South Africa, or Republic of South Africa, an independent country in Africa. Until 1961, it was called the Union of South Africa. The country lies at the southern tip of the continent, facing the Indian Ocean on the south and east and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. Neighbors are Lesotho, which is surrounded by South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.

South Africa also includes Prince Edward and Marion islands, which lie in the South Atlantic Ocean about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) southeast of Cape Town. Maximum dimensions of South Africa are about 1,125 miles (1,810 km) northeast-southwest and 750 miles (1,200 km) southeast-northwest.

Nine provinces make up South Africa. They are Eastern Cape, Western Cape, North-West, Northern Cape, Limpopo, Free State, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu/Natal, and Gauteng.

South Africa is richly endowed with natural resources and has an advanced economy. Until reforms were made in the early 1990's its political system was characterized by racial discrimination by white South Africans (who form a minority of the population) against the black majority.

South Africa in brief
General information
Capitals: Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative), Bloemfontein (judicial).
Official languages: South Africa's 11 official languages are (1) Afrikaans, (2) English, (3) Ndebele (isiNdebele), (4) Sepedi, (5) Sesotho, (6) Swazi (siSwati), (7) Tsonga (Xitsonga), (8) Tswana (Setswana), (9) Venda (Tshivenda), (10) Xhosa (isiXhosa), and (11) Zulu (isiZulu).
Official name: Republic of South Africa.
National anthem: Combined version of "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika" and "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika/The Call of South Africa."
Flag and coat of arms: South Africa's flag, adopted in 1994, has two horizontal stripes of red and blue separated by a green stripe that splits into a horizontal Y at the left side of the flag. A black triangle with a yellow border is on the left side of the flag. The red and blue stripes are separated from the green band by narrow white stripes. The flag represents the country's peoples coming together in unity. The coat of arms, adopted in 2000, has human figures symbolizing unity and the secretary bird, which symbolizes growth and power. The motto at the bottom of the coat of arms is in an ancient South African language and means diverse people unite.
Largest municipalities: (2001 census) Johannesburg (3,225,810);eThekwini (Durban) (3,090,117); Cape Town (2,893,251);Ekurhuleni (East Rand) (2,480,282).
Land and climate
Land: South Africa lies at the southern tip of Africa, with a coastline on the Indian and Atlantic oceans. The country borders Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland, and it completely surrounds the country of Lesotho. South Africa's interior is mostly plateau. Coastal lowlands lie in the east. The Cape Mountains are in the far south. The Namib Desert stretches along the west coast. The Kalahari Desert covers much of the northwest interior. South Africa's main rivers include the Orange and its branch, the Vaal.
Area: 471,445 mi2 (1,221,037 km2). Greatest distanceseast-west 1,010 mi (1,625 km); north-south, 875 mi (1,408 km). Coastlineabout 1,836 mi. (2,954 km).
Elevation: Highest--Champagne Castle, 11,072 ft (3,375 m) above sea level. Lowest--sea level.
Climate: South Africa's climate is generally mild and sunny. The Cape Mountains Region has warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Much of the Coastal Strip has hot, humid summers and dry, sunny winters. In the Plateau, summer days are hot, but the nights are cool. The winter is cold. The deserts are hot and dry. Only about a fourth of South Africa receives more than 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain yearly. More rain falls in the east than in the west.
Form of government: Parliamentary republic.
Head of government: President.
Legislature: Parliament of two houses: National Assembly (350 to 400 members); National Council of Provinces (90 members).
Executive: President (elected by the National Assembly) and Cabinet.
Judiciary: Constitutional Court is highest court in constitutional matters; Supreme Court of Appeal is highest court in other matters.
Political subdivisions: Nine provinces.
Population: Current estimate47,114,000. 2001 census44,819,778.
Population density: 100 per mi2 (39 per km2).
Distribution: 58 percent urban, 42 percent rural.
Major ethnic/national groups: 79 percent black African (mainly Zulu, Xhosa, and Sotho); 10 percent white; 9 percent Coloured (mixed race); 2 percent Asian (mostly Indian).
Major religions: 40 percent Protestant; 40 percent African Independent churches; 8 percent Roman Catholic; less than 2 percent each of Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and traditional African religions.
Chief products: Agriculturecorn, chickens and eggs, beef cattle, wheat, sugar cane, sheep, wool, apples. Manufacturingchemicals, processed foods and beverages, transportation equipment, iron and steel, fabricated metal products, machinery, paper products, textiles. Mininggold, coal, diamonds, copper, iron ore, uranium, manganese, chromite, platinum, vanadium.
Money: Basic unitrand. One hundred cents equal one rand.
International trade: Major exportsgold, diamonds, metals and minerals, wool, corn, sugar. Major importsmachinery, petroleum and petroleum products, transportation equipment, electrical equipment, computers. Major trading partnersGermany, Japan, United Kingdom, United States.