39 Interesting And Fun Facts About South Africa

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South Africa is a beautiful country, full of diverse cultures, flora, and fauna. It’s also an incredibly interesting country. It’s so interesting that I’ve made a list of 39 interesting and fun facts that I’ve uncovered since moving here.

I’ll look at world records, South African history, and some other things that will give you an idea of how unique the Rainbow Nation truly is.

Table of Contents

1. Nelson Mandela Has 6 Different Names In South Africa

There aren’t many people in the world who don’t know who former president Nelson Mandela is. He was a pioneer and figurehead for the birth of democratic South Africa as we know it today. From his time on Robben Island to debating then-state president FW De Klerk, Nelson Mandela has done a lot for the country.

He’s also been given 6 different names. They are:

  • Rolihlahla (Xhosa – meaning “trouble maker”)
  • Nelson (English – a name given by his teacher)
  • Madiba (Xhosa – the name of his clan)
  • Tata (Xhosa – meaning “father”)
  • Khulu (Xhosa – meaning “The Great One”)
  • Dalibhunga (Xhosa – meaning “creator of the council”)

2. South Africa Is Home To The World’s Largest Crater

In the Free State, there’s a 300-kilometre-wide crater. It’s known as the Vredefort Dome and is considered the largest confirmed impact crater in the world. It’s also the second oldest in the world, after the Yarrabubba crater in Australia.

The Vredefort Dome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the few multiple-ringed craters on Earth’s land surface.

3. South Africa Is Home To The Highest Natural Commercial Bungee Jump In The World

Next to a small restaurant in the Western Cape is the Bloukrans Bridge. The river just below is the border between the Eastern and Western Cape. The bridge itself is 451 metres long and is mainly used as a road bridge.

But it’s also the world’s highest natural commercial bungee jump.

This heart-racing drop is a whopping 216 metres and starts with a zipline to the jump point. From there, you strap into a full-body harness, take a deep breath… and jump!

4. The Cape Winelands Is The World’s Longest Wine Route

Connecting the east and west coasts is Route 62. It’s 850 kilometres long and stretches from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth (now known as Gqeberha). It’s a long drive along the South African coast – and the longest wine route.

While the trip includes a bunch of attractions like the Cango Caves outside of Oudtshoorn, the highlight is all of the wine tasting you can do along the way. South Africa’s Cape Winelands is home to some of the best wines in the world.

Some of the locations include:

  • Paarl
  • Wellington
  • Bredekloof Wine Valley
  • Worcester
  • Robertson Wine Valley
  • Klein Karoo

5. South Africa Has 2 Countries Inside Of It

South Africa is huge – but it’s not an uninterrupted stretch. Within South Africa, there are 2 landlocked countries.

One is Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland). After World War II, this piece of British-owned land was supposed to merge into South Africa. But, with Apartheid, it was decided that the United Kingdom would prepare Eswatini for independence. On 6 September 1968, Swaziland became independent – and has been ever since.

The other country within the South African land is Lesotho. Formerly known as Basotholand, this British-ruled colony was run independently until 1966 when it gained independence from South Africa. Because the Apartheid regime was still running rampant, there was no desire to merge.

6. South African Fish Migration Can Be Seen From Space

Between May and July, the cold waters off of the Cape Point through to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal turns dark silver. This is the annual sardine migration, which contains shoals that are up to 15 kilometres long and 3.5 kilometres wide.

This event is so massive that it’s been named the “Sardine Run”, and can even be seen from space!

7. The South African National Animal Is The Only Southern African Gazelle

The South African rugby team is named after this animal as well… The Springbok is the only member of its genus and is a distant relative to the gazelle. It’s South Africa’s national animal and the only Southern African gazelle!

8. Almost 80% Of South Africa’s Population Is Christian

South Africa’s religions are almost as varied as the people themselves. There are 7 different religions (with a total of 24 denominations). But the main one in South Africa is Christianity. It makes up around 78% of the country’s total population! With the large amount of denominations of Christianity in SA, it’s the most varied religion in South Africa as well.

9. The Current South African Flag Was Used For The First Time On Freedom Day In 1994

When a national competition started in 1993 to create South Africa’s new national flag, everybody in the nation got to work making the next potential symbol of South African democracy. The South African State Herald, a man named Fred Brownell, designed the flag we know today.

On 27 April 1994, the new flag was hoisted for the first time (the day would become known as Freedom Day). With it, the old flag (made illegal to display in 2019), faded from memory as a symbol of a previous, darker and more oppressive time.

10. South Africa Is The First African Country To Recognise Same Sex Marriage (2006)

Africa consists of 52 states. Of them, only 22 have legalised and officially recognised same-sex marriage. In the rest of the states, it’s either not recognised, or considered a crime.

African leaders have spoken about the topic of LGBTQ+ rights, and have taken very strong stances against it.

Except for some. The first African country to do that was South Africa. In 2006, it became the first African nation (and the fifth country in the world) to officially recognise same-sex marriage.

It was a historical moment that showed South Africa’s acceptance for all. And it added one more colour to the Rainbow Nation.

11. South Africa Has 12 National Languages

As the third country on the list of countries with most spoken languages, South Africa has a lot of languages to choose from.

These languages are:

  • Zulu (spoken by 24.4% of the population)
  • Xhosa (spoken by 16.3% of the population)
  • Afrikaans (spoken by 10.6% of the population)
  • Sepedi (spoken by 10.0% of the population)
  • English (spoken by 8.7% of the population)
  • Tswana (spoken by 8.3% of the population)
  • Sesotho (spoken by 7.8% of the population)
  • Tsonga (spoken by 4.7% of the population)
  • Swati (spoken by 2.8% of the population)
  • Venda (spoken by 2.5% of the population)
  • Ndebele (spoken by 1.7% of the population)
  • South African Sign Language (spoken by 0.02% of the population)

12. The National Anthem Contains 5 Languages

With all of these languages in the country, it’s not a surprise that South Africa’s national anthem contains more languages than any other in the world.

It contains stanzas in 5 different languages:

  • Xhosa
  • Zulu
  • Sotho
  • Afrikaans
  • English

13. South Africa Has Hosted A Cricket, Rugby, And Football World Cup

Despite being banned from international sports until 1992, South Africa is one of the few countries that’s hosted World Cups for all three major sports.

  • In 1995, it hosted (and won!) the Rugby World Cup
  • In 2003, it hosted the ICC Cricket World Cup
  • In 2007, it hosted the ICC Cricket World Cup
  • In 2010, it hosted the FIFA World Cup

14. South Africa Is The Largest Producer Of Platinum In The World

Most commonly used in cars and jewellery, platinum is a metal that’s in high demand. So, if you’re a producer, you’ll need to be able to keep up. And SA is up to the challenge.

In 2022, it produced around 140 metric tons of platinum. For reference, the second largest producer, Russia, produced 20 metric tons.

15. South Africa Used To Be The World’s Largest Gold Producer

Since its discovery in 1866, the Witwatersrand Basin has been host to many mining companies. It contains the most gold ever discovered in any one location and was the reason that South Africa was the largest producer of gold up until the year 2000.

Since then, there’s been reduced production. But nobody knows exactly how much gold is left in the Basin. So it may just be a matter of time before we see SA jump up to number one for this metal too.

16. South Africa Hosts The World’s Largest Bicycle Race

This one’s in the Guinness Book of World Records! The Cape Argus Cycle Tour (as it was known when it set the record) in Cape Town is the only event outside of Europe to be given Gold Bike Series status.

Today it is called The Cape Town Cycle Tour. The race is 109 kilometres long and, in 2004, broke the record for most entrants in any cycling race ever.

There were a total of 42,614 entrants, of which 31,219 finished. Since its start in 1978, it’s gone from 525 entrants up to a record-breaking number. In 2011, it was capped at 30,000 entrants.

17. The World’s Second Largest Brewery Was In South Africa

Formed in 2002 by merging South African Breweries Ltd. and the US’s Miller Brewing Company, SABMiller plc was the second-largest brewery in the world. The only one to beat it was Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Belgian brewing company. In 2016, it was acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

18. South Africa Is The Only Country In The World To Build And Dismantle Its Nuclear Weapons Program

During Apartheid, the South African government spent time researching and developing nuclear weapons. This lasted from the 1940s to the 1990s. In 1989, it became the only country to create and voluntarily relinquish its nuclear capabilities.

19. The First Successful Human Heart Transplant Happened In South Africa

Most South Africans know of Groote Schuur Hospital. It’s one of the top hospitals for medical students and was home to a world-changing operation.

On 3 December 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard led a team that performed the first human heart transplant. It was a lengthy procedure (around 5 hours) and was full of legal paperwork to allow the procedure to happen.

It was performed on a 54-year-old grocer who had diabetes and incurable heart diseases. The procedure was a success, but he sadly passed away 18 days later due to pneumonia.

Nevertheless, the procedure set the groundwork for one of medicine’s most life-saving operations.

20. South Africa Has Three Capital Cities

Unlike most other countries that have one capital city, South Africa has 3 capital cities. Each one represents a different branch of government.

  • The legislative capital is Cape Town
  • The judicial capital is Bloemfontein
  • The administration capital is Pretoria

21. Table Mountain Is One Of The Oldest Mountains In The World

Table Mountain is one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. And with its unique flat-top and extensive flora and fauna, it’s easy to see why. It’s also the only terrestrial structure to have a constellation named after it.

And, it’s one of the oldest mountains in the world.

Older than the Alps, Andes, Rockies, and Himalayas.

It dates back to over 240 million years, with some rocks on the mountain being over 600 millions years old.

22. The Oldest Mountain Range In The World is In South Africa

This one might not be as well known to South Africans as Table Mountain. But it’s true. The oldest mountain range in the world is the Barberton Greenstone Belt. It borders Mpumalanga and Swaziland, and is dated to be around 3.6 billion years old!

23. There Are Around 3,000 Shipwrecks Of The Coast Of Cape Town

The Cape Point has always been known as a resting point for weary sailors. But it’s also known to sailors as a graveyard for shipwrecks. The 3,000-kilometre stretch of coastline is estimated to have around 3,000 shipwrecks. That’s a shipwreck for every kilometre of coast. They didn’t call it the Cape of Storms for nothing!

24. South Africa Is The World’s Second Exporter of Citrus Fruit

There’s a long-standing battle between Spain and South Africa to see who can export the most citrus fruit. While Spain takes the top place, SA comes in a decent second. In 2022, it was estimated that around 1,141,076 metric tons of oranges alone were exported to various countries around the world.

25. One South African Street Was The Home Of Two Nobel Prize Winners

Perhaps the only street in the world that can claim to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners can be found in the township of Soweto.

Just south-west of Johannesburg, this township is vibrant and energetic. A good opportunity to immerse yourself in South African culture.

But it’s also home to Vilakazi Street. It was here that both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived. Both of these people were figureheads in South Africa’s history and had a major impact on the rest of the world through their actions as well.

26. South Africa Is Home To One Of Six Floral Kingdoms.

The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of six floral kingdoms around the world. It’s home to unique plant life and is the only floral kingdom contained in a single country. It also has more plant species per square kilometre than any other floral kingdom in the world!

27. The World’s Largest Diamond Was Discovered In South Africa

Found in 1905 by Thomas Cullinan, the Cullinan Diamond is the largest in the world. It weighed around 610 grams and was given to King Henry VII. It would eventually be cut, and two of the biggest stones can now be seen on the Crown Jewel!

28. The World’s First Digital Laser Was Invented In South Africa

In 2013, Doctor Sandile Ngcobo developed the world’s first digital laser. A digital laser can be internally controlled using digital means. This development was revolutionary and has led to developments like faster broadband.

29. South Africa Is Home To The World’s Deepest Mine

Southwest of Johannesburg is Mponeng Mine.

It’s been estimated to have an operating depth of below 4 kilometres and produced 405,000 ounces of gold in 2012. Every day, they use around 2,200 kg of explosives to go deeper.

30. Some Of The Most Important Hominid Fossils Were Discovered In South Africa

South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind is considered a legendary location. It’s been home to discoveries of some of the most important fossils of hominids ever. This includes multiple species of Australopithecus. They’re our closest relatives!

31. Rovos Rail In South Africa Is The Most Luxurious Train In The World

When your train includes black-tie dinners, you know you’re in for luxury!

The Rovos Rail’s amenities include a Victorian-era tub, a private bathroom, and two dining cars that provide some of the best wines the Winelands has to offer. It offers a 3-night trip from Cape Town to Pretoria, or back. There are also optional trips up into other African countries.

32. South Africa Is The Birth Place Of The CAT Scan

In 1963, Allan Mcleod Cormack changed medicine forever when he invented the Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) scan. This allowed doctors to get a look inside the human body and find out exactly what was wrong with organs and bones. This invention would go on to become one of the most important events in medical history, and is still used to this day.

33. South Africa Is Home To The Great White Shark Capital

Gansbaai is a small fishing town nestled in the Cape Floral Kingdom.

It’s a beautiful place and a popular tourist destination. But not because of its beauty. Gansbaai is known as the “Great White Shark Capital” of the world.

Every year, hundreds of tourists flock to the town to take part in one-of-a-kind shark cage diving. There’s nowhere else in the world that has as many great white sharks in one location!

34. South Africa Is Home To A LOT Of Species

As one of seventeen countries that are considered “megadiverse”, it’s no surprise that SA is home to a massive range of wildlife.

Thanks to its unique geography it can support a diverse population of animals. It’s got a recorded 299 species of mammals, and 858 species of birds!

35. The Second Highest Waterfall In The World Is Found In South Africa

In the Drakensberg Natal National Park, there’s a ton to see. There’s a 5-kilometre-long rock wall, beautiful scenery and the second-highest waterfall in the world.

The Tugela River is a 948-metre drop, second only to Angel Falls in Venezuela (979 metres)

36. It’s Where Two Oceans Meet

Cape Agulhas is the official dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. It’s an inconspicuous location around 150 km away from the Cape of Good Hope and only has a stone plaque marking the meeting point.

If you’re lucky enough to see it, you’ll notice the difference in colours between the two oceans, something you can’t find anywhere else in the world!

37. South Africa Is Home To Rooibos Tea

Ask any South African what kind of tea they have in their cupboard, and they’ll all tell you they have rooibos.

Translated to “red bush”, rooibos tea is a truly unique tea. It’s the only one in the world that can steep forever without becoming bitter. And it can only grow in South Africa’s environment. It’s got a ton of medicinal properties too!

38. South Africa Is Home To Record-Breaking Animals

Part of the diversity in the rainbow nation can be seen in its animals as well as its people. It’s home to:

  • The world’s largest bird (ostrich)
  • The world’s fastest land mammal (cheetah)
  • The world’s largest fish (whale shark)
  • The world’s tallest animal (giraffe)
  • The world’s largest mammal (elephant)

39. It’s Where Oil-From-Coal Comes From

When the South African government realised that SA was running low on oil reserves, they made a plan. Sasol, the biggest oil refinery in the country, developed the oil-from-coal method. This process allowed them to break down coal and turn it into oil. As a result, Sasol is the world’s first (and the world’s largest) oil-from-coal refinery!


How old is South Africa?

Modern-day SA was founded on the 31st of May 1961. As of 2023, it’s 62 years old.

What is South Africa’s nickname?

Because of its diversity and blend of cultures and people, it’s been dubbed the “rainbow nation”.

What are South Africa’s national animals?

  • Springbok (national animal)
  • Blue Crane (national bird)
  • Galjoen (national fish)

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