A Travellers Guide to South Africa

Commanding strategically important sea routes between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Republic of South Africa is at the southernmost tip of the African continent.

With a coastline of some 2,954 kilometres, it is bounded to the north by borders within Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Mozambique. To the north east is Swaziland, a small, landlocked kingdom surrounded by South Africa except for a short border with Mozambique.

Also contained within South Africa's borders is the independent country Lesotho, formerly Basutoland.

With a land area of over 1.2m square kilometres, South Africa is larger than the combined area of Holland, France, Italy, Belgium, and Germany yet has a population of just 42.6m. It is comprised of nine provinces. Durban, the major sea port, is in Kwa-Zulu Natal on the north east coast, Cape Town is in Western cape to the south west, and Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape.

South Africa's two major international airports are in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The legislative capital is Cape Town, the administrative capital is Pretoria, the judicial capital is Bloemfontein and the biggest city is Johannesburg.

The 'rainbow nation', it has a rich mixture of races and cultures with no less than eleven officially recognised languages, including English, Afrikaans, and native African tongues.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office describes the geography as comprising a coastal strip of below fifteen hundred feet fringed by steep mountain ranges, with a high plateau in the interior ranging up to six thousand feet above sea level.

The coastline is swept by two major ocean currents - the warm south flowing Mozambique-Agulhas and the cold Benguela which flows northwards along the west coast as far as southern Angola.

On the west coast, the cold Atlantic current creates arid scrubland terrain. Higher levels of rainfall on the central plateau produce grassland. A continuous mountain range runs down the east coast warmed by the Indian Ocean giving a sub-tropical climate. The north of the country has savannah-type vegetation, whilst the southern tip has a Mediterranean-type climate.

Once shunned because of its apartheid policy, the country is now an active player in international relations: hosting major international sporting events, playing a full part in the UN and the Commonwealth, and having a significant stake in international business.

Unemployment levels are officially almost 27 per cent but may in practice be as high as 40 per cent.

The Foreign Office warns that there are high levels of crime in the country, but that most occurs in townships and isolated areas away from the normal tourist destinations. 'The standard of driving is variable and there are many fatal accidents'.

However, more than 460,000 Britons visit South Africa every year and most visits are trouble free.

As in most places there remains 'an underlying threat from terrorism'. And although unlikely, attacks 'could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers'.

British nationals visiting South Africa on holiday for less than 90 days do not require visas. After entry, extensions of stay may be sought from the Department of Home Affairs. Visitors who overstay without authority may be fined, either on exit or at the nearest South African mission on your return to the UK (or elsewhere).

Re-entry to South Africa will not be permitted until the fine has been paid in full.

Those who substantially over stay their visas may be arrested on departure and detained before appearing in court. In such cases you may face a very substantial fine and then be deported at your own expense.

In all South Africa has 13 types of temporary and 11 types of permanent residence permits, including relative's permits, business permits, and retired person's permits. Business permits are available for up to two years for people looking to invest or set up their own business. Work permits can be obtained for up to three years while a permanent contract of employment will support an application for permanent residence.

There are no restrictions to foreigners purchasing in South Africa, although there has been talk of imposing such restrictions at least on a temporary basis in the future as a way of curbing runaway house price inflation. Mortgages, however, are generally restricted to 50 per cent of purchase price.

Purchasers can buy property as individuals or via companies. Written offers and deeds of sale are legally binding. Completion follows when the title is formally transferred and registered with the land registry.


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