The Republic of South Africa is bordered on the north by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Swaziland; on the east and south by the Indian Ocean; and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. Lesotho forms an enclave in the south-eastern part of the country. It stretches 1 500 km from east to west and 1 000 km from north to south, and has an area of 1 221 040 km2.
An interior plateau occupies about two-thirds of South Africa. The Great Escarpment, a semicircular series of cliffs and mountains, rims the Plateau and drops steeply to the coastal regions. The escarpment reaches over 3 375 meters above sea level at Champagne Castle in the Drakensberg mountain range in the east.
The Plateau slopes gradually downward to the north-west from the Great Escarpment. It has three sub-regions. The High Veld occupies the entire Plateau except for the north-western and north-eastern corners. It lies mostly between 1 200 and 1 800 meters above sea level and is a continuation of the largely of flat, grass-covered land that extends through central Africa. In places, flat-topped mountains rise above the plain. The Middle Veld, in the north-western plateau, averages between 600 and 1 200 meters above sea level. It is flat and dry. The Transvaal Basin forms the Plateau's north-eastern part. It is largely a rolling grassland with scattered thorn trees, averaging less than 1 200 m above sea level.
A narrow coastal strip extends along the south-east coast from Mozambique to the Cape Mountains Region. The Cape Mountains extend from the coastal strip to the Namib Desert. Between the mountains and the Great Escarpment lie two dry plateaus--the Little Karoo and the Great Karoo.
The Namib desert lies along the Atlantic Ocean north of the Cape Mountains Region and extends into Namibia. The Kalahari desert lies north of the Middle Veld and extends into the country of Botswana.
The chief rivers are the Orange, Vaal, and Limpopo. The Orange is the longest, stretching about 2 100 km from Lesotho, where it is called the Senqu, to the Atlantic. The Vaal rises in the north-east, near Swaziland, and flows about 1 200 km south-westward to its confluence with the Orange. The Limpopo rises further north, flowing north-eastward to the Botswana border and then eastward along the Botswana and Zimbabwe borders until it enters Mozambique, where it empties into the Indian Ocean. Many shorter rivers flow south to the Indian Ocean, including the Sondags, Great Fish, and Kei in the Eastern Cape, and the Tugela in KwaZulu-Natal.
South Africa generally enjoys a warm temperate climate. Average temperature ranges in January are 21° to 27° C in Durban, 14° to 26° C in Johannesburg, and 16° to 26° C in Cape Town. In July the temperature ranges are 11° to 22° C in Durban, 4° to 17° C in Johannesburg, and 7° to 17° C in Cape Town. Of course, temperatures are significantly cooler in the higher mountains. Rainfall is unpredictable. Much of the country has an annual rainfall of less than 600 mm with as little as 200 mm in desert areas. Rain falls primarily in summer between October and April, although the extreme south-west has a Mediterranean climate with westerly winds from the Atlantic bringing winter rainfall, mostly between June and September.
The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.