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South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa, is the southernmost sovereign state in Africa.
It is bounded on the south by 2,798 kilometers of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans, on the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswanaand Zimbabwe, and on the east by Mozambique and Swaziland, and surrounding the kingdom of Lesotho.
South Africa is the 25th-largest country in the world by land area, and with close to 53 million people, is the world's 24th-most populous nation.
It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere.
South Africa is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, which is among the highest number of any country in the world.
Two of these languages are of European origin: Afrikaans developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most white andcoloured South Africans; English reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life, though it is fourth-ranked as a spoken first language.
The country is one of the few in Africa never to have had a coup d'état, and regular elections have been held for almost a century. However, the vast majority of black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994.
During the 20th century, the black majority sought to recover its rights from the dominant white minority, with this struggle playing a large role in the country's recent history and politics. The National Party imposed apartheid in 1948, institutionalizing previous racial segregation. After a long and sometimes violent struggle by the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, discriminatory laws began to be repealed or abolished from 1990 onwards.
About 80 percent of South Africans are of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa's largest communities of European (white), Asian (Indian), and multiracial(coloured) ancestry.
Since 1994, all ethnic and linguistic groups have had political representation in the country's democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is often referred to as the "Rainbow Nation" to describe the country's newly developing multicultural diversity in the wake of segregationist apartheid ideology.
South Africa is ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank, and is considered to be a newly industrialised country. Its economy is the second-largest in Africa, and the 34th-largest in the world. In terms of purchasing power parity, South Africa has the seventh-highest per capita income in Africa. However, poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about a quarter of the population unemployed and living on less than US$1.25 a day.
Nevertheless, South Africa has been identified as a middle power in international affairs, and maintains significant regional influence.
South Africa signed the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity on 4 June 1994, and became a party to the convention on 2 November 1995. It has subsequently produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, which was received by the convention on 7 June 2006.
The country is ranked sixth out of the world's seventeen megadiverse countries.
Numerous mammals are found in the bushveld including Transvaal lions, African leopards, South African cheetahs, southern white rhinos, blue wildebeest, kudus, impalas, hyenas, hippopotami and South African giraffes.
A significant extent of the bushveld exists in the north-east including Kruger National Park and theSabi Sand Game Reserve, as well as in the far north in the Waterberg Biosphere.
South Africa houses many endemic species, among them the critically endangered riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticullaris) in the Karoo.
Up to 1945, more than 4900 species of fungi (including lichen-forming species) had been recorded. In 2006, the total number of fungi which occur in South Africa was conservatively estimated at about 200,000 species, but that did not take into account fungi associated with insects.
If correct, then the number of South African fungi dwarfs that of its plants. In at least some major South African ecosystems, an exceptionally high percentage of fungi are highly specific in terms of the plants with which they occur. The country's biodiversity strategy and action plan does not mention fungi (including lichen-forming fungi).
With more than 20,000 different plants, or about 10% of all the known species of plants on Earth, South Africa is particularly rich in plant diversity.
The most prevalent biome in South Africa is the grassland, particularly on the Highveld, where the plant cover is dominated by differentgrasses, low shrubs, and acacia trees, mainly camel-thorn and whitethorn.
Vegetation becomes even more sparse towards the northwest due to low rainfall. There are several species of water-storing succulents likealoes and euphorbias in the very hot and dry Namaqualand area. The grass and thorn savannah turns slowly into a bush savannah towards the north-east of the country, with denser growth.
There are significant numbers of baobab trees in this area, near the northern end of Kruger National Park.
The fynbos biome, which makes up the majority of the area and plant life in the Cape floristic region, one of the six floral kingdoms, is located in a small region of the Western Cape and contains more than 9,000 of those species, making it among the richest regions on earth in terms of plant diversity.
Most of the plants are evergreen hard-leaf plants with fine, needle-like leaves, such as the sclerophyllous plants. Another uniquely South African flowering plant group is the genus Protea.
There are around 130 different species of Protea in South Africa.
While South Africa has a great wealth of flowering plants, only 1% of South Africa is forest, almost exclusively in the humid coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal, where there are also areas of Southern Africa mangroves in river mouths. There are even smaller reserves of forests that are out of the reach of fire, known as montane forests. Plantations of imported tree species are predominant, particularly the non-native eucalyptus and pine.
South Africa has lost a large area of natural habitat in the last four decades, primarily due to overpopulation, sprawling development patterns and deforestation during the 19th century.
South Africa is one of the worst affected countries in the world when it comes to invasion by alien species with many (e.g. black wattle, Port Jackson willow, Hakea, Lantana and Jacaranda) posing a significant threat to the native biodiversity and the already scarce water resources.
The original temperate forest found by the first European settlers was exploited ruthlessly until only small patches remained.
Currently, South African hardwood trees like real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), stinkwood (Ocotea bullata), and South African black ironwood (Olea laurifolia) are under government protection.
Statistics from the South African Environmental Affairs department show a record 1215 rhinos have been killed in 2014.
Climate change is expected to bring considerable warming and drying to much of this already semi-arid region, with greater frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flooding and drought. According to computer generated climate modelling produced by the South African National Biodiversity Institute parts of southern Africa will see an increase in temperature by about one degree Celsius along the coast to more than four degrees Celsius in the already hot hinterland such as the Northern Cape in late spring and summertime by 2050.
The Cape Floral Kingdom, been identified as one of the global biodiversity hotspots, it will be hit very hard by climate change.
Drought, increased intensity and frequency of fire and climbing temperatures are expected to push many rare species towards extinction.
- Addo Elephant National Park
- Augrabies Falls National Park
- Bontebok National Park
- Golden Gate Highlands National Park
- Karoo National Park
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
- Kruger National Park
- Madikwe Game Reserve
- Mountain Zebra National Park
- Pilanesberg National Park
- Table Mountain National Park
- Tankwa Karoo National Park
- Tsitsikamma National Park