South Africa is a country located at the southern tip of Africa, infamous for its policy of institutionalized racism against the indigenous population, called apartheid. Following its first fully democratic elections in 1994, the country has been welcomed back into the international fold. It is also the only country in the world to have voluntarily dismantled its nuclear arsenal - if you don't count former Soviet Republics handing the nukes on their territory over to Russia, that is.
The country also boasts the world's only neo-modal national anthem (beginning and ending in different keys), as well as the world's most unpronounceable national motto: "!ke e:/xarra//k," which contains three different "clicks" when spoken.
Church and state under apartheid
Between 1948 and 1994, South Africa was controlled by a nasty group of white supremacists known as the National Party. That apartheid entailed the dehumanization and humiliation of millions upon millions of black South Africans is well-known. What fewer people realize is that during those dark days the South African government was enabled and supported by many Christians. The Dutch Reformed Church (known by its Afrikaans initials, NGK) and the government were as friendly as Batman and Robin; the first apartheid Prime Minister (DF Malan) was actually an ordained minister, John Voster (PM in the late seventies) was a sibling of the moderator of the church, and membership in the NGK was mandatory if you wanted to get anywhere in politics/civil service.
The clerics provided theological, biblically-based justifications for segregation, and the politicians ensured that policies aligned well with the arch-conservative stance of the church. So, if you were a white, penis-toting, straight, Afrikaans-speaking person, apartheid was pretty damn peachy. For everyone else, it sucked. The NGK's influence insured that life in South Africa was almost as boring as the first Star Trek movie. TV wasn't allowed until 1976, even the softest-core porn (hosiery advertisements, Emmanuelle, anything which showed nipple for even a second) was banned), sex ed didn't exist, abortion was illegal and being gay could land you in jail. Media which showed interracial relationships and black actors in positions of power were restricted. Sundays were especially pitiful, with most stores and cinemas being closed.
Spitting Image summed up the apartheid regime with the song "I've Never Met a Nice South African." Nevertheless, it seems 70% finally grew up by the early 90s. The movie Waiting for Sugar Man says a lot about the transition from apartheid but isn't preachy about it.
The winds of change
Thanks to the work of people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, apartheid was dismantled from 1990 to 1993 in a series of negotiations, and the first all-race elections were held in 1994, which were won by the African National Congress. Many of the compromises struck during this time are still in place, such as having 11 official languages and a national anthem that is the bastard offspring of "Nkosi Sikilel' iAfrica" (God Bless Africa) and "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika" (The Call of South Africa). The anthem itself is a mixture of isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English.
Unfortunately, some South African leaders, such as former president Thabo Mbeki, were HIV denialists, and perhaps more sickeningly, certain segments of the country's population, largely as a result of the influence of "tribal doctors" and "spiritual healers," spread rumors that one could rid themselves of AIDS through measures such as "eating a lot of vegetables such as garlic and African potatoes," having sex with a virgin, male circumcision, and other assorted woo. In fact, "African vegetables rather than anti-HIV medication" was the official line touted by Mbeki's Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
Other interesting facts are that the current president, Jacob Zuma, only has a primary school education, and as a result of the history of traditional African lifestyles currently has three wives, although he has been married five times, and is currently engaged to wife number six.
The country has its own currency, the South African Rand (sign: R; code: ZAR). It was the 18th most traded currency worldwide in 2013, right behind the South Korean Won; one Rand is currently worth about a U.S. dime. The Kruggerand is named after it.
Trevor Noah, the successor of Jon Stewart of the Daily Show is from South Africa and was in fact "born a crime" as a result of a relationship of a white Swiss man and a black Xhosa woman during apartheid.
- The worst rendition of an anthem you'll ever hear. Ras Dumisani slaughters the song before a test match in France.
- Ritner, S. R. (1967). The Dutch Reformed Church and Apartheid. Journal of Contemporary History, 2(4), 17-37.
- JCW Van Rooyen, Censorship in South Africa (Cape Town: Juta and Co., 1987), 5.
- BMJ 2004; 329:1415–1416 (18 December)
- Apartheid mythology and symbolism. Desegregated and re-invented in the service of nation building in the new South Africa: The covenant and the battle of Blood/Ncome River. Anton Ehlers. Revué Alizés, No. 24, ca. 2003.
- Listen here
- Oh the poetry of it
- See the Wikipedia article on South African apartheid referendum, 1992.
- Zuma's stance on HIV was that a shower after sex provided ample protection. He may or may not have changed his views.
- Triennial Central Bank Survey, Foreign exchange turnover in April 2013: preliminary global results (PDF)