Country profile: South Africa


Dutch traders landed at the southern tip of modern day South Africa in 1652 and established a stopover point on the spice route between the Netherlands and the Far East, founding the city of Cape Town. After the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area in 1806, many of the Dutch settlers (the Boers) trekked north to found their own republics. The discovery of diamonds and gold spurred wealth and immigration and intensified the subjugation of the native inhabitants. The Boers resisted British encroachments but were defeated in the Boer War (1899-1902); however, the British and the Afrikaners, as the Boers became known, ruled together from 1910 under the Union of South Africa, which became a republic in 1961 after a whites-only referendum.

In 1948, the National Party was voted into power and instituted a policy of apartheid – the separate development of the races – which favoured the white minority at the expense of the black majority. The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 brought an end to apartheid and ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government. The “rainbow nation”, as called by Nelson Mandela, is looking to the future with much energy and enthusiasm.

South Africa has struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in decent housing, education, and healthcare. Poverty is widespread and there is vast inequality in the distribution of wealth. Unemployment is high and this fuels a high crime rate. It is not all bad news; South Africa has the biggest economy on the African continent and it plays a leading role on the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

South Africa offers a huge range of attractions: a wonderful climate, spectacular scenery and wildlife, hiking, beaches, stunning Cape Town, and much more. It also provides some very exciting opportunities for electives and it is a popular destination with medical students from all over the world, particularly those interested in emergency medicine. The high crime rates of certain areas and the segregation of society call for some caution when choosing where in South Africa to do an elective.

Health system

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132 hospital profiles  
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Quick facts

Capital Pretoria (administrative), Cape Town (legislative), and Bloemfontein (judicial)
Population 50.1 million (UN, 2009)
Language 11 official languages inc. English, Afrikaans, Sesotho, Setswans, Xhosa, Zulu & Sepedi
Literacy 86.4%
Timezone GMT + 2
Telephone code +27
Currency ZAR (Rand)
Growth -0.51%

Health data

Life expectancy M: 50 years    F: 53 years
No. doctors 34,829 (8 per 10,000 population)
Hospital profiles 132
Medschool profiles 9

Travel information

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Student experiences in South Africa

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6 case studies about electives in South Africa

Your Q&As about South Africa

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