INTRODUCTION TO SOUTH AFRICASouth Africa is quite aptly named “The world in one country” which describes its incredible variety in geography, botany, wildlife and culture. According to the World Trade Organization it is the 25th most popular tourism destination worldwide. It is important to make the reader aware of the fact that Africa, as a continent consists of about 50, independent countries with their own governments. South Africa is one of these. Africa as a continent is roughly two and a half times bigger than North America offering incredible variety.
CLIMATESouth Africa is blessed with a fantastic perennial climate that falls into the Southern Temperate Zone, which never ceases to amaze the first-time visitor. Due to a wide range of latitudes and altitudes and the influence of the Atlantic, Indian and Southern oceans our winters compared to that of the northern hemisphere are short, mild and sunny. This being said however; for short spells it can be very cold in the central parts of the country with temperatures well below freezing at especially nighttime and early mornings in mid winter during June/July. Winters are dry and crisp with frost on higher altitudes and even snow on the mountains in especially the Eastern Cape and Lesotho. We have two very distinct climatic regions the previous description reflects the Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalamga, Freestate and KwaZulu Natal. The Northern Cape Province town of Sutherland has the dubious honor of being the coldest town in the country. The south Western Cape area has a Mediterranean climate with wet, windy winters and year round rain. Most of the country is sub tropical with little variation in number of daylight hours. In summer from about 0500 – 1900 and from 0700 – 1700 in winter. Springtime starts on 1 September, summer on 1 December, autumn on 1 March and winter on 1 June with winter solstice (shortest day, longest night, 21 June). Average spring/summer day temperature range of 25°C – 43°C (70°F – 110°F) depending on local geography and location and autumn/winter from 7°C – 23°C (35° – 75°F). In general the average daily temperature for most of the year is roughly 30C (95F) Average rainfall range between 100mm – 1500mm (4” – 60”) annually depending on the geography with the eastern parts of the country receiving the most and declining out towards the west, which is quite arid.
GEOGRAPHYSouth Africa is the most southern country on the African continent. It borders in the northwest onto Namibia. In the central north the famous Kgalagadi National Park straddles the border where Botswana is our neighbor and to the north-east, Zimbabwe with Mozambique due east where the massive new Transfrontier Park between the last 3 mentioned countries are situated. The country is sub-divided in 9 provinces, roughly along the lines of historical tribal and natural geographic borders with the Northern Cape Province geographically the biggest, about 33% of the country’s surface area and a population of less than 1 million. A provincial government subjected to the Central Government governs each. Provinces all have their own unique ethnic groups, plant kingdoms, wildlife and unique geography. (See maps). The 9 provinces are: The Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwa-Zulu/Natal, Freestate, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West and Limpopo. The east of the country is blessed with high rainfall and tropical in climate with subsequent green and lush plant life and very big animal diversity. This is the area where the world-renowned Kruger National Park is situated. This lush “greenbelt” is separated from the rest of the country by the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains with its highest altitude the Injasuti Peak at 11 195 feet (3 410 meters). This range runs form north to south. The central part of the country has wide-open flatland spaces ideally adapted for grain farming on the eastern edge of it. The central and western part favors stock grazing activities, mainly sheep and herds of plains game. Farming, after mining and tourism is our country’s third biggest income generator. The far western part is very arid as well as to the north, towards Namibia, Botswana & the Kalahari Desert. In the south lies the semi-arid Great Karoo and in the west, the West Coast with the cold Atlantic ocean washing onto its beach with its own unique assortment of people and wildlife. South of Cape Town the warm Indian Ocean meets the cold waters of the Atlantic. The coastal area is about 4 600km (3 000 miles) long and offers a wide variety of beach holidays.
POPULATION & CULTURESouth Africa is known worldwide for its ethnic cosmopolitan kaleidoscope of people. With 11 indigenous black tribes, Afrikaans and English people as well as a good sprinkling of Asians this forms a real mixture of 11 official languages and customs. 2001 Census counted nearly 48 million people. In 1947 Prof. Robert Broom un-earthed “Mrs. Ples”, 3 000BC at the Sterkfontein caves, the oldest complete, intact skull of hominoids and today there are more and more fascinating paleo-anthropological findings being made indicating that maybe modern man evolved from what is today known as South Africa. Today the international community regards South Africa’s vibrant society with its incredible political and cultural diversity as a shining example of reconciliation, transformation and a possible role model for the rest of the world’s political hotspots. Our country offer widespread cultural activities where international visitors can experience both historical and present day lifestyles of large variety, from traditional open air living museums with beating tribal drums and dancers to modern-day township visits. Places like Soweto, Khayalitsha, District Six and Robben Island where political prisoners were imprisoned during the Apartheid struggle, are visited and give insight into our recent past.
WILDLIFESouthern Africa boasts an astonishing array of diversity and mind-boggling natural history. More than 920 species of birds of which about 300 are seen regularly, 338 species of mammals that of course includes the “BIG FIVE” (elephant, rhinoceros (black and white), lion, leopard and the buffalo) and over 2000 species of fish. There are hundreds of reptiles and literally thousands of insect species and some 5000 species of spiders and scorpions. Apart from this impressive record some of the wild animals in our country are world wonders in their own right such as the: elephant (biggest land mammal), giraffe (tallest mammal), cheetah (fastest land mammal), eland (biggest antelope), ostrich (biggest bird), the leatherback turtle which is the worlds largest reptiles as well as oldest species (up to 900kilograms!) and the giant kori bustard (heaviest flying bird)! Very nearly all, can be viewed and seen in our more than 5, 5 million hectares of National Parks, and 70 Provincial parks as well as areas being controlled and conserved by the government. In addition to the above number of government controlled conservation areas an additional 9 million acres is in private ownership and commercially managed as game ranches, nature reserves, conservancies etc. Plant life is so varied it actually boggles the mind. . Southern Africa probably has the richest and most diverse vegetation in the world! Up to date more than 24 000 species has been catalogued and a large part of it can be seen at National Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town where there is something for everyone.
POLITICSAt present South Africa is being governed by the African National Congress (ANC) in power since 1994 when the white minority National Party was ousted after nearly 45 years of reign. Government then was replaced by a multi party democracy and a very enlightened new Constituency was passed with a progressive Bill of Rights. At present there are 9 main political opposition parties and some 5 smaller ones. The country at present experience extremely good political and economical stability measured against that of the rest of the African continent and even other developing countries worldwide.
CURRENCY AND MONEY MATTERSSouth Africa’s economy runs on the Rand unit currency with the international symbol ZAR. 1 Rand = 100 cents. Coins consist of bronze cent coins; 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, and silver Rand coins; R1, R2 and R5 coins. “Paper money” or notes are colored paper notes; R10 (green), R20 (light brown/yellowish), R50 (pink/reddish), R100 (blue) and largest denomination R200 (orange like). Measured against international monetary exchange rates South Africa offers extremely affordable holidays and recreational and leisure activities in the field of tourism. Travelers’ checks, foreign currency of all major currencies can be exchanged at airports, commercial banks and some of the major hotel groups. Value Added Tax (VAT) at the current rate of 14% is required on all purchased goods and services. If VAT value exceed ZAR 250 on purchases, refunds can be claimed at airports with customs offices if such purchased items are to be taken out of the country and in your immediate personal possession International credit cards such as American Express, Diners Club, Master Card and Visa Card are widely accepted. Enquire before purchasing which one is preferable for the institution you’re dealing with. Most of the main banking institutions are open Monday to Friday from 09h00 to 15h30 and Saturdays from 09h00 to 11h00. Automated bank teller machines (ATM) are available in most towns and at larger petrol stations, though very small towns in far off rural areas may not offer this service. General shopping hours are 08h00 to 17h00, although most shops in rural towns also still close between 13h00 to 14h00. It is advisable to change some of your foreign currency into South African currency on arrival into the country, as you’ll get better rates locally than in your home country as well as with less hassle. There are banks on the airport premises at Johannesburg International.
TIPPING AND GRATUITIESIn South Africa gratuities are not included in the final bill. At restaurants and hotels it is customary and good manners to tip for good service, 10% being the accepted “standard”. Porters, fuel attendants, vehicle guards etc can be tipped a few Rand, depending on service quality. Often communal tipping boxes are encountered at guest farms or B&B’s and staff divides the content thereof between them. Professional services such as those of your tourist guide, drivers or professional hunters are also applicable to the goodwill of the traveler according to the standard of service they received from them and are always welcome.
INFRASTRUCTURESouth Africa prides itself on an excellent infrastructure, actually the best on the whole African Continent. It is the 20th biggest economy of the 230 most important global countries and the biggest in Africa. All modern modes of transport are available. Tarred roads (black topped) and highways link virtually every city, town, village and hamlet. Gravel roads in the rural areas are not always in such condition and great care must be taken when driving on it. In 2003 alone, more than ZAR 6 billion were spent on up-keep and maintenance of our road system. According to recent statistics, South Africa has a national fleet of about 7 million vehicles. All the bigger cities boast airports and very many of the towns own airdrome fields. Many of the world’s big hotel groups are represented and literally thousand of informal guesthouses and private hotels are available, offering high standards. The telephone network is extensive and apart from the national TELKOM network has three GSM cellular networks. South Africa is home of international business giants like Anglo American, BHP Billington, De Beers Diamonds, Investec, Old Mutual and SABMiller. South Africa also pioneered the world’s first “petroleum-from-coal” process through SASOL. Recently the British Investment Bank, Lehman Bros, declared South Africa to be one of the most stabile upcoming economies in the world. Tourism contributes about 7% of our GNP and very aggressive marketing campaigns both locally and abroad are waged to increase this figure. Due to our cultural diversity, many different styles of cuisine are available to the international traveler that will suit the most finicky. English is very widely spoken and one of the major languages, it is the language of commerce, business and industry and apart from the mother tongue of individuals a compulsory subject in schools. Cape Town is the parliamentary capital; Bloemfontein the judicial capital and Pretoria the administrative capital. The Gauteng province where the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria are situated, including the adjacent urban areas called the Witwatersrand, is a huge sprawling complex housing about 8 million people and also economically the richest. This province is the smallest of our 9 provinces but in itself contribute nearly a third of the country’s GNP and its economy is bigger that that of any of the other African countries! Electricity supply is 220/240 volt at 50Hz. Adaptors may be needed and most plugs are triangular three pinned/pronged
HIGH AND LOW SEASONSummer, from October to April is considered high season. Winter, from May to September is low season. All accommodation establishments adjust their stay over rates and prices accordingly. The country is a very popular destination and fast becoming even more so, plan ahead, make advance reservations. If arriving without a reservation you may very well be disappointed, especially during the summer months.
HEALTHHospitals, both state and exceptionally high quality private hospitals as well as clinics are plentiful and visitors will be well cared for if the need arises. Consider that this is the country that pioneered the very first heart transplant by Dr. Christiaan Barnard in the early 60’s. This being said however it is very advisable to take out additional medical insurance, as public hospitals are extremely crowded and not always as efficient as the private institutions. AIDS is rife in the country with speculations of up to 28% of the population rumored to be infected after a statistical research program. (November 2002). U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the States. Check with your insurance company and get confirmation whether your policy applies overseas, including the provision for medical evacuation and adequate coverage. Very useful info on medical emergencies abroad is provided y the USA Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, titled “ Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad” available from the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Additional health info can be obtained from the ‘ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention” at the International Travelers Hotline. Please note: Visitors from abroad must make provision for and embark on a very necessary course of prophylactic medicine against malaria, particularly tourists visiting the eastern part of the country, this is absolutely ESSENTIAL. Please note: Smoking has been banned from public areas in South Africa. This is quite a sensitive issue and most establishments prefers their guests or clients not to smoke in rooms, restaurants etc. Please check beforehand.
TRAVELUS of A citizens do not require visas. All foreign visitors’ passports should be current for at least six (6) months after your return. It also is a good idea to compile and keep copies of such details such as your passport, travel insurance policy and other important information. There are regular, direct flights (+- 18 hours) offered by South African Airways (SAA) from New York and Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. This airline has an impressive record and was recently appointed “Best Airline” by the Skytrax Air awards system on the African continent recently as well as for a succession of previous years. As well as “Best International Online Service” and “Best Airline to Africa ”. In 2002 the airline started a process of acquiring new Airbus A340-600 for use on their ultra long-haul flights such as those from South Africa to Atlanta and New York, the Far East and Australia. The first of the new aircraft fleet was launched in February 2003 between South Africa and Hong Kong. The FAA, (US Federal Aviation Administration) has assesses the South African Governments “Civil Aviation Authority” as Category 1 as in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of South African air carrier services. Customs are very easy in general. European Sportsmen can travel to South Africa from virtually all-main European capitals using all the big airlines on flights ranging from 9-12 hours duration. Regarding visitors from the USA we seriously recommend the services of Elaine Porteus whom we hold in high esteem. She can be reached at “AFRICAN ODYSSEY” travel agency situated in Miami, FL. Contact details: Tel.305/271 – 1878 or Fax 305/273 – 4595. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org Feel free to compare her service and rates with those of other travel agents. Airport taxes is payable on departure. Check whether it is included in your air ticket prior to departure or if you need to pay at the airport. Please note: Duty-free allowances are: 400 cigarettes; 250grams of tobacco and 50 cigars; 1 liter of spirits; 2 liters of wine; 50 ml of perfume and 250 ml of toilet water. Gifts up to the worth of ZAR 500 are allowed. Unlimited foreign currency and traveler’s checks may be taken into the country. No more than ZAR 500 in notes (paper money) may be imported or exported unless a permit issued by the Reserve Bank of South Africa has been obtained. No international immunization is required when entering South Africa. However a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate of less than 1 year for travelers traveling from such infected areas to South Africa is a compulsory requirement. Please note: When doing self-drive that gas (petrol/fuel) stations do not accept credit cards!
TAX REFUNDSVisitors to South Africa are not exempt from paying the 14% Value Added Tax (VAT) on goods and services. However, VAT on purchased items, which are taken with them out of country when leaving, with a value of R 250-00, and more can be claimed back at their port of departure from customs officers. In order to do this original tax invoice/s as well as the item itself, a VAT refund control document and their passport should be presented to the officials.
GENERAL SAFETY GUIDELINESThis is always a difficult though justified question. In reality most of Africa ’s’ people and societies are actually more honest than that of our Western world. Crime is not a major concern in most places you will visit, especially the rural areas and the vast majority of visitors travel without any incidents. Nevertheless, crime is a reality, does occur and such elements unfortunately does exist. With an official unemployment rate of 41% petty crime such as theft is quite prevalent. Our cities and immediate surrounding areas are the main trouble spots and of course those with the highest population density, which is the Gauteng province, especially around hotels and areas of public transport. Local commuter train services and metro trains, especially those active between Johannesburg and Pretoria, are to be avoided at all cost. Travel tips –American citizens traveling to South Africa, are encouraged to register at their Consular Section of the nearest US Consulate and obtain updated info on travel and security within South Africa.
- Do not enter into conversation with just anybody who approaches you, whatever his or her claim. Also, some cities pose more dangers than others. The most problematic area in the country being downtown Johannesburg.
- At airports or ports of entry do not leave your baggage without supervision or unattended and do not allow a number of porters to “swamp” you. Acceptable tips to airport porters are ZAR R 5-00 to ZAR 10-00 maximum.
- Be very vigilant when using credit cards as payment and do not, under any circumstances allows anyone to “assist” you with ATM transactions. Credit card fraud and U.S. counterfeit currency also occur frequently.
- Be vigilant at all times when busy with financial transactions or actions and never count your money in the open.
- As a rule, never ever walk around unaccompanied or without informing your guide where you intend going to.
- Never carry large amounts of cash or expensive jewellery/valuables on your person in the cities and try to avoid looking like a tourist. The very best is to make arrangements to always stay in a group and be escorted by your guide/s.
- Avoid townships when on your own, rather employ a legal, licensed and registered Tourist Guide for this.
- Enter the local emergency telephone numbers and into your cell phone/mobile phone if you travel with it.
- Keep track of your keys
- Be very aware of prostitutes! There lately have been a number of cases of foreign tourists being killed by these “service providers” as they were linked to drug peddling or mugging. Apart from this AIDS is rampant and can be very easily contracted by engaging in casual sex!!
- Do not leave purses or bags on chairs, under tables or on the back of chairs in restaurants or hotel foyers or on restroom hooks.
- Rather carry traveler’s cheques instead of cash and do not countersign your traveler’s cheques before it is needed.
- Separate cash, traveler’s cheques and credit cards.
TIMESouth Africa is 2 hours ahead of GMT throughout the year.
PHONE HOMELocal and International dialing is very easy as South Africa use the global telephone dialing system which means that for local calls, the local area code must always be dialed, even being in the same city or town. To phone from within South Africa to places abroad use the following 3 steps:
- Dial the international code for the country,
- followed by the area code of the town or city you want to phone to and then
- The telephone number.