What You Don't Know About South AfricaJune 24, 2015

July 18 would mark Nelson Mandela's birthday. This could be a good opportunity to talk about South Africa, his hometown. This is the only country to host the World Cup in cricket, football, and rugby. (Local fans would wonder when will FIFA award Australia the rights to host the quadrennial event, but we're veering off.) The country is located in the southern end of Africa. The northern and eastern parts are bounded by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland, while the western and southern parts face the Atlantic and Indian Ocean respectively. Tourists are enticed by its distinctive features; Cape Town is a must see, where the two bodies of water meet. One must climb up Table Mountain, which offers a spectacular panorama of the metropolis and the sea.

This was the very spot where merchants from Europe were about to embark on an uncertain voyage centuries ago. Bartolomeu Dias wouldn't know what was ahead of him, when he and his crew landed on Walfisch Bay. He was the first European to venture into the Indian Ocean, his exploits immortalized in the epic poem, "The Luisiads". When Portugal's maritime power was on the decline, Great Britain and the Netherlands sent more ships (and men) to explore the southern part of the continent.

This is South Africa's storied past, but you wonder what are the other things to know. These facts may entice you to purchase a plane ticket and travel halfway around the world. Let's take a look:

1. South Africa is located in Sub-Sahara Africa. Many are confused about this term. It pertains to countries lying south of the Sahara Desert, two regions distinguished by the weather pattern. Some will associate it to Africa's colonial past, which is rather complicated. It's better to stick to the weather and how it plays a part in the continent's diverse landscape.

2. South Africa is the only country with three capitals. Pretoria serves as the executive capital, but locals will point out that this northern metropolis is the de facto capital. Bloemfontein is the judicial capital, while Cape Town is the legislative capital. These three cities are far apart from each other, which may make you wonder.

3. South Africa has eleven official languages. This underlines the diversity of the population, but English is a commonly-spoken dialect. It reflects the country's British heritage. Some might wonder if Dutch is also spoken. Not really. It has something to do with the events in the past, when the Dutch East India Company had gone bankrupt.

4. Table Mountain is thousands of years in the making. Volcanic activity and the Ice Age have shaped this peak into what it is. But there's more. The landscape gradually changed after the break up of the Pangaea. If not for fire and ice, then Table Mountain would look different. And it might be less attractive.

5. Mankind's earliest ancestors come from the Cradle of Humankind. Records show the first wave of migration coming from Africa. UNESCO declared an area in the northern region as a World Heritage Site, where fossils of the hominin are found. It's more than two million years old. There are other bones found in surrounding regions, but none as old as in this area.

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