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South Africa, People

The land now known as South Africa was originally populated by San hunter-gatherers. About 2000 years ago people in some of these communities, the Khoikhoi, began raising livestock when they acquired animals from Bantu-speaking peoples moving southward across the Limpopo. These Bantu peoples today account for three quarters of the total population. White settlement began in 1652 with the arrival of the Dutch, who gradually spread into the interior as farmers. They lived isolated lives, developed their own language, called Afrikaans, and increasingly segregated themselves from indigenous Bantu peoples, whom they encountered in the interior. French Huguenot and German settlers were later absorbed into this group, known as Afrikaners.

British settlers arrived beginning in the early 1800s, and Indians came in the late 19th and early 20th century. The majority of Indians were brought as indentured laborers to work on the sugar plantations of Natal. A substantial Portuguese minority developed in the late 20th century. The offspring of whites and slaves imported by the Dutch from Southeast Asia and other parts of Africa, and later the offspring of whites and Bantu peoples, created a sizable Coloured, or mixed-race, population.

According to the 1991 census, the population of South Africa was 30,986,918, an increase of 11 percent over the 1985 figure. These figures exclude the four nominally independent bantustans of Transkei, Venda, Bophuthatswana, and Ciskei, which would together add about 7.5 million to the population figure. The four bantustans were reincorporated into South Africa in 1994 along with the six other bantustans. The estimated total population of South Africa in 2002 was 43,647,658. Rates of population growth slowed in the 1980s and 1990s; in 2002 it was 0 percent a year..

The overall population density (2002 estimate estimate) is 36 persons per sq km (93 per sq mi), but this varies widely across the country. Rural population densities are highest in the former bantustans and much lower in historically white-populated areas of commercial farming, especially in semiarid western areas. Some 50 percent of the population is urban, including most of the whites, Asians, and Coloured people.

The largest cities in South Africa (1995 estimate) include Cape Town (2,727,000), the legislative capital; Durban (1,264,000), the country’s leading port; Johannesburg (2,172,000 ), the commercial capital and metropolis of the goldfields; Pretoria (1,314,000), the administrative capital; and Port Elizabeth (1,035,000), an industrial city and major port. Although it is not a city, Soweto, a township outside Johannesburg, is one of the largest communities in South Africa. The 1991 census counted 596,632 residents in Soweto, but estimates have placed the population at as many as 2 million.

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