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Rhodes University
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Donovan Neale-May
Chairman of the Board of Trustees


Did You know?

There are many surprising and unknown things about South Africa. Facts about the country that are often overlooked or simply not known. Here are some of the little known SA facts.

Rhodes University

  1. Although Rhodes is the smallest university in the country, Rhodes boasts the highest per capita research output of any South African university.
  2. Among the cutting edge research projects currently underway, is Professor Tebello Nyokong’s award winning work in photodynamic therapy – which looks at harnessing light for cancer therapy.
  3. This year our student body will comprise of just over 7000 students. A total of 1,400 students were selected from over 5,900 applications.

South Africa Economics

  1. South Africa's debt-to-GDP ratio is 32%  (USA 100%, Japan 200%, UK 90%). The World Bank recommends a ratio of 60% 
  2. South Africa sold $1.8 billion worth of  cars to the US in 2010, putting us ahead of Sweden and Italy as  suppliers to the US market. Car sales are projected to grow 10% in 2011 to  460,000 units
  3. South Africa is ranked 1st out of 139  countries in respect of regulation of security exchanges, according  to the World Economic Forum competitiveness report 2010-2011
  4. The South African stock market rose  16.09% in 2010, ranking 8th out of the G20 nations and ahead of all of  the G7 countries (Bespoke Investment Group)
  5. The South African Rand (ZAR) was the  second best performing currency against the US Dollar between 2007  and 2011, according to Bloomberg's Currency Scorecard
  6. The number of tourists visiting South  Africa has grown from 3.9 million in 1994 to 11.3 million in 2010.  South Africa is ranked among the top 5 countries in the world in  respect of tourism growth(growing at 3 times the global average)
  7. Cape Town was named the top tourist  destination in the world in the 2011 Travellers' Choice Destinations  awards
  8. Johannesburg's OR Tambo airport is the  best airport in Africa, according to the World Airport Awards  2010/11. It was also in the top three most improved airports in the world  for the same period 
  9. South Africa’s learner-to-teacher  ratio has improved from 1:50 in 1994 to 1:31 in 2010
  10. SA's population is the 27th largest in the  world (there are 230 countries, only 80 have a population in excess of 10  million). South Africa is not listed as one of the 49 fastest growing  populations.  Ourpopulation is set to stabilise at  ±  50 million for the next 20 years.  Population sizes remain the  same when there are 2.2 births per fertile female.  In South Africa the  figure is 2.3 births per fertile female.  The average in Europe is 1.7.  (The Economist)
  11. The percentage of the South African  population with access to clean drinking water increased from 62% in  1994, to 93% in 2011
  12. Access to electricity has  increased: from 34% in 1994 to 84% in 2011
  13. Since 1994, 435 houses have been  built each day for the poor

Strange Nature and History

  1. South Africa has the oldest meteor scar in the world, just across the Vaal River near Parys, called the Vredefort Dome. The meteor plummeted to Earth nearly two billion years ago (Earth is said to be 4,5 billion years old), predating the heady days of oxygen and multi-celled life.
  2. The rocks around Barberton in Mpumalanga are some of the most ancient in the world - over three billion years old. Because they are also the most accessible such formations, NASA scientists come here to gain an idea of how life might form on distant planets.
  3. The Tugela Falls is the second highest waterfall in the world, where the water tumbles down 850 metres. First place goes to the Angel Falls in Venezuela at 979 metres.
  4. There are 18 000 indigenous vascular plant species in South Africa of which 80% are uniquely South African.
  5. Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world - and the largest green one. The Grand Canyon in the US is the biggest, and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia the second, but both are dry as bones.
  6. South African grasslands have 30 species per square kilometre, greater than the biodiversity of rainforests.

  7. Can mountains be folded? Yes they can, and you can see such wonders in the Western Cape at the Cederberg and the Swartberg mountains.
  8. South Africa and its neighbours are some of the most generously endowed geographic solar hotspots in the world, soaking up just over half of the world's highest category of solar wattage per square metre of land.
  9. Therapsids are the true ancestors of mammals, and lived over 200 million years ago, long before the upstart dinosaurs of the Jurassic Age (which ended abruptly 65 million years ago). Most of the world's proto-mammalian fossils are found in the Karoo - along with a 280 million year old fossilized shark.
  10. According to recent studies, the star-watching town of Sutherland in the Northern Cape is one of the most geologically stable places on Earth, yet it has a 66-million year old volcano, not yet officially extinct.
  11. Kimberley may have the biggest man-made hole in the world, but did you know that the southern Free State town of Jagersfontein has the deepest vertical man-made hole (and that a pair of Verreaux's Eagles breed in it?
  12. South Africa is home to the world's smallest succulent plants (less than 10 mm) and the largest (the baobab).
  13. Lake Fundudzi in Venda is possibly the world's only inland freshwater lake formed by a landslide.
  14. The only street in the world to house two Nobel Peace prize winners is in Soweto. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both have houses in Vilakazi Street in Soweto.

Food and Wine

  1. Walt Disney serves South African wine exclusively at its 73-acre Animal Kingdom Lodge in the United States.
  2. South Africa has the longest wine route in the world, the R62 wine route.
  3. South Africa is the world's largest producer of macadamia nuts and the nuts and oils are exported to countries across the world.
  4. South Africa is the only country in the world where you can order something called monkey gland steak at a restaurant without the risk of a real internal organ being placed before you. It was invented many decades ago by overseas chefs as a pointed insult, aimed at the brash inhabitants of Johannesburg who poured Worcestershire and tomato sauce over everything.
  5. No other country eats as much kingklip as South Africans do (also known as Congrio, Ling and Rockling in other parts of the southern hemisphere).

Medicine and Science

  1. The world's first heart transplant was done in South Africa in 1967 by South African Dr Chris Barnard.
  2. South Africa's Dr Percy Amolis invented the Retinal Cryoprobe used successfully on former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to repair a detached retina. He also removed a cataract from Nelson Mandela's eye that enabled the former president to, for the first time, read a speech without glasses.
  3. Where else is an entirely new species being recreated from scratch? The quagga vanished in a frenzy of hunting in the 1800s, but after finding that the DNA is almost identical to the common Burchell's zebra, the species is being brought back from beyond the brink by careful breeding of stripe-challenged zebras.

Water and conservation

  1. There are only 12 countries in the world that supply tap water that is fit to drink, and South Africa is one of them. Our tap water quality is third best overall in the world.
  2. South Africa also has the world's most progressive and admired water legislation, and it is making a real difference on the ground. Since 1998 when the so-called "Blue Revolution" began, four million more poor people have access to clean water.
  3. South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique are tearing down fences between the countries' game parks to create a 35 000km2 game park which will become the largest conservation area in the world. It will be bigger than Switzerland, Belgium or Taiwan.
  4. South Africa is ranked number one in the world for its floral kingdom.
  5. South Africa's Coastal Management policy is one of the best in the world with the country being the first outside Europe to gain Blue Flag status for its coastal management.
  6. South Africa has the third highest level of biodiversity in the world.

Innovation and Industry

  1. South Africa is the sole producer of the Mercedes Benz, C Class, right hand drive vehicles.
  2. General Motors South Africa will be the only manufacturing site outside of the United States to build the Hummer H3 vehicle.
  3. South Africans are natural inventors, giving the world those breakwater dolosse and the automatic pool cleaner.
  4. We also came up with the first, largest and most viable oil-from-coal refinery (which supplies 40% of our petrol). And did you know that a South African physicist co-developed the CAT-scan, that South Africa used to make the seats for Concorde, and also designs and creates flight control technology for Britain's fighter jets.
South Afica - Good NewsSteuart Pennington is the founder of South Africa-The Good News (Pty) Ltd. Since 2002 he co-edited 6 books on South Africa and established a website This book explains South Africa's position in a global world, looks at business opportunities, challenges & success stories.

Fifty FactsFifty Facts about a remarkable nation. Compiled byt SA The Good News»

To contribute content to EXPAT CHAT- contact Donovan Neale-May.

  © 2007 Rhodes University Trust (USA)