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December 2013

South Africa

South Africa

December 5, 2013 marked the passing of Nelson Mandela (95), the first non-apartheid president of South Africa. Born into a segregated society, Mr. Mandela worked to end the racial barriers and endured almost 30 years of imprisonment. President Obama ordered flags at all US government facilities be flown at half staff until sunset Monday, December 9, as a mark of respect for the memory of Nelson Mandela.

Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of modern day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the Dutch settlers (the Boers) trekked north to found their own republics. The discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886) spurred wealth and immigration and intensified the subjugation of the native inhabitants. The Boers resisted British encroachments but were defeated in the Boer War (1899-1902); however, the British and the Afrikaners, as the Boers became known, ruled together beginning in 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a whites-only referendum.

In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid - the separate development of the races - which favored the white minority at the expense of the black majority. The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson Mandela, spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 brought an end to apartheid and ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. South Africa since then has struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in decent housing, education, and health care.

The Republic of South Africa has nine provinces, with the capital at Pretoria. Its legal system is mixed with: Roman-Dutch civil law, English common law, and customary law. The president is both chief of state and head of government and is elected to a five-year term (eligible for a second term). Universal suffrage is reached at age 18.

With an area of 1,219,090 sq km, South Africa is slightly less than twice the size of Texas. Its climate is mostly semiarid with a subtropical zone along the east coast. South Africa has a vast interior plateau is rimmed by rugged hills and a narrow coastal plain. The natural resources of the country include: gold, chromium, antimony, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, phosphates, tin, rare earth elements, uranium, gem diamonds, platinum, copper, vanadium, salt, and natural gas.

CIA World Factbook; The White House, 11/2013; 11/2013

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