The Rough Guide to South Africa, 2nd Edition

(Rough Guide South Africa)

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Introduction

South Africa is a large and massively diverse country. The size of France and Spain combined, it varies from the picturesque Garden Route towns of the Western Cape to the raw stretch of subtropical coast in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It

South Africa is a large and massively diverse country. The size of France and Spain combined, it varies from the picturesque Garden Route towns of the Western Cape to the raw stretch of subtropical coast in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It's also one of the great cultural meeting points of the African continent, a fact obscured by years of enforced racial segregation, but now manifest in its big cities.

Above all this is an incredibly beautiful country. But it's also something of an enigma, and a visit presents some uniquely South African challenges; it has the best travel facilities on the African continent but also the most difficult surface to scratch. After so long as an international pariah, the "rainbow nation" is still struggling to find its identity.

Many visitors are pleasantly surprised by South Africa's excellent infrastructure, which draws favourable comparison with countries such as Australia or the United States. Good air links and bus networks, excellent roads and a growing number of first-class B&Bs make South Africa perfect touring country. For those on a budget, rapidly mushrooming backpackers' hostels and a couple of backpacker buses provide an efficient means of exploring. The picture isn't all rosy, however. Apartheid may be dead, but its heritage still shapes South Africa in a very physical way. The country was organized for the benefit of whites, so it's easy to get a very white-orientated experience of Africa. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the layout of towns and cities, where African areas (often desperately poor) are usually tucked out of sight. As a visitor, you'll have to make an effort to meet members of the country's African majority on equal terms, and you'll need to take a special tour to visit the black townships - or even to know they exist.

South Africa's population doesn't simply reduce to black and white. The country's majority group are the Africans (76 percent of the population); whites make up 13 percent, followed by coloureds (8.5 percent) - descendants of white settlers, slaves and Africans, who speak English and Afrikaans and make up the majority in the Western Cape. Indians (2.5 percent), most of whom live in KwaZulu-Natal, came to South Africa around the turn of the century as indentured labourers.

Although a growing number of theme parks pander to a tourist appetite for ethnic culture, South Africa draws as much from global influences as it does from homegrown sources; you won't be able to tell a power-dressed Xhosa from a jeans-wearing Zulu in downtown Johannesburg. Music is one area where South Africans really hold their own, and there's nowhere better than Jo'burg to go clubbing. Up in the Drakensberg, the countless images painted thousands of years ago onto rock faces by San people (the now-extinct first South Africans) give a glimpse into the country's rich artistic heritage.

Crime isn't the indiscriminate phenomenon that press reports suggest, but it is an issue. Really, it's a question of perspective - taking care but not becoming paranoid. Patterns of crime aren't uniform and, statistically at least, the odds of becoming a victim are highest in downtown Johannesburg, where violent crime is a daily reality. Other cities aren't exempt, but present a reduced risk - similar to, say, some parts of the United States; many country areas are safe by any standards. ...Continua

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