With a population of 50 million people, 11 official languages and religions including Christianity, indigenous diviner practices, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism, modern South Africa is a diverse nation.
From the initial migration of indigenous people into the southern-most region of the African continent and subsequent European colonization, to the apartheid and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the country’s history has been layered in both hatred and hope. Today, with the inspiration and guidance of the late “father of South Africa,” Nelson Mandela, the nation strives to move forward in unity with respect toward all race and ethnicities.
In the timeline below we highlight some of South Africa’s defining and noteworthy moments throughout history.
As South Africa is so diverse, it can be difficult to pinpoint specific national customs that represent the South African cultural identity. Dance, ceremonial rights of passage and respect for the elders have always had a place in indigenous and pre-colonial black South African culture, while many Indian South Africans retain religious customs brought over during migration. Since 1994, however, as the country progresses past apartheid, there are a few things that South Africans come together around.
Cross of Vasco de Gamma at Cape of Good Hope South Africa. Photo Credit: James G. Howes
Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, named by Portugese Explorer António de Saldanhafamous in the 16th Century for its flat top, is a beautiful attraction for residents, hikers and tourists. Photo Credit: Danie van der Merwe
Rock pile at Robben Island started by prisoner Nelson Mandela where he served 18 years. Photo Credit: D. Gordon E. Robertson
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg South Africa was opened in 2001, and provides visitors with an important look at the experience of Apartheid and what can be learned from it today. Photo Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:NJR_ZA
Voortrekker Monument outside Pretoria, South Africa remembers the descendants of Dutch settlers, mainly farmers, who fled inland away from British colonial rule, and commemorates a victorious battle against the Zulus.
Photo Credit: John Walker
One of the world's most important wildlife reserves, and loved tourist attractions, Kruger National Park in northern South Africa is home to hundreds of species of mammals, reptiles and birds.
Photo Credit: Felix Andrews
Biltong is a common snack in South Africa that has roots in indigenous, colonial as well as modern populations. Before refrigeration came along, drying, curing and seasoning game or beef meat was a simple way to preserve their food food and easily take it on the go. Similar to beef jerky, it can even be added to other dishes.
Photo Credit: Borisgorelik http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biltongshop.jpg
Sosatie is a lot like the shish kabob. This traditional South African meat dish is typically made up of spicy, marinated lamb or mutton layered onto skewers and grilled.
Photo Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/40135642@N00
Melktart is a sweet, custard-filled "milk tart" dessert made with milk, sugar, flour and eggs.
Photo Source: DimiTalen http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:DimiTalen
Sport is one unifying cultural practice that has united South Africa, with most popular sports being rugby, football (also known as soccer here in the United States) and cricket. The country won the 1995 Rugby World Cup on its own soil while Nelson Mandela was president, just a year after apartheid ended. This played a huge symbolic role for the nation. South Africa also hosted the 2010 World Cup — also a moment of national pride as the global community recognized the country’s progress.
The South African cuisine has a varied landscape of influences. Special gatherings of family, friends and communities to barbecue meat-based dishes, or braais, are a beloved tradition among black populations and Afrikaners.
As a nation, South Africans celebrate several national holidays based around the celebration of human rights including “Reconciliation Day” and “Youth Day.” Youth Day observes the lives lost as part of the Soweto uprisings during Apartheid. And while Reconciliation Day, observed December 16, historically marks the victory of white colonial Voortrekkers in 1838 over the Zulu kingdom, since 1994, it is a celebration of the new path forward in respect to the country’s diverse population.
Test your knowledge of South Africa — take our quiz below:
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True or False: Some of the oldest archeological sites on the planet are in South Africa.
Various fossil discoveries suggest that Australopithecus lived in the area that is now South Africa between two and four million years ago.
Capetown, the second largest city in South Africa, was established in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck. Which European country was van Riebeeck from?
Jan van Riebeeck was from Holland, and he established Cape Town as a supply station for the Dutch East India Company.
South Africa become a British colony in 1806 after which conflict?
The British took over South Africa after fighting for its rich mineral resources, including diamonds and gold, during the Anglo-Boer War.
When did South Africa become an official, independent country?
South Africa became an independent nation in 1961, after a whites-only referendum was passed to separate the country from British rule.
In South Africa, what was the practice of legally separating races known as?
Legally sanctioned racial segregation, which existed in South Africa from its inception in 1948 until 1994, was known as apartheid. Under the system, people were designated either black, white, or coloured, which denoted mixed racial ancestry.
How many years did Nelson Mandela spend in prison for his efforts as an anti-apartheid activist?
Mandela, who was arrested and convicted of sabotage in 1962, spent 27 years in prison before being released in 1990, and elected president in 1994. He served until 1999.
How many languages are officially spoken in South Africa?
South Africa has 11 official languages, including English and Afrikaans, which is derived from Dutch.
True or False: South Africa has one of the highest rates of income disparity in the world.
True. Poverty is a serious issue in South Africa, and the income disparity, meaning the difference in incomes between the wealthy and the poor, is one of the highest (according to the UN and the CIA).
Which of the following is not a popular sport in South Africa?
Like many countries that were once British colonies, South Africans enjoy soccer, cricket and rugby. American football, however, is not as popular.
True or False: South Africa was the first African nation to host the World Cup games.
True. South Africa was chosen to host over both Egypt and Morocco. The games were widely considered a success for the country, with an average of 400 million people around the world watching individual matches, and 700 million watching the finals.
Africa is a very large continent and has been around for a long time…Even if it is just (South) Africa they have many historic artifacts that have been discovered and still need to be discovered
You know, we have watched movies about areas in south africa. One of them quite recently acually, you see, there was a prince.. one of extreme loyalty..and he finally saw something he was searching for.. death. He decides to go on this journey into the budha religion and attempts to find some answers to death and details about it. The point im trying to get at is that we all know how low education is in africa…but we didnt know how low. Its not that well off if some people dont know what death is.