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The Republic of South Africa is the southernmost African country, bordered to the south by the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Its neighbors include Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho, and nearly surrounds Swaziland, except for its short border with Mozambique.

South Africa is a parliamentary republic, but with a powerful presidency, serving as both head of state and head of government. However, the President must retain the confidence of Parliament, and all three branches of government - executive, legislative, and judiciary - must adhere the Constitution. Superior courts have the authority to strike down acts of Parliament or the President if they are unconstitutional.

Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa, while Pretoria is its administrative capital, Bloemfontein is the judicial capital, and Johannesburg hosts the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Approximately fifty murders are committed per day in South Africa, more than in the United States, which has a population six times higher. Those who can afford to seek security in gated communities and the number of private security guards in South Africa is more than its military and police combined. Emigrants from South Africa often cite crime as a major motivating factor.

Although not officially substantiating, there are claims that white farmers are being murdered at a higher rate than the general population. Possible motives involve a reaction to the country's history of apartheid, which ended in 1994.

Today, South Africa is home to about five million illegal immigrants, mostly from Zimbabwe, as well as large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia. In response, a series of anti-immigrant protests have been occurring over the past decade.

South Africa has eleven official languages, the three most common being Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans. English is the administrative language of the country, but it is the first language of fewer than 10% of South Africans.

Nearly 80% of South Africans are Christian, the majority denominations started independently in Africa by Africans, rather than by missionaries. In the last census, 15% of the population stated no religious affiliation, but it is believed that many of these adhered to various traditional African religions or syncretic practices that blend Christian and indigenous religions.

South Africa's economy is second only to Nigeria in Africa. Important sectors of its economy involve diamond, gold, and platinum mining, as well as other minerals. Also important are agriculture, food processing, manufacturing, service industries, financial services, and tourism.

South Africa was inhabited as early as 40,000 years ago, its oldest continuous culture being the San. Originally, hunter-gatherers, the San developed agriculture and began keeping livestock around 2,500 years ago.

About 500 AD, Bantu people entered the region from the Niger Delta, establishing villages, and these are the ones from whom most of South Africa's population descended.

The first Europeans to make contact with South Africans were the Portuguese, who first came in 1487. By the early 1600s, Portugal's maritime powers were declining, and the Dutch colonized South Africa, making their headquarters at Cape Town. Dutch slave traders conducted a lucrative business for about a century. In time, the Cape area became home to a large population of former employees of the Dutch East India Company, whites who remained after serving their contracts. Those who became independent farmers became known as Boers, and formed militias for protection.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Britain occupied Cape Town. Although the Dutch briefly regained control in 1803, the Cape was again occupied by the British in 1806, becoming a part of the British Empire. During the early 1800s, British citizens were induced to settle the region with the promise of land.

As the British moved in, the Boers migrated to the Natal, Orange Free State, and Transvaal regions, founding several Boer Republics. The discovery of diamonds and gold intensified British efforts to control the interior. The results were the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, the First Boer War in 1880, and the Second Boer War in 1899.

Anti-British policies among white South Africans were centered on independence, which was granted in 1909, creating the Union of South Africa. Dominated by whites, land ownership by blacks was restricted, and blacks controlled only 7% of the country. In 1948, the National Party came into power, formalizing the racial segregation that had begun under the Dutch and British. The white minority controlled the government in a system that became known as apartheid, which lasted until 1994.


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