South Africa is one of Africa’s most developed countries; full of beauty, diversity and incredible things to see and do. It held the FIFA World Cup in 2010, is well known for being the home country of Nelson Mandela and attracts millions of tourists every year thanks to places such as the Cango Caves and Garden Route. Many of these things you probably already know about South Africa, but we bet the following 5 mind boggling facts will be completely new to you!
Most Diverse and Iconic Fossils Found in South Africa
South Africa is renowned for having the most diverse and iconic fossils of early human life and dinosaurs. In the Western Cape, the Karoo Region, archeologists have found some of the most incredible fossils of early dinosaurs; with an estimated 80% of all mammalian fossils being found in Karoo up until now. The Karoo Supergroup rocks cover almost two thirds of the South African land, which means there are plenty of places to keep looking. Many of the dinosaur fossils found are now in museums and research labs around the world, in order for us to learn more about what life may have been like before the Ice Age. In 1924, the first ancient human-like fossils were found by Raymond Dart. He excavated part of a skull and brain from a lump of rock, which was later discovered to be a child dating back nearly three million years. This fossil was called the Taung Child, due to it being found in Taung, and led to experts searching much of South Africa to find more fossils.
Since this original finding, there have been dozens of extremely important human fossil discoveries in South Africa. Robert Broom, a paleontologist, headed up the search for this fossils throughout the 1930s and 1940s and has made some of the most important finds to date. One of his most influential finds was Mrs Ples, as it was named; a female skull which was roughly 2.5 million years old. This fossil looked part ape and part human, much like the Taung child, and has given scientists plenty of insight into what humans were really like millions of years ago. With so much yet to explore of South Africa, it is likely that yet more and more human and dinosaur fossils will be found in the future.
Second Largest Exporter of Fruits
Farming is one of the oldest industries in South Africa, having been introduced by Dutch settlers in 1652 and then refined in the 18th century, by the British. Although it was mining that turned South Africa into one of the richest countries on the continent, exporting fruit has played a big part in keeping the country going. The climate is perfect for growing fruit during the northern hemisphere’s winter, which means they get a lot of business when temperatures in Europe are too cold to grow anything. Fruits such as apples, peaches, pears and grapes are grown mostly in the Western and Eastern Cape, where the climate is perfect for them.
In coastal areas and the Eastern Cape, South Africa is renowned for growing tropical fruits, such as avocados, bananas and mangoes, along with pineapples. These fruits make up for nearly 40% of all South Africa’s agricultural export earnings, despite them also shipping out tons of nuts, beans and grains every year. China is the biggest exporter of fruits worldwide, with Brazil, Thailand and the US also making the top 10 list. One of the most important fruits this country grows are the grapes, which are used in the well-known wine industry that South Africa is famed for. It is thought that around 1.5 million tons of grapes are used by South Africa, to make millions of bottles of wine to export. Vineyards were first introduced by French immigrants, back in the 17th century, and have since become one of the most popular ways to make money in South Africa.
There are over 100,000 hectares of vineyard land situated over the country, much of which can be found in the Northern Cape. Although mining is big business for South Africa, the demand for their fruit will ensure their economy continues to grow in the future.
South Africa Invented Coal to Oil Technology
This is quite possibly one of the most exciting facts about South Africa, as it could essentially change the world. After the second world war, oil was extremely hard to get hold of and South Africa was struggling economically. However, they knew they had a lot of coal and wondered whether there was a way of turning this coal into oil. Germany had already carried out some research into how synthetic oil could be made, giving South Africa the perfect starting point for their experiments. In 1955, a company called Sasol, perfected the technology in their Sasolburg based plant. In the 1970s, oil prices soared once again, prompting Sasol to open up two more plants across South Africa. The government gave Sasol a $6 billion loan and continue to own nearly a quarter stake in the company. Nowadays, around 120,000 tons of coal are transported to just one of the plants, in Secunda, where it is converted to 150,000 barrels of oil in a day. The main plant, in Mpumalanga, makes around 150,000 barrels a day which accounts for around 28% of South Africa’s yearly fuel consumption. This coal to liquid (CTL) technology is only set to grow and grow, meaning that South Africa could soon overtake the Middle East in terms of oil production and exports. The industry itself is worth billions of dollars, but Sasol is happy to share their technology (for a price). Other countries around the world have purchased this technology from Sasol, whilst also agreeing to share the profits with them once the plants have been built. Synthetic oil could genuinely change the future of the world, especially when oil reserves run low in places such as the Middle East. It could also turn South Africa into an extremely wealthy country, just like United Arab Emirates.
Two Nobel Peace Prize Winners Lived On The Same Street
If someone from your country wins a Nobel Peace Prize then you’re bound to be impressed, but how about if two people from your country won? And how about if two people, living on the same street in your country, won Nobel Peace Prizes? South Africa is the only country that can celebrate that fact, thanks to Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These two influential people had houses on a street named Vilakazi, in Soweto, when they both won their prizes. Nelson Mandela is a name known all around the world, for his fight against racial oppression. He transformed the South African government into a multi-racial democracy, ensuring everything went as peaceful and as smoothly as possible. He won his Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, sharing it with Frederik Willem de Klerk for “their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is another of South Africa’s well-known human rights activists, which is what earned him the coveted Nobel Peace Prize. He played a big part in resolving and ending the apartheid which segregated South Africa throughout history. He became the first black Secretary General of the South African Council of Churches, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa and of Emeritus of Cape Town. He is also the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as appointed by the nation’s first black president; Nelson Mandela. Along with his Nobel Peace Prize, in 1984, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has won countless awards and prizes for his tireless work against the apartheid. It is astounding that these two men both won Nobel Peace Prizes, working for the same goals, but it is even more astounding that they lived on the same street.
The Only Country To Build and Dismantle Its Own Nuclear Weapons
South Africa has a lot of things to be proud of, but perhaps this is the most awe-inspiring. They are the only country in the world that has built a nuclear weapons program and then dismantled it again afterward. Between the 1960s and 1980s, South Africa put a lot of research into nuclear weapons of mass destruction; as were many other countries in the world, during these times. In 1965, America delivered a research nuclear reactor and some HEU fuel to South Africa, as part of the treaty, ‘Atoms for Peace’. By 1967, South Africa wanted to research plutonium and constructed their own reactor, with more fuel being sent over by the US. The program continued to expand over the next 20 years, focusing on the different uranium enrichment techniques and researching better weapons and bombs. It is thought that South Africa had some help from other countries, including technical and financial assistance, although this has never been proven.
Despite all their hard work and research, big political changes were happening during the 1980s and South Africa wanted to prove that they were a stable and peaceful country. This led to the end of their nuclear weapons program in 1989 and the dismantling of all bombs that had been constructed or were under construction. South Africa then signed the ‘Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons’ (NPT), in 1991. Just before ending their nuclear program, South Africa had six bombs already constructed and one that was nearly halfway through construction. It would have cost them millions, if not billions, of dollars to make these and then dismantle them; all in the name of peace. Being the only country in the world to have dismantled their own nuclear weapons program is something many South Africans must be proud of.