South Africa  is located at the southern tip of Africa. It is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho (which is completely surrounded by South Africa). It is a vast country with widely varying landscapes and with 11 official languages, an equally diverse people. South Africa is renowned for its wines and is the world's largest producer of gold. South Africa has a strong economy and is an influential player in African politics. In 2010 South Africa will host the first Football World Cup to be held in the African continent.
South Africa is divided into 9 provinces, they are:
South Africa is a paradise for anyone interested in natural history. A wide range of species (some potentially dangerous) may be encountered in parks, farms, private reserves and even on the roads.
There are hiking trails available in almost all the parks and around geographical places of interest. Hiking in South Africa contains information on those.
With 2798km of coastline one can also except to find excellent beaches and coastal activities.
Other places not to miss include
If you want to travel in southern Africa then South Africa is a good place to start. While you can fly into any country in southern Africa, most flights will route through South Africa anyway. South Africa is also a good place to get used to travelling in the region (though some would argue that Namibia is better for that). Of course South Africa is not only a jumping off point, it is itself a superb destination rich in culture, fauna & flora and history.
Outsiders' views of South Africa are coloured by the same stereotypes as the rest of Africa. Contrary to popular belief, South Africa is not devastatingly poor with an unstable government that is rapidly going to pot. Although the rural part of South Africa remains among the poorest and the least developed parts of the world and poverty in the townships can be appalling, progress is being made. The process of recovering from apartheid, which lasted almost 46 years, is quite slow. South Africa boasts a well-developed infrastructure and has all the modern amenities and technologies. The government is stable, although corruption is common. The government and the primary political parties all have a high level of respect for democratic institutions and human rights.
The tip of Africa has been home to the Koisan (collective name for Hottentot(Koi) and Bushmen(San)) people for thousands of years. Their rock art can still be found in many places throughout South Africa. Bantu tribes started expanding into Southern Africa around 2500 years ago and by around 500 AD the different cultural groups as we know them today had been established in the area.
The first permanent European settlement was built after the Dutch East India Company reached the Cape of Good Hope in April 1652. In the late 1700's the Boers (the settling farmers) slowly started expanding into the interior. In 1795 Britain took control of the Cape and in 1820 a large group of British Settlers arrived in the region. In 1835 large numbers of Boers started out on the Groot Trek into the interior after becoming dissatisfied with the British rule. In the interior they established their own republics after a number of bloody conflicts with the local population.
Two wars for control over the region were fought between the Boers and the British in 1883 and 1899.
The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, consolidating the various Boer republics and British colonies. From this, the Republic of South Africa was formed in 1961. Non-Europeans were largely excluded in all these political changes and even with the creation of the Union were not given the right to vote. From 1948 additional apartheid laws were introduced to erode the right of the black population further.
In 1992, 68% of the voting white population voted in a referendum to have the apartheid system abolished. This was quickly followed by a new constitution in 1993 and the first fully democratic election in 1994.
The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline. The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter. Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year. Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35 Celsius in some places.
The public holidays in South Africa are:
If a public holiday falls on a Sunday, then the Monday following will be a holiday
School holidays occur middle December to middle January, early in April, middle June to middle July and late September. Most South Africans go on leave during these times and accomodation will be harder to find.
South African Tourism operates a number of offices in other countries. You might wish to contact the office in your country for any additional information or assistance
Most nationalities get up to 3 months entry on arrival. Check with the Home Affairs and your travel agent whether you need to prearrange a visa. Do not show up without a visa if you are required to have one, as visas will not be issued at points of entry. If needed, you can extend your visa in South Africa. With an extension the total amount of time you are allowed to stay is 6 months. Additional information as well as Visa application forms can be found at the Department of Home Affairs, ph: +27 (0)12 810 8911
Make sure you have 2 blank pages back to back in your passport and that it is valid for at least six more months or you will be sent back! Make sure you have a return ticket available or they will send you back. If you need to pick up a ticket at the airport have the flight number and details handy and speak with the customs guy, they should check your story out and let you in (be firm). Be wary of arriving with a damaged passport as new security measures might trip up your entry.
South Africa has 10 international airports, the two major ones being Cape Town International and OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Regular flights arrive from major centers throughout Africa including: Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.
Direct flights also arrive from major European centers, including: Amsterdam, Athens, Madrid, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Lisbon. There are also direct flights from Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington (D.C.), Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Perth. You may also want to have a look at Discount airlines in Africa.
See Air travel in South Africa for detailed information.
Should you be entering from one of the other countries in Southern Africa you might want to do so by car. South Africa operates a number of land border posts between itself and immediately neighboring countries. The more commonly used ones are:
South Africa has a well established domestic air travel infrastructure with links between all major centers.
See Air travel in South Africa for detailed information.
One drives on the left-hand side of the road in South Africa. All measurements are done using the metric system; distances on road signs are in kilometer and fuel is sold by the litre.
To get a car in South Africa there are basically three options, you can hire a car, buy one or use the so-called buy-back option. Hiring a car is fairly easy and bookings can be made online and in all major cities. Buying a car takes a bit more work (Roadworthy license, registering the car, insurance), but there is a lively used car market in South Africa. The third option is a combination of both, as you buy a car with a guarantee that the rental company will buy-back your car at the end of the contract. Most cars in South Africa have manual transmissions and the selection of second-hand automatics may be limited.
The roads within South Africa, connecting most major cities, and between its immediate neighbors are very good. There are many highways connecting the cities and larger centers, including the N1 running from Cape Town through Johannesburg and Pretoria up to Harare, Zimbabwe, the N2 running from Cape Town to Durban, which passes through the world-famous Garden Route near Knysna, and the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg.
Many of the major highways are toll roads with emergency assist telephones every couple of kilometers. All the large fuel companies have rest stops every 200km to 300km along these highways where you can full up, eat something at a restaurant, get takeaways, do some shopping or just stretch your legs. Restrooms at these facilities are well maintained and clean. Most (but not all) of these rest stops also have ATMs. Toll roads generally have two or more lanes in each direction.
Some of the main roads have only one lane in each direction, especially where they are far from urban centers. It is customary to flash your hazard lights once, after passing a truck or other slow vehicle that has moved onto the hard shoulder to let you pass. This is considered a thank you and you will most likely receive a my pleasure response in the the form of the slow vehicle flashing its headlights once.
South Africa has a high rate of traffic fatalities, and you may want to avoid driving at night except in urban areas. Watch out for unsafe drivers (minibus taxis), poor lighting, and pedestrians (who are the cause of many accidents, especially at night). When driving outside of the major cities you will often encounter animals, wild and domestic, in or near the roadway. The locals tend to herd their cattle and goats near the road. If you see an animal on or by the road, slow down, as they are unpredictable. Do not stop to feed wild animals!
Make sure you understand the road signs. A special kind of crossing is the 'four way stop' where the car that stops first has right of way. You will not encounter many traffic circles, but when you do, take special care as the general attitude of South African drivers is that traffic circles do not constitute a traffic management roadway structure, and do not use their indicators in a safe and predictable fashion. In general, South Africans tend to speed excessively and are prone to selfish or aggressive driving behavior, such as tailgating and hooting. On multi-lane roadways, the principle of keep-left, pass right, is often not adhered to.
Fuel stations are full service with lead free petrol, lead replacement petrol and diesel available. Pump attendants will offer to wash your windscreen and check oil and water in addition to just filling up the car. It is usual to tip the attendant approximately R5. Almost all fuel stations are open 24 hours a day.
Speed limits are clearly indicated. Generally speed limits on highways are 120km/h, major roads outside buildup areas are 100 km/h, major roads within build up areas are 80km/h and normal town roads are 60 km/h.
Speed law enforcement is usually done by portable or stationary, radar or laser cameras. Fines will be sent to the registered address of the vehicle you are driving. Non camera portable radar and laser systems are also used and you may be pulled over for speeding and given a written fine.
Should you find yourself waiting at a red traffic light late at night in an area where you do not feel safe, you can cross over the red light after first carefully checking that there is no other traffic. If you receive a fine due to a camera on the traffic light you can normally have it wavered by writing a letter to the traffic department or court explaining that you crossed safely and on purpose, due to security reasons. Do not make a habit of this. When stopped at a traffic light at night always leave enough room between your car and the car in front of you so you can get around them. It is a common hijacking manoeuvre to box your car in. This is especially prevalent in the suburbs of Johannesburg.
South Africa currently does not have a merits system and does not share traffic violation information with other nations.
The N1 between Gauteng and Cape Town and the N3 between Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal can become very busy at the start and end of Gauteng school holidays, due to many people from Gauteng spending their holidays at the coast. If you are planning on using these two highways, it is wise to try and avoid the two days after schools break up and the two days before they open again. School holiday calenders for South Africa can be found here.
The N3 normally have a Highway Customer Care line during busy periods, ph: 0800 203 950, it can be used to request assistance for breakdowns, accidents or general route information.
If your drivers license is in any of South Africa's 11 official languages (i.e. English) and it contains a photo and your signature integrated into the license document, then it is legally acceptable as a valid drivers license in South Africa. However, some car rental and insurance companies may still insist that you provide an International Driver's Permit.
It is generally best practice to acquire an International Driver's Permit in your country of origin, prior to starting your journey, regardless of whether your license is legally acceptable or not.
Booking for the above can also be done via Computicket.
An alternative is the Baz Bus. It offers a regular hop-on-hop-off service on some of the most interesting routes for the tourist (Cape Town to Durban via the Garden Route; Durban to Johannesburg via Swaziland; Durban to Johannesburg via the Drakensberg). Baz Bus picks you up and drops you off at many hostels along the route, so you don't have to hang around at a downtown bus stop at night.
If you're really in a pinch, you can use minibus taxis. They are poorly maintained and rarely comply with safety standards. They also require patience as they make many detours and changeovers at the taxi rank (hub) where the driver will wait for passengers to fill up the bus. But they cover many routes not covered by the main bus service and are quite cheap (25 cents per kilometer per person on the main routes).
Spoornet is the national rail operator. There are budget passenger services between major South African cities (known as Shosholoza Meyl) as well as a Premier Class service between Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Spoornet Central Reservations (for both Shosholoza Meyl and Premier Class) can be contacted as follows :
To book tickets, phone Central Reservations on one of the numbers given above and make your booking. You can pick up and pay for the tickets later at any train station.
There are also commuter trains in larger cities (Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London) ; these are run by MetroRail. Most services are perfectly safe, but certain routes are overcrowded and not always safe.
With the abundance of caravan parks available in South Africa, motorhomes are becoming ever more popular with international visitors. It gives you the freedom to move around as well as a place to stay wherever you are.
A number of companies offer motorhomes rentals
Hitchhiking in South Africa is not so hard, but most people will think you are catching a ride with the local taxis and thus expect you to pay. I suggest you tell them you are looking for a free ride before climbing aboard. The main issue is crime: some drivers may hijack you and your belongings. Don't hitchhike at night.
South Africa has 11 official languages. Most people other than rural black Africans speak English, although not many as a first language. Afrikaans is also widely-spoken, especially by the white and coloured population. Often Afrikaans is incorrectly called 'afrikan' or 'african' by foreigners. Note this is very incorrect as 'African' for a South African corresponds with the native-african languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi etc. (and, of course, there are thousands of languages in Africa so no single language can be called 'African') Afrikaans has roots in Dutch, so it can be understood by Dutch speakers and sometimes deciphered by German speakers. Other widely spoken languages are Zulu (mainly in KwaZulu-Natal) and Xhosa (mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape), as well as Sotho and Venda. This changes, according to the region you are in. There is also a very large Portuguese community and you will very often find that someone will understand you when speaking Portuguese.
A few words you may encounter are:
You’ll find the Wikipedia page on South African English well worth reading.
In general English spelling follows British rules rather than American; litre rather than liter, centre rather than center etc.
Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. Production of 2c and 1c coins were suspended in April 2002, but those still in circulation remain legal tender. All transactions are rounded down to to the nearest lower 5c, so as not to require a 2c or 1c coin.
Rough conversion  rates are: 7:1 (USD), 9:1 (EUR) and 14:1 (GBP). Carry one of the above currencies, as conversion between any of them and the Rand can be done at any bank without trouble. The Rand is also used in Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland, although it is not an official currency in these countries.
Traveller's Cheques are a safe way of carrying money around. You can exchange them at all banks (you will find one even in the roughest places) and you will get a refund if they are stolen. The disadvantage is that you cannot pay with them and you will need change when exchanging them into Rand. Use ATMs instead if possible.
Automated teller machines (ATMs), linked to all major international networks, are available throughout the country and will generally dispense money in a mixture of denominations between R200 and and R10, with about 80% of the value requested being high value notes and the rest in smaller denominations. You can use any Cirrus or Maestro card as well as all major credit and debit cards at the ATMs.
It is best to use only ATMs that are inside a mall or other building. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN). The till points at some major retail (such as Pick 'n Pay) also act as ATMs; simply tell the checkout clerk that you would like to withdraw money.
VISA and MasterCard's are accepted almost everywhere, while American Express and Diners Club are also accepted, but not as widely.
Most retail stores accept credit cards and pin based debit cards as payment. Don't be surprised if the teller still insist that you have to sign the slip when paying with a pin based card, they generally don't seem to understand the difference between a PIN and non-PIN based card. It is a requirement to always sign the slip, a line with "Cardholder Signature" under it is provided for this purpose.
VAT (Value Added Tax) is levied at 14% on almost all products in South Africa . By law advertised prices should be inclusive of VAT except when explicitly stated otherwise. Foreign passport holders may claim back the VAT on products that were bought in South Africa and is being taken out of the country, provided that the total value of the goods exceed R250. Full details of the procedure to follow is available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and their new TAX Refund for tourists site. VAT Refund Administrator's offices are available at both OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airports.
Petrol and Diesel
Liquid fuel prices in South Africa are regulated and fixed monthly. During 2006 a liter of petrol would cost anywhere from R5.20 to R6.80. See the current prices.
The most expensive toll gate in South Africa is the Machado plaza on the N4 between Pretoria and Nelspruit, cost is R43 for a normal car. In total, road tolls between Pretoria and Nelspruit or between Johannesburg and Cape Town will cost you just under R100.
Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter. Tipping is the norm in restaurants and at gas-stations (which are all full-service). Indeed, most of these businesses pay their staff the legal minimum-wage, relying on customer-tips to bring staff incomes up to live-able levels. Tips of around 10% of the bill are considered the norm.
You will find the usual array of international fast food outlets, McDonalds, KFC and Wimpy is well represented throughout the country.
Local franchises worth mentioning are Black Steer and Steers for the best burgers and Nando's peri-peri chicken.
Pizza delivery is available in most urban areas.
Municipal tap water is safe to drink.
The legal age to purchase and drink alcohol in South Africa is 18. Almost all restaurants are licensed to serve liquor.
Be very careful if someone offers you witblits or mampoer; those are the local names for moonshine or firewater. It's extremely high in alcohol content and packes a lethal blow.
Local beer production is dominated by SABMiller with the Castle, Amstel and Windhoek , Black Label and Castle Milk Stout being most popular brands
Imported beers such as Stella Artois, Heineken and Grolsh are also widely available.
Prices can vary widely depending on the establishment. Expect to pay anything from R7 to R18 for a beer.
Amarula Cream is made from the amarula fruit. The amarula fruit is a favorite treat for African elephants, baboons and monkeys and in the liqueur form definitely not something to be passed over by humans. Pour over crushed ice and enjoy. The taste, colour and texture is very similar to the world famous Baileys Irish Cream. Cape Velvet is a favourite in and around Cape Town.
Tea and Coffee
Establishments in South Africa can have themselve graded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa on a 5 star basis. Many establishments make use of this service and you will see the star grading displayed on most advertising material.
Hotels and Holiday Rentals
A hotel provides accommodation to the travelling public, has a reception area and offers at least a "breakfast room" or communal eating area. In general a hotel makes food and beverage services available to a guest, though these may be outsourced or provided by the hotel.
There are a number of Hotel chains that operate nationally
Bed and Breakfast establishments are becoming very popular. The accommodation is usually provided in a family (private) home and the owner/manager lives in the house or on the property. Breakfast is usually served. Bathroom facilities may be en-suite. In general, the guest shares the public areas with the host family.
A house, cottage, chalet, bungalow, flat, studio, apartment, villa, houseboat, tents or similar accommodation where facilities and equipment are provided for guests to cater for themselves. The facilities should be adequate to cater for the maximum advertised number of residents the facility can accommodate.
A guest house is either a converted house, manor, etc adapted to accommodate overnight guests or it may be a purpose built facility. A guest house is run as a commercial operation and is often owner-managed. A guest house has areas which are for the exclusive use of the guest. The owner/manager either lives off-site, or in a separate area within the property.
Camping and caravaning
Caravan parks can be found in most towns that are holiday destinations. Most caravan parks also offer camping sites where you can pitch a tent. The parks generally have central ablution facilities.
There are many timeshare resorts in South Africa, most participate in international exchange agreements such as RCI. Many timeshare owners also rent their time when they can not make use of it.
Many real estate agents in South Africa also offer rental services. The rental properties are mostly available on unfurnished long term lease, but you will also find furnished properties on offer with 1 to 12 month lease agreements
Your local branch of an international estate agent with a presence in South Africa might also be able to assist you.
Non-South African citizens need to be in possession of a study permit in order to study inside the country. You should apply for one at a South African High Commission, Embassy, Consulate or Trade Mission in your country of origin, or in the nearest country, should there be no South African representation is available in your country. Government form B1-1740 needs to be completed for the application.
You will need to do some preparation in order to gain a study permit. At a minimum you will need acceptance by a South African University, repatriation guarantees, return air ticket and proof that you can cover living expenses while in South Africa before a permit will be issued. The cost for obtaining a study permit is R425 and applications take about 6 week to process.
Expect to spend about R5000 per month on general living expenses (accommodation, food, travel, etc) in addition to tuition fees.
There are many secondary and tertiary education centres in South Africa.
South Africa is also an excellent venue to learn new skills such as flying, sailing and scuba diving since costs are generally far lower than in more developed countries while quality of training will be equal or better. Examples of companies that offer these kind of courses include:
There are very limited opportunities for working in South Africa. However, people with certain technical skill sets may find themselves in demand. Research the situation before leaving home.
Non South African citizens are only allowed to work in South Africa if they are in possession on a work permit.
The process of applying for a work permit is similar to applying for a study permit, contact a South African High Commission, Embassy, Consulate or Trade Mission in your country of origin, or in the nearest country, should there be no South African representation is available in your country. Government form B1-159 (A&C) needs to be completed for the application. Processing of the application will take 8 to 12 weeks.
Applications will be approved based on whether or not a South African citizen is available to fill the position you applied for.
South Africa has a high rate of violent crime, but warnings about crime should be taken in context. The threat is not as serious as it might sound. If you are alert and take some common-sense precautions you will have no problems. Do not accept offers from friendly strangers. Do not wear jewelry or expensive watches. Do not wear a tummy bag with all your valuables. Distribute your valuables in inside pockets and other pockets. Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk by night in deserted places. Don't make it obvious you are a tourist - conceal your camera and binoculars. Know where to go so that you don't have to reveal you're lost or need a map -- simply all the obvious "I am a tourist" signs.
Visiting the townships is possible, but don't do it alone unless you really know where you're going. Some townships are safe while others can be extremely dangerous. It's best to go with an experienced guide. Some tour companies offer guided visits to the townships, and this is perfectly safe.
South Africa has very few earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, terrorist incidents or contagious diseases with the notable exception of HIV.
Please also note that taking an evening stroll, or walking to venues after dark can be very risky! It simply is NOT part of the culture there, as it is in Europe,North America or Australia. Best to take a taxi (a meter cab - not a minibus taxi) or private vehicle for an "evening out". The same applies to picking up hitchhikers or offering assistance at broken-down car scenes.
Important telephone numbers
From a fixed line
From a mobile phone
One of the main reasons travelers visit South Africa is to experience the outdoors and see the wide range of wildlife.
When driving in a wildlife reserve, always keep to the speed limits and stay inside your car at all times. On game drives or walks, always follow the instructions of your guide.
Ensure that you wear socks and boots whenever you are walking in the bush; do not wear open sandals. A good pair of boots can stop snake and insect bits and avoid any possible cuts that may lead to infections.
In many areas you may encounter wildlife while driving on public roads, monkeys and baboons are especially common. Do not get out of the vehicle to take photos or otherwise try to interact with the animals. These are wild animals and their actions can be unpredictable.
Sometimes you might find yourself in the open with wild animals (often happens with baboons at Cape Point). Keep your distance and always ensure that the animals are only to one side of you, do not walk between two groups or individuals. A female baboon may get rather upset if you separate her from her child.
Always check with locals before swimming in a river or lake as there may be crocodiles or hippos. Most major beaches in South Africa have shark nets installed. If you intend to swim anywhere other that the main beaches, check with a local first. Note that shark nets may be removed for a couple of days during the annual sardine run (normally along the KwaZulu-Natal coast between early May and late July). This is done to avoid excessive shark and other marine life fatalities. Notices are posted on beaches during these times.
Emergency and Medical Assistance
There are a number of independent emergency assist companies in South Africa
It is best to avoid public hospitals as standards have declined in recent years. Private hospitals (such as the Netcare Group) are of world class standard.
Municipal tap water is safe to drink throughout the country. In the Western Cape mountain water is safe, even if it has been stained brown due to vegetation. A strong risk of bilharzia exists for still-standing water.
Many activities in South Africa are outdoors, see the sunburn and sun protection travel topic for tips on how to protect yourself. there is about 15% of water in S. Africa
HIV and AIDS
The HIV infection rate in the total population older than 2 years varies from around 2% in the Western Cape to over 17% in KwaZulu-Natal (Avert), and all together 18.8% of South Africans over 15 years of age are HIV-Positive (UNICEF). One in four females and one in five males aged 20 to 40 is estimated to be infected (Avert).
Only about 10% of the world's population lives in Sub-Sahara Africa, but the same population includes 70% of the world's HIV infected individuals (CDC).
For your own safety, DO NOT HAVE UNPROTECTED SEX.
The north-eastern areas of the country (including the Kruger National Park and St. Lucia and surrounds) are seasonal malaria zones, from about November to May. The peak danger time is just after the wet season from March to May. Consult a physician regarding appropriate precautions, depending on the time of year you will be traveling. The most important defenses against malaria are:
Tabbard and Peacefull Sleep are commonly used mosquito repellents and can be bought almost anywhere.
Except for pubs, smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, these include airports, shopping malls and theaters.
Most restaurants do have smoking sections, either ventilated indoor areas or outdoor open areas.
South Africans are generally polite, friendly and accommodating to tourists.
Public behavior is very similar to what you might find in Europe. Heterosexual displays of affection is public is not frowned upon unless you overdo it; homosexual displays of affection will probably generate unwelcome attention, especially around children.
Men generally greet with a firm handshake, while woman will do the continental kiss on the cheek .
Except for designated beaches, nude sunbathing is illegal. Bikini's for ladies and swimming trunk for men (speedo's if you really must, but be prepared to be laughed at and don't be surprised if people say Yebo Yah when walking past you, in reference to a Vodacom TV advert a couple of years ago) are acceptable. Eating places are casual except when otherwise indicated.
Eating is generally done the British way with the fork in their left hand and the tines pointed downward. Burgers, pizzas, bunny chows and any other fast foods are eaten by hand. It is generally also acceptable to steal a piece of boerewors from the braai with your hands. Depending of what cultural group you find yourself with, these rules might change. Indians often eat biryani dishes with their hands, a white person from British decent might insist on eating his pizza with a knife and fork or a black person might eat pap-and-stew with a spoon. Be adaptable, but don't be afraid to also do your own thing; if really unacceptable, people will generally tell you so rather than take offense.
South Africans are proud of their country and what they have achieved. Although they themselves are quick to point out and complain to each other about the problems and shortcoming that still exist, they will harshly defend against any outsider from doing so.
Those who are practiced in North American racial terminology should understand that familiar words have different meanings in South Africa, and the rules for what terms are polite or not are different.
White South Africans are can quite simply be called "white" or "white South African". White South Africans in general speak either Afrikaans (derived from Dutch) or English, thus Afrikaners and English South Africans. A typical white South African considers himself as "African" as any person born in the United States considers himself "American"; most have family who have lived in South Africa for generations and the only continent they can call home is Africa.
In general, it is wise to avoid racial or political remarks while in South Africa, because the country's very diverse cultural disposition means that "putting your foot in it" is easy.
South Africa is now in its second decade since the end of apartheid, but it is always easier to change laws than people. You will occasionally still hear overtly racist remarks, from any race group in South Africa, not only white South Africans. This is more common from the older generation than the younger ones. The best thing to do is simply ignore it; leave the responsibility for enlightening lectures to other South Africans, who know the subject at least as well as any foreign traveler.
Interracial marriages are becoming quite common, and except for possibly some of the older generation, people no longer take offense if you and your partner are not the same colour.
South Africa's country code is 27.
Phone numbers within South Africa are of the format 0XX YYY ZZZZ.
Large cities have area codes 0XX (Johannesburg is 011, Pretoria 012, Cape Town 021, Durban 031, Port Elizabeth 041, East London 043, Kimberley 053, Bloemfontein 051) while smaller towns may have longer area codes (0XX Y for example) with shorter local numbers.
When dialing a South African number from outside the country, one should dial +27 XX YYY ZZZZ.
Dialing within the country one should use all 10 digits, 0XX YYY ZZZZ.
To dial out of South Africa, dial 00 followed by the country code and the rest of the number you are trying to reach.
Pay phones are available at airports, shopping malls and some petrol stations. The number of pay phones in open public areas have been reduced over recent years, but you should still be able to find one when you need one. Pay phones use either coins or prepaid cards that are available at most shops and petrol stations ; coin phones are generally blue while card phones are usually green.
The networks support GPRS countrywide and 3G, EDGE and HSDPA support is available in larger urban areas.
Do not assume you will not have network coverage just because you can not see a GSM tower. Many of the towers have been built to look like trees (Vodacom) or other structure (MTN) in order to better blend into the surroundings and not be an eyesore.
There are plenty of Internet cafes and access rates are cheap.
Even cheaper and more mobile would be to buy a prepaid cell phone starter pack (less than 10 rand) and access the Internet with GPRS or 3G (2 rand per MB from MTN and Vodacom). If you intend to use your phone mostly for data, look at Virgin Mobile, they offer prepaid packages with GPRS/3G at 50 cent per MB.
Always-On seem to be leading the way in prepaid WiFi access. Their hotspots can now be found at Cape Town and OR Tabmo airports, some City Lodge Hotels, most Mugg&Bean restaurants and various other places.
Simply connect to the access point and you will be given the opportunity to pay for access by credit card. Pricing starts at around R15 for 10 minutes or R60 for 100MB. Their support desk can be contacted on +27 (0)11 575-2505.
You can have film developed at most pharmacies and shopping malls, even is small towns. Automated machines to print (or copy to CD) from digital media (CF, CF, MMC, Memory stick etc) are also becoming quite common and easy to find. Larger shopping malls have dedicated photography shops where you can buy camera's and lenses or have a camera repaired. Most major camera manufacturers are well represented.
Embassies and Consulates
If your country is not listed here, have at look at the list provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
A number of international banks operate branches in South Africa.
There are some laws that the average tourist might not be aware of