Southern Africa region: countries, landscapes and areas

Southern Africa is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean to the south and east. The southern area of the continent of Africa has beautiful landscapes with mountains and deserts, plateaus and lowlands. Here Africa ends at the Cape region with an impressive coastline and an illustrious history.

To land

According to the United Nations composition of continental regions, the following five countries belong to Southern Africa:

  • Botswana
  • Lesotho
  • Namibia
  • Swaziland
  • South Africa


Areas and landscapes in Southern Africa

The Kalahari

The Kalahari semi-desert covers most of Botswana (about 70% of the area). This enormous sand mass stretches from the Orange River in Namibia to Angola and is dotted with sand dunes, pebble plains, dry riverbeds, grass steppes and shrubby acacias. Lions, baboons, hyenas, gemsboks and meerkats live here. During the rainy season, the Okavango River swells in the north and the water then forms the largest inland delta in the world, the Okavango Delta . Freshwater flows inland, creating a tangle of lagoons and channels in the sands of the Kalahari. This attracts large groups of wild animals, including buffalo, elephants, wildebeest and zebras.

The Namib

The Namib Desert has an area of approximately 81,000 square kilometers and extends along the coast of Namibia for approximately 2,000 kilometers. The Namib is part of Africa’s largest game park, the Namib-Naukluft National Park . Many reptiles live in the hot sand of the desert dunes, such as snakes, lizards and geckos and other animals such as hyenas and jackals. In the middle of the desert there are beautiful valleys, the Sossusvlei and Dodevlei , with high, orange-red sand dunes on the edge, which are constantly recreated in new patterns by the wind. The wind also brings moisture from the Atlantic Ocean, often in the form of fog.

The Orange River

The approximately 2,160 kilometer long Orange River is the longest river in Southern Africa. The river originates in the Drakensberg Mountains near the border between South Africa and Lesotho. And then flows further west to empty into the Atlantic Ocean at the border between South Africa and Namibia. The name Oranjerivier comes from Oranje-Nassau, so named by the Dutch explorer Robert Jacob Gordon.

The Drakensberg Mountains

The Drakensberg is a mountain range in eastern Southern Africa. The mountain peaks rise to more than 3000 meters. The Drakensberg Mountains extend from the southwest to the northeast over a length of about 1000 kilometers. In a bend to the northwest lies the border between South Africa and Lesotho. This kingdom is the only independent country in the world that lies entirely above 1000 meters and is also called ‘the roof of Africa’ . Animals such as the baboon, eland antelope, reedbuck and mongoose live here.

The Kruger Park

One of the most famous game parks in Africa, the Kruger National Park, is located in the northeast of South Africa. The total area of this park is approximately 20,000 square kilometers. The park is named after President Paul Kruger, who established the game reserve in 1898 to protect wildlife. In addition to wild animals such as giraffes, hippos, zebras and impalas, the famous ‘Big Five’ can be found in this park: the African elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo and lion. The park is also home to more than 300 archaeological sites, including from the time of the first Bushmen (the San).

The Western Cape

The Cape Region in South Africa consists of three provinces: Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. Many crops are grown in the southwestern Western Cape, but this region is also known as a wine region. At Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, whales and dolphins often visit the beautiful coast. The capital of the Western Cape is Cape Town , recognizable by the famous Table Mountain with its flat top. A large colony of the African penguin lives on the beach of Boulders Bay near Cape Town. Cape Agulhas is located at the southernmost point of Africa . About 200 kilometers to the east is the Cape of Good Hope , this cape is located near Cape Town and is known for the many ships that have sunk there. The border of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans lies between these two capes.


Many peoples with different cultures live in Southern Africa. The Kalahari is home to the oldest known inhabitants (at least 20,000 years old), the San or Bushmen. They are formidable trackers and hunters. The Himba live in the northwest of Namibia. Himba women are known for their reddish-brown color, which they obtain by smearing themselves with a mixture of fat, ocher and herbs. The population of Botswana is mainly of Tswana origin. The Tswana language belongs to the Bantu languages. Just like the language of the Swazi, who now live in the kingdom of Swaziland and the language of the Zulu. The Zulus are the largest ethnic group in South Africa, these people are known as former warriors. In their culture, dance is central, with shields and spears and to the rhythm of the drum. Other population groups in Southern Africa include the Xhosa, Sotho, Ndebele, Tsonga and the Venda.

Colonization and apartheid

Europeans, especially the Dutch and British, arrived in South Africa from the seventeenth century. They came for land, power, gold and diamonds. This led to a power struggle between the colonists and the local population and ultimately resulted in racial segregation. The whites felt threatened by the blacks because they were in the minority. In 1948, apartheid was legally regulated and only after the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 was apartheid formally lifted.