True to its name, South Africa is the southernmost country on the African continent and is home to over 50.7 million people. This southern country is celebrated for its rich natural beauty–ranging from broad deserts and grassy savannas to natural forests and mountainous valleys. This fertile land is home to more than 20,000 species of flowering plants and 1,000 species of mammals and birds. South Africa has a relatively stable economy and its political equality has increased since the legal ending of apartheid (racial separation). However, ethnic tensions, great economic disparities, increased crime rates and the HIV pandemic are some of the major problems still faced in South Africa.
South Africa has eleven official languages. These include Afrikaans, English, Sesotho, Setswana, Zulu and Xhosa. The country is incredibly culturally diverse. As such, popular South African music is often a wonderful fusion of different cultural influences–from pop music, traditional indigenous music and township jazz to religious ballads and the lifela song-poems of Sotho migrant workers. South African music has international popularity. For example, township music (an energetic form of music that developed in South African townships during the apartheid) has flourished in popularity not only within the country, but internationally. Even when segregated, musicians of different backgrounds often collaborate musically, forming mixed-race bands with delightful multi-cultural flavor.
South Africa has some of the best-maintained parks, reserves and gardens in the world. However, the country still suffers from serious environmental problems. Most threatening are unbridled livestock grazing, urban development as well as surface pollution and disturbance from mining. Additionally, many environmental issues still cling to South Africa as a result of the apartheid era. Overpopulation of the former bantustans (black homelands) resulted in the overgrazing and overfarming of limited areas of land. This, in turn, led to widespread erosion, degradation, deforestation and desertification. Over half of South Africa’s population still lack access to clean water and adequate waste and sewage disposal methods. This is particularly apparent in South Africa’s shantytowns (informal settlements on the fringes of major cities). The water courses many residents rely upon for drinking water are often polluted by waste and refuse. Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and open fires and subsequent acid rain are major sources of pollution in South Africa.
South Africa was controlled by a white minority until 1994. This minority enforced the apartheid, a separation of races. After decades of protests and opposition, the apartheid government was negotiated out of power and replaced by a democratically-elected leadership. This democracy encouraged reconciliation and set about amending social imbalance. Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress party was elected president by parliament in May of 2009. President Zuma was a major opponent of the apartheid most of his adult life.
South Africa is the major contributor of media in Africa and its press and broadcasters reflect the diversity of its inhabitants. Both state-run and commercial television broadcasts across the country with hundreds of thousands of viewers. There are dozens of state-owned and private radio stations available in the nation’s capital alone. Additionally, many radio stations targeting local ethnic groups and neighborhoods are available. The constitutionally provided freedom of press is generally respected and there is little evidence that expression is repressed. Nearly 14% of South Africans have internet access–catalyzed by the popularity of mobile phones and social media.