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Rough Cut: South Africa: The Play Pump
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about South Africa's freshwater challenges and the solutions proposed by the government in its Working for Water program.

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Land and People

Stretching across the southern tip of the African continent and bounded by both the Atlantic and the Indian oceans, the Republic of South Africa borders Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. In addition, Lesotho is entirely surrounded by South African territory.

South Africa has a variety of climate zones, from extreme desert to lush subtropical areas. The country falls within a subtropical belt of high pressure, making it dry, with an abundance of sunshine. Sixty-five percent of the country receives less than the minimum amount of rainfall required for successful dry-land farming.
The population of South Africa is more than 45 million, according to U.N. figures. The average life expectancy for men is 47 years, for women 51 years.

An estimated 5.3 million South Africans were HIV-positive in 2003, but through strong prevention programs led by the government, nongovernmental organizations and the faith-based sector, statistics show that South Africans are beginning to adopt safer sexual behavior.

South Africa is one of the most ethnically diverse countries on the continent, home to the largest population of people of European descent in Africa and the largest Indian population in Africa. The South African constitution recognizes 11 official languages, including isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi, English and Setswana. There are 11 official names for South Africa, one in each of the official national languages.

Although the city of Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa, Cape Town is the center of legislative action, and Bloemfontein is its judicial capital. Johannesburg is the largest city.


The country boasts some of the world's most breathtaking scenery and features an amazing array of wildlife species, including lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, rhinos and many bird species.

Many of South Africa's environmental problems revolve around water. The growth in water usage is outpacing supply, and some 5 million people have no access to safe, clean drinking water. Rivers have been polluted by agricultural runoff and urban discharge, and air pollution has resulted in acid rain. In addition, water scarcity is threatening plant and animal biodiversity.

Because the country lacks lakes and arterial rivers, extensive water conservation and control measures are required. In addition, invading alien plants, brought by European colonists centuries ago, are soaking up billions of gallons of water that once ran through South African streams. The plants consume 7 percent of South Africa's water resources, and in so doing, they are detrimental to farming, they increase the risk of fire, they erode and destroy rivers, and they threaten water quality. The South African government is trying to combat the problem through a program called Working for Water, which employs many South Africans to cut down thousands of nonnative trees, thereby restoring the flow of water from the mountains to the rivers.


South Africa is often called the "cradle of humankind." Archaeologists have discovered fossils of human ancestors that are 2.5 million years old, as well as 100,000-year-old remains of modern man.

The first written history of South Africa dates back to 1652, when Dutch settlers established a provisions station at the Cape of Good Hope. In the early 1800s, the British seized the Cape of Good Hope area, and many Dutch settlers (also known as the Boers) moved north to found their own republics.

The discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886 spurred wealth and immigration and intensified the subjugation of the native inhabitants. Despite their resistance, the Dutch were defeated in the Boer War, which ended in 1902. The result was the Union of South Africa, which institutionalized apartheid, segregation based on race. Under this system, South Africa was ruled by a white minority that considered itself superior. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous people were forced to resettle, and enemies of the government were poisoned and bombed.

The 1990s brought an end to political apartheid when, in 1994, activists were able to extend democracy to the full population. Since then, South Africa has held three successful national elections as well as local polls, and at present, a democratic culture appears to be taking hold.

Despite the end of apartheid, millions of South Africans, mostly black, continue to live in poverty.


The Republic of South Africa is a constitutional democracy with a three-tiered system of government. The minimum voting age is 18, and South Africa holds democratic elections. South African politics is currently dominated by the African National Congress, which received 69.7 percent of the vote in the 2004 general election.

South Africa is an emerging market with a modern infrastructure. Its stock exchange ranks among the 10 largest in the world.

However, South Africa's unemployment rate is still high, and lack of economic empowerment among disadvantaged groups plagues the country's economy.

President Thabo Mbeki was elected to a second five-year term in April 2004. He was born into one of the leading families of black politics and has been close to the heart of the struggle against apartheid all his life. He has been criticized for questioning the link between HIV and AIDS and for failing to join the West in condemning land invasions in Zimbabwe.

SOURCES: BBC News; CIA World Factbook; South African Governmental Portal; Wikipedia; Working for Water.

General Links

South African Government Portal
The South African government's site lays out the functions of governmental departments, provides the text of recent speeches and statements, and hosts a large library of information about the country.

Statistics South Africa
The South African Statistics Council, based in Pretoria, consists of 25 members appointed by the Minister of Finance. The council seeks to provide a body of economic and social statistics about South Africa, which are searchable on this Web site.


Mail & Guardian
Mail & Guardian Online was the first Internet-based news publication in Africa. Launched in early 1994, it is one of major news publishers in South Africa and for the continent as a whole. This extensive news portal publishes more than 1,000 news stories daily in English and in French. The site was launched in 1999 to help promote wider media coverage of African affairs.
This online news portal, in partnership with several regional newspapers, offers full local coverage for the South and Southern African regions as well as Pan-African and international news.

The Issue of Water

NOW with Bill Moyers: "The Earth Debate -- Water"
On August 26, 2002, delegates numbering 65,000 gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the World Summit on Sustainable Development. One of the main issues discussed was the future of water. According to U.N. figures at the time, if current patterns of development continue, nearly half of the world's people will suffer from water shortages within the next 25 years.

South Africa: The Roundabout Outdoor Play pump (PDF)
World Bank issued this report in November 2002 describing the operation and progress of Trevor Field's invention, the Roundabout Play pump.

Working for Water
The South African conservation initiative Working for Water was launched in 1995 and is administered through South Africa's Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. The program leads the fight against invasive alien plants.

Bill Moyers Reports: "Earth on Edge"
In this PBS special about the state of the earth's ecosystems, reporters travel to South Africa to learn about the country's freshwater challenges and the solutions that the government's Working for Water program has come up with.


Global AIDS Program
Under the direction of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator's Office, the Global AIDS Program (GAP) of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helps resource-constrained countries to prevent HIV infection, to improve treatment, care and support for people living with HIV, and to build capacity and infrastructure to address the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. This section of the site describes the emergency plan in South Africa.

loveLife (Kaiser Family Foundation)
loveLife, South Africa's national HIV prevention program for youth, was launched in September 1999 by a consortium of leading South African public health organizations, more than 100 community-based organizations, the South African government, major South African media groups and private foundations. The program combines a multimedia HIV education and awareness campaign with countrywide service development in government clinics and includes a national network of outreach and support programs for youth.