42 Facts A South African Expat Wants You To Know About His Home Country

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South Africa is a country of extreme contrasts. It’s home to some of the oldest known human fossils and the world’s youngest language (Afrikaans). The land itself—though mired by its history of battles over ownership—is one of resplendent beauty. Speaking as a local, you may accuse me of bias. But I assure you that for the hungry, South Africa holds a buffet of landscapes: vast mountain ranges, sprawling savannahs, rambling forests and pristine beaches.

That’s not to mention the cultural contrasts. As with New York, South Africa is defined by immigrants who span the globe from Eastern Europe to West Africa. Want a definition of a melting pot? Try 11 official languages (second only in the world to India with 22). All of this when mixed together, resulting in a flurry of fashions, foreign friendships and of course foods.

It would take several lifetimes to truly experience every sight and sound South Africa has to offer. But as the internet would say, ain’t nobody got time for that. So to help you along the way, here are some interesting tidbits to enrich your understanding of a place that, for better or worse, roughly 54 million people call home.

1. The Original (Still Existing) Inhabitants of South Africa

While many rightfully stake claims of heritage, there’s technically only one group of people who can truly call themselves South Africa’s original inhabitants: the Khoisan. Comprised of two groups, the Khoisan are divided between the more nomadic San and the pastoral Khoi, who still to this day inhabit a dry, desert region of the country known as the Kalahari.

In 1980, South African filmmaker Jamie Uys immortalized the Khoisan in his film, The Gods Must Be Crazy. It may not be the most accurate depiction, but as far as entertaining ethnographies go, you really can’t do much better.

on-the-political-origins-of-digital-dualism-from-rousseaus-masturbating-habits-to-the-front-page-of-the-new-york-times-david-banks-14-638

Image Source: Anthropology Journal

2. The Flowers, Man

Thanks to a combination of favorable climate and soil, South Africa contains the third highest level of biodiversity in the world.

Roughly ten percent of the world’s flowering species exist within South Africa’s borders, including an entire floral kingdom known as Fynbos, which exclusively bloom in the Western Cape of the country. Like its name suggests, Fynbos (roughly translated from Afrikaans as “fine bush”) is a delicate shrub-like plant, perhaps best spotted in its natural habitat. The most famous of all the Fynbos is the Protea (Pictured below) it is South Africa’s national flower and also the nickname for the national cricket team.

king-protea1

Image Source: With our Aloha

3. Table Mountain: One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature

So named because of its flat escarpment, which through a combination of differential pressure gradients and other equally confusing meteorological conditions can often be seen draped by clouds resembling a tablecloth. Between that and the roughly 1,500 species of plants that cover the mountain, it should come as little surprise to learn that in 2012, Table Mountain was globally voted one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature”.

Table.Mountain.National.Park.original.687

Image Source: The Zambezian.com

4. Speaking of Natural Wonders, Get a load of the Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest natural reserves, measuring roughly 7,500 square miles (or, for the less numerically inclined, about the size of Israel.) The Kruger is also home to the greatest variety of wildlife species on the African continent thanks to a cross-border agreement which saw the reserve join with Mozambique’s Limpopo Park and Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park to form one of the biggest conservation areas in the world.

You might remember the famous video below called Battle at Kruger Which is well worth the watch

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Battle at Kruger

5. South Africa also has the Longest Wine Route in the World

Once again, favorable climate conditions along with a history of colonialism has lead to South Africa having one of the oldest wine industries outside of Europe and the Mediterranean. A convenient route linking many of these internationally recognized farms—which produce everything from Merlots to Malbecs—can be found driving through the Western Cape of the country. There’s not much more to say here other than if you’re thirsty, drink up.

wine rroutes in sa

Image Source: Wines Of South Africa

6. Four Inventions the World Can Thank South Africa for Including the First Human Heart Transplant 

Along with its many natural gifts, South Africa has also endowed the world with a fair number of man made ones too.

While you may have never heard of a Dolos, you’ve very likely seen these concrete blocks lining harbors (sort of resembling a game of Jenga gone horribly wrong). The Dolos’ ingenious design helps to break up waves and protect harbor walls making them a maritime staple throughout the world.

More famously, on 3rd December 1967, Dr. Christian Barnard successfully conducted the world’s first human-to-human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

Of equal medical significance was the invention of the Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) Scan, which was developed from a mathematical technique created by two South African physicists and today helps millions of suffering patients see into their bodies.

Swimming pool maintenance woes the world over were solved in 1974 thanks to the invention of an underwater vacuum cleaner by a local named Ferdinand Chauvier. Surely the best thing about Chauvier’s invention though is it’s name – the Kreepy Krauly. Sure, Kreepy Kraulys don’t save lives but in the least, they’ve helped prevent a couple heart attacks.

First heart transplant SA

Image Source: Time Magazine

7. Finding Fuel in (mostly) the Right Places

Internationally, South Africa is leading the way in both fossil fuel and alternative energy innovation. Due to minimal oil reserves, the South African Coal Oil and Gas Corporation (Sasol) has developed the world’s first economical process to extract oil from coal.

While Sasol isn’t exactly saving the environment, by coming up with ways to better utilize the world’s existing resources, the company is pioneering a path towards cleaner energy. Fortunately, on the fossil fuel flipside, South Africa is also a world leader in alternative energy. Along with a growing number of solar plants, there are around 280,000 windmills on farms across the country (second in the world only to Australia), channeling clean energy into the strained electrical grid.

8. Marabi Music: The Inspiration Behind Paul Simon’s Graceland

In the early part of the last century, a growing number of black South African’s moved to Johannesburg in search of work in the mines. As a result of this relocation and national segregationist policies of the time, informal settlements (known as townships) came into existence.

For many far away from their homes and forced into a life of difficult manual labor, life in the townships was hard. Out of this hardship and as a means of seeking solace came new forms of music. One of these forms was a style known as Marabi – a fusion of African melodies and African American jazz and swing. When you listen to those fat basslines and eclectic guitar picking on Simon’s now iconic ‘86 release, just remember what you’re hearing is directly inspired by Marabi.

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South Africa - Mafikizolo - Marabi

9. Sci-Fi Epic District 9 Started Out on YouTube

We all saw it, we all loved it, but what many people don’t know is that Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 postapocalyptic tale, District 9, was initially a short film called Alive in Joburg. The film went viral soon after being uploaded and was critically praised for its innovative use of visual effects on a tight budget. So how did it go from a computer to the big screen? No less than Middle Earth manifester, Peter Jackson himself took notice, offering to help produce a longer version of Blomkamp’s film and as they say, the rest is… “fokken prawns.”

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Alive in Joberg by Neill Blomkamp Spyfilms (District 9 director)

10. The Missing Link Was Finally Discovered in Johannesburg

Just last year, archeologists digging in the “Rising Star” cave system located in the aptly named “Cradle of Humankind” near Johannesburg unearthed what many scientists believe to be the elocutionary missing link. Skeletal remains belonging to an estimated 15 individuals were discovered. These proto-human have been named Homo Naledi.

Homo Naledi NAT GEO

Image Source: National Geographic

11. Talking of Exciting Fossils, Meet the Coelacanth

On the morning of December 23, 1938, Captain Hendrick Goosen unintentionally hauled in his most historic catch. Along with Goosen’s usual fishing fare that morning, was a stranger, unidentified specimen. Following a consultation with a local museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, it was discovered that the weird fish was, in fact a Coelacanth, long thought to be extinct. The Coelacanth species originated in the Cretaceous period – about 145.5 million years ago – and at the time of it’s discovery in South Africa, was considered a living fossil.

Coelacanth

Image Source: Blancpain

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12. Durban’s Impressive Infrastructure

The east coast town of Durban contains the second largest collection of world heritage buildings from the Art Deco period after Miami. Together with the city’s lush, tropical climate and beaches, Durban is understandably a popular tourist hotspot. That’s not to mention the fact that Durban is also home to Africa’s largest port. Through that port, the single biggest population of Indian immigrants outside of India have come to reside in the city and thanks to that, today Durban is a destination of choice for delicious curries and proud home to true a South African delicacy…

13. The Bunny Chow: A Sandwich with a Mighty Twist

Traditionally, Bunny Chow is made from a hollowed out half-loaf of bread filled with a spicy mutton or lamb curry, accompanied by the bread’s filling for sauce dipping purposes. For the non-purists, try out a variation on the Bunny Chow, containing the addition of crumbled Doritos chips added on top for extra crunchiness.

Bunny-Chow

Image Source: HORECATRENDS

14. What is Biltong?

Biltong is a dried meat, eaten mainly as a snack in South Africa. The meat is cured in a mixture of vinegar, salt, sugar and spices such as coriander and pepper, then hung to dry. The most common meat for biltong is springbok, but ostrich, beef and other meets can be used.

You Can get some “Made In The USA” Biltong from Biltongusa.com

#TakePride in your food and #TakePrideInOurCountry. Happy National #MadeInTheUSA day! #Biltong

Posted by Biltong USA on Thursday, July 2, 2015

15. Joburg is the “Largest Man-Made Forest” in the World

Originally just a large grassland, as the mining industry grew in Johannesburg, so too did the many saplings that were planted. Today, the city boasts over 6 million trees and while there’s debate as to whether this constitutes a “forest,” there’s no denying that Joburg is one hell of a wooded city.

joburg forrest

Image Source: BlogBuster Joburg Travel Guide

16. Several Prominent Philosophies Originated in South Africa

Thanks to historical figures such as Nelson Mandela, South Africa stands as a beacon of hope to all that, despite the odds, humanity can find peace in the most difficult of circumstances.

While reality often remains somewhat removed from such ideals, the underlying philosophies that inspire that idealism remain. Three such philosophies born of South Africa are those of Ubuntu, a belief in the universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity; Satyagraha, Gandhi’s belief in the power of “passive resistance” to affect change; and former South African prime minister, Jan Smuts’ philosophy of Holism, a popular notion that has come to be shared around the world and is centered on the idea that all systems (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) are connected as a whole, as opposed to a collection of parts.

Ubuntu Desmond Tutu

17. Bishop Desmond Tutu Is South Africa’s Most Famous Religious Leader And Civil Rights Activist

Bishop Desmond Tutu became a household name in South Africa and around the world as an opponent of Apartheid. He has numerous awards for his civil rights activism, receiving the Nobel Peace prize in 1984. Tutu’s fight did not end with the end of Apartheid. He has frequently campaigned against, poverty, the HIV/Aids virus, Racism, sexism, homophobia the rights of Palestinians to have a state, women’s rights, climate change, the Iraq war, and even assisted dying.

desmond tutu

 

18. The Father Of A Nation: Nelson Mandela

If you were to ask any non South African what they know about South Africa, you will likely get the same answer: Nelson Mandela and those damn vuvuzelas! Well, we tend to apologize for the vuvuzela but Mandela, the Great Mandela made our nation proud. He kept our nation together and was a beloved man. Did you know that both the UK and the US considered Mandela a terrorist? In fact, the US only removed him from their terrorist list in 2008.

Mandela only served one, 5 year term as president. The South African Constitution allowed for two terms. But once Mandela had ensured the country would remain united, he stepped down and focused on his fight against the HIV/Aids virus.

nelson mandela leaving prison

Nelson Mandela And His Then Wife, Winnie. On The Day He Was Released From Prison. Image Source: NPR

19. The Pilgrimage of the Kingfish: A Natural Phenomenon Even David Attenborough Can’t Explain

Every year dozens of Kingfish led by their patriarch swim up the majestic fresh waters of the Mtentu River in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Once there, as Attenborough narrates in an episode of his “Africa” series, “in response to an unknown cue they stop and begin to circle.” Many have studied this phenomena which has no connection to breeding or hunting, and have been unable to account for this strange behavior.

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David Attenborough's Africa (BBC) - Introduction

20. Johannesburg is Home to One of the Biggest Hospitals in the World

Originally built in 1941 to house British and Commonwealth soldiers, Chris Hani Baragwanath today stands as the biggest hospital in the world by land mass (approx 173 acres of land.) The hospital is located in the south of Johannesburg, serving a large area that includes both the city to the north and the expansive metropolis of Soweto in the south. In the 90s, the hospital’s name was changed to include Chris Hani, a leader of the Communist Party of South Africa and Apartheid struggle hero who was tragically assassinated in 1993.

21. South Africa Is Sadly The World Leader Of People Living With HIV/Aids

It is estimated that over 6.8 million people in South Africa have the HIV/Aids Virus. Over double the amount of people in Nigeria who come in second. Almost 19% of the South african population has the virus, which is the 4th highest prevalence rate int he world. The three countries with a higher prevalence rate than South Africa, all border or are landlocked within South Africa; Swaziland, Botswana and Lesotho. (CIA Factbook)

22. A National Anthem Sung in 5 Languages

5 of South Africa’s official 11 languages are used in the national anthem, Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English

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The South African National Anthem (Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika) - With lyrics

23. The Western Cape Has Some of the Best Spots in the World for Viewing Marine Life

In the summer months, between June and November each year, thousands flock to the small Western Cape town of Hermanus to view whales. Hermanus is rated by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the twelve best whale watching locations in the world, which is largely thanks to the proximity of the town to the migratory route taken by all the whales of the world. And for the more thrill-seeking inclined, forget Shark Week, Cape Town’s seal island boasts the only location in the world where it’s possible to see Great White Sharks breach the water’s surface.

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Hermanus - Whale Capital of the World

24. South Africa has the highest Bungee Jump in the World

Bloukrans Bridge is sort of the Mecca for bungee enthusiasts. If trusting your life to tightly packed strings of elastic chord is your idea of fun, you’ll bask in all 710 feet on offer as you steadily descend towards the Bloukrans River. If you’re into majesty over height rather, you can do no better than taking a plunge off one of Table Mountain’s famed cable cars. It’s likely worth it for the chance to see one of Natures 7 wonders of the world upside down.

Check out the view from a cable car ride up Table Mountain

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Table Mountain Cable Car - Cape Town South Africa HD

25. South Africa is also home to the world’s longest underground cave sequence

The Cango Caves, located near the town of Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape, were said to have been found back in 1780 by a local farmer named Jacobus Van Zyl. Although there are no written records of anybody by this name, to this day the first of the caves which measures roughly the size of a football field, is named Van Zyl’s Hall. The first historically recognized tour guide of the caves though, was a man named Johnny Van Wassenaar, who earned his position by walking 29 hours to find the end of the cave system in 1898.

Cango Caves

26. South Africa has the Second Oldest Film Industry in the World

The earliest film projector was a Kinetescope that was invented by Thomas Edison and first brought to South Africa as far back as 1895. Several years later, in 1899, one of Edison’s former employees named Dickson created the first fully functioning motion picture camera. Given the Kinetescope’s popularity years earlier, Dickson decided to set off for South Africa to test his new device. Dickson would arrive just in time to witness the historic Anglo-Boer War, fought between the British and Afrikaans, recording it on film and in that moment inventing the use of film as a propaganda medium.

Check out SAHistory.org A History of the South African Film Industry timeline 1895-2003

27. Some Weird Foods You Can Eat In South Africa

For all its delectable delicacies, South Africa has its fair share of more acquired tastes. Whether you like them fried, fresh, or with butter and garlic, there’s no escaping the fact that yes, the Mopani worm is in fact a worm and in no way resembles any other meat. That being said, if you’re into crunchy critters, there’s no better treat. Hey Hakuna Matata

No less weird, although a maybe more familiar taste are ‘smileys’. Essentially, “Smileys” are parboiled, then barbecued sheep heads, so named for the manner in which the lips of the animal shrink under heat, exposing a sinister smile worthy of a Tim Burton Film. And finally, winning the award for obscure edible parts of the anatomy are Walkie Talkies (the “walkie” being chicken’s feet and the “talkie”, the direction they’re intended for consumption.)

Mopani worm

Image Source: Mopani worm NY Daily News

28. For all it’s Political Freedoms, South Africa is Still One of the Most Economically Unequal Countries in the World

Despite what many might call the end of Apartheid in 1994, for the majority of impoverished black South Africans, not much has changed in their standards of living since South Africa became a politically free country. South Africa is globally ranked as having the fourth highest rate of income inequality, according to the Gini index (an international measuring standard.) Structurally, there are many factors which contribute to this state of affairs. One of the more prominent that stands out is a lack of employment opportunities, with between 25 – 35% of the population unable to find work.

GIni Coefficiant South Africa 2014

Gini Index 2014: Image Source: Wiki: Data: World Bank

29. The Krugerrand A Truly Golden Currency 

The Krugerrand is a gold bullion coin created in 1967 and was the first of its kind in the world that could be exchanged as legal tender, according to the market value of its gold content. Before the Krugerrand was minted in South Africa, gold was usually held in bullion, and with the US dollar moving away from a gold standard, starting in 1933, the Krugerrand become one of the few ways gold could be bought and sold as a currency that had been minted by a government. 

Originally created as a means for encouraging the private ownership of gold, Krugerrand’s can now mostly be found in coin collections, investment portfolios, shady business deals, and every so often a Salvation Army kettle.

It should also be noted, that while South Africa used to be the largest producer of gold in the world, this is no longer the case. Production in other countries has greatly increased, while many South African gold mines have been emptied, or are no longer economically viable for extraction. South Africa now comes in at number 5 in the list of worlds largest gold producers. China is the worlds largest producer of gold.

Krugerrand

30. South African Trade With The United States 

In 2015 South Africa exported 7.3 billion dollars worth of goods to the United States, primarily gold, diamonds, platinum, other metals and machinery. In return South Africa imported 5.4 billion dollars worth of goods from the United States, primarily gold, agricultural goods and machinery, vehicles and medical instruments. The US is South Africa’s second largest export market and 4th largest import partner.

31. South Africa is by far the Worlds Largest Producer of Platinum A Vital Mineral For Technology

The world produced 161,000 Kilograms (354,944 LBS) of platinum in 2014, a massive 110,000 Kilograms (242,508 LBS) of that, almost 70% was produced in South Africa. While you might think of platinum as just a fancy material for very expensive watches, in reality it is a primarily used as a catalyst in chemical reactions, for vehicle emission control, laboratory equipment, electrical contacts and electrodes, platinum resistance thermometers and dentistry equipment.

32. The Cape of Good Hope is a literal “Graveyard of Ships”

The section of coastline spanning 1800 miles that is known to most as the Cape of Good Hope, is perhaps a tad ironically named. In the centuries of seafaring vessels that have passed its shores, the Cape of Good Hope has claimed an estimated 3000 ships to its craggy coast.

To this day, a number of the wrecks can still be spotted along the sea’s length, best viewed at low tide along several of Cape Town’s beaches. The majority of these wrecks happened before the Suez canal in Egypt was built. Prior to the canal ships would have to sail around the entire continent of Africa, the cape of good hope was a sailors nightmare. 

shipwreck

Image Source: PBS

33. Apartheid was a State sanctioned Legal Framework of Racial Oppression

There’s no way to understand and appreciate South Africa for all it’s beauty and problems without acknowledging its history of racial oppression. Following several centuries of colonialism, first by the Dutch and later the British, in 1948 South Africa fell under a system of governance that would come to be known as Apartheid.

The Apartheid government—through a series of laws, rules and regulations—effectively created a form of totalitarian rule that entrenched inequality based on the color of your skin. People often forget that it was not just a black and white issue, but all people of color were oppressed at different levels. The effects of this system are still present to this day as South Africa still faces a long road towards a society of peace and justice.

34. The Apartheid Museum: A Must See for Anyone Interested in South Africa’s History

History cannot be contained in a vacuum and while many of the problems from Apartheid persist, understanding this past is crucial to contextualizing the present. The Apartheid Museum was opened in 2001 with this exact purpose in mind. Through it’s 22 individual exhibition areas, the museum attempts to achieve the ambitious task of telling the story of Apartheid, doing so in a highly emotive and powerful manner.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

35. What Is The Racial Demographic Break Up Of South Africa?

The census of the “Rainbow Nation” includes a self identifying section on race. “Black Africans” make up just over 80% of the country, the “colored” population makes up 8.8% of South Africa, “White” South Africans make up 8.4% of the country, and the “Indian/Asian” population comes in at 2.5% of the South African population. It should be noted that in South Africa both officially and causally the term “colored” is a specific designation for “Mixed Race” unlike in the United States where it is considered a racial slur.

Trevor Noah Explains this well in one of his most famous stand up bits. (I was born A Crime)

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Funny South African Comedian Trevor Noah On Black Americans

36. South Africa is Host to Two World Renowned and Strenuous Marathons

While most tourists come to South Africa to lay in the lap of leisure, there are many who seek out more adventurous pursuits. In particular there are two events held annually that attract athletes from all around the globe: the Cape Argus cycle race and the Comrades marathon.

The Cape Argus attracts an average 35 000 cyclists each year, who come to bask in the spectacular peninsula views along the 68 mile-length course – the largest individually-timed race of its kind in the world.

For the true fitness freaks though, the Comrades is top prize. Coming in at 56 miles, the Comrades is the world’s largest ultra-marathon, which typically sees only about half the initial runners actually finish the race.

Comrades Marathon South Africa

Image Source: Compassionate Africa

37. Gun Related Deaths in South Africa Are Second Only To The United States

A sad statistic that Americans will sadly relate with, gun crime in South Africa is very high, in 2013 Gun deaths per 100,000 people was 9.4 people. (2012)  The US had a rate of 10.2 per 100,000 people. The next highest rate was Switzerland with 3.84 deaths per 100,000 people. Perhaps most surprising is that the high gun death figure in South Africa is not followed up with a particulary high rate of gun ownership, with 12.7 guns per 100 people South Africa ranks in at 16th in the world rankings of gun ownership per person. The study was conducted by the World Health Organization.

38. Eleven Official Languages Makes for a Lot of Slang

As mentioned before, South Africa is defined by its immigrants. Over time, the various languages have fused in interesting ways. In some cases this has lead to a new language such as Afrikaans. One might say there’s an even more subtle original dialect that fits between the cracks of the official languages, forming its own unique verbal code. Below are a couple common phrases to get you started speaking South African.

South African Slang

Image Source: SavoirThere.com

39. Purple Jacarandas Trees Grow in Abundance in South Africa’s Capital

Pretoria is one of South Africa’s three capital cities (confusing, I know) but perhaps more notably, it’s home to an estimated 40-70 000 Jacaranda trees that lend the place its nickname – Jacaranda City. The Jacaranda is indigenous to South America and was first brought over to Pretoria in the 1880s from Argentina. As soon as the tree bloomed it’s purple tree petals, it’s popularity grew and today, between the months of October and November, the trees can be seen spread far and wide throughout both Pretoria and Johannesburg.

pretoria the jacaranda City

40. Trevor Noah got his first break “stumbling onto the set” of a local Soap Opera

Long before Trevor Noah took his seat behind the Daily Show desk, he enjoyed a brief role as a gangster on local South African soap opera Isidingo. Noah recalls how back in 2002, he accidentally found himself on the set of the show and was soon cast in the cameo role he’d come to play for several episodes. Noah went on to host a radio show called Noah’s Ark for two years. Following that, one thing lead to another and, well, you know the rest.

trevor-noah-daily-show

Image Source: Newscorpse

41. South Africa is the Largest Producer of Macadamia Nuts in the World

Chances are high that one of those devilishly tasty treats you last ate came from South Africa. South Africa provides 48 000 tonnes of the world’s total production of macadamia nuts, accounting for almost a third of the world’s supply, making the country the world’s official number one supplier, which was agreed upon at last year’s international Nut and Dry Fruits Congress in Australia (yes, they have a congress for that.)

42. A Sardine Run on the East coast of South Africa might be the largest movement of Biomass in the world

During South Africa’s winter, between May and July when the ocean temperature drops below 21°C billions of sardines swim north, causing one of the biggest feeding frenzies in the world. It is thought that the combined biomass of the sardines and their predators come in at a higher weight than the great wilder-beast migration across East Africa. It is quite a site to see, and the mass swells caused by the sardines trying to escape predators can clearly be seen from spotter planes. In some locations locals will wait for the big move and scoop thousands of sardines out of the sea with nets or simply the clothes they happen to be wearing when the moment comes.

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Sardine Run KZN South Coast


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