The nation of South Africa is as diverse as its landscape featuring mountains, beaches, forests and vineyards. The constitution officially recognizes 11 languages with the top three spoken languages being IsiZulu (official) 23.8%, IsiXhosa (official) 17.6%, Afrikaans (official). The nation also has the continent’s largest population of whites (9.6 percent), Asians (2.5 percent) and mixed people (8.9 percent), according to a 2001 census.
Apartheid, a system where the whites in power forced segregation throughout the nation with strict laws, was in place until 1994. South African legend and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela spent 27 years behind bars in the nation as a political prisoner. He was elected as the nation’s first Black president in 1994 and served until 1999. Thabo Mbeki took over that year and served until 2008 when he resigned. The country’s current leader, Jacob Zuma, was elected in 2009.
Most on the continent practice some variation of Christianity, with 1.5 percent of the population claiming Islam and 15.1 percent claiming no religion.
About half of residents live below the poverty line according to estimates and the nation’s unemployment rate stands at almost 25 percent. The mining industry is prominent in South Africa with the major exports being gold, diamonds and other metals and minerals.
Despite the high poverty, the nation exists as a gateway for global business in the continent. When initially doing business in the continent many big companies chose South Africa as a starting ground. Recent examples include Wal-Mart’s takeover of South African grocer Massmart last month, and the recent expansion of U.S.-based chain restaurant Hooters to Cape Town (two locations already exist in Johannesburg and Durban).
On the World Stage
Last summer South Africa became the first and only African nation to host the World Cup games. Up until recently, the nation was considering a bid for the Summer Olympic games in 2020.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic remains to be a huge issue in the nation. In 2009, the country ranked No. 1 in the world in the number of HIV/AIDS deaths (310,000) and was ranked No. 2 in the world for the amount of people living with HIV/AIDS (5.6 million).