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South Africa, officially known as the Republic of South Africa, is a large country situated at the southernmost tip of the African continent, with a total geographic area of nearly 472,000 square miles.  Divided into nine provinces and with over 1,700 miles of coast line along the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, South Africa lies to the south of a number of neighboring countries, including Swaziland, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and Lesotho, an enclave surrounded by South African territory.  South Africa is a parliamentary republic with a president as head of state, and has three capitals for each of its branches of government:  Pretoria (executive branch), Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative).  The largest city in the country is Johannesburg.
 
As of the last available census data (2011), South Africa had an estimated population of 48.8 million—a diverse population with numerous origins, cultures, languages and beliefs.  South African statistics show five racial categories:  Black African (79%), White (9%), Coloured (9%) and Asian and Indian at 2.5%.  While Black Africans account for the lion share of the population, they are not an ethnically or linguistically homogenous group. Among the major ethnicities within this racial group are Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho, Bapedi, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swazi and Ndbele, all of whom speak Bantu languages.  The White South Africans are primarily descendants of Dutch, German, French Huegenots, English and other European and Jewish setllers.  In terms of their percentage in relation to the total population, they’re numbers have been gradually diminishing since the 1970s.
 
South African is one of the most linguistically diverse nations in the world, second only to India and Bolivia with a total of 11 official languages.  They are:  Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu.  They are all given equal status under the constitution, but some are spoken more than others.  The three most commonly spoken languages among the South African people are Zulu (24%), Xhosa (18%) and Afrikaans (13%).  Christianity is the predominant religious faith, but there is no single denomination that holds a wide majority over the others.  Some of the Christian faiths include Zion Christian (11%), Pentecostal (8.3%), Roman Catholicism (7%), Methodist (6.8%), Dutch Reformed (6.5%), Anglican (3.6%) and other Christian denominations (36%).  Muslims and Hindus, each accounting for roughly 1.5% of the population, are the two largest religious minority groups.
 
Education in South Africa
 
South Africa spends between 5-6 percent of its annual GDP on education, a system that is overseen by the national government and implemented at the provincial level.  Education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16, and the education system is divided between three main stages:  primary education, secondary education and tertiary or higher education. 
 
Primary education in South Africa follows a non-compulsory year of pre-primary or kindergarten education called Grade R.  The primary level spans seven years (Grades 1-7), beginning at age 6 and culminating at age 13.  Initially, students will receive instruction in reading, writing and other basic skills, with subjects such as mathematics, science, history, geography, social studies, foreign language (usually English), physical education and the arts gradually added at each new grade level.
 
Secondary education in South Africa is provided by high schools, which offer a five-year program of study (grades 8-12).  This level is well-attended in some regions and sparsely attended in others, depending on the socio-economic status of the families residing there, but cumulatively the country has a much higher secondary attendance rate than its neighboring countries.  Following the 12th grade students must sit for the Senior Certificate Examination, which is required for entrance into South African universities.
 
Higher education is provided by three types of institutions:  traditional universities, with degrees available in theoretical fields; technological universities (Technikons), offering degrees that are much more vocationally oriented and specialized; and comprehensive universities, which generally offer a combination of what the two previous types offer.  Currently there are 23 public universities in South Africa: 11 traditional universities, 6 Technikons and 6 comprehensive universities.
 

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