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12 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About South Africa

By Leah Freeman-Haskin

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The Rainbow Nation holds some very impressive records and historical facts, from mammoth diamonds to insight into the origins of humanity. Here are a few to expand your knowledge of South Africa’s rich history and land. 

1. South Africa holds proof of human origins

Just a few miles Southwest of Johannesburg, fossilized bones from hominids dating back between 4.5 and 2.5 million years were found in limestone caves. 

2. It’s home to one of the oldest mountains in the world

Table Mountain, a flat-topped mountain that overlooks Cape Town, is one of the oldest mountains in the world and has more than 2,200 species of plants. 

3. There are 11 official languages

Most Africans speak more than one language, including isiZulu, Afrikaans, isiXhosa, siSwati, Sesotho, Xitsonga, Sepedi, isiNdebele, Setswana, Tshivenda­, and English.

4. A world leader in gay rights

In 2006, South Africa was the first African country and the fifth country in the world to recognize same sex marriage. 

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5. The aboriginal people date back to 300AD

The hunter-gather Sans and pastoral Khoi become known as the KhoiSan and lived in what is present day Western Cape. 

6. 3,000 shipwrecks found off the coast

For centuries, the South African coastline has claimed the lives of thousands of sailors. Today, all shipwrecks are protected under South African law.

7. Largest producer of platinum

In 2014, South African produced more than 242,508 lbs of platinum. That’s more than 4 times of Russia, the world’s second largest producer. 

8. One street was home to Two Nobel Peace Prize winners 

Former President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both lived on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Johannesburg. 

9. Home to the world’s largest bike race

The Cape Town Cycle Tour is actually the largest cycle race in the world, not the Tour De France, with around 35,000 cyclists participating every year. 

RELATED: 6 Things To Know About South Africa’s Soweto Township

10. Discovery of the largest diamond in the world

On January 25, 1905, the world’s largest diamond was found in the Premier Mine in Pretoria, South Africa. Weighing in at 1.33 pounds, the stone was an impressive 3,106 carats. 

11. The land of record breaking animals 

South Africa takes the win for the largest land mammal (elephant), the largest bird (ostrich), the tallest animal (giraffe), the largest fish (whale shark), the largest reptile (leatherback turtle), the fastest land mammal (cheetah), and the largest antelope (eland).

12. Medical pioneers

On December 3, 1967, the first successful heart transplant was performed in a Cape Town hospital by Dr. Christiaan Barnard.

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