South Africa Geography and Prehistory

South Africa Geography and Prehistory

South Africa is a Republic State of southern Africa, which occupies the extreme southern part of the continent, confining to NO with Namibia, N with Botswana and Zimbabwe, NE with Mozambique and Swaziland, and incorporating, in the east of its territory, Lesotho.

Physical characteristics

The territory is largely made up of a plateau furrowed by numerous fractures and bordered towards the coast by high escarpments, which in the past made access to the interior difficult. The altitude varies from 600 to 2000 m asl, with the highest parts towards the S and SE; to the North and NW the other lands slowly descend towards the Kalahari Basin. The plateau, in the southern section, was raised by the tectonic movements of the Tertiary, which formed the mountainous alignments (maximum altitude 3842 m) stretched from the Cape to Mozambique, clearly separating the narrow strip of hills and coastal plains from the highlands of the indoor. The alignment of the reliefs that form the great escarpment, stretched for 2000 km by the valley of the Limpopo Riverup to the Cape region, it is formed by a continuous series of mountain groups (Dragons Mountains, Winterberge, Swartberge), which loom over the Indian Ocean coast. The region outside the great escarpment includes the Lower Veld of the Transvaal to the N, a region consisting of a series of undulating planes, with a variable height between 150 and 600 m asl, separated from the Mozambican coast by the Lebombo Mountains. Further south, the coastal region shrinks considerably; only in the North of Natal, between Swaziland and Mozambique, does a short flat stretch open up. In the Cape region, the coastal strip is plagued by a series of very ancient fold systems that form a system of relatively high hills (Montagna della Tavola, which dominates Cape Town: 1088 m), looming over the narrow coastal selvedge: these folded reliefs enclose raised floors that widen at the Little Karoo and, further inland, the Great Karoo. The Atlantic coastal region is characterized by gentle hill systems and some floodplains.

The territory, located for the most part south of the Tropic of Capricorn and with large internal basins little influenced by ocean air masses, due to the heights that form the great escarpment, is characterized by a series of climates which, free from excesses frequent in the African continent, they do not present, except in the arid north-western areas, conditions such as to pose problems to human activities. Apart from the northern section of the Transvaal, the whole territory has subtropical climates. The southernmost section of the Cape region enjoys a Mediterranean-type climate, with more abundant rains during the austral winter, dry summer and average temperatures ranging within moderate values ​​(20.5 ° C in January and 12 ° C in July in Cape Town, with 520 mm of rain per year). The east coast, bathed by the warm Mozambique Current, it has a subtropical climate, with more abundant rains during the summer season, when the monsoon winds bring the masses of humid air coming from the Indian Ocean to the slopes of the coastal reliefs. The inland plateaus are much more arid, with annual averages of rainfall generally less than 600 mm, minimum in correspondence with the Kalahari desert, and with temperatures rather close to those of Cape Town, as the increase in altitude is compensated from the proximity of the equator. The average temperatures drop significantly only along the arid western coastal stretch, due to the influence of the cold Benguela Current.

The inconstancy and scarcity of rainfall in the internal basins affects the entire hydrography of the country, which is poor and has only two important watercourses: the Orange, which, with its tributary Vaal, drains the entire central region of the highlands and flows into the Atlantic Ocean, marking the border with Namibia, and the Limpopo, which forms the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, before entering Mozambique and throwing itself into the Indian Ocean. The tributaries of these two rivers and the smaller courses do not always have water throughout the year, and in periods of aridity they are lost in the internal basins. For South Africa geography, please check

The natural vegetation, today profoundly altered for production needs, in the Cape region is similar to the Mediterranean scrub, with a prevalence of evergreen shrubs, while the evergreen temperate forest is present only in a small part of the eastern coast of the southern region. The evergreen subtropical forest still covers some stretches of the coastal and submontane region of the northeastern section of the Cape and Natal region. Inside, the vegetation is affected by the decrease in rainfall and is progressively reduced to vast prairies or pre-desert steppes, leaving room for a few species particularly suitable for enduring long periods of drought. The park-like bush of the savannah type is present only in some internal basins richer in humidity, along the main rivers and in the tropical Transvaal region. The typical fauna of the African steppes and savannahs, once very rich, is now preserved in some nature reserves, carefully protected, and which have in the Kruger National Park (over 20,000 km2), on the border with Mozambique, one of the best examples of all Africa, visited by over 1 million tourists every year.


The oldest prehistoric evidence is the fossil remains of australopithecines and the sliver and pebble artifacts found at sites in the Transvaal (Sterkfontein, Makapansgat, Swartkrans and Kroomdrai) and in Bophuthatswana (Taung). Sterkfontein and Makapansgat date to 3.2-2.4 million years ago, the others at 1-2 million. The Acheulean, locally called Stellenbosch due to its oldest phases, is documented by the Montagu Cave, east of Cape Town, and the Focolare Cave, in the Transvaal. Later there are lithic artifacts connected to cultural traditions marked by various names, depending on the eponymous deposits (Pietersburg, Mazelspoort, Alexandersfontein, Stillbay, Mossel Bay, Magosi, Howieson’s Poort). These cultures, characterized by the method of working the stone called Levalloisian, correspond chronologically to part of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic of Europe. Microlithic industries (Smithfield and Wilton cultures) later developed), with artifacts that go hand in hand with ceramics from the beginning of our era. The people who manufactured the microlithic artifacts are believed to be the authors of the rock engravings and paintings, depicting animals and scenes with human beings, present in much of the country. Groups of farming farmers who knew pottery and iron working, probable ancestors of the current Bantu, spread from the 5th century on. AD, from north to south, transmitting metallurgical techniques. The Iron Age is represented by the sites of Bambandyanalo and Mapungubwe: the first founded around 1000 BC, the second a few centuries later.


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