The region of the African continent south of the Congo and Tanzania is named Southern Africa. The physical location is the large part of Africa to the south of the extensive Congo River basin. Southern Africa is home to several river systems; the Zambezi River is the most prominent. The Zambezi flows from the northwest corner of Zambia and western Angola to the Indian Ocean on the coast of Mozambique. Along the way, the Zambezi River flows over the mighty Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world based on selected criteria and is a significant tourist attraction for the region.
Southern Africa includes both type B and type C climates. The Tropic of Capricorn runs straight through the middle of the region, indicating that the southern portion is outside the tropics. The Kalahari Desert, which lies mainly in Botswana, is a vast desert region with a dry mixture of grasslands and sand. When there is adequate rainfall, the grasslands provide excellent grazing for wildlife. Precipitation varies from three to ten inches per year. The Kalahari is home to game reserves and national parks. Large areas of dry salt pans stretch over ancient lake beds. The salt pans fill with water after heavy rainfall but are dry the remainder of the year. The Namib Desert, found along the west coast of Namibia, receives little rainfall. Moderate type C climates are found south of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, where conditions are suitable for a variety of agricultural activities, including fruit orchards and expanding wine industry.
Madagascar is located to the east of the continent, in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island and is similar in area to France. Surrounding Madagascar is the independent island states of the Seychelles, Comoros, and Mauritius. Madagascar is included in this lesson in Southern Africa but does not share its cultural geography or biodiversity. Madagascar broke away from the mainland more than 160 million years ago and developed its environmental conditions and cultural heritage. The early human inhabitants of Madagascar can trace their ancestry to the regions of Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeast Asia. People from the African mainland also joined the population. The whole island later came under the colonial domination of France but won its independence in 1960.
Madagascar’s unique physical environment is home to many plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. At least thirty-three varieties of lemurs and many tropical bird species and other organisms are found only in Madagascar. It is an area of high biodiversity and is home to about 5 percent of all the animals and plants in the world. Tropical rain forests can be found on the eastern edge on the windward side of the island. The western side of the island experiences a rain shadow effect because of the height of the central highlands, which reach as high as 9,435 feet. The western side of the island has a smaller population and receives less precipitation.
Since 1990, the eastern tropical rain forest has experienced a sharp decline because of extensive logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, mining operations, and drought. Population growth has placed a more substantial demand on the environment, which in turn puts stress on the habitats of many of the unusual organisms that are unique to the island. Typical of many African nations, agriculture is Madagascar’s main economic activity. About 80 percent of the twenty million people who live on the island earn their living off the land. Deforestation is occurring in all parts of the island and is more severe in areas where human habitation leads to high demand for firewood used in cooking. In other parts of Africa, critical environmental areas have been protected or transformed into national parks and wildlife preserves. Though protected areas do exist in Madagascar, efforts to protect the environment and the wildlife have been hampered by the lack of available funding and the population’s high demand for natural resources.
The countries on the Southern African mainland share many of the demographic qualities of the rest of Africa: large family size, agrarian economies, multiple ethnic groups, rural populations, political instability, and a high rate of rural-to-urban shift. Southern Africa is set apart from other Subsaharan African regions because of its mineral resources, including copper, diamonds, gold, zinc, chromium, platinum, manganese, iron ore, and coal. Countries in Southern Africa are quite large in physical area, except three smaller landlocked states: Lesotho, Swaziland, and Malawi. The larger countries – South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, and Angola – all have extensive mineral deposits.
The vast mineral resources make this one of the wealthiest regions of Africa with the greatest potential for economic growth. A physical band of mineral resources in Southern Africa stretches from the rich oil fields off the northwest coast of Angola, east through the diamond-mining region, and into the northern Copper Belt of Zambia. A region of rich mineral deposits continues from the unique geological formation called the Great Dyke in central Zimbabwe through the Bushveld basin into South Africa. From here, it extends southwest through the central gold- and diamond-mining regions of South Africa toward the southern coast. Mining activity exists on both sides of the belt of mineral resources. Diamond mining is found in parts of Botswana and along the coast of Namibia. Coal can be found in central Mozambique. The counties that can conduct the necessary extractive processes are creating national wealth and increasing the standard of living for their people.
The largest country in Southern Africa is Angola. Located on the west coast of the continent, the country includes the small exclave of Cabinda to the north, which borders the Congo River and is separated from the main body of Angola. Cabinda is a significant oil producer and remains a foothold for rebel groups seeking greater control over oil resources. Offshore oil activity has increased in the northern region of Angola and has attracted international oil companies from many countries. In 2007, Angola was the largest oil exporter to China, which has become one of Angola’s most significant financial supporters. Oil revenues have helped Angola rebuild after a bitter civil war (1975–2002) devastated the country and its infrastructure. Nevertheless, the country remains one of the world’s poorest; life expectancies were a mere thirty-eight years in 2010. Angola is also burdened with thousands of refugees seeking safety from the civil wars in the Congo.
Angola was a Portuguese colony and fought hard for independence, which it received in 1975. After independence, strong factions clashed to obtain political power. At the same time, the Cold War was at a zenith. The United States and the Soviet Union both used their influence to support political leadership in Angola and other parts of Africa to reflect their respective ideologies. Even Cuba had a large number of military troops in Angola in support of a socialist agenda. As the factions within Angola vied for power, the country was deeply divided. Thus began a twenty-seven-year civil war that finally ended in 2002. The country has been working to recover from this turmoil ever since. Foreign aid and charitable organizations have helped feed the people, and oil revenues are beginning to support recovery. The government of Angola has suffered from severe corruption. Much of the wealth is centralized in the hands of an elite few and does not filter down to the general population.
Natural resources were a significant factor in the long, drawn-out civil war. Angola was one of the original countries in which the term blood diamonds was used. Resistant groups would mine the diamonds, sell them on the world market, and use that income to fund their military pursuits. Revenue from the clandestine diamond trade was fueled by the death and destruction of the newly independent country. Diamonds are still being mined in Angola and bringing in considerable national income. The industry is not always controlled or managed to lessen the number of diamonds reaching the market from unsubstantiated sources. Natural resources have helped the country look to a future in which a more stable government can work to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and improve the standard of living for its people.
Namibia is a dry, arid land with few people. Its population density of about 6.5 people per square mile in 2009 was the second-lowest in the world after Mongolia. The physical geography of this vast country is dominated by arid plateaus and desert regions with changes in elevation between them. The Namib Desert, characterized by enormous dunes, runs along the entire west coast. It meets up with the Great Escarpment, which is a sharp rise in elevation of as much as a mile high toward the interior. A central plateau dominates the north-south interior, and the Kalahari Desert is to the east. Natural resources are abundant: uranium and diamonds are the major export products, and lead, zinc, tin, silver, copper, and tungsten are also mined. The coastal waters support a substantial fishing industry. Namibia’s constitution contains language that addresses environmental conservation and the protection of wildlife habitat. The country has created nature conservancies, which have advanced the activities of ecotourism, a source of national wealth promoted by the government.
The Berlin Conference of 1884, when the European colonial powers met to divide up Africa, resulted in the German colonization of the region of Namibia. The German influence remains evident in the dominant religion: most of the Christians in Namibia, which now make up about 80 percent of the population, are Lutherans.
By 1920, the region known as South West Africa had been transferred to South Africa by the League of Nations. Southwest Africa had to endure the political policies of apartheid while under the jurisdiction of South Africa. By 1966, local uprisings and a push for sovereignty resulted in a socialist independence movement that created the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO). This organization was entrenched in a guerilla war with South Africa, which led to the return of Namibia to the United Nations (UN) supervision. The name Namibia was adopted during this era. Socialist countries such as Cuba provided supported SWAPO’s movement for autonomy.
The 1980s brought about a transition in the governing process in the Namibian War of Independence. In 1985, South Africa installed an interim government in Namibia. A UN peace plan was reached that included Namibia in 1988, and Namibia finally gained its independence in 1990 following South Africa’s withdrawal from Angola in their civil war. SWAPO has become the dominant Namibian political affiliation. As a recently independent country, Namibia has had to work through a natural transition process to create a stable government to sustain itself as an independent country.
The landlocked country of Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia during colonial times. From 1891 to 1923, it was administered by Britain’s South Africa Company. Then it became a colony of Great Britain. The name was changed to Zambia when the country was granted independence in 1964. Lusaka is its primate city and capital.
Mining in the Copper Belt to the north provides both economic activity and employment opportunities for the people, but long distances from major seaports and the fluctuation in world commodity prices do not provide a stable economic situation for the mining industry. Though most of the population makes their living by subsistence agriculture, the country has a large urbanized population that heavily depends on the mining industry for employment and economic support.
The country is expected to double in population in about thirty-five years if current rates continue. The average family size is more than five members. The larger towns and cities along the major transportation routes are the main population centers. Unemployment remains high in these urban areas; there are few opportunities for economic development. More than seventy ethnic groups can be found in Zambia, including a small but growing Chinese population. English is the official language, but many other languages are spoken. Most of the people are Christians with a wide variety of denominations. Animist and traditional beliefs are also common.
Malawi is a landlocked nation that became independent in 1964. The British controlled the region in 1891 and named their colony Nyasaland after Lake Nyasa, a large lake in Malawi; the lake is also called Lake Malawi. The lake serves as the eastern border of the country. Another name for Lake Malawi is Calendar Lake, named so because of its physical dimensions, which are 52 miles wide and 365 miles long. Lake Malawi is a deepwater lake with depths reaching 2,300 feet. The great depths of the lake are caused by the Great Rift Valley, which created the depression the lake rests in. The lake provides for the livelihoods for millions of people who live along its shores and depend on its resources of fish and freshwater.
Malawi is not a technologically developed country. Only about 15 percent of the population lives in urban areas. About 90 percent of the country’s exports are agricultural products of tea, sugar, coffee, and tobacco. Malawi’s government requires substantial assistance from the international community, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Complicating the situation are instances of government corruption that have led to the withholding of international aid. Another major problem for Malawi is the significant number of HIV-infected people. Also, family size is commonly large, and rapid population growth places an ever-increasing demand on natural resources.
Before colonial Europeans arrived in the region of Mozambique along Africa’s east coast, the Bantu people of several ethnic subgroups were the dominant people, and they still make up more than 99 percent of the population. Portugal had claimed the region as a colony as early as the sixteenth century. Portugal strongly resisted releasing its claims to Mozambique but did so after much opposition; the country became independent in 1975. The transition from colony to the independent nation was a struggle for Mozambique. The rebel groups that had been instrumental in fighting a guerilla war for independence against Portugal remained active after 1975 and fighting continued after independence. The country fell into a violent civil war from 1977 to 1992. Central elements in this war were involvement or influence by Zimbabwe and South Africa on one side and Marxist support from the Soviet Union on the other. More than a million people died in this brutal war, which also devastated the country, destroyed valuable infrastructure, and created more than a million refugees who sought sanctuary in neighboring countries. At the same time, most people of Portuguese descent left because of safety concerns. A peace agreement was finally reached in 1992. Since then, the country has had to struggle to create a stable government and provide a safe environment for its people.
Foreign aid has remained a necessity to provide economic stability for Mozambique. The agrarian society includes a high percentage of the population that lives below the poverty line. Selective mining operations and the introduction of garment manufacturing augments the main agricultural activities. Since 2000, the government has worked to implement economic reforms and to curb excess spending. Both have had a positive effect on economic growth. It is not unusual for foreign debt to plague developing countries, and Mozambique has suffered from a high level of national debt that has threatened to bankrupt the country. Debt relief for Mozambique came through the IMF’s debt forgiveness program; both debt forgiveness and loan rescheduling agreements were implemented. The positive growth pattern indicates that even desperately, emerging countries can work to improve the standard of living for their people if there are adequate resources and opportunities for employment. Still, rapid population growth potentially cancels out economic gains and threatens to deplete valuable resources, thereby creating an even more difficult path for future stability.
There is no better way to understand Zimbabwe than to become familiar with the history and heritage of the people who live there. The Great Zimbabwe Kingdom flourished from about 1250 to 1450, when it was eclipsed by succeeding kingdoms. Ruins from the extensive stone architecture of that era remain and are a significant tourist attraction. These kingdoms were urgent trading centers for the region but later clashed with the colonial powers that desired to dominate regional trade for themselves. The Bantu civilization of Southern Africa established several kingdoms that existed in Zimbabwe up to the colonial era.
Zimbabwe experienced similar colonial activity to that which befell Zambia, its neighbor to the north. Britain arrived in the late 1800s, and by 1923 they called their newly controlled colony Southern Rhodesia, after Cecil Rhodes, who headed the British South Africa Company, a mercantile company that broke new ground in the region. The British were able to quell any resistance to their activity and consolidated their holdings. After Zambia become independent, Southern Rhodesia was renamed Rhodesia. In 1965, the white-dominated leadership of the Rhodesian government unilaterally declared its independence, but Britain did not recognize this action. The UN issued sanctions against the white leadership; the response was an internal guerilla uprising to fight for free elections that would include black Africans. Independence was finally granted in 1980, and the country’s name was officially changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.
In 1980, Robert Mugabe came to power as the first president and extended his authoritarian rule over the next three decades. During this time, the country experienced more than its fair share of civil unrest and political turmoil. Mugabe has been accused of corruption, election rigging, and pillaging of public funds for personal gain. Under his leadership, there have been accusations of government mismanagement, human rights abuses, and hyperinflation of the country’s currency. In 2008, inflation led to a severe devaluation of the currency. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe printed banknotes in the denomination of one hundred trillion dollars that were only worth a few US dollars in the international exchange. The people continue to work through these difficult economic conditions.
Mugabe initiated a land reform policy that would take land owned by people of white European ancestry and redistribute it to people of black African ancestry. During the colonial era, white Europeans, who only made up a small percentage of the population, moved in and took control of most of the agricultural lands. Land reform was a progressive policy and was meant to provide a higher level of equality within the country. However, the disorganized methods used to carry out the plan resulted in violence and the confiscation of farmland with little regard for the rule of law.
Thousands of white farmers and their families left the country. Some were killed when their farms were taken over by force. Mugabe was accused of corruption in making sure his cronies benefited from the land reform without being concerned about the general population. The disruption in the agricultural sector resulted in a drastic reduction in agricultural output. The country shifted from a once sustainable, prosperous agricultural sector with extensive exports to an agricultural system that was in disarray. The result was food shortages and the loss of enormous agricultural export profits.
Shaping a stable post-Mugabe government will be a challenge for Zimbabwe. Solving the problems resulting from the transition from exploitive colonial rule to personal authoritarian rule will be an arduous undertaking. The country has serious economic problems that have lowered the number of opportunities and advantages for its people. Life expectancies have dropped from about sixty years in 1990 to fewer than forty years two decades later. Health care, education, and social services have not reached the level needed to sustain a healthy society by world standards. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has hit Zimbabwe hard, affecting a higher percentage of its population than most of the other African countries. Political turmoil, civil unrest, and violence have reduced the level of law and order within the country. These issues are indicators that within the globalization process, countries such as Zimbabwe will be losing out on the opportunity to attract foreign investments, manufacturing expansions, or employment opportunities being developed elsewhere to meet the demands of the marketplace.
The country of Botswana is relatively flat, and the Kalahari Desert covers as much as 70 percent of its land area. By the time it established independence from Britain in 1966, the lack of agricultural lands had reduced the country’s economic level to the lowest in the world. At that time, the country was called Bechuanaland.
Botswana has transitioned more smoothly than other African countries into a stable political system with a fast-growing economy. It has an emerging service sector, extensive diamond mining, and expanding industrial ambitions. Personal incomes are rising, and the standard of living is reaching upward to the second highest in the region after South Africa.
Botswana is fortunate to have had uninterrupted civilian political leadership for the decades following independence. This stable government has implemented progressive social policies and attracted significant capital investments to create one of the most dynamic economies in Africa. Diamond mining has been the principle extraction activity dominating the country’s export income. The stability of the country has enhanced the tourism market and created a growing ecotourism industry. The vast Kalahari Desert and the well-protected game reserves provide attractive tourist destinations.
Far from the fast-growing urban development of the big cities in Botswana, there exists a dispute between the government of Botswana and the indigenous San people who live in the middle of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The government has established programs to move the San from the reserve to other locations where they would become less nomadic and settle into a more agrarian lifestyle. According to the government position, this is to keep the natural habitat and wildlife from being affected by human activity, thereby promoting tourism. The courts, however, ruled against the forced move of the San out of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. Critics of the government program claim the real reason for the move is to clear the land of human habitation so the area can be developed for mining purposes. Estimates indicate that fewer than one hundred thousand San presently live in Southern Africa; about fifty-five thousand San live in Botswana.
Botswana’s government has advanced one of Africa’s most progressive and comprehensive programs for dealing with HIV/AIDS. Medical care, education, and social services are being strengthened. Botswana ranks at the top end in terms of the percentage of people who are infected with HIV/AIDS. This epidemic cuts across all levels of society and culture. The social stigma attached to being infected with HIV discourages individuals from being tested for the disease or seeking medical care. Addressing this epidemic is a challenge throughout Southern Africa.
Anchoring Subsaharan Africa to the south is the dominant country of South Africa. Its large land area and vast mineral resources support a population of about fifty million people. The Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of the continent is a transition point from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. Its strategic location was necessary for the control of shipping during the early colonial era before the Suez Canal provided a shortcut between Europe and Asia, bypassing most of Africa. The European colonial era first brought Dutch explorers to the Cape of Good Hope, where they established the city of Cape Town as a stopover and resupply outpost on their way to the rest of Asia.
South Africa is home to many indigenous ethnic groups and is demonstrative of the diverse pattern of human geography. The country has a history of both ethnic diversity and ethnic division. Two of the largest African groups are the Xhosa and the Zulu. Colonial and neocolonial activities enhanced the European component of the ethnic mosaic. After the arrival of the first Dutch ships, other Europeans followed and competed with the African groups for land and control. The discovery of first diamonds and then gold prompted Britain’s involvement in South Africa. The Boer Wars (1880–81 and 1899–1902) were fought between the Dutch-based Boers and Britain for control of South Africa’s mineral resources. South Africa became a British colony dominated by a white power structure. The Boers (later known as Afrikaners) spoke Afrikaans and were prominent in the South African political system.
Segregation first developed as an informal separation of the racial groups but evolved into the legally institutionalized policy of apartheid, which separated people into black, white, and “colored” (meaning mixed race) racial categories. A fourth category was developed for people from Indian or Asian backgrounds. Apartheid eventually found its way into every aspect of South African culture. In the larger scale of society, access and separation were based on race. Each racial group had its beaches, buses, hospitals, schools, universities, and ore. The legal system divided the population according to race, with the white minority receiving every advantage. There were extensive and detailed rules for every aspect of daily activity, including which public restroom or drinking fountain could be used, which color an individual’s telephone could be, and which park bench a person could sit on. The government also sanctioned separate homelands for people from different ethnic groups. People were physically removed from their homes and transported to their respective new homelands based on their racial or ethnic background. The policy of apartheid not only divided the country at that time but set up racial barriers that will take generations to overcome.
The controversial policy of apartheid in South Africa achieved international attention. Many countries condemned it and implemented economic sanctions and trade restrictions against South Africa. Opposition grew within the country and erupted into violence and social unrest. As a result, the white-dominated government of South Africa began to dismantle the apartheid system in the 1990s. The ban on political opposition parties, such as the African National Congress, was lifted, and after twenty-seven years in prison, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, where he had held for his resistance activities. The apartheid legislation was repealed, and a new era began. Mandela was the first African to be elected president of South Africa in the new multiracial elections of 1994. His presidency, which ended in 1999, set the stage for a multiracial society. The country is still working through the ramifications of all those years of racial separation. As can be expected, the transition has not been without difficulty.
South Africa has large, modern cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban, each about the size of the US city of Chicago or larger. The cities of Pretoria, East Rand, and Port Elizabeth are also major metropolitan areas and have more than one million people each. These urban centers all contribute to and support the extensive mining and agricultural activities that provide national wealth. As the country that exports more diamonds than any other in the world, South Africa has gained much national income from the extraction of mineral resources, which are being tapped by some of the most extensive mining operations on Earth.
Large parts of South Africa have a moderate climate and good soils, which combine to produce enormous quantities of agricultural products, both for domestic consumption and export profits. Mining and agriculture have provided extensive opportunities for employment—opportunities that draw in migrants from neighboring countries that have experienced either political unrest or poor economic conditions. These immigrants add to the cultural dynamics of an already ethnically diverse country.
South Africa’s manufacturing sector is not well developed. The country depends on Europe, East Asia, and the United States, the three main core economic areas of the world, to provide postindustrial goods. There are few well-paying manufacturing jobs to provide for a growing or stable South African middle class.
The structure and dynamics of the current economic activities have brought about a two-tiered socioeconomic system. Most of the population may work in the mines, in agricultural activities, or the service sector, but they are not directly benefiting from the profits of their labor, other than earning a wage. These people find themselves in the more impoverished working-class majority of the population. The landowners, mining corporation executives, and social elite that control the service sector or are employed in activities such as banking or the commodity markets are receiving higher incomes and have created a wealthier upper class. Apartheid supported this class division. The current free and open legal system has yet to bring about a change in the socio-economic structure of the population. Millions of poor ethnic minorities find themselves in living conditions similar to their economically depressed neighbors in other parts of Africa, while the wealthier upper class has established a good standard of living similar to that of the core economic areas of the world.
South Africa redrew its internal provincial boundaries in 1994. The large former Cape Province in the south, which had been a former British center of power, was divided into three smaller provinces. The large Transvaal Province in the north, which had been a center for Afrikaners, was divided into four smaller provinces. Orange Free State changed its name to Free State, and Natal Province changed its name to KwaZulu-Natal. The changes were made based on the size and political management of the country that had come with the transfer of power when Mandela became president. The European colonial pattern of settlement was adjusted to represent a more South African pattern of political administration.
Swaziland and Lesotho
The two small landlocked enclaves of Lesotho and Swaziland are independent countries surrounded by South Africa. Mozambique borders Swaziland to the north. Under British occupation, the area of Lesotho was called Basutoland. Upon achieving independence in 1966, the area was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho. The country is rather mountainous, and most of the land area is more than a mile in elevation. The Sotho people have a Bantu background and speak a Bantu language. More than 80 percent are Christian. Lesotho is the size of the US state of Maryland and has a population of more than two million people. The main economic activity has been based on agriculture, but a large percentage of income comes from remittances from Lesotho citizens who work in South Africa. Light manufacturing is beginning to emerge to enhance the economy. Diamonds and other minerals have been found here.
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy: a prime minister leads the government, but the king retains his ceremonial position. Reforming the country from a kingdom to a democratic-style government has not been without obstacles. The country has been subjected to political unrest, resulting in many years of military rule and violent internal conflicts. Lesotho is trying to stabilize its political situation and economy.
The Swazi Kingdom functioned under relative autonomy during colonial times, and Britain granted independence to Swaziland in 1968. The Swazi are a Bantu people who migrated into Southern Africa centuries ago with the Xhosas and Zulus. Swaziland has low mountains to the north with the grasslands and scrub forests of the savannas in the east and rain forests in the west. It is ruled by an absolute monarch, one of the last in the world. Political unrest has led to challenges to his rule. Reformers are pushing for modification of the government and some elements of democratic reform, but reforms are slow in materializing. The small country of Swaziland is about the size of the US state of New Jersey. There are more than one million people, and one-third of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS.