South Africa

Volunteering in South Africa

Stretching from the heat of the mighty Limpopo River on its northern border, to the waddling penguins of the Southern Cape, South Africa is one of the world’s most diverse, vibrant and fascinating countries.

Positioned at the southern end of the magnificent continent, it epitomises Africa’s iconic wildlife and natural beauty. From the deserts of the Kalahari, to bustling Cape Town, the winelands and Table Mountain; the wild beauty of the Drakensberg Mountains and of course, Kruger National Park and its wildlife-filled savannah. South Africa is home to 10% of the world’s bird, plant and fish species and more than 6% of the world’s mammal and reptile species - all this despite being 1% of the Earth’s surface.

Home to 11 official languages, 9 provinces and 3 capitals, plus a diverse range of cultures and customs, this “Rainbow Nation’ is  home to amazing music, art and literature as well as a friendly and welcoming people. English is the main language of business throughout the country, credit and debit cards are widely accepted and car hire is easy, all of which makes travelling around simple.

South Africa is a wildlife-lovers paradise. In terms of wildlife alone, Kruger is one of the world’s greatest national parks. At over 19,400 square km, it is almost as large as Israel and bigger than nearby Swaziland. You can be sure of seeing a huge variety of big game, including all of Africa’s iconic animal species - elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, hippo, and more than 3,000 crocodiles! In 2002 Kruger National Park, Gonerazhou National Park in Zimbabwe and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique were incorporated into a peace park, the Great Limpopo Transfrontier park.

Quick Facts

Population: 55 million
Capitals: Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Cape Town
Currency: South African Rand
Language: There are 11 official languages, with Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans being the most spoken. English is the main language of business but is the first language of only 10% of the population. However, most people speak and understand English.

Time difference: GMT +2
Telephone: country code + 27, international access code 00
Main airports: O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport (CPT) in Cape Town.

Weather and Climate
South Africa has a generally temperate climate. Winter is between June and August. In the south west the climate is Mediterranean, with wet winters and hot, dry summers, and year-round wind! Along the Garden Route the rainfall is distributed more evenly throughout the year. Johannesburg has cold winters and warm summers and you will definitely need winter clothes if you are coming between June and September!


South Africa has some of the oldest archaeological sites in the world. An area in Gauteng Province has been termed the Cradle of Mankind, suggesting that the first hominid species existed in South African from around 3 million years ago. Modern humans have inhabited there for at least 170,000 years.

At the time of European contact, the dominant ethnic groups, the Bantu speakers, were Zulu and Xhosa. The Portugese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias first saw the Cape in 1488 but other ports proved more popular for the spice trade. In 1647 two Dutch sailors were shipwrecked there and noted the fertile soil. Give years later Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment station at what was the Cape of Good Hope, now Cape Town on behalf of the Dutch East India Company.

Britain took over the area in 1795 and, alongside the Boers, continued the Dutch frontier wars against the Xhosa and Zulu people. During the early 1800’s many Dutch settlers departed the Cape and founded Boer Republics in the Gauteng (Johannesburg), Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West provinces and Free State. In 1867 diamonds were discovered which intensified European-South African efforts to gain control over the indigenous people. In 1879 the Anglo-Zulu war was fought between the British and the Zulu Kingdom, eventually being won by the British, ending the Zulu nation’s independence. The British then fought the Boers in two wars, ending with British success in 1902.

By 1931 the Union of South Africa was sovereign from the UK and a joint Afrkaner - English party was formed. In 1948, legally institutionalised segregation based on race, apartheid, officially began. In May 1961 South Africa became a republic and, despite opposition within and outside the country, apartheid continued. Violence became widespread and some Western nationals began to boycott business with South Africa because of the suppression of civil rights. It was not until 1990 that the first steps were taken in dismantling discrimination when the ban on other political organisations was lifted and Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

South Africa held its first universal elections in 1994, which the ANC won by an overwhelming majority. It has been in power ever since. In post apartheid South Africa the overall unemployment rate has worsened and poverty amongst both blacks and whites has increased. However, it has the largest economy in Africa after Nigeria and has a relatively high GDP per captia compared to other African countries. In August 2013, South Africa was ranked as the top African Country of the Future by FDi Magazine.

Travel Hotspots

With too many travel hotspots to mention, we’ve picked a few of our must-see favourites!

Kruger National Park is home to an almost unparalleled density and number of game and this oldest of South Africa’s national parks is a must-visit destination. Car hire throughout South Africa is affordable and there are a number of rest camps and lodges to suit all budgets throughout the park. Driving is easy and a 4x4 vehicle is not required.

Located at almost the most southerly point in Africa is Cape Town, the Mother City, home to soaring Table Mountain and Lions Head, beautiful sandy beaches and stunning vineyards. Flat-topped Table Mountain dominates the skyline and defines the city. And the surrounding area is no less appealing. Cape is surrounded by the bucolic estates of the Winelands such as Franschoek and Stellenbosch. Drive down the coast to Hermanus, a prime whale-watching destination in August and, if you have time, continue your journey down the coast along the stunning Garden Route, driving through mountain passes and along coastal roads. And don’t forget the penguins!

The flat-topped mountains of the Drakensberg (“Dragon Mountains”) form the boundary between South Africa and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and provides some of the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2000, the range encompasses an area of 2,430 square km and has been habited by the San people for thousands of years.

For a great cultural experience, visit the city of Soweto, just outside Johannesburg. This vibrant township sets trends in fashion, music and dance and is infused with the history of the apartheid struggle. Take a bicycle tour, the best way to explore, visit the homes of two Nobel Prize winners, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela and the Hector Pieterson menorial museum - on the site of the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

Getting to South Africa

Johannesburg is one of Africa’s hub destinations and most flights to other African countries will go via the city's main O.R. Tambo International airport. The majority of European, American and other international carriers will fly directly into Johannesburg.



Volunteer in South Africa

View all Projects in South Africa

/gallery/25/malawi /gallery/27/zimbabwe /gallery/26/namibia /gallery/24/mozambique # # /gallery/26/namibia /gallery/27/zimbabwe /gallery/25/malawi /gallery/24/mozambique

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest news.