What is South Africa famous for?

Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, and Safaris are some of the things we instantly associate with South Africa, but besides these, what is South Africa famous for?

South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa. Bathed by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, it is bordered to the north by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Eswatini. It has a population of about 58 million people (2023). Pretoria is the administrative capital, while Cape Town is the legislative capital, and Bloemfontein is the judicial capital. But Johannesburg is the largest and most populous city.

It is a country with a multiethnic society, diverse cultures, and 12 official languages. It is a biodiversity hotspot with a wide variety of wildlife. It is the ideal country to go on a safari. Plus, it has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa.

But, without any more delays, let’s explain what South Africa is known for!

16 Things South Africa is Known for

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is one of the most influential people of this century. He was president from 1994 to 1999, elected in the first multiracial general election in South Africa. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

He is known for his nonviolent approach and dismantling Apartheid. He had a compassionate view of the white South Africans even though he was imprisoned for 27 years for his political and anti-apartheid views. During his tenure, he advocated the reconciliation between different racial groups. After leaving office, he was involved in HIV/AIDS awareness and education.

He was a great man for South Africa and the world. Due to his peaceful resistance, South Africa was able to transition to a free SA, ending apartheid and accepting all racial groups. He is known as the Father of the South African Nation.

Though he died in 2013, his legacy subsists through his foundation. And inspires people to advocate for human rights and social justice.

What is South Africa famous for
 Mandela Capture Site in South Africa in Homage to Nelson Mandela | Photo by lcswart via Depositphotos


Apartheid was a racial segregation system in South Africa enforced by the ruling white minority government. The word “Apartheid” means “apartness” or “separateness” in Afrikaans. It lasted from 1948 to 1994, when the first multiracial election in South Africa happened.

Apartheid defended social stratification by classifying people based on their race: white, black, colored, and Indian. The system imposed the necessity of using a passbook by black citizens, limiting their access to certain areas and curfew hours.

Other Apartheid policies included massively relocating Black people from their homes to designated areas called Bantustans, tribal homelands. Interracial marriages were not allowed. Educational and labor opportunities were unequal. Voting was forbidden for other races, favoring the white rule.

South Africa was strongly sanctioned worldwide due to the apartheid system, with several boycotts and riots within SA. The apartheid ended in 1994 with the work of many courageous people. However, the county is still recovering from the heavy legacy.


Located in Johannesburg, Soweto is one of the largest townships in South Africa. Its name is short for South Western Townships. It was established as a segregated area for black residents in 1930, even before Apartheid officially began in 1948.

Nowadays, it has been integrated into the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality and is one of its suburban areas. It has also become a popular tourist destination. Its main attractions are the Nelson Mandela National Museum in Vilakazi Street, where you will also find the house where Desmond Tutu lived, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, and the Orlando Towers.

Although there has been some infrastructure improvement and there are formal and informal settlements, the area is still very poor, with lousy housing.

Things South Africa is Known for
Orlando Towers Soweto South Africa | photo by Homocosmicos via Depositphotos


What is South Africa famous for producing? South Africa has been the major producer of diamonds in the world since the late 1800s. The first diamond was discovered in 1867 in Kimberley. Since then, diamonds have had an essential role in the history of South Africa.

Kimberley, in 1880 produced 95% of the world’s diamonds, which led to the Kimberley diamond rush. Due to the mining excavations in Kimberly, a Big Hole was created with a surface of 17 hectares (42 acres) and is 463 meters wide. Nowadays, it has accumulated water, looking like a lake. But SA has other extensive open-pit mining in Jagersfontein and Bultfontein.

De Beers Diamond Consortium was one of the dominant miners in South Africa, owners of the site of the Big Hole and the De Beers mine.

Besides being the major producer of diamonds, South Africa also discovered the largest gem-quality rough diamond, the Cullinan Diamond, with 3,106 carats. The diamond was divided into several large gem-quality stones.

Famous things in South Africa
Big Hole in Kimberley in South Africa | photo by jennifer@jennifersophie.com via Depositphotos


Besides diamonds, South Africa is also famous for producing Gold as it is a significant producer of gold worldwide. Gold also had an important role in the country’s economy and development. And although production has been declining, it still significantly impacts its economy.

Gold was discovered in the late 19th century in the Witwatersrand basin, one of the world’s largest and richest gold fields. This led to a gold rush to South Africa, and many people came searching for jobs and riches.

Despite the reduction in mining, South Africa remains a major player in the global gold market. In addition, it is also very rich in other minerals, such as coal, chrome, manganese, platinum, and others.

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s most famous and extensive wildlife reserves. With an area of 19 623 km2, it is located in the Northeast of South Africa and shares borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It is home to the “Big Five”- lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards, and rhinoceroses – and various ecosystems, including grasslands, savannas, and riverine forests.

It was established in 1898 by the president of the South African Republic of the time, Paul Kruger, to protect the region’s wildlife. Since then, it has grown in size and maintains its focus on preserving the native species and combating poaching.

A safari in the Kruger is one of the most memorable things to do. Unlike the zoos, the animals run wild in Kruger Park. You can explore the park through a guided game drive and learn fun facts about the animals and the park.

Or, if you are up to it, you can also do a self-drive, keeping to the designated paths. Either way, it is such a fun and memorable experience.

Well known things about South Africa
Lions in Kruger National Park

Safaris and Wild Animals

Yet, South African wildlife is so much more than the Kruger! South Africa is a rich country with a wide variety of wildlife and biodiversity. The country has savannas, grasslands, forests, and deserts where animals like lions, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, zebras, and springboks, penguins flourish. Not to forget the famous white sharks and whales found near Cape Town.

South Africa has several exceptional safari experiences that allow you to witness its wildlife in its natural habitats. It is one of the best countries in the world to appreciate the wilderness.

Besides Kruger National Park, the most extensive and popular reserve, South Africa has plenty more, like Addo Elephant National Park, Pilanesberg National Park, Madikwe Game Reserve, and much more. These parks help protect the wildlife of the region and also help repopulate several engaged species.

So, if you love animals and seeing them in their natural habitat, South Africa is the country for you.

Interesting things in South Africa
Elephants in Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa | photo by zambezi via Depositphotos

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope is a historic and geographic landmark. It is a rocky headland of the Cape Peninsula in South Africa. It has a big historical significance, as it is the marking point to contour Africa and head to the Indic Ocean toward Asia.

In the discovery ages, Europeans wanted to navigate a sea route to India in the East. The Portuguese tried to contour the cape several times, but the treacherous waters around the cape were unpredictable and had dangerous currents, provoking shipwrecks. The cape was known as “Cabo das Tormentas,” meaning the cape of storms.

In 1488, the Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Dias was the first man to round the cape—the name became “Cabo da Boa Esperança,” meaning cape of good hope. There are two navigation beacons on the cape erected by the Portuguese in homage to Bartholomew Dias and Vasco da Gama (the first European to reach India by sea).

Although the Cape of Good Hope is often mistaken for the southernmost point of Africa, that spot belongs to Cape Agulhas, 150 km east-southeast. It is the southwestern tip of Cape Peninsula.

Facts about South Africa
Cape of Good Hope e Dias Beach in South Africa | photo by bennymarty via Depositphotos

Table Mountain

Table Mountian is the most iconic landmark in Cape Town in the south of South Africa. The mountain is 1084.6 meters high and has a distinctive shape. The summit is completely flat and stretches 3km from side to side, looking like a giant table.

Table Mountain is situated at the northern extremity of a sandstone mountain range that forms the spine of the Cape Peninsula in South Africa. This mountain range extends for about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the southernmost points of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.

From the top of Table Mountain, you have breathtaking views of Cape Town, the Atlantic Ocean, Robben Island, Lion’s Head, and the Twelve Apostles Mount. You can reach the top by cableway. Or hike to the top.

Table Mountian is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is definitely a remarkable geografic site.

Things about South Africa
Table Mountain in Cape Town South Africa | photo by Binty via Depositphotos

Heart transplant & Christiaan Barnard

The first successful heart transplant in the world happened in South Africa in 1967 by the SA surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard in Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

Although the first heart transplant only survived 18 days. The ten following patients had a higger survival rate, and two survived 13 and 23 years. The surgery was a milestone in medical history.

The surgery laid the framework of heart transplantation as a medical practice and a treatment method for advanced-stage heart disease.

Zulu people

Zulu people are an ethnic group native to South Africa. Although there are several ethnic groups in SA, including Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, and others, the Zulu is the largest.

The Kingdom of Zulu was founded in the early 19th century by Shaka Zulu, a powerful leader, and an excellent military strategist reorganizing the Zulu military system.

The Zulu people fought against the British Empire in the Anglo-Zulu War in 1878, eventually losing in 1879. The British decided to divide the Zulu people into 13 sub-kingdoms.

The Zulu language is the IsiZulu, it is one of the 12 official languages in South Africa. Yes, SA has plenty of official languages, but IsiZulu is the most common language spoken as a first language by South Africans, with 23%.

Well known things about South Africa
Shakaland in Zulu Village in South Africa | photo by zhukovsky via Depositphotos

Khoisan languages

Although the IsiZulu is the most spoken language, the Khoisan languages are probably the most famous worldwide. They are a group of languages in which clicks function as regular consonants. They have unique phonetics and include the Khoi languages (also known as the Hottentot) and the San languages (also known as Bushman).

Although not exclusive to SA and Namibia, these tribes are prevalent in this area. Unfortunately, the Khoisan languages are endangered or have become extinct, with only a few remaining speakers. And most have no written record.

While the click use is original to the Khoisan languages, they have spread into several other languages like the Bantu and Cushitic languages.

cool things about South Africa
San people native to South Africa and Namibia


Biltong is a traditional South African dried and cured meat. It is an addictive, delicious snack with a chewy texture. It is similar to jerky but with several differences in taste and way of production.

Biltong is made with various types of meat, like beef, game, or even ostrich or Kudu. The meat is marinated in vinegar and spices: salt, black pepper, and coriander. And is slowly air-dried and cured.

In the past, it was a way to preserve meat before the introduction of refrigeration and used to be made in winter. Nowadays, it is eaten and produced all year. And it is such a good snack that it can also be used as an ingredient in various dishes. It is also appreciated in other countries like Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia.

Other dried meat snacks exist in SA, like the droëwors, a dried sausage made with ground meat and spices. However, none is as famous as Biltong.

Interisting things about South Africa
Biltong and droëwors in South Africa | photo by AninkaBongersSutherland via Depositphotos


Braai comes from an Africaner word that means grilled meat. It is a term that refers to grilling meat over an open fire. But Braii is much more than just cooking. It is a philosophy, a cultural event, about joining friends to share food and the spirit of togetherness.

Generally, a braai involves cooking various meat over a fire (it can’t be a gas grill). The meat can include stakes, boerewors sausages, sosaties (skewers), chicken, lamb chops, spare ribs, and T-bones. And the side dishes typically involve potato salad, different salads, and grilled vegetables.

Braai in South Africa is an important event, and something families and friends look forward to being together outdoors and celebrating food and life. On the 24th of September, SA celebrates Heritage Day, which has been nicknamed Braai Day.

So, what is South Africa known for eating? There’s only one answer, and that is Braai!

Cool things about South Africa
Braai in South Africa | photo by AnkevanWyk via Depositphotos

Affirmative action

Affirmative action refers to a set of policies and measures in South Africa that aim to promote equal opportunities and address historical inequities of Black South Africans that occurred during apartheid.

This set of rules involves increasing Black South African employees in firms and businesses, promoting measures such as ownership management control by blacks, and implementing quotas or targets to ensure a certain percentage of representation of disadvantaged groups.

Although the idea might sound good, there has also been an adverse effect and colossal controversy. These policies can lead to discrimination, lack of meritocracy, and potentially to massive negative economic outcomes and inefficiency.

Springboks – SA Rugby team

The Springboks are South Africa’s national rugby union team. Rugby is a popular sport in South Africa, and its team is successful and famous worldwide. The team’s emblem is the national animal of SA, the Springboks, thus the team’s nickname.

The Springboks have been playing since 1891 and have won 4 World Cups in 1995, 2007, 2019, and 2023. The World Cup of 1995 was very important in SA’s social-political context. It was hosted in SA and was the first major international sports event in SA post-apartheid.

Plus, they won the final against the All Blacks. The game was a significant step in reconciling white and black communities in SA. This World Cup is portrayed in the film “Invictus” directed by Clint Eastwood in 2009. The film was able to reflect the social-political context of the match.

What is SA famous for
Springboks SA National Rugby Team | photo by operations@newsimages.co.uk via Depositphotos

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What is South Africa known for

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