South Africa is one of the world's biggest melting pots of different cultures and ethnicities. The country isn't known as the 'Rainbow Nation' for no reason, and boasts 11 different official languages. South Africa's racial diversity ties in with a sometimes tumultuous political past, and the complex tensions between the different ethnic groups is part of what defines the national character.
Demographically speaking South Africa has approximately 48 million inhabitants. The majority of these are indigenous Africans who are divided into several distinct tribal groups. South Africans of European descent comprise a significant minority of the country's population, followed by mixed race ethnic groups described as 'coloureds'. There are also a number of Asians of Chinese and Indian descent living in South Africa.
South African society tends to be divided along ethnic and cultural lines, to the extent that divisions exist amongst members of the same ethnic groups based on language and cultural values (as is the case amongst English and Afrikaans speaking South Africans). While these divisions create tensions amongst South Africans, the situation is much improved compared to that under Apartheid where outright hostility between racial groups was tolerated and sometimes encouraged.
Travellers to South Africa are rarely confronted by tensions between ethnic groups as South Africans have a reputation for presenting a united, hospitable front to visitors to their country. Many visitors to the country are impressed by the active lifestyles many South Africans lead, as well as the diversity of sports and cultural interests enjoyed by the inhabitants of the country.
One of the attractions of visiting South Africa is that each province has a distinct culture and feel, related to the distribution of the various ethnic groups that comprise the South African population. Urban areas are great places to experience the evolution and emergence of African urban culture.
Rural areas, meanwhile, tend to have their roots planted deeply in African culture and heritage, and provide visitors with an excellent opportunity to experience South Africans living much as they did prior to the arrival of colonists in Africa.
Common threads in South African culture include a love of self-mocking humour, typified by the films of Leon Schuster, an appreciation for the outdoors and team sports, and the importance of the outdoor barbecue or 'braai' as a cultural institution, often associated with major sporting events.