Landforms and Bodies of Water

Landforms and Bodies of Water

South Africa

Landforms and Bodies of Water

What are the dominant physical features of Southern Africa?

Southern Africa includes

  • 10 southernmost countries on the African continent.
  • 4 independent island countries
  • Two French island territories off the east coast
  • Bordered by the Indian Ocean on the East and the Atlantic Ocean on the west
  • The region has many landlocked, having no border with an ocean, countries.
  • The Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean both meet at the Cape of Good Hope on the Southern Tip of Africa.
  • Angola and South Africa are both nearly the size of Western Europe.
  • Madagascar is the world’s 4th largest island.

Geography, made up of a series of high plateaus.

  • North – largely forested
  • South – mainly grasslands
  • Escarpment, a steep cliff between a higher and a lower surface.

Major Rivers in the area are:

  • Zambezi
  • Limpopo
  • Orange

The longest of these is the Zambezi. It plunges over the Victoria Falls which are twice as tall and wide as Niagara Falls in the United States.

Victoria Falls One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world based on a combination of its width and height. Located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the waterfall is protected by national parks in the two countries. Trails lead to the waterfall on both sides of the border. However, viewers can see only about 30 percent of the waterfall from the Zambian side and about 80 percent from the Zimbabwean side. The Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone named Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria of England.

All along these river systems dams have been built to create reservoirs, artificial lakes. Lake Malawi is the southernmost lake of the Great Rift Valley and is one of the deepest lakes in the world.

Flat basins, called pans, are found in Southern Africa. They contain salt deposits which provide nourishment for wild animals. Etosha Pan in northern Namibia is the largest pan in Africa.

Is there a clear dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean? What conclusion can you draw about the world’s oceans? (Make sure to leave space after any questions you copy down.

Compare and Contrast the physical geography of Southern Africa with that of Central Africa.

Fairly Large / Medium / Small

Place the countries of this region into the table above based on their size.


What is the climate of Southern Africa?

  • The climate in this region is very diverse. It goes from tropical wet-dry regions to arid climates depending on the location and relationship to India.
  • Monsoons, winds that bring heavy rainfall from the Indian Ocean, are common in the North Eastern part of the region.
  • Tropical wet-dry weather in common in the north. Arid dry climate is more common on the Western side of the region.
  • Temperatures range from freezing in the winter to highs in the 100 degree range in the summer.
  • Droughts are common and can last for years in places such as west South Africa, western Namibia, and Botswana. This is where the Namib desert is located. Most of the year the area is home to vast areas of barren sand. Fog, low lying clouds, and dew, moisture that settles in the early morning over a region, are typically the only form of moisture in this region. This moisture allows for desert grasses and bushes to appear during the intermittent wet season. The aridity, the fog, and the mild temperatures of the region result from the cold Benguela Current that flows along the coast. This area is sometimes called the “Skelton Coast” because many ships used to lose their way in the fog and run aground.

Look at the picture on page 715. How would you describe the vegetation, landforms, and climate in the photograph? What is surprising about the kinds of animals that this land supports? How do you think the climate of this region affects life in the area?

Natural Resources

What natural resources are found in Southern Africa, and why are they important?

Country / Natural Resources
Republic of South Africa / Platinum, chromium, gold, diamonds, coal, iron ore, uranium, copper
Zimbabwe / Coal, hydroelectric power, gold, agricultural land
Botswana / Coal, diamonds
Mozambique / Coal, natural gas, tantalite, gold, platinum, diamonds, iron ore, copper
Angola / Natural gas, oil, diamonds
Namibia / Oil, natural gas, tin, zinc, copper, gold, silver, uranium
Zambia / Hydroelectric power, copper, cobalt, gold, silver, uranium
Malawi / Hydroelectric power, rubies, sapphires, semiprecious gems, fertile soil
Lesotho / Few natural resources
Swailand / Few natural resources

Southern Africa is the continent’s richest region in natural resources.

  • The Republic of South Africa has some of the largest mineral reserves in the world. World’s largest producer of platinum, chromium, gold, and diamonds. Coal, iron ore, uranium, and copper have created a thriving mining industry. These natural resources have also helped create a thriving economy, but they are the only sources of income in the area.
  • South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Mozambique mine coal and burn it to generate electricity. Coal used for electricity leads to air pollution.
  • Mozambique and Angola have large deposits of natural gas.
  • Angola, one of Africa’s leading oil produces.
  • Namibia, oil and natural gas.
  • Oil and natural gas must be refined, or changed into other products, before they can be used.
  • Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi use hydroelectric power from rivers and dams. Deforestation in this area allows more sediment, loose soil, to enter the water sources which reduces water flow and the total amount of electricity that can be produced.
  • Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Angola have not made full use of their rivers to provide electricity therefore economic development and the standard of living in these countries is still low.
  • Namibia produces tin, zinc, copper, gold, silver, uranium, and diamonds. Blood Diamonds, diamonds mined in a war zone that are used to support continuing conflict, come from this region.

Should people mine minerals to fund wars? Why or why not?

  • Zimbabwe leading exporter of gold
  • Zambia, largest emerald deposits in the world
  • Mozambique has the world’s largest supply of the rate metal tantalite, which is used to make electronic parts and camera lenses. Gold, platinum, diamonds, iron ore, and copper are also mined here.
  • Malawi’s most important natural resource is soil. It’s economy is based mostly on agriculture. Tobacco is its most important export.
  • Southern Africa has a variety of animal life. Lions, Zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, and other animal are found across the region. Nearly every country has created wildlife preserves to protect them. Tourists come from all over the world to see these animals. Poaching, or illegal killing, is a problem.

Why is poaching against the law? What affect does poaching have on the tourist industry in the area?

History of Southern Africa

  • 900 AD – Great Zimbabwe Kingdom. Zimbabwe means “stone houses”. The Shona people built a wealthy and powerful kingdom in what is now Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Their buildings were very impressive. They were more than 30 feet tall and were made of large stones cut to fit and stay in place without mortar to hold them together.
  • 1300 AD – it had become a great commercial center, trading gold to Arabs at ports on the Indian Ocean.
  • 1400AD – the Great Zimbabwe Empire was abandoned. Many believe the natives had exhausted their supplies of food and water.
  • 1500 AD – The Portuguese arrived and took over the cotal trade.
  • 1600 AD – Mutapa kings allied with the Rozwi kingdom to drive out the Portuguese. The Rozwi conquered the Mutapa’s territory and ruled it until the early 1800s.
  • 1800 AD – the territory became part of the Zulu Empire in what is now South Africa. Shaka, the Zulu leader united his people.
  • 1828 AD – Shaka was killed. The empire continued until
  • 1879 AD – the empire was destroyed by the British.
  • 1600 AD – 1800AD – a series of kingdoms rose and fell on Madagascar. Many were influenced by the Muslim and Arab culture.
  • 1800 AD – the king of Madagascar allied with the British to keep the French out.
  • 1895 AD – Madagascar became a French possession.

Late 1400s: Mutapa empire thrives on gold trade with China and India
1500s: Portuguese take over empire and gold trade
Late 1600s: Rozwi kingdom conquers Mutapa territory
Early 1800s: Rozwi kingdom becomes part of Zulu empire under Shaka
1879: British destroy Zulu empire in Zulu War

Which outsiders traded with Southern Africans before the Europeans arrived?

European Colonies

How did Southern Africa come under European control?

  • 1500 AD – Portugal and other countries started settlements along the African coast. Eventually, Europeans became interested in exploiting, to use a person, resource, or situation unfairly and selfishly, the region’s natural resources.
  • 1652 AD – The Dutch founded Cape Colony on the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of what is now South Africa. They grew wheat and raised sheep and cattle. Enslaved people from India, Southeast Asia, and other parts of Africa did the work. By the late 1700s, the Dutch had been defeated. The Dutch became known as the Boers, the Dutch word for farmers.
  • Wars in Europe gave Britain control of Cape Colony in the early 1800s. Thousands of British settlers soon arrived. 1830s, thousands of Boers migrated north of the Orange River in the Great Trek. 1860s, diamonds were discovered. 1886, they found the world’s largest gold deposits. 1899, the Boer war occurred for control of these resources between the Dutch and the British. 1910, Britain allowed the Boer colonies to join Cape Colony. They formed the independent Union of South Africa.
  • The native Africans did not like the Boers and British moving into their lands. By the late 1700s, the African’s had been defeated.
  • 1884, the great conference in Germany where the European powers agreed to divide the continent among themselves.
  • Look at the chart. Which European country claimed the most territory in Southern Africa in the 1800s?
  • Do you think the European countries had the right to take control of Southern Africa? Why or Why not?
  • European control of Southern Africa continued for about 80 years. 1960s, colonies began to gain independence from Europe and established self-rule.

Independence and Equal Rights

What challenges did Southern Africans face in regaining freedom and self-rule?

  • 1960 – Madagascar became the first Southern African colony to gain independence.
  • It was followed by most of the British colonies over the next few years.

Time Line of Independence

1910 – South Africa / 1960 – Madagascar / 1964 – Malawi and Zambia / 1966 – Botswana and Lesotho / 1968 – Swaziland and Mauritius
1976 – Seychelles / 1975 – Angola and Mozambique / 1979 – Zimbabwe / 1990 - Namibia
  • Portugal, however, refused to grant its colonies independence.
  • 1975 – Angola and Mozambique gained their independence. Wars continued to rage in this region for many years. Mozambique until 1994, Angola until 2002.
  • Rhodesia gained independence after many years of guerilla war against their white rulers. 1979 – Robert Mugabe was elected president. The name of the was changed to Zimbabwe.
  • South Africa on the other hand stayed under the control of the white minority by limiting rights to the black population. The English controlled the government until the end of World War II. 60,000 black miners led a strike that frightened the white rulers. Afrikaner government was elected and promised to take action. Afrikaners are the descendants of the Boers.
  • The new government created a system of apartheid – Afrikaans world meaning “apartness.” Laws forced black Africans to live in areas called “homelands.” They limited the educational and economic opportunities as well s the political rights of the black majority. They also denied the black majority the right to vote. The African National Congress (ANC) began a campaign of civil disobedience, disobeying laws as a means of protest. Armed conflict soon erupted. In 1962, ANC leader Nelson Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life in prison.
  • When other countries took notice of what was going on in South Africa, they placed embargos, or bans on trade, on South Africa. 1989, the president was forced to resign. Apartheid laws began to be repealed, called back. Mandela was released from prison in 1991. 1993, a new constitution gave all South Africans the right to vote, and elected Nelson Mandela president in 1994.

Why do you think the South African government created the apartheid system?

The People of the Region

Where do the people live in Southern Africa?

Populations in the region vary widely.

  • Fewer than 2 million people live in Lesotho and
  • South Africa has 49 million people, the region’s largest population. Most people live in cities. It is the most industrialized nation.
  • Angola has 16 million people. Most people live in cities.
  • Malawi, the most densely populated country, more than 250 people per square mile. It is the most rural country. Only 20% of its people live in cities. It is the regions poorest country.
  • Shona 80% of Zimbabwe.
  • 9 million Zulu, largest ethnic group in the region.
  • 7 million Xhosa.
  • 4.5 million Tsonga
  • San, a nomadic people, live in Namibia, Botswana, Angola
  • Less than 2 million people live in Lesotho and Swaziland
  • South Africa 49 million people, the largest population in the region
  • Botswana and Namibia are larger than Lesotho and Swaziland, but their population density is much lower.
  • Botswana and Namibia’s populations live away from their desert area.
  • Mozambique has 23 million people, mostly agricultural along the coast

What group makes up the majority in every country of Southern Africa?

Which country has the most people?

How does geography affect where people live in Botswana and Namibia?

Languages and Religion

The region is home to many ethnic and cultural groups who speak many different languages.

  • Portuguese is the official language of Angola and Mozambique
  • English is the official language in any of the former British colonies.
  • Most people also speak native African languages.
  • When Europeans divided the region, they divided local peoples among several colonies.
  • Today most of the people in almost every country are Christian.
  • Angola – ½ the people continue to follow traditional African religions.
  • There are large Muslim populations in the countries of Swaziland, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.

What types of problems resulted from the way the European governments division of Africa into colonies?

What is the major religion of the Southern African region?

Look at the map on page 727 and answer the following questions.

  1. In which two countries of Southern Africa do most of the people live in cities?
  2. Which countries are mostly rural?
  3. How are the population patterns in Zambia and Zimbabwe similar?
  4. How do the population patterns in Zambia and Zimbabwe differ?
  5. Which country in Southern Africa is the most densely populated, the most rural, and also the poorest?
  6. Why are large areas of South Africa, Botswana and Namibia so sparsely populated?
  7. Which countries are the most densely populated?
  8. Why does the population density of a country matter?

Life in Southern Africa

How do the various people of Southern Africa live?

  • Most people of southern Africa live in rural or countryside areas.
  • Migration to cities is high because of increased job opportunities.
  • Population growth has strained public utilities – services such as trash collection, sewage treatment and water distribution. Leading to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases caused by polluted drinking water.
  • Johannesburg, South Africa, has the most impressive downtown area. Most blacks live in townships on the edge of the city. Townships often have no electricity, clean water, or sewers. The city is a mining, manufacturing, and financial center. At least 12 separate languages are heard on the streets due to the large population of Africans in the city.

How does Johannesburg show the lingering effects of apartheid?

What do you think are some consequences of this situation?

  • Villages consist of 20 to 30 huts. They are built from rocks, mud bricks, woven sticks, and twigs packed with clay. Most people in villages are related by blood or marriage. Men often have more than one wife. They provide a hut for each wife and her children. Many families raise cattle for milk and as a symbol of wealth. They practice subsistence farming. Craftwork sometimes provides an additional source of wealth.
  • Periodic Markets – open air trading markets held regularly at crossroads or in larger towns.
  • Due to men moving to cities to help support their families by finding jobs, life in the villages has changed dramatically. Many villages now consist largely of women, children, and older men. Women have been forced to take on traditional male roles like herding animals, family and community leadership positions, and other actives.

Southern Africa Today