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South Africa :: Africa



Some of the earliest human remains in the fossil record are found in South Africa. By about A.D. 500, Bantu speaking groups began settling into what is now northeastern South Africa displacing Khoisan speaking groups to the southwest. Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of present-day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the settlers of Dutch descent (Afrikaners, also called "Boers" (farmers) at the time) trekked north to found their own republics, Transvaal and Orange Free State. In the 1820s, several decades of wars began as the Zulus expanded their territory, moving out of what is today southeastern South Africa and clashing with other indigenous peoples and with expanding European settlements. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration from Europe. ++ The Anglo-Zulu War (1879) resulted in the incorporation of the Zulu kingdom's territory into the British Empire. Subsequently, the Afrikaner republics were incorporated into the British Empire after their defeat in the Second South African War (1899-1902). However, the British and the Afrikaners ruled together beginning in 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a whites-only referendum. In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid – billed as "separate development" of the races - which favored the white minority at the expense of the black majority and other non-white groups. The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson MANDELA, spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule. ++ The first multi-racial elections in 1994 following the end of apartheid ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. South Africa has since struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in wealth, housing, education, and health care. Jacob ZUMA became president in 2009 and was reelected in 2014, but resigned in February 2018 after numerous corruption scandals and gains by opposition parties in municipal elections in 2016. His successor, Cyril RAMAPHOSA, has made some progress in reigning in corruption, though many challenges persist. In May 2019 national elections, the country's sixth since the end of apartheid, the ANC won a majority of parliamentary seats, delivering RAMAPHOSA a five-year term.



Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa

Geographic coordinates:

29 00 S, 24 00 E

Map references:



total: 1,219,090 sq km
land: 1,214,470 sq km
water: 4,620 sq km
note: includes Prince Edward Islands (Marion Island and Prince Edward Island)
country comparison to the world: 26

Area - comparative:

slightly less than twice the size of Texas

Land boundaries:

total: 5,244 km
border countries (6): Botswana 1969 km, Lesotho 1106 km, Mozambique 496 km, Namibia 1005 km, Eswatini 438 km, Zimbabwe 230 km


2,798 km

Maritime claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to edge of the continental margin


mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights


vast interior plateau rimmed by rugged hills and narrow coastal plain


mean elevation: 1,034 m
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Njesuthi 3,408 m

Natural resources:

gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, natural gas

Land use:

agricultural land: 79.4% (2011 est.)
arable land: 9.9% (2011 est.) / permanent crops: 0.3% (2011 est.) / permanent pasture: 69.2% (2011 est.)
forest: 7.6% (2011 est.)
other: 13% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land:

16,700 sq km (2012)

Population distribution:

the population concentrated along the southern and southeastern coast, and inland around Pretoria; the eastern half of the country is more densly populated than the west as shown in this population distribution map

Natural hazards:

prolonged droughts ++ volcanism: the volcano forming Marion Island in the Prince Edward Islands, which last erupted in 2004, is South Africa's only active volcano

Environment - current issues:

lack of important arterial rivers or lakes requires extensive water conservation and control measures; growth in water usage outpacing supply; pollution of rivers from agricultural runoff and urban discharge; air pollution resulting in acid rain; deforestation; soil erosion; land degradation; desertification; solid waste pollution; disruption of fragile ecosystem has resulted in significant floral extinctions

Environment - international agreements:

party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Geography - note:

South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Eswatini

People and Society


56,463,617 (July 2020 est.)
note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected
country comparison to the world: 26


noun: South African(s)
adjective: South African

Ethnic groups:

black African 80.9%, colored 8.8%, white 7.8%, Indian/Asian 2.5% (2018 est.)
note: colored is a term used in South Africa, including on the national census, for persons of mixed race ancestry who developed a distinct cultural identity over several hundred years


isiZulu (official) 24.7%, isiXhosa (official) 15.6%, Afrikaans (official) 12.1%, Sepedi (official) 9.8%, Setswana (official) 8.9%, English (official) 8.4%, Sesotho (official) 8%, Xitsonga (official) 4%, siSwati (official) 2.6%, Tshivenda (official) 2.5%, isiNdebele (official) 1.6%, other (includes Khoi, Nama, and San languages) 1.9% (2017 est.)
note: data represent language spoken most often at home


Christian 86%, ancestral, tribal, animist, or other traditional African religions 5.4%, Muslim 1.9%, other 1.5%, nothing in particular 5.2% (2015 est.)

Demographic profile:

South Africa's youthful population is gradually aging, as the country's total fertility rate (TFR) has declined dramatically from about 6 children per woman in the 1960s to roughly 2.2 in 2014. This pattern is similar to fertility trends in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and sets South Africa apart from the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, where the average TFR remains higher than other regions of the world. Today, South Africa's decreasing number of reproductive age women is having fewer children, as women increase their educational attainment, workforce participation, and use of family planning methods; delay marriage; and opt for smaller families. ++ As the proportion of working-age South Africans has grown relative to children and the elderly, South Africa has been unable to achieve a demographic dividend because persistent high unemployment and the prevalence of HIV/AIDs have created a larger-than-normal dependent population. HIV/AIDS was also responsible for South Africa's average life expectancy plunging to less than 43 years in 2008; it has rebounded to 63 years as of 2017. HIV/AIDS continues to be a serious public health threat, although awareness-raising campaigns and the wider availability of anti-retroviral drugs is stabilizing the number of new cases, enabling infected individuals to live longer, healthier lives, and reducing mother-child transmissions. ++ Migration to South Africa began in the second half of the 17th century when traders from the Dutch East India Company settled in the Cape and started using slaves from South and southeast Asia (mainly from India but also from present-day Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia) and southeast Africa (Madagascar and Mozambique) as farm laborers and, to a lesser extent, as domestic servants. The Indian subcontinent remained the Cape Colony's main source of slaves in the early 18th century, while slaves were increasingly obtained from southeast Africa in the latter part of the 18th century and into the 19th century under British rule. ++ After slavery was completely abolished in the British Empire in 1838, South Africa's colonists turned to temporary African migrants and indentured labor through agreements with India and later China, countries that were anxious to export workers to alleviate domestic poverty and overpopulation. Of the more than 150,000 indentured Indian laborers hired to work in Natal's sugar plantations between 1860 and 1911, most exercised the right as British subjects to remain permanently (a small number of Indian immigrants came freely as merchants). Because of growing resentment toward Indian workers, the 63,000 indentured Chinese workers who mined gold in Transvaal between 1904 and 1911 were under more restrictive contracts and generally were forced to return to their homeland. ++ In the late 19th century and nearly the entire 20th century, South Africa's then British colonies' and Dutch states' enforced selective immigration policies that welcomed "assimilable" white Europeans as permanent residents but excluded or restricted other immigrants. Following the Union of South Africa's passage of a law in 1913 prohibiting Asian and other non-white immigrants and its elimination of the indenture system in 1917, temporary African contract laborers from neighboring countries became the dominant source of labor in the burgeoning mining industries. Others worked in agriculture and smaller numbers in manufacturing, domestic service, transportation, and construction. Throughout the 20th century, at least 40% of South Africa's miners were foreigners; the numbers peaked at over 80% in the late 1960s. Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, and Eswatini were the primary sources of miners, and Malawi and Zimbabwe were periodic suppliers. ++ Under apartheid, a "two gates" migration policy focused on policing and deporting illegal migrants rather than on managing migration to meet South Africa's development needs. The exclusionary 1991 Aliens Control Act limited labor recruitment to the highly skilled as defined by the ruling white minority, while bilateral labor agreements provided exemptions that enabled the influential mining industry and, to a lesser extent, commercial farms, to hire temporary, low-paid workers from neighboring states. Illegal African migrants were often tacitly allowed to work for low pay in other sectors but were always under threat of deportation. ++ The abolishment of apartheid in 1994 led to the development of a new inclusive national identity and the strengthening of the country's restrictive immigration policy. Despite South Africa's protectionist approach to immigration, the downsizing and closing of mines, and rising unemployment, migrants from across the continent believed that the country held work opportunities. Fewer African labor migrants were issued temporary work permits and, instead, increasingly entered South Africa with visitors' permits or came illegally, which drove growth in cross-border trade and the informal job market. A new wave of Asian immigrants has also arrived over the last two decades, many operating small retail businesses. ++ 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. The 2002 Immigration Act and later amendments were intended to facilitate the temporary migration of skilled foreign labor to fill labor shortages, but instead the legislation continues to create regulatory obstacles. Although the education system has improved and brain drain has slowed in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, South Africa continues to face skills shortages in several key sectors, such as health care and technology. ++ 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.

Age structure:

0-14 years: 27.94% (male 7,894,742/female 7,883,266)
15-24 years: 16.8% (male 4,680,587/female 4,804,337)
25-54 years: 42.37% (male 12,099,441/female 11,825,193)
55-64 years: 6.8% (male 1,782,902/female 2,056,988)
65 years and over: 6.09% (male 1,443,956/female 1,992,205) (2020 est.)

Dependency ratios:

total dependency ratio: 52.2
youth dependency ratio: 43.8
elderly dependency ratio: 8.4
potential support ratio: 11.9 (2020 est.)

Median age:

total: 28 years
male: 27.9 years
female: 28.1 years (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 142

Population growth rate:

0.97% (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 107

Birth rate:

19.2 births/1,000 population (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 77

Death rate:

9.3 deaths/1,000 population (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 50

Net migration rate:

-0.2 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 109

Population distribution:

the population concentrated along the southern and southeastern coast, and inland around Pretoria; the eastern half of the country is more densly populated than the west as shown in this population distribution map


urban population: 67.4% of total population (2020)
rate of urbanization: 1.97% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Major urban areas - population:

9.677 million Johannesburg (includes Ekurhuleni), 4.618 million Cape Town (legislative capital), 3.158 million Durban, 2.566 million PRETORIA (administrative capital), 1.254 million Port Elizabeth, 898,000 West Rand (2020)

Sex ratio:

at birth: 1.02 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.87 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female
total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Maternal mortality rate:

119 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 66

Infant mortality rate:

total: 27.8 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 31 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 24.6 deaths/1,000 live births (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 62

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 64.8 years
male: 63.4 years
female: 66.2 years (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 198

Total fertility rate:

2.22 children born/woman (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 90

Contraceptive prevalence rate:

54.6% (2016)

Drinking water source:

improved: urban: 98.9% of population
rural: 87.4% of population
total: 95.5% of population
unimproved: urban: 1.1% of population
rural: 12.6% of population
total: 4.5% of population (2017 est.)

Current Health Expenditure:

8.1% (2017)

Physicians density:

0.91 physicians/1,000 population (2017)

Hospital bed density:

2.3 beds/1,000 population (2010)

Sanitation facility access:

improved: urban: 95.6% of population
rural: 80.9% of population
total: 90.6% of population
unimproved: urban: 4.4% of population
rural: 19.1% of population
total: 9.4% of population (2017 est.)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:

17.3% (2019 est.)
country comparison to the world: 4

HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:

7.5 million (2019 est.)
country comparison to the world: 1

HIV/AIDS - deaths:

72,000 (2019 est.)
country comparison to the world: 1

Major infectious diseases:

degree of risk: intermediate (2020)
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
water contact diseases: schistosomiasis
note: widespread ongoing transmission of a respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is occurring throughout South Africa; as of 8 December 2020, South Africa has reported a total of 810,449 cases of COVID-19 or 13,665 cumulative cases of COVID-19 per 1 million population with 372 cumulative deaths per 1 million population; on 24 May 2020, the Government of South Africa announced the lockdown alert level for South Africa will be lowered to level 3 with effect on 1 June 2020, except for some areas designated as "coronavirus hotspots"; per the lockdown, all airports in South Africa are closed to commercial traffic

Obesity - adult prevalence rate:

28.3% (2016)
country comparison to the world: 31

Children under the age of 5 years underweight:

5.9% (2016)
country comparison to the world: 76

Education expenditures:

6.5% of GDP (2019)
country comparison to the world: 19


definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 87%
male: 87.7%
female: 86.5% (2017)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education):

total: 14 years
male: 13 years
female: 14 years (2018)

Unemployment, youth ages 15-24:

total: 53.4%
male: 49.2%
female: 58.8% (2018 est.)
country comparison to the world: 3


Country name:

conventional long form: Republic of South Africa
conventional short form: South Africa
former: Union of South Africa
abbreviation: RSA
etymology: self-descriptive name from the country's location on the continent; "Africa" is derived from the Roman designation of the area corresponding to present-day Tunisia "Africa terra," which meant "Land of the Afri" (the tribe resident in that area), but which eventually came to mean the entire continent

Government type:

parliamentary republic


name: Pretoria (administrative capital); Cape Town (legislative capital); Bloemfontein (judicial capital)
geographic coordinates: 25 42 S, 28 13 E
time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
etymology: Pretoria is named in honor of Andries PRETORIUS, the father of voortrekker (pioneer) leader Marthinus PRETORIUS; Cape Town reflects its location on the Cape of Good Hope; Bloemfontein is a combination of the Dutch words "bloem" (flower) and "fontein" (fountain) meaning "fountain of flowers"

Administrative divisions:

9 provinces; Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Western Cape


31 May 1910 (Union of South Africa formed from four British colonies: Cape Colony, Natal, Transvaal, and Orange Free State); 22 August 1934 (Status of the Union Act); 31 May 1961 (republic declared); 27 April 1994 (majority rule)

National holiday:

Freedom Day, 27 April (1994)


history: several previous; latest drafted 8 May 1996, approved by the Constitutional Court 4 December 1996, effective 4 February 1997
amendments: proposed by the National Assembly of Parliament; passage of amendments affecting constitutional sections on human rights and freedoms, non-racism and non-sexism, supremacy of the constitution, suffrage, the multi-party system of democratic government, and amendment procedures requires at least 75% majority vote of the Assembly, approval by at least six of the nine provinces represented in the National Council of Provinces, and assent of the president of the republic; passage of amendments affecting the Bill of Rights, and those related to provincial boundaries, powers, and authorities requires at least two-thirds majority vote of the Assembly, approval by at least six of the nine provinces represented in the National Council, and assent of the president; amended many times, last in 2013

Legal system:

mixed legal system of Roman-Dutch civil law, English common law, and customary law

International law organization participation:

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction


citizenship by birth: no
citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of South Africa
dual citizenship recognized: yes, but requires prior permission of the government
residency requirement for naturalization: 1 year


18 years of age; universal

Executive branch:

chief of state: President Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since 15 February 2018); Deputy President David MABUZA (26 February 2018); note - the president is both chief of state and head of government; Jacob ZUMA resigned the presidency on 14 February 2018
head of government: President Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (since 15 February 2018); deputy president David MABUZA (26 February 2018
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the president
elections/appointments: president indirectly elected by the National Assembly for a 5-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held on 22 May 2019 (next to be held in May 2024)
election results: Matamela Cyril RAMAPHOSA (ANC) elected president by the National Assembly unopposed

Legislative branch:

description: bicameral Parliament consists of: National Council of Provinces (90 seats; 10-member delegations appointed by each of the 9 provincial legislatures to serve 5-year terms; note - the Council has special powers to protect regional interests, including safeguarding cultural and linguistic traditions among ethnic minorities) ++ National Assembly (400 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote to serve 5-year terms)
elections: National Council of Provinces and National Assembly - last held on 8 May 2019 (next to be held in 2024)
election results: National Council of Provinces - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - ANC 29, DA 13, EFF 9, FF+ 2, IFP 1; note - 36 appointed seats not filled ++ National Assembly - percent of vote by party - ANC 57.5%, DA 20.8%, EFF 10.8%, IFP 3.8%, FF+ 2.4%, other 4.7%; seats by party - ANC 230, DA 84, EFF 44, IFP 14, FF+ 10, other 18; composition - men 237, women 163, percent of women 40.8%

Judicial branch:

highest courts: Supreme Court of Appeals (consists of the court president, deputy president, and 21 judges); Constitutional Court (consists of the chief and deputy chief justices and 9 judges)
judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court of Appeals president and vice president appointed by the national president after consultation with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), a 23-member body chaired by the chief justice and includes other judges and judicial executives, members of parliament, practicing lawyers and advocates, a teacher of law, and several members designated by the president of South Africa; other Supreme Court judges appointed by the national president on the advice of the JSC and hold office until discharged from active service by an Act of Parliament; Constitutional Court chief and deputy chief justices appointed by the president of South Africa after consultation with the JSC and with heads of the National Assembly; other Constitutional Court judges appointed by the national president after consultation with the chief justice and leaders of the National Assembly; Constitutional Court judges serve 12-year nonrenewable terms or until age 70
subordinate courts: High Courts; Magistrates' Courts; labor courts; land claims courts

Political parties and leaders:

African Christian Democratic Party or ACDP [Kenneth MESHOE] ++ African Independent Congress or AIC [Mandla GALO] ++ African National Congress or ANC [Cyril RAMAPHOSA] ++ African People's Convention or APC [Themba GODI] ++ Agang SA [Mike TSHISHONGA] ++ Congress of the People or COPE [Mosiuoa LEKOTA] ++ Democratic Alliance or DA [John STEENHUISEN] ++ Economic Freedom Fighters or EFF [Julius Sello MALEMA] ++ Freedom Front Plus or FF+ [Pieter GROENEWALD] ++ GOOD [Patricia de LILLE] ++ Inkatha Freedom Party or IFP [Mangosuthu BUTHELEZI] ++ National Freedom Party or NFP [Zanele kaMAGWAZA-MSIBI] ++ Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania or PAC [Luthanado MBINDA] ++ United Christian Democratic Party or UCDP [Isaac Sipho MFUNDISI] ++ United Democratic Movement or UDM [Bantu HOLOMISA]

International organization participation:


Diplomatic representation in the US:

chief of mission: Ambassador Nomaindiya MFEKETO (since 8 April 2020)
chancery: 3051 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 232-4400
FAX: [1] (202) 265-1607
consulate(s) general: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York

Diplomatic representation from the US:

chief of mission: Ambassador Lana MARKS (since 28 January 2020)
telephone: [27] (12) 431-4000
embassy: 877 Pretorius Street, Arcadia, Pretoria
mailing address: P.O. Box 9536, Pretoria 0001
FAX: [27] (12) 342-2299
consulate(s) general: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg

Flag description:

two equal width horizontal bands of red (top) and blue separated by a central green band that splits into a horizontal Y, the arms of which end at the corners of the hoist side; the Y embraces a black isosceles triangle from which the arms are separated by narrow yellow bands; the red and blue bands are separated from the green band and its arms by narrow white stripes; the flag colors do not have any official symbolism, but the Y stands for the "convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity"; black, yellow, and green are found on the flag of the African National Congress, while red, white, and blue are the colors in the flags of the Netherlands and the UK, whose settlers ruled South Africa during the colonial era
note: the South African flag is one of only two national flags to display six colors as part of its primary design, the other is South Sudan's

National symbol(s):

springbok (antelope), king protea flower; national colors: red, green, blue, yellow, black, white

National anthem:

name: National Anthem of South Africa
lyrics/music: Enoch SONTONGA and Cornelius Jacob LANGENHOVEN/Enoch SONTONGA and Marthinus LOURENS de Villiers
note: adopted 1994; a combination of "N'kosi Sikelel' iAfrica" (God Bless Africa) and "Die Stem van Suid Afrika" (The Call of South Africa), which were respectively the anthems of the non-white and white communities under apartheid; official lyrics contain a mixture of Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English (i.e., the five most widely spoken of South Africa's 11 official languages); music incorporates the melody used in the Tanzanian and Zambian anthems


Economic overview:

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, slowing to an estimated 0.7% in 2017. 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 centers 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.

GDP real growth rate:

0.06% (2019 est.)
0.7% (2018 est.)
1.4% (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 191

Inflation rate (consumer prices):

4.1% (2019 est.)
4.6% (2018 est.)
5.2% (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 171

Credit ratings:

Fitch rating: BB- (2020)
Moody's rating: Ba2 (2020)
Standard & Poors rating: BB- (2020)

GDP (purchasing power parity) - real:

$687.303 billion (2019 est.)
$686.901 billion (2018 est.)
$682.14 billion (2017 est.)
note: data are in 2010 dollars

GDP (official exchange rate):

$350.032 billion (2019 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP):

$7,341 (2019 est.)
$7,434 (2018 est.)
$7,484 (2017 est.)
note: data are in 2010 dollars
country comparison to the world: 137

Gross national saving:

16.1% of GDP (2017 est.)
16.6% of GDP (2016 est.)
16.4% of GDP (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 128

GDP - composition, by sector of origin:

agriculture: 2.8% (2017 est.)
industry: 29.7% (2017 est.)
services: 67.5% (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use:

household consumption: 59.4% (2017 est.)
government consumption: 20.9% (2017 est.)
investment in fixed capital: 18.7% (2017 est.)
investment in inventories: -0.1% (2017 est.)
exports of goods and services: 29.8% (2017 est.)
imports of goods and services: -28.4% (2017 est.)

Ease of Doing Business Index scores:

59.6 (2020)

Agriculture - products:

corn, wheat, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables; beef, poultry, mutton, wool, dairy products


mining (world's largest producer of platinum, gold, chromium), automobile assembly, metalworking, machinery, textiles, iron and steel, chemicals, fertilizer, foodstuffs, commercial ship repair

Industrial production growth rate:

1.2% (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 151

Labor force:

14.687 million (2020 est.)
country comparison to the world: 36

Labor force - by occupation:

agriculture: 4.6%
industry: 23.5%
services: 71.9% (2014 est.)

Unemployment rate:

28.53% (2019 est.)
27.09% (2018 est.)
country comparison to the world: 205

Population below poverty line:

16.6% (2016 est.)

Household income or consumption by percentage share:

lowest 10%: 1.2%
highest 10%: 51.3% (2011 est.)


revenues: 92.86 billion (2017 est.)
expenditures: 108.3 billion (2017 est.)

Taxes and other revenues:

26.6% (of GDP) (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 107

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-):

-4.4% (of GDP) (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 163

Public debt:

53% of GDP (2017 est.)
51.6% of GDP (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 92

Fiscal year:

1 April - 31 March

Current account balance:

-$10.626 billion (2019 est.)
-$13.31 billion (2018 est.)
country comparison to the world: 191


$123.864 billion (2019 est.)
$127.055 billion (2018 est.)
$123.79 billion (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 40

Exports - partners:

China 9.5%, US 7.7%, Germany 7.1%, Japan 4.7%, India 4.6%, Botswana 4.3%, Namibia 4.1% (2017)

Exports - commodities:

gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment


$131.721 billion (2019 est.)
$132.365 billion (2018 est.)
$128.141 billion (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 40

Imports - commodities:

machinery and equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, scientific instruments, foodstuffs

Imports - partners:

China 18.3%, Germany 11.9%, US 6.6%, Saudi Arabia 4.7%, India 4.7% (2017)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:

$50.72 billion (31 December 2017 est.)
$47.23 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 39

Debt - external:

$156.3 billion (31 December 2017 est.)
$144.6 billion (31 December 2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 41

Exchange rates:

rand (ZAR) per US dollar -
14.9575 (2020 est.)
14.64 (2019 est.)
14.05125 (2018 est.)
12.7581 (2014 est.)
10.8469 (2013 est.)


Electricity access:

population without electricity: 3 million (2019)
electrification - total population: 94% (2019)
electrification - urban areas: 95% (2019)
electrification - rural areas: 92% (2019)

Electricity - production:

234.5 billion kWh (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 21

Electricity - consumption:

207.1 billion kWh (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 21

Electricity - exports:

16.55 billion kWh (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 11

Electricity - imports:

10.56 billion kWh (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 24

Electricity - installed generating capacity:

50.02 million kW (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 21

Electricity - from fossil fuels:

85% of total installed capacity (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 72

Electricity - from nuclear fuels:

4% of total installed capacity (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 24

Electricity - from hydroelectric plants:

1% of total installed capacity (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 150

Electricity - from other renewable sources:

10% of total installed capacity (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 81

Crude oil - production:

1,600 bbl/day (2018 est.)
country comparison to the world: 89

Crude oil - exports:

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 197

Crude oil - imports:

404,000 bbl/day (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 22

Crude oil - proved reserves:

15 million bbl (1 January 2018 est.)
country comparison to the world: 86

Refined petroleum products - production:

487,100 bbl/day (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 33

Refined petroleum products - consumption:

621,000 bbl/day (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 32

Refined petroleum products - exports:

105,600 bbl/day (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 42

Refined petroleum products - imports:

195,200 bbl/day (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 34

Natural gas - production:

906.1 million cu m (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 70

Natural gas - consumption:

5.069 billion cu m (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 60

Natural gas - exports:

0 cu m (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 187

Natural gas - imports:

4.162 billion cu m (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 39

Natural gas - proved reserves:

0 cu m (1 January 2012 est.)
country comparison to the world: 196

Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy:

572.3 million Mt (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 11


Telephones - fixed lines:

total subscriptions: 1,934,778
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 3.46 (2019 est.)
country comparison to the world: 57

Telephones - mobile cellular:

total subscriptions: 92,600,942
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 165.6 (2019 est.)
country comparison to the world: 18

Telecommunication systems:

general assessment: the telecommunication system is the best-developed and most modern in Africa; mobile Internet accounts for about 95% of Internet connections; 94% with access to WiMAX/LTE services; LTE-A services launched for commercial use; the mobile sector for both voice and data service demand most investment; first region to launch commercial 5G services; regulator made provisions to anticipate spike in data traffic resulting from COVID-19 lockdown (2020)
domestic: fixed-line 3 per 100 persons and mobile-cellular 166 telephones per 100 persons; consists of carrier-equipped open-wire lines, coaxial cables, microwave radio relay links, fiber-optic cable, radiotelephone communication stations, and wireless local loops; key centers are Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, and Pretoria (2019)
international: country code - 27; landing points for the WACS, ACE, SAFE, SAT-3, Equiano, SABR, SAEx1, SAEx2, IOX Cable System, METISS, EASSy, and SEACOM/ Tata TGN-Eurasia fiber-optic submarine cable systems connecting South Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia, Asia, South America, Indian Ocean Islands, and the US; satellite earth stations - 3 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean and 2 Atlantic Ocean) (2019)
note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media:

the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) operates 4 TV stations, 3 are free-to-air and 1 is pay TV;, a private station, is accessible to more than half the population; multiple subscription TV services provide a mix of local and international channels; well-developed mix of public and private radio stations at the national, regional, and local levels; the SABC radio network, state-owned and controlled but nominally independent, operates 18 stations, one for each of the 11 official languages, 4 community stations, and 3 commercial stations; more than 100 community-based stations extend coverage to rural areas

Internet country code:


Internet users:

total: 31,107,064
percent of population: 56.17% (July 2018 est.)
country comparison to the world: 25

Broadband - fixed subscriptions:

total: 1,107,013
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 2 (2018 est.)
country comparison to the world: 68


National air transport system:

number of registered air carriers: 17 (2020)
inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 243
annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 23,921,748 (2018)
annual freight traffic on registered air carriers: 716.25 million mt-km (2018)

Civil aircraft registration country code prefix:

ZS (2016)


407 (2020)
country comparison to the world: 20

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 130 (2020)
over 3,047 m: 11
2,438 to 3,047 m: 6
1,524 to 2,437 m: 46
914 to 1,523 m: 60
under 914 m: 7

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 277 (2020)
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 19
914 to 1,523 m: 178
under 914 m: 79


94 km condensate, 1293 km gas, 992 km oil, 1460 km refined products (2013)


total: 20,986 km (2014)
standard gauge: 80 km 1.435-m gauge (80 km electrified) (2014)
narrow gauge: 19,756 km 1.065-m gauge (8,271 km electrified) (2014)
other: 1,150 km (passenger rail, gauge unspecified, 1,115.5 km electrified) (2014)
country comparison to the world: 13


total: 750,000 km (2016)
paved: 158,124 km (2016)
unpaved: 591,876 km (2016)
country comparison to the world: 10

Merchant marine:

total: 103
by type: bulk carrier 2general cargo 1, oil tanker 6, other 94 (2019)
country comparison to the world: 90

Ports and terminals:

major seaport(s): Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Richards Bay, Saldanha Bay
container port(s) (TEUs): Durban (2,699,978) (2017)
LNG terminal(s) (import): Mossel Bay

Military and Security

Military and security forces:

South African National Defence Force (SANDF): South African Army (includes Reserve Force), South African Navy (SAN), South African Air Force (SAAF), South African Military Health Services (2019)

Military expenditures:

1% of GDP (2019)
1% of GDP (2018)
1% of GDP (2017)
1.1% of GDP (2016)
1.1% of GDP (2015)
country comparison to the world: 119

Military and security service personnel strengths:

the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is comprised of approximately 75,000 personnel (40,000 Army; 7,000 Navy; 10,000 Air Force; 8,000 Military Health Service; 10,000 other) (2020 est.)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions:

the SANDF's inventory consists of a mix of domestically-produced and foreign-supplied equipment; South Africa's domestic defense industry produced most of the Army's major weapons systems (some were jointly-produced with foreign companies), while the Air Force and Navy inventories include a mix of European, Israeli, and US-origin weapons systems; since 2010, Sweden was the largest supplier of weapons to the SANDF (2019 est.)

Military deployments:

1,050 Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) (2020)

Military service age and obligation:

18-26 years of age for voluntary military service; women are eligible to serve in noncombat roles; 2-year service obligation (2019)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international:

South Africa has placed military units to assist police operations along the border of Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to control smuggling, poaching, and illegal migration; the governments of South Africa and Namibia have not signed or ratified the text of the 1994 Surveyor's General agreement placing the boundary in the middle of the Orange River

Refugees and internally displaced persons:

refugees (country of origin): 27,113 (Somalia), 17,726 (Ethiopia), 5,273 (Republic of the Congo) (2019); 59,675 (Democratic Republic of the Congo) (refugees and asylum seekers) (2020)

Illicit drugs:

transshipment center for heroin, hashish, and cocaine, as well as a major cultivator of marijuana in its own right; cocaine and heroin consumption on the rise; world's largest market for illicit methaqualone, usually imported illegally from India through various east African countries, but increasingly producing its own synthetic drugs for domestic consumption; attractive venue for money launderers given the increasing level of organized criminal and narcotics activity in the region and the size of the South African economy