primary languages of 98 percent of South Africans. Many Indians also speak Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Gujarati, and Urdu.

In practice English, and to a lesser extent Afrikaans, retain a dominant position, with English as the main medium of instruction in schools and most universities. Afrikaners attach great value to their language, however, and struggle to keep it as a medium of instruction and to resist any threat to undermine its status.


Of the four-fifths of South Africans who profess religious faith, 77 percent are Christians. The remaining 3 percent are Hindus (1.74 percent), Muslims (1.09 percent), and Jews (0.41 percent). Hindus are mainly Indian, and Muslims either Indian or Colored. There has been some growth of Islam among Colored people in recent years. The Christian churches include over 4000 African independent churches that collectively claim over 8.5 million adherents.

African independent churches originally broke off from various mission churches, but have since developed their own momentum. The majority is now Zionist or Apostolic churches, with some independent branches of the Pentecostal movement. The Zion Christian Church is by far the largest of these churches; biannual gatherings at Zion City, its headquarters in Moria near the Northern Province, usually attract about 1 million members. In rural KwaZulu-Natal there are hundreds of separate churches, and at least 900 churches flourish in Soweto.

Most Afrikaners belong to one of the three Dutch Reformed churches whose 4.5 million members also include about half of the Colored people and a small number of blacks. The Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (Afrikaans for Dutch Reformed Church ) is the largest of the Dutch Reformed churches with 4 million members including the Colored and African membership. It was a racially segregated church that supported the state during the apartheid years, but then recanted and moved closer to other churches. Other denominations include Roman Catholics (2.91 million), Methodists (2.25 million), Anglicans (1.46 million), Lutherans (0.96 million), and Presbyterians (0.56 million). The larger churches in this group were prominent in the struggle against apartheid, at least at the leadership level. A number of charismatic churches (an interdenominational Christian movement) have also been established in recent years, including the Rhema Church in Randburg, Gauteng Province.

Most people who claim no religious affiliation are African traditionalists. Their religion has a strong cultural base and rituals vary according to ethnic group. They generally recognize a supreme being, but ancestors are much more important, and they believe in manipulation of the power of spirits. Traditionalists have had some contact with Christianity and many are in a transitional position, incorporating aspects of both religions into their beliefs and worship.

Government and Politics

In 1910 the union of South Africa was formed, comprising the provinces of Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal. Jan Smuts speedily crushed a Boer (Dutch farmer s) rebellion on the outbreak of World War I. South Africa occupied German SW Africa (now Namibia). Between the wars the union was alternately governed by the republican nationalists under James Hertzog and the South African Party under Jan Smuts, who supported the Commonwealth connection. Hertzog wanted South Africa to be neutral in World War II, but Smuts took over as premier, and South African troops fought with the Allies.

The National Party (NP) has ruled South Africa since 1948. Its leader Daniel Malan, initiated the policy of apartheid, attempting to justify it as separate but equal development. In fact all but the white minority were denied a voice in the nation s affairs. In the 1950s the African National Congress (ANC) led a campaign of civil disobedience until it and other similar movements were declared illegal in 1960, and in 1964 the ANC leader Nelson Mandela was sentence to life imprisonment for alleged sabotage. He became a symbol of black opposition to the apartheid regime, remaining in prison until 1990.

In 1978 there was a constitutional reform to involve coloreds and Asians, but not blacks, in the government process. This led to a clash within the NP, and in March 1982 Dr. Adries Treunicht, leader of the hard-line (verkrampte) wing, and 15 other extremists were expelled. They later formed a new party, the Conservative Party of South Africa (CPSA). In 1985 a number of apartheid laws were amended or repealed, including the ban on sexual relations or marriage between people of different races and the ban on mixed racial memberships in political parties, but the underlying inequalities in the system remained and the dissatisfaction of the black community grew.

The African National Congress

The African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 in a response to the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, which ignored the wishes of the majority of the people of South Africa. For 30 years- from 1960 to 1990 the ANC was declared a banned organization and was forced to operate underground. Its leadership was either jailed or forced to live in exile.

In February 1991 President de Klerk of South Africa announced the intended repeal of all remaining apartheid laws. In March he announced legislation to abolish all racial controls on land ownership, enabling all South Africans to purchase land anywhere. In June 1991 all the remaining racially discriminating laws were repealed. As a result the US lifted its trade and investment sanctions against South Africa. In September President de Klerk announced a draft constitution, giving black people the franchise but providing strong safeguards for the white minority. It was immediately critiqued by the ANC because it served to preserve the white dominance.

The First Multiracial Elections

In the first nonracial elections April 1994, the ANC captured 62% of the popular vote and won seven out of South Africa s nine new Provinces. The NP came second with 20% (winning Western Cape), and Inkatha (IFP) third with 10%. Despite reports of ballot rigging in KwaZulu/Natal (where the IFP received the most support), the Independent Electoral Commission declared the elections as free of fraud. The following month ANC president Nelson Mandela, the same man jailed for 26 years was inaugurated as president and NP leader, F W de Klerk, as second deputy president. The post of home affairs minister went to Zulu leader Chief Buthelezi.

South Africa s Future

South Africa is now a politically transformed country, but many of the social and economic problems created by apartheid remain. The great majority of the black population endures substandard housing in an environment, which has been neglected for generations, while even the poorest whites live in relative comfort. The next few years will be vital to South Africa and they can use all the international help they can get. South Africa has already rejoined the Commonwealth and, although that event is mainly symbolic, it marks a stage in the country s progress toward its full potential. If the country’s mission is successful the new South Africa could become the continent s leader and, rather than the world s social outcast, an example of what a truly multiracial society can achieve.

Facts and Maps

Location: Southern Africa, at the extreme southern tip of the continent

Map references: Africa, Standard Time Zones of the World


Total area :1,219,912 sq. km

Land area :1,219,912 sq. km

Comparative area: slightly less than twice the size of Texas

Note: includes Prince Edward Islands (Marion Island and Prince Edward Island)

Land boundaries: total 4,750 km, Botswana 1,840 km, Lesotho 909 km, Mozambique 491 km, Namibia 855 km, Swaziland 430 km, Zimbabwe 225 km

Coastline: 2,798 km

Maritime claims:

Continental shelf: 200-m depth or to depth of exploitation

Exclusive fishing zone: 200 NM

Territorial sea: 12 NM

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