The South African black majority still has a substantial number of rural inhabitants who lead largely impoverished lives. It is among these people that cultural traditions survive most strongly; as blacks have become increasingly urbanised and Westernised, aspects of traditional culture have declined. Members of the middle class, who are predominantly white but whose ranks include growing numbers of black, coloured and Indian people, have lifestyles similar in many respects to that of people found in Western Europe, North America and Australasia.

South Africa’s biggest cities are very much westernised and hold few cultural surprises for Europeans. Handshaking is the usual form of greeting, sometimes in a more elaborate African handshake that foreigners will pick up readily. Casual wear is widely acceptable, especially in less formal Cape Town. Smoking is prohibited in public buildings and on public transport.

The presence of so many diverse ethnic backgrounds certainly adds some spice outside of the main business centres. Rural areas most likely to be visited by travellers include Zulu land in KwaZulu Natal where communities are based in small traditional villages with round huts (rondevals) and a few hustling, bustling relatively poor towns.

In Durban you’ll be entertained by beach-front Zulu dancers wearing full animal skin tribal regalia. A more modern form of culture is the now commercialised Gum Boot dance, performed in wellingtons and mining outfits and developed in men’s only mining hostels when entertainment was scarce.

Religion in South Africa

Around two thirds of South Africans are Christian of some form including Catholics, Anglicans, and Dutch Reformed or African independent churches. Many Africans believe in traditional healers called sangomas, who give readings – including throwing the bones – and provide spiritual and emotional counselling and dispense African traditional medicines or muti. There are also significant Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities. Johannesburg has areas that the descendants of former immigrants have made their own, including Fordsburg for the Indian community and Chinatown in Cyrildene.

Language in South Africa

The official languages are Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga

Public Holidays in South Africa 2016

Date Holiday name Holiday type
Jan 1 New Year’s Day Public Holiday
Mar 21 Human Rights Day Public Holiday
Mar 25 Good Friday Public Holiday
Mar 26 Holy Saturday Observance
Mar 27 Easter Sunday Public Holiday
Mar 28 Family Day Public Holiday
Apr 27 Freedom Day Public Holiday
May 1 Family Day Public Holiday
May 2 Workers’ Day Public Holiday
Jun 16 Youth Day Public holiday
Aug 9 National Women’s Day Public Holiday
Sep 24 Heritage Day Public Holiday
Dec 16 Day of Reconciliation Public Holiday
Dec 24 Christmas Eve Observance
Dec 25 Christmas Day Public Holiday
Dec 26 Day of Goodwill Public Holiday
Dec 31 New Year’s Eve Observance