Many people around the globe may only have a somewhat fuzzy notion of what life in contemporary South Africa looks like. For a very long time, the one thing most people knew about South Africa was apartheid, the system of governmentally backed and enforced segregation along racial lines. Fortunately, this is history now, and the nation has been working on establishing a positive image internationally.
The FIFA World Cup in 2010 gave the world a glimpse of modern South Africa. However, it was also criticized for failing to portray what living in South Africa means for large parts of the population. So what can be said of living there in general terms? The country is diverse in all possible aspects, from language to religion, owing to the many, many ethnicities unified in this nation. In South Africa, you can find some of the most “westernized”, wealthy, and progressive facets of the African continent, but also some of its most dire problems. One thing is certain, however: expats will rarely experience something just like life in South Africa.
Prior to 1991, the government divided the population of South Africa into four general ethnic categories: black, coloured, Asian, and white. After the abolishment of apartheid in the 1990s, these categories fell out of use, at least for most official purposes.
The reality, however, still shows the old divides in terms of education and income, for example. Blacks are, statistically speaking, still the most underprivileged group within South African society. Nonetheless, change does come step by step, and South Africa has already successfully begun to lose the aftertaste of decades of governmental inequality and segregation through a series of countermeasures.
Today, around 80% of South Africans classify themselves as black Africans. This is a culturally and linguistically very diverse group, consisting, among others, of the ethnic groups of Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Bapedi, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi, and Ndebele peoples. Whites, who are an equally diverse group, constitute about 8% of the population. Since 1994, the number of whites in the country has been on a slow, but steady decline. The causes lie with the low birth rate and the high number of whites unable or unwilling to continue living in South Africa for various reasons, including the high crime rate that plagues the country.
With the diverse ethnic roots of the South African people, it is quite unsurprising that the nation acknowledges eleven official languages. While it is not the most common first language among the populace, English still serves as a lingua franca between the various ethnicities and expats, making it an important part of daily life. The South African accent is a very clear and decipherable one, so there should be very few, if any, communication problems. You will very rarely find yourself in a situation in which you cannot talk in English at all in South Africa’s large expat hotspots.
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