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ecoDestinations - South Africa
South Africa is a leader in responsible tourism and is a magnet for those who are interested in adventure, wildlife, culture and history. It was named by Conservational International as one of the seventeen megadiverse countries in the world. It is full of remarkable wildlife like wildebeest, elephants, great white sharks, impalas, zebras, lions, and leopards. There are 11 official languages, including English, Afrikaans, and isiZulu. It’s history is complex and poignant, from the San who first inhabited the land to the establishment of Cape Town as a stopover for the Dutch along the spice trade route until the overthrow of Apartheid, a 50-year period of institutionalized racism. It was also the home to the global leaders Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Mahatma Gandhi who once said that South Africa was essential to his personal achievement.
South Africa is a megadiverse country with 10% of the world’s plant species and 15% of the world’s marine species. Endemism rates are very high as well, reaching 56% for amphibians, 65% for plants, and 70% of its invertebrates. However, South African biodiversity is greatly endangered. During the 1960s the rhino population plummeted to only a few hundred. Mountain zebras had the same issue. National Parks, such as Mountain Zebra, and nature reserves helped bolster their numbers. Elephant overpopulation can actually damage local eco-systems and threaten other species. So conservation efforts are being undertaken to create megaparks and transnational passages for them to roam. Penguins were in grave danger when in 2000, a ship carrying oil crashed into the penguins habitat. Hundreds of volunteers rehabilitated the oil penguins, taking more than 20,000 to Port Elizabeth, nearly 1000 km (621 mi) from their home. As the penguins swam back home, it gave authorities two weeks to clean up the beaches before the penguins arrived.
South Africa is a nation of diversity, with a wide variety of cultures, languages and religious. The African population makes up around 79% of South Africa’s total population and comprises of nine different ethnic groups, with the Zulus and the Xhosas as the two largest. Each of these nine ethnic groups has an official language. There are distinctive traditions and cultural charactistics of each ethnic group, but those usually only come into play at times like weddings and funerals, especially in urban groups. South Africa’s white population is about 9% of the total population. They can be then divided into two main groups based on language and heritage: the English and the Afrikaans, who are descendants of the Dutch. There are also small communities of Jews, Malays, Indians and Portuguese. In addition, most immigrant groups come from Botswana and Zimbabwe.
About 9% of South Africa’s population is classified as coloured. Many of them are descendants of slaves from other parts of Africa that were brought to work on the farms of Cape Town during the rule of the Dutch East India Company, and often these groups speak Afrikaans as well. Indigenous groups, such as the SanKhoi, are also considered to be coloured. The San are South Africa’s original inhabitants. They lived hunting big game with bows and arrows and foraged for food. The San are well-known for speaking a click language, which is articulated in the mouth by a suction mechanism that creates a very distinctive sound. The khoi, were agro-pastoralists who traveled to South Africa for land to support their crops and cattle herds. Over many centuries the Khoi had a profound impact on San traditional life, and the two groups integrated, resulting in some Bantu-speaking people adopting the click sounds of the San language. The arrival of the first Europeans resulted in the San gradually being pushed out of their traditional territories. Discrimination, lack of representation, and dispossession of South Africa’s indigenous peoples continues today.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
Cape Floral Region Protected Areas: Called the “hottest hot-spot” in the world for plant diversity, Cape Floral Region is made up of eight protected areas and is home to nearly 20% of Africa’s flora. There are plants with unique reproductive strategies, adaptations to fire, and interesting patterns of seed dispersal by insects, making it invaluable to science. It’s beautiful too, with a landscape full of rugged mountain passes, rivers, rapids, cascades and pools.
Maloti-Drakensberg Park: Consisting of Drakensberg National Park in South Africa and Sehlathebe National Park in Lesotho, this site is exceptionally beautiful with its caves, cliffs, and rock pools. The Park is an important habitat for endangered species such as the Cape vulture and the bearded vulture. Rock paintings by the San people, who lived here for over 4,000, can be found. The images depict animals and human figures. There are also paintings done during the 19th and 20th centuries that have been attributed to Bantu-speaking people. Drakensberg in Afrikaans means “dragon mountains”.
Robben Island: Between the 17th and 20th centuries, Robben Island has been used as a prison, a military base, and a hospital for socially unacceptable people. It is now a museum where you can still see the 17th quarries, the tomb of Hadije Kramat, 19th administrative buildings, WWII military structures, and the maximum security prison used during Apartheid. The prison was closed in the 1999s when Apartheid ended and the political prisoners were freed. Its most famous prisoner was Nelson Mandela, who was incarcerated here for roughly 20 years.
!Simganaliso Wetland Park: Covering an area of 239,566 ha, its landscape consists of coral reefs, long sandy beaches, coastal dunes, lakes, swamps, and reed and papyrus wetlands. The name !Simganaliso means miracle and a wonder, the perfect name for this breath-taking place.
Garden Route National Park: Located along the south coast of South Africa, the Park is renowned for its diverse natural beauty. Its landscape consists of evergreen temperate forests, rocky beaches with warm Indian Ocean waters, tall cliffs, and forest floors covered in mosses and ferns. Look out for monkeys, generts, otters, and even leopards. From June to December, you’ll also been able to spot whales and dolphins along the shore. Dotted along the forests are coastal towns like Knysna and Plettenberg Bay where you can eat fresh oysters and drink locally brewed beer.
Kruger National Park: Protecting the South African lowveld, a subtropical region of savanna, this National Park is inhabited by 336 different species of trees, 49 species of fish, 507 species of birds, and 147 species of mammals, including elephants, hyenas, impalas, blue wildebeest, kudu, cheetahs, and lions. The Park also contains numerous rock paintings and archaeological sites.
Mountain Zebra National Park: Established in order to protect a dwindling mountain zebra population, the Park is a conservation success story. Working with local landowners, who donated zebras from their farms, the Cape Mountain Zebra population was slowly brought back from near extinction. Today their numbers are healthy enough for some zebras to be relocated to re-establish herds elsewhere. The endangered black rhino and cheetah have also been re-introduced to the area.
Namaqua National Park: Birds and butterflies dance amidst valleys filled with Namaqualand daisies and vygie, a succulent with neon-bright flowers. You might also spot a Namaqua speckled padloper, the world’s smallest turtle, or even a baboon.
Table Mountain National Park: A mountain chain that descends down to beautiful white sand beaches, Table Mountain National Park offers sweeping views of Cape Town. Hiking, angling, cycling, and surfing can all be enjoyed at the Park. Visitors should look out for elands, red hartebeeses, bonteboks, and zebras. There’s a also penguin colony, home to the endangered African penguin.
Cape Town: Located on the shores of Table Bay, Cape Town is a very beautiful and multicultural city. Highlights include taking in the panoramic views at Table Mountain National Park, visiting Robben Island, or exploring Cape Point Nature Reserve. It’s no wonder that both The New York Times and The Telegraph named Cape Town the best place in the world to visit.
Cape Winelands: A tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first vines in South Africa were planted in 1655 to provide the Dutch East India Company with wine after their long voyages. Within 25 years there were more than 100,000 vines in the Constantia Valley. Helping to advance the prosperity of the Winelands, were Huguenot refugees with their strong knowledge of viticulture. Today, the most popular areas for wine tasting include Franschhoek, Paarl, and Stellenbosch.
Hermanus: From June to December, beautiful Hermanus is the perfect place to watch southern right whales swim up close to the shore. Other attractions including hiking, bird watching, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, and kiteboarding.
Johannesburg: As South Africa’s most populous city, Johannesburg is not the typical tourist destination. Mostly it is known as a transit point for Cape Town and the Kruger National Park. However, if you find yourself there, be sure to check out Constitution Hill, an Old Fort Prison that has now been converted into the new Constitutional Court. Then there’s also Satyagraha House, where Mahatma Gandhi lived temporarily during his 21 years as a young lawyer in South Africa. It was at this house that he first created his philosophy of passive resistance, Satyagraha.
Soweto: Famous for its role in the struggle against apartheid, Soweto is best seen on an official township tour. There are many sites of historical importance such as Walter Sisulu Square where South Africa’s Freedom Charter was site. There’s also Vilakazi Street, which was once home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Another is the Hector Pieterson Memorial, the site of a famous Soweto uprising, when students took to the streets to protest against the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools. The uprising drew international attention to South Africa’s racial policies with the photograph of a dying 13 year old Pieterson, carried in the arms of a fellow student, after having been shot by police.
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