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10 Things You Didn't Know About South Africa

Written by
Byron Thomas, Tess van der Walt, Jonny Humphreys

South Africa: home to the iconic Table Mountain, Robben Island, rooibos tea, an award-winning wine industry and the famous Big Five. There’s a lot you probably already know about this beautiful country, so we’ve rounded up ten things you might not know, yet.

Deepest gold mine
Great white shark protector
Film destination
1) Home to Nobel neighbours

South Africa has produced four Nobel Peace Prize laureates, but did you know that two of them lived on the same street? Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu both lived on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. This well-known street has become a popular spot for tourists. And Mandela’s former home, 8115 Vilakazi Street, has been converted into a national monument and museum. If you visit, remember that it’s still a residential area, so be mindful of the community around you.

2) Most official languages

While many countries have several spoken languages with one or two of them being recognised as ‘official’, South Africa boasts 11 official languages. English, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, isiNdebele, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, SiSwati and Tshivenda. You’ll find some of the languages more prevalent depending on where you are in the country. And if you want to make sure all your bases are covered when greeting a local, give this a try: Sanibonani (isiZulu), Molo (isiXhosa), Hallo (Afrikaans), Thobela (Sepedi), Dumela (Setswana), Lumela (Sesotho), Abusheni (Xitsonga), Sanibona (SiSwati), Avuwani (Tshivenda), Salibonani (isiNdebele), and Hello (English).

3) Highest bungee jump

Adrenaline junkies will be eager to fling themselves off the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee in the world at Bloukrans Bridge in the Tsitsikamma region between the Eastern and Western Cape.

At a dizzying 216 metres high, the popular jump sees thrill-seekers plunge towards the Bloukrans River below before bouncing to a stop.

4) First heart transplant

The country’s proud medical tradition claims many victories, but possibly one of the most noteworthy is the world’s first human heart transplant. This impressive operation was performed by cardiac surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard, and his skilled team at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on the 3rd December 1967. A large hospital in Cape Town is named after the surgeon, and The Heart of Cape Town Museum at Groote Schuur honours everyone who had a role to play in the transplant.

5) Some of the oldest hominid fossils

Travel back in time about three million years at the Cradle of Humankind and the Sterkfontein Caves about an hour’s drive from Joburg. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is the world’s richest hominin site and it’s where you’ll find about 40% of the known human ancestor fossils. In addition to learning about our fascinating history, you can also enjoy the area’s wildlife, try some adventure sports and engage with local culture.

6) Same-sex marriage forerunner

Among the most open-minded countries in the world when it comes to the rights of same-sex couples, South Africa was the fifth country to legalise same-sex marriage, and the first in the southern hemisphere – back in 2006. The Constitution, regarded as one of the most progressive in the world, safeguards sexual orientation as a human right. That said, there is still a lot to do on a community level when it comes to changing perceptions around same-sex relationships.

7) First to protect great whites

While often portrayed as terrifying killing machines, the great white shark has an important place in the oceans, with many of them able to live for longer than 70 years. However, the species has come under threat for both ecological and human reasons, leading to South Africa being the first country to actively start protecting them back in 1991. In a fascinating turn of events in 2017 the number of sharks in the waters around Cape Town started to decrease. It was discovered that pods of killer whales in the area had been killing them and eating their livers.

Great white shark
8) Popular film destination

Hollywood loves South Africa. Over summer you’re bound to find film crews dotted all over the cities and countryside as South African locations double for other parts of the world, both real or imaginary. Some of the big budget films and television series that have been shot here include Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Safe House, District 9, Blood Diamond, Homeland, Outlander, Resident Evil: The Last Chapter, The Dark Tower, Black Sails, The Maze Runner: The Death Cure and Tomb Raider.

9) Deepest goldmine

Dig a bit deeper, more than 4km deeper in fact, and you’ll discover the deepest mine in the world, AngloGold Ashanti’s Mponeng gold mine near Joburg. Expansions should see the mine being operational for at least the next two decades. It takes over an hour to travel from the surface right down to the bottom, and there are at least two gold reefs in its depths. The temperature of the rock so deep down gets very hot and the air in the tunnels is cooled by pumping slurry ice into the depths.

10) Piece of the Berlin Wall

Although they are almost to 14 000km apart, Cape Town and Berlin are linked by a piece of history – a segment of the infamous Berlin Wall which was torn down in November 1989. This piece of the wall was gifted to then president Nelson Mandela following his visit to Berlin in 1996. You’ll find it at the top end of St Georges Mall outside Mandela Rhodes Place.

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