Why is South Africa so prominent compared to other African countries?

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I know it is still an impoverished country but compared to other african countries it seems much more civilized and developed.

But even more than that it seems like it is much more culturally prominent than other african countries. I never hear about Ghana in casual conversation but I feel like I hear about South Africa more regularly. It has had major historical figures, movies have been set there, people want to travel there. It just seems like it is more out there than the rest of Africa.

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One part might be bias since it is one of the few countries in Africa with a significant English speaking population so you’ll get more news from there.

The other part is that it was one of the few African nations in the Age of African colonialism that Europeans tried to settle with people rather than just exploit and so got a major head start in development because of it.

European colonies generally took two forms. In some cases, a relatively small number of Europeans simply supervised native labor for resource extraction. In other cases, the Europeans were the majority of the population, having developed land or displaced populations.

The latter occurred in places like North America, Australia and South Africa. As a result, the cultural, economic and technological development of such places was based on the European standard.

In most of the rest of Africa, the predominant population was native. As a result, it had a cultural, economic and technological development of the native population. When independence and majority rule came, most of the Europeans left and there wasn’t anyone left to maintain an industrialized society.

There are other prominent African nations such as Egypt and Nigeria which both have higher GDP then South Africa. What distinguishes South Africa from most other African countries is that it was not so much colonized as settled. In that regards it have more in common with the USA then Ghana. In rough terms the same way that British, French and Spanish settlers started farming in North America in the 1600s onward Dutch settlers started farming in South Africa, the Boers. But also local tribes learned the breeding and farming techniques brought by European settlers which triggered a huge population boom. And just a few years after the American war of independence the British invaded South Africa starting a series of wars, especially after they discovered gold and diamonds (roughly around the time of the gold and silver rush in North America). And although the Boers were relatively well coordinated it was actually the Zulu tribe who mustered the best army and ruled over a large part of the territory and fought the British, even winning notable battles. Eventually everything was under British control. But this meant that you had the unusual situation of a British colony ruling over Dutch farmers, well developed fertile lands, local tribes with well educated and experienced economists and politicians in addition to big gold and diamond mines. And that is kind of what makes South Africa a bit different even today.

South Africa was somewhat unique as a colony because the goal wasn’t (just) resource extraction, but also maintaining a military grip on the country. There was a long period where the most direct route for trade between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meant sailing around South Africa, thus whoever controlled South Africa controlled the route. Even after the opening of the Suez Canal, South Africa was still necessary as an “alternative” route just in case someone ever tried to shut down the Suez. The easiest way to maintain that control involved moving a lot of Europeans to South Africa, and investing money and resources to develop the colony. In addition, the Dutch East India Company that controlled the colony initially basically wanted *anyone* willing to live in the colony, and accepted a fair number of political and religious exiles from Europe (e.g. the Huguenots) in order to grow the colony as quickly as possible. All of these various figures ended up bringing a fairly large amount of intellectual and monetary capital with them.

Hence, South Africa had a *lot* of capital injected into it from the outside that many other European colonies in Africa never really got, and that is reflected in the state of the country today.

It’s just the big and rich. Nigeria has more population, as does Egypt, but per-capita South Africa is more wealthy, while still being the third largest African nation in terms of total GDP. Botswana and Gabon are wealthier still, but relatively small. In European terms, they would be like your Belgium or Luxembourg to South Africa’s France/Germany.

Now as to why South Africa is as wealthy as it is, I would argue the biggest reason is trade. South Africa features Durban, the largest seaport in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s well-positioned to handle intercontinental shipping to South Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas.

I think there are a few factors.

Historically, the Cape of Good Hope was a vital stop on shipping routes. The Dutch East India Company had a major presence at the Cape for that purpose. The Cape has always been a key strategic stop for shipping.

Because of the influence of colonialism, South Africans participate in many sports that are popular worldwode and have, to varying degrees, made a big impact internationally. So that may draw spotlight to the country from those activities.

Also, the impact of Apartheid is major. Apartheid drew massive amounts of negative attention (rightly so) and put the human rights abuses perpetrated by the National Party government in the world spotlight. The world had an interest in the abolition of Apartheid and, I think, continues to have an interest in the socio-economic progress South Africa has made / is still trying to make because of the international knowlefge of Apartheid.

South Africa is unique because :

1) We were not Colonised initially. We were a waystation for boats of the Dutch East India Co. Nothing more. That settlement became bigger and bigger as Europeans from various countries saw the opportunity to create a new lofe here in Africa.

2) The expansion or Colonization of South Africa was due to a breakdown between those who saw themselves as “Boere” or “Afrikaners” ( Meaning second or third generation immigrants) and the ruler of the what had by then become the Cape Colony. The Boers set out north to find fame and fortune but in the process creates many small wars with the indigenous peoples.

3) Eventually, After a series of small wars and a couple of big ones between everybody, The union of South Africa was created. A South African government under British rule.

4) South Africa is prominent because of our violence. The violence of Apartheid where people protesting for equal rights were shot in cold blood and the violence that stood up against it. Also, the violence of our current time which is extremely high because it mostly senseless unlike Nigeria which has Boko Haram etc.

5) We are extremely mineral rich. We have a shit ton of gold, platinum and diamonds along with amazing natural wonders and wild life. Where in other colonised countries such as DRC, the indigenous people were massacred for their resources, our people were strippes of their rights and often “forced” through circumstance to mine these resources.

6) We are prominent because we had nuclear weapons but dismantled them, we have won the Rugny world cup three times( suck it eddie jones), we have one unique biome that is only found here, we have Africa’s only Biosafety 4 lab, we have one of the strongest militaries in Africa along with a stable economy(in the past).

Source: I am A South African and I studied our history.
Feel free to ask questions.

Just wanted to bring this to your attention in case nobody’s ever said it to you before: saying entire countries are “less civilized” is a pretty offensive/racist thing to say. From the point of view of people in Ghana, they have no less of a “civilization” than anyone else; they just may have different values, wealth, and technology in their civilization than in someone else’s. Some other, more descriptive phrases for what you might be trying to say is “wealthier,” “more covered by the news,” “more popular for tourism,” “more western,” etc. 🙂

> but compared to other african countries it seems much more civilized and developed.

Its Human Development Index is higher than most other African countries, but it’s similar to Botswana, Gabon, Mauritius, the Seychelles, and most of North Africa. HDI is far from a perfect measure of anything, but it roughly corresponds to what we think of as “development”.

Anyway, probably the biggest reason why most of Africa is so poor is because it has essentially been used as a playground for colonial powers for centuries. There was a period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries known as the Scramble for Africa in which various European powers rapidly conquered almost the entire continent and divided it between them. They attempted to extract as much wealth as they could from their African colonies while paying very little attention to the needs of the indigenous populations, who often suffered extensively. The process of decolonization, which mostly happened in the mid 20th century, was generally quite chaotic – borders were drawn arbitrarily, and the colonial powers often left hurriedly without making much effort to ensure a smooth transfer of power.

And just as decolonization was getting underway, the Cold War was also heating up. The main powers in the Cold War generally avoided direct conflict as an all-out war would result in mutual destruction. Instead they stirred up and indirectly participated in numerous conflicts between smaller powers around the world, hoping that their allies would win, increasing their sphere of influence. Africa was a popular theatre for these proxy wars – prominent examples include the Congo Crisis and the Angolan Civil War.

South Africa is a big, heavily populated country surrounded by small and sparsely populated countries, so it’s by far the dominant power in its region and has never had much to fear from external conflicts. During this era the white minority who controlled South Africa were politically unified and political activity among other ethnic groups was brutally suppressed, so there also wasn’t a lot of internal conflict. It was also closely aligned with the US, which shielded it from diplomatic and economic interference (e.g. Western countries strongly opposed boycotts aimed at weakening the regime).

> It seems like it is much more culturally prominent than other african countries

Well, it does have the 5th highest population in Africa, and English is quite widely spoken there which tends to increase the amount of cultural contact with other English-speaking countries.

This isn’t going to be a popular answer… but I’m guessing that it’s because South Africa has the most white people and you’re from a western country that views the relevance of history in the context of how relatable it is to other white people.

There are African countries that have more ancient history, countries with more resources, countries with more relevant political events, countries with more notable violent conflicts, countries that weren’t colonized, etc. But South Africa is the only country with a sizable white population. But at least from an American perspective, the only education most people receive on Africa is that the pyramids are in Egypt (and even though Egypt is in Africa, it is usually grouped in with the Middle East) and South Africa/Mandela/apartheid. The other 52 countries are a big blank.

One reason is it has a relatively big culturally western white population compared to other African countries. Lots of Europeans settled there in part cause it has a climate similar to Europe.

Plus a lot of those whites spoke English (and Afrikaans, the other “white” language is also closely related to English like Dutch and German). So Westerners paid more attention to it, and a lot more was written about South Africa in English than was written about most other African countries.

Also South Africa had gold and diamonds, so that attracted a lot of attention as well.