South Africa has healed the wounds of apartheid but still suffers from serious violence
South Africa has narrow coastal plains in the east, west and south. These rise to a chain of mountains that curves around the coast. The mountains are at their highest in the east where the Great Escarpment culminates in the Drakensbergs in the north. Within these mountains lies the vast plateau that makes up around two-thirds of the country.
Three-quarters of the population are black. The largest groups are the Zulu and the Xhosa, though official status has been extended to nine African languages. Of the white population, just over half speak Afrikaans, while the rest largely speak English. The ‘coloured’ population is of mixed African, Asian, and European descent and most of these speak Afrikaans. The majority of Asians originate from India and are English-speaking. In addition, there are thought to be up to eight million unauthorized immigrants from neighbouring countries.
The government has been redressing the injustices of apartheid. More than two million houses have been built, and many more now have piped water and electricity. But there is still a long way to go. Health standards for blacks are still similar to those in other African countries, while for whites they are comparable to those in Europe.
The government has also promoted black economic empowerment. But this remains a very unequal society: the richest 20% of the population get 62% of national income and the poorest 20% get only 4%. Unemployment is high at 24%.
Exacerbating these problems is the devastation caused by HIV and AIDS. Around 18% of the population are infected. South Africa was slow to address the epidemic because of former President Mbeki's dissident view that AIDS was not caused by the HIV virus. Now all who need anti-retroviral treatment can have it.
Another major social problem is crime. Every day, according to official records there are around 50 murders, 100 rapes, 700 burglaries, and more than 500 violent assaults.
De Beers dominates the world diamond market
South Africa's economic development in the past depended on its mineral wealth. It has the world's largest reserves of gold, along with many other minerals such as platinum and manganese, as well as diamonds, coal, and iron. Diamond mining is controlled by the De Beers company which has also dominated the world diamond market.
South Africa's manufacturing companies, which are responsible for around 20% of GDP, process these minerals, as well as agricultural produce, and make a wide range of consumer goods. Some have suffered as a result of exposure to international trade, though others including the car industry have expanded.
Agriculture now employs only around 7% of the workforce. The main crop is maize, most of which is still produced on white-owned farms. Land reform has been limited. People can now claim ancestral property seized during the apartheid years. But by the end of 2008, while most of these claims had been settled, only 4% of the land been redistributed.
Like more advanced industrial economies, South Africa has a sophisticated service sector. This includes financial services which contribute 20% of GDP and a major tourist industry that each year welcomes more than six million visitors.