Geography and climate
South Africa's geographySouth Africa occupies the southern tip of Africa, its long coastline stretching more than 2 500km from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast, southwards around the tip of Africa, then north to the border with subtropical Mozambique on the Indian Ocean. The low-lying coastal zone is narrow for much of that distance, soon giving way to a mountainous escarpment that separates it from the high inland plateau. In some places, notably the province of KwaZulu-Natal in the east, a greater distance separates the coast from the escarpment.
Size and provincesSouth Africa is a medium-sized country, with a total land area of slightly more than 1.2-million square kilometres, making it roughly the same size as Niger, Angola, Mali, and Colombia. It is one-eighth the size of the US, twice the size of France, and over three times the size of Germany. South Africa measures about 1 600km from north to south, and roughly the same from east to west.
Map: Mary Alexander, MediaClubSouthAfrica.com
BordersOn dry land, going from west to east, South Africa shares long borders with Namibia and Botswana, touches Zimbabwe, has a longitudinal strip of border with Mozambique to the east, and lastly curves in around Swaziland before rejoining Mozambique's southern border. In the interior, nestled in the curve of the bean-shaped Free State, is the small mountainous country of Lesotho, completely surrounded by South African territory.
CitiesSouth Africa has three capitals:
Cape Town, in the Western Cape, is the legislative capital and is where the
country's Parliament is found.
Bloemfontein, in the Free State, is the judicial capital, and home to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Pretoria, in Gauteng, is the administrative capital, and the ultimate capital of the country. It is home to the Union Buildings and a large proportion of the public service.
Climate and topographyAlthough the country is classified as semi-arid, South Africa has considerable variation in climate as well as topography. The great inland Karoo plateau, where rocky hills and mountains rise from sparsely populated scrubland, is very dry, and gets more so as it shades in the north-west towards the Kalahari desert. Extremely hot in summer, it can be icy in winter.
Oceans and riversBy far South Africa's biggest neighbour is the ocean – or two oceans, which meet at the southwestern corner. Its territory includes Marion and Prince Edward Islands, nearly 2 000km from Cape Town in the Atlantic Ocean. The cold Benguela current sweeps up from the Antarctic along the Atlantic coast, laden with plankton and providing rich fishing grounds. The east coast has the north-to- south Mozambique/Agulhas current to thank for its warm waters. These two currents have a major effect on the country's climate, the ready evaporation of the eastern seas providing generous rainfall while the Benguela current retains its moisture to cause desert conditions in the west. MediaClubSouthAfrica.com Sources:
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South Africa's provinces
Did you know?
First signs of life Mountains in the Barberton area of South Africa's Mpumalanga province have yielded minute fossils, dated to about 3 300 million years ago, that are thought to be among the first signs of life on Earth. Ancient land The mountains in the far south of South Africa, such as the Hottentots Holland and Drakenstein ranges, are older than the Alps or Himalayas. Zulu capital Ulundi, the co-capital (with Pietermaritzburg) of the province of KwaZulu-Natal, was founded as the capital of the Zulu kingdom by King Cetshwayo in the late nineteenth century.