A Collection of 101 Interesting Facts about South Africa

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South Africa is my home and I will always have a great love for it. My country has a rich history, beautiful scenery and it’s home to wonderful and caring people.

It’s a fact that SA has its fair share of crime, corruption and other things that might turn anyone into an instant pessimist, but in my mind, there’s still a lot more good things that are outweighing and beating the bad things.

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Here’s a collection of 101 Interesting Facts about South Africa

1. It might be struggling currently, but the South African Rand was the best performing currency against the US dollar between 2002 and 2005 (according to the Bloomberg Currency Scoreboard).

2. Cape Town has the 5th best blue sky in the world (according to the UK’s National Physical Laboratory).

3. Cape Town’s Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in South Africa. It was built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India company.

4. Pretoria (SA’s capital city) was founded in 1855 by Marthinus Pretorius. He named it after his father, Andries Pretorius.

5. SA has the 41st biggest economy in the world with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US $280 billion.

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6. Cape Town was founded in 1652. It was originally established by Jan Van Riebeeck as a trading post / halfway point for ships travelling to the East.

7. South Africa is home to the largest wine cellar in the world. The KWV cellars in Paarl cover an area of 22 hectares (54 acres) and has a capacity of 121 million litres.

8. South Africa is 5 times the size of Japan, and 3 time the size of Texas.

9. Gauteng is SA’s smallest province but produces 34% of South Africa’s GDP. (according to Stats SA)

10. Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto is the biggest hospital in the world.

11. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange is the oldest existing and largest stock exchange in Africa.

12. Durban is the largest port in Africa and the 9th largest port in the world.

13. SA’s biggest city, Johannesburg, was founded in 1886 (thanks to the Witwatersrand Gold Rush).

14. 100,000 people were already living in Johannesburg by 1896.

15. SA generates two-thirds of Africa’s electricity.

16. The number of tourists visiting South Africa has grown a lot since 1994. By 2007 it was at 9 million (3 times more than in 1994) and 2017 figures indicate that 16.2 million tourists visited SA. This number should reach 21 million by 2021.

17. In 2002, South Africa was the world’s fastest growing tourist destination. In 2006, South Africa’s tourism grew at 3 times the global average.

18. J.R.R. Tolkien (the author of the Lord of the Rings books) was born in Bloemfontein (in the Free State province) in 1892.

19. Elon Musk (the genius behind SpaceX and Tesla) was born in Pretoria, Gauteng in 1971.

20. Charlize Theron (the famous Hollywood actress) was born in Benoni, Gauteng in 1972. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004.

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21. Dave Matthews (the famous American musician) was born in Johannesburg in 1967.

22. The 50 storey Carlton Centre in Johannesburg is the highest office building in Africa.

23. Johannesburg is the biggest man-made forest in the world. The city has more than 10 million trees lining its streets.

24. Before becoming the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill escaped from a prisoner of war camp in Pretoria in 1899.

25. SA’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) was founded in 1912 in Bloemfontein. The party was banned between 1960 and 1990 by the National Party government.

26. SA’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) was founded in June 2000.

27. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was founded in 1985 in Durban.

28. The South African Communist Party (SACP) was founded in 1921. The party was banned by the National Party government in 1950.

29. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was founded by Julius Malema in July 2013.

30. The Congress of the People (COPE) was founded in 2008 to protest the 2009 SA general elections.

31. The United Democratic Movement (UDM) was founded in 1997.

32. The world’s best land-based whale-watching spot is located in Hermanus in the Western Cape.

33. The Singita game reserve was voted the best hotel in the world by the readers of a leading travel magazine.

34. To date South Africa has won 26 Gold, 31 Silver and 29 Bronze Medals at the Olympic Games.

35. South Africa houses the largest timed cycle race in the world (the Cape Argus), the world’s oldest and largest ultra-marathon (the Comrades Marathon) and the world’s largest open water swimming event (the Midmar Mile).

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36. At 216 metres (709 feet) the Bloukrans Bridge (which is located in the Western Cape province), is the highest commercial natural bungee jump spot in the world. The world’s oldest bungee jumper, South African Mohr Keet, jumped from the bridge when he was 96.

37. SA was the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup.

38. SA is the 2nd country in the world that has hosted the Cricket World Cup, Rugby World Cup and FIFA World Cup tournaments.

39. Since the 1940s, South African golfers have won more majors than any other nation, apart from the United States.

40. The Koeberg nuclear power station in Cape Town is built over a fault line. The last activity reported was over in 1809 and measured 6.5 on the Richter scale.

41. SA has won a lot of medals at the Commonwealth Games. The country has won 46 medals in 2002, 38 medals in 2006, 33 medals in 2010 and 40 medals in 2014.

42. Nelson Mandela is known by 6 names in South Africa. He was born as Rolihlahla Mandela. His teacher gave him the name “Nelson” when he was in school. He was given the name “Dalibhunga” (which means “creator or founder of the council”) when he was 16. He’s also referred to as Madiba (the name of the Thembu clan to which he belonged to), Thata and Khulu (the Xhosa words for “father” and “grandfather”).

43. SA houses one of the 3 largest telescopes in the world at Sutherland in the Karoo.

44. Table Mountain has more than 2,200 species of plants – 70 percent of them are endemic.

45. SA is the first (and to date the only) country to build nuclear weapons and to voluntarily dismantle its entire nuclear weapons programme.

46. The Current SA Unemployment Rate is at +/- 27%.

47. The South African Constitution is widely regarded as being one of the most progressive in the world, drawing from experiences of the world’s most advanced democracies.

48. The dolos (a reinforced concrete block in a complex geometric shape weighing up to 80 tons, used in great numbers as a form of coastal management to build revetments for protection against the erosive force of waves from a body of water) was invented in 1963 by South African harbour draughtsman, Aubrey Kruger. It was first deployed in 1964 on the breakwater of East London.

49. The South African oil company SASOL has established the only commercially viable oil-from-coal operations in the world.

50. The Computed Axial Tomography Scan (or CAT scan) was developed by Cape Town physicist Allan Cormack and his associate Godfrey Hounsfield. They won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their work in 1979.

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51. Two of the most profoundly compassionate philosophies originated in South Africa – Ubuntu (the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity) and Ghandi’s notion of “passive resistance” (Satyagraha), which he developed while living in South Africa.

52. The world’s first heart transplant was performed by Dr Chris Barnard in Cape Town on 3 December 1967.

53. The Kreepy Krauly swimming pool vacuum cleaner was invented by Ferdinand Chauvier from Springs in 1974.

54. Pratley Putty was invented by South African, George Pratley in the 1960s. It was carried by the Apollo 11 Eagle landing craft to the moon and has been used to halt cracking in main supports of the Golden Gate Bridge (in San Francisco).

55. The University of South Africa (UNISA) is a pioneer of tertiary distance education and is the largest correspondence university in the world with 250,000 students.

56. There is a home that was built in the shape of a shoe, which can be seen in the area of the Abel Erasmus Pass in Mpumalanga.

57. Q20 was invented in 1950 in Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal by Mr Robertson. He developed it to displace water from the distributor caps on the old VW Beetle. It’s an effective water repellent, keeps rust at bay, eases squeaky door hinges and makes it easy to release rusted or seized nuts and bolts.

58. The Smartlock Safety Syringe was developed in South Africa. This invention provides improved protection against needlestick injury and contamination by Ebola virus, Hepatitis and HIV.

59. SA has 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites: The Fossil Hommonid Sites at Sterkfontein, the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape in Limpopo, the Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape in the Northern Cape, Robben Island, the floral regions in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape, iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal, the Vredefort Dome and the uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park.

60. The Barberton Mountain range in Mpumalanga is over 3.5 billion years old and remains one of the best preserved and least altered early Archaean rock formations in the world. A bacterial micro fossil Archaeospheroides barbertonis was discovered here and is believed to have been one of the first forms of life on earth.

61. The first MBA programme outside the United States was started by the University of Pretoria in 1949.

62. Over 17 million South Africans have access to social grants.

63. The meandering 850 km road through Cape Winelands is the world’s longest wine route. There are more than 200 cellars along the route.

64. SA’s fish migration is so huge it can be seen from space. The Sardine run’s shoals are 15 km long, 3.5 km wide and up to 40m deep.

65. It has been estimated that there are around 3,000 shipwrecks off the coast of South Africa. They are all protected by South African laws.

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66. South Africa became the first African country and the fifth country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage in 2006.

67. Seventy percent of South Africa’s population is urbanised.

68. The town of East London was founded in 1836. It was originally known as Port Rex.

69. SA’s Kruger National Park supports the greatest variety of wildlife species on the African continent.

70. Port Elizabeth was founded in 1820 by Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin. He named the seaport town after his wife Elizabeth.

71. The Cango Caves near Oudsthoorn (in the Western Cape) is the world’s longest underground cave sequence.

72. The world’s largest diamond was found in the Premier Mine near Pretoria on 25 January 1905. The 3,106-carat stone weighed 1.33 pounds and was named after ‘Cullinan’, the owner of the mine. It was later cut into nine large stones and about 100 smaller ones. The biggest one is on the Queen of England’s Septre with the Cross.

73. Port Natal (originally settled in 1824) was renamed to Durban in 1830.

74. Before it was acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev, SAB Miller was the second largest brewery in the world. The SAB company was originally founded in Johannesburg in 1895.

75. In 1991, South Africa became the first country in the world to protect the Great White Shark.

76. The Springboks have won the IRB Rugby World Cup twice: In 1995 (in SA) and in 2007 (in France).

77. The Vredefort Dome near Parys is the home of the earth’s oldest meteor scar. The scar is 2 billion years old.

78. South African soldiers fought in the First and Second World Wars.

79. South Africa has the 3rd highest level of biodiversity (according to SA Tourism).

80. Thanks to a subtle continuation of a contintental drift, South Africa moves 2 inches further away from South America every year.

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81. Johannesburg is the second biggest city in Africa.

82. The Adam’s Calendar (near Waterval Boven in Mpumalanga province) dates back to 750,000 years ago.

83. South Africa has embraced the concept of trans-frontier ‘peace parks’, linking ecological reserves across national borders.

84. South Africa is the only African country that’s a member of the G20.

85. Afrikaans is the youngest official language in the world. It’s one of the 11 official languages of South Africa.

86. The town of Kimberley was founded in 1871 after diamonds were discovered on a nearby farm (which was owned by the De Beers brothers).

87. The big hole in Kimberley is 463 metres wide. Miners dug the hole from 1871 to 1914 and yielded 2,722 kilograms of diamonds.

88. Bloemfontein was founded in 1846 as a fort by Henry Douglas Warden (an English army major).

89. The Western Deep Levels is the world’s deepest mine at 3777 metres.

90. The South African fast food chain Debonairs Pizza has its origins in Pietermaritzburg in Kwazulu Natal in 1991.

91. South Africa has the world’s largest deposits of gold, chromium, platinum and manganese.

92. The South African fast food brand, Nando’s was founded in Rosettenville, Johannesburg in 1987. The brand has 1,000 outlets in 35 countries.

93. The only street in the world to house two Nobel Peace Prize winners was in Soweto. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both had houses in Vilakazi Street, Orlando West.

94. South Africa has the second oldest Air Force in the world. It was established in 1920.

95. SA is the largest meat producer in Africa.

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96. South Africa has the 2nd oldest film industry in the world.

97. SA is the only country in the world where right-hand-drive cars are produced by Mercedes Benz.

98. In 2007 South African businessman Cyril Ramaphosa (the current South African president) was included in an annual list assembled by Time Magazine featuring 100 of the most influential people in the world.

99. Rooibos tea is naturally caffeine-free and is only found in the Cederberg in the Western Cape provice.

100. South Africa’s tap water is considered to be the third best and safest water in the world that is ready to drink.

101. According to 2017 figures, Vodacom is the biggest mobile phone network in South Africa with more than 37 million subscribers. MTN is the second biggest network (with more than 30 million subscribers) and Cell C is the third biggest (with more than 15 million subscribers).

Well, there you have it, A Collection of 101 Interesting Facts about South Africa. I hope that you’ve learned something. If you have, please share this article with your friends on Facebook / Twitter.

If you’re curious about the SA Music scene, check out this post featuring 101 Interesting South African Music Facts.

Watch this space for regular updates in the Facts category on Running Wolf’s Rant.

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