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Interesting South African facts

Plant and animal life

South Africa is partnering with Zimbabwe and Mozambique in tearing down fences between the countries’ game parks to create a joined
35 000km2 game park, which will become the largest conservation area in the world. Comparatively, it will be bigger than Switzerland.

South Africa is ranked number one in the world for its floral kingdom.

King Protea

The King Protea is the largest of all proteas and South Africa's national flower, appearing on birth certificates, passports and the R5 coin.

Believed to have been extinct since the end of the Cretaceous period – about 145.5 million years ago - the first Coelacanth was found off the east coast of South Africa in 1938 off the Chalumna River.

The annual sardine run, between the months of May and July, is a unique South African natural extravaganza seeing millions of sardines swim North from the Southern oceans.

A picnic for predators, the sardine run attracts birds, game fish dolphins, sharks and whales, there’s enough for all.

White rhinos have flat bottom lips and grazes on grasses, while black rhinos have a triangular bottom lip and browse on bushes and trees.
White Rhino  

South African grasslands have a greater biodiversity than rainforests, with about 30 species per square kilometre.

South Africa is home to:

  · The largest bird – ostrich
· The largest land mammal – elephant
· The tallest creature – giraffe
· The largest reptile – leatherback turtle
· The largest fish – whale shark
· The heaviest flying bird – khori bustard
· The largest antelope – eland
· The fastest land mammal – cheetah
· The smallest mammal – least dwarf shrew
· Four of the five fastest land animals live in South Africa – the cheetah, wildebeest, lion, and Thomson's gazelle.

Giraffes in the bush


Jan Smuts, a soldier and South African statesman (1870 – 1950), was the only person to sign the treaties ending both World Wars I and II.

Singer Miriam Makeba was the first South African to win a Grammy award. She received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1966 together with Harry Belafonte for ‘An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba’. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid. Also a human rights activist, she was exiled for 30 years. She addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on two occasions.

46664 – Imprisoned on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela was categorised by his prison number and year of imprisonment. Mandela’s prisoner number was 466, and he was imprisoned in 1964, hence 46664.


South Africa has the longest wine route in the world, the R62 wine route.

South African Grapes
Image courtesy of Cape Town Daily Photo

Red Bush tea, known locally as Rooibos, is a unique refreshing blend of tea grown only in the Cederberg area of the Western Cape – the only place in the world where this blend is grown.

South Africa offers eight World Heritage Sites:

  1. Robben Island - Some seven kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, the 5.07 km² oval shaped island was where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were imprisoned during apartheid.

2. Fossil Hominid sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai, and environs - The place where a specimen of the species Australopithecus africanus – the Taung Skull – was found. The area is rich in traces of human occupation and evolution dating back some 3.3 million years.

Mrs Ples Image courtesy of
Photographer - Graeme Williams
The famous pre-human skull affectionately known as ‘Mrs Ples’, and an almost complete hominid skeleton called ‘Little Foot’, dating 2.3 and 4.17 million years old respectively, were found at the world-renowned Sterkfontein Caves - home to the oldest and most continuous paleaontological dig in the world.

  3. iSimangaliso Wetland Park - Formerly known as the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, this unique montage of ecosystems comprises beaches, coral reefs, lakes, wetlands, swamps, woodlands, coastal forests and grasslands. Understandably, an astounding diversity of marine, animal and bird can be found.

4. Ukhahlamba / Drakensberg Park – A top South African ecotourism destination, the 243,000 ha protects a high level of endemic and globally threatened species, especially birds and plants with an average altitude of 3000m. Caves and rock-shelters are home to 35% of South Africa's San rock art, made by the San people over a period of 4,000 years.

5. Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape – Having developed into the largest kingdom in the sub-continent before it was abandoned in the 14th century, the expansive savannah landscape of Mapungubwe contains evidence of an important political and social development. Assisted by the crossroad location adjacent to borders of Zimbabwe and Botswana, the Mapungubwe settlers traded gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt.

6. Cape Floral Region Protected Areas – Comprising eight protected areas covering 553,000 ha, the region contains nearly a fifth of the continent’s flora even though it only covers less than 0.5% of the geographical area of Africa.

7. Fredefort Dome - the oldest meteor scar in the world that dates back 2,023 million years - the oldest astrobleme yet found on Earth.

8. The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape - Communally owned and managed, this 160,000 ha landscape is a striking mountainous desert in north-western South Africa. The area also sustains the Nama people, semi-nomadic rural culture, whose livelihood reflects seasonal patterns as it has for about 2,000 years.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was the first botanical gardens to achieve World Heritage Site status.

Ranked third best overall in the world, South Africa is one of only 12 countries supplying tap water that is fit to drink.

South Africa is the world's leader in mining and minerals.

The largest cut diamond in the world, Cullinan 1, was found in 1905 at the Premier Diamond Mining Company in Cullinan is a small town 30 km east of Pretoria. Also known as the star of Africa, this diamond forms part of the British Imperial Sceptre.

There are about 280, 000 windmills on farms across South Africa, second in number only to Australia.

The Big Hole
The Kimberly Mine (pictured) – also known as 'The Big Hole' or 'Die Groot Gat' in Afrikaans - was claimed to be the largest hole excavated by hand. That title however belongs to the Jagersfontein Mine, another old South African diamond mine approximately 109 km south-west of Bloemfontein.

The only street in the world to house two Nobel Peace prize winners is in Soweto, Johannesburg. The prize winners were Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

South Africa is home to the second highest waterfall in the world, the Tugela Falls, at 850m. The highest is Angel Falls in Venezuela at 979m.

Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world. The largest is the Grand Canyon in the US and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia.

South Africa is one of the most generously endowed geographic solar hotspots in the world.


The first ever human heart transplant was performed by South African surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard, at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town in 1967. A talented man, he was also the first to do a heart-lung transplant as well as pioneering post-operative intensive care system that noticeably decreased patient mortality.

The world's first automatic pool cleaning unit, the Kreepy Krauly, was invented by South African Ferdinand Chauvier in 1974.

Used globally by medical staff to reduce the risk of HIV/Aids infection through needle-stick injuries, the Smartlock Safety Syringe was developed by Hendrikus J. van der Meyden and Alexis A. Wadman in 1992.

The Hippo Water Roller - an innovative container design to improve water transportation particularly in the developing world – was designed by Johan Jonker and Pettie Petzer.

Kimberly was the first town in the southern hemisphere to install electric street lights on September 2nd, 1882.

A South African doctor named Percy Amolis invented the Retinal Cryoprobe, commonly used to repair detached retina and remove cataracts.

The world’s first computerised ticketing was invented by South Africa's premier ticketing agent, Computicket.

Now enjoyed around the world, Appletiser fruit juice was first squeezed in 1965 in South Africa.

South African physicist Allan Cormack, along with Brit Godfrey Hounsfield, developed the CAT scan, while working at Tufts University in the UK. Their achievement was recognised, winning the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Pratley's glue is the only South African invention that has been to the moon, while Mark Shuttleworth is the only South African person to have gone to space.

Image courtesy of Cape Town Daily Photo

Dolosse, the large concrete structures used internationally to protect harbours, seawalls and coastlines around the world, was invented by South African, Eric Merrifield.

Used mainly for land surveying, the tellurometer (microwave distance-measuring device) was invented by Dr. Trevor Lloyd Wadley of the Telecommunications Research Laboratory of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).


The youngest language in the world, Afrikaans was first recognised as an official language in 1925.

South Africa has the second highest number of official languages, with India in first place with 22 official languages.


Since 1994, South Africa has successfully managed some of the biggest world sporting events, including the:

· 1995 Rugby World Cup – SA beat New Zealand
· 2003 Cricket World Cup
· 2005 and 2006 Women's World Cup of Golf
· 2006 inaugural A1 GP World Cup of Motorsport
· 2009 IPL Cricket
· 2010 Fifa World Cup
2010 Announcement
Image courtesy of
Photographer - Government Communication and Information System

Formally launched at The Oval in England during the 1999 Cricket World Cup, the speed gun was South African-made developed by South African inventor Henri Johnson. The device measures the speed at which the ball is bowled.

Ethical & green

South African architect, Shaun Killa, designed the innovative Bahrain World Trade Centre - the first skyscraper in the world to integrate wind turbines into its design.

South African company Freeplay is an international ‘brand with a conscience’ thanks to its range of self-sufficient energy products – radios, torches and headlamps powered by wind-up, solar and rechargeable energy sources.

Sasol is the world's first - and largest - oil-from-coal refinery situated in Sasolburg in South Africa providing 40% of the country's fuel. To date, the company has developed innovative technology for the conversion of low-grade coal into value-added chemicals and synfuels.

Whisper Boat produces no pollution with its hybrid electric motor and it is virtually silent.


Resources including gold, platinum, ferrochrome, coal and palladium account for about 30 percent of South Africa’s export earnings.

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