South Africa Feature

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South Africa Today

South Africa, one of Africa's most diversely beautiful and accessible countries, lies at the very foot of the continent, where two mighty oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian, meet. Once a global pariah for its brutal apartheid system, South Africa has become a role model of a successful, prosperous democracy since its peaceful 1994 transition to democracy. Not only geographically and scenically diverse, it's a nation of more than 47 million people of varied origins, cultures, languages, and beliefs. Its cities and much of its infrastructure are thoroughly modern—Johannesburg, for example, with its skyscrapers, freeways, superb hotels and restaurants, ritzy shopping malls, and upscale suburbs, could pass for any large American city. It's only when you venture into the rural areas or see the huge satellite squatter camps outside the cities or come face to face with the Big Five that you see an entirely different South Africa.

Big Game. You're guaranteed to see big game—including the Big Five—both in national parks and at many private lodges.

Escape the Crowds. South Africa's game parks are rarely crowded. You'll see more game with fewer other visitors than almost anywhere else in Africa.

Luxury Escapes. Few other sub-Saharan countries can offer South Africa's high standards of accommodation, service, and food amid gorgeous surroundings of bush, beach, mountains, and desert.

Nature's Playground. If you love to play, you've come to the right place, whether your tastes run from big-game adventures to bird-watching or golfing, climbing, hiking, and canoeing to surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, or fishing.

The Rainbow Nation

The "Rainbow Nation" of South Africa is one in which people intermingle racially far more than they did in the past. You can expect to find a once-segregated population living side by side as equals: as guests in game lodges, dining together in air-conditioned malls, and in the workplace.

However, vast economic disparities and racial tensions still exist. The physical legacy of apartheid remains, and large shantytown communities inhabited by black South Africans can be found on the outskirts of urban areas and suburban communities; for many of the country's poor, things have not changed substantially in the past 15 years. Much of the tourism industry is managed by whites, and you'll find that it's not easy to meet South African blacks on an equal footing.

When it comes to religion, more than 80% of South Africans are Christians, with African Independent churches making up the majority of affiliations; the Zion African Church has the largest following, and you might see its members wearing hexagram pendants. About 3% of the population follow other religions, including Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. About 13% of the population claim to have no affiliation.

Sports and the World Cup

As far as South Africa is concerned, the 2010 FIFA World Cup is more than a global competition. It's seen as the first real test of the relatively new nation's ability to deliver a smoothly orchestrated high-profile event. With stadiums to build, roads to repair, and lodgings to create, the world will be watching to see if the country takes its logical place as Africa's leader on the world stage.

South Africans are ardent fans of football (soccer), supporting Bafana Bafana, the national team. They also go crazy for rugby and cricket. The national rugby team, the Springboks, is known worldwide for its prowess and has legions of international fans. The Proteas, the national cricket team, also has a large fan base.

The natural beauty and mild climate of South Africa combine to offer an incredible range of outdoor activities for sports enthusiasts. Besides golf, tennis, surfing, diving, kayaking, hiking, and sailing, there is a great range of adventure activities on offer, many of them adrenaline fueled. Kloofing (which basically entails jumping into a canyon) is popular in the Western Cape, and you can also paraglide, take a hot-air balloon, abseil, bungee jump, or even ski.

Music, Dance, and Drama

Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg all have lively arts scenes. And while permanent venues are found in most of the major cities, annual festivals, such as the Grahamstown Arts Festival in July, are great places to experience innovative performing and visual arts trends in the country.

On the music front, Johnny Clegg has a huge following in France, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo received international recognition after performing on Paul Simon's Graceland album. The best-selling genre of music in South Africa, however, is African gospel, and jazz is popular with older crowds. Popular sounds among urban black youth are kwaito and local hip-hop; American R&B and rap also have massive followings. White South Africans prefer international pop, and indeed, with such a small white population, local bands find it hard to get an audience, although the Afro-fusion band Freshlyground and the dance music duo Goldfish are receiving recognition internationally.

Dance companies post-apartheid have begun to use movement as a form of expression to explore the country's legacy. The dance form called Afrofusion, named by Moving Into Dance Company's Sylvia Glasser, combines classic and traditional movements. Companies such as Glasser's and Cape Town's Jazzart Dance Theatre, the oldest in the country, experiment with styles and expression. Local theaters feature international productions as well as the work of homegrown authors such as Athol Fugard.

Literature

Most South African literature is published in English and Afrikaans. One reason is that in previous decades indigenous languages were not recognized and African experiences not valued. Contemporary African writers find themselves writing in English or Afrikaans, too, to assure themselves of a larger audience than if they write solely in their regional language. Increasingly, however, works are being translated, often for a foreign market as well. Experiences, culture, and language vary so widely throughout the country that there isn't really a unified concept of South African literature.

The first fictional works written in South Africa tended to deal with colonial attitudes and adventures; the hero was often an Englishman, and indigenous people, when they featured, were either savages or servants.

Much of apartheid-era writing tends towards realism and such themes as the white minority's sense of psychological and physical alienation, the black struggle living under the apartheid regime—themes that are still being addressed today as South Africa forges a new identity. Well-known novelists include Nobel Prize for literature winners Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee (who also won the Booker prize twice).

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