South Africa stretches for some 1,500 km (900 mi) from east to west and 1,000 km (600 mi) from north to south. It has an area of 1,220,813 sq km (471,359 sq mi). A mountainous ridge called the Great Escarpment forms a boundary between the interior plateaus and the coastal regions.
The interior plateaus occupy about two-thirds of South Africa, reaching their greatest height in the southeastern Drakensberg Mountains, part of the Great Escarpment. Njesuthi, a peak of the Drakensberg, is the highest point in the country at 3,446 m (11,306 ft).
The plateau region consists of three main areas: the High Veld, the Middle Veld, and the Bush Veld. The High Veld, the largest of the three areas, is the southern continuation of the great African plateau that stretches north to the Sahara. In South Africa it ranges in elevation from about 1,200 to 1,800 m (about 4,000 to 6,000 ft) and is characterized by level or gently sloping terrain. Land use varies from cattle grazing in the west to mixed farming (both crops and livestock) in the center to growing grain, especially maize (corn), in the east. The northern boundary of the High Veld is marked by the gold-bearing reef of the Witwatersrand, which became the industrial heartland of South Africa in the 20th century.
West of the High Veld is the Middle Veld, which lies mainly at an elevation of 600 to 1,200 m (2,000 to 4,000 ft). The Middle Veld is part of the larger Kalahari Basin that extends north to Botswana and Namibia and contains the southernmost portion of the Kalahari Desert.
Surface water is rare in the Middle Veld because the soils, which consist largely of unconsolidated sand, quickly absorb rainfall. Plant life in this arid place is limited to drought-resistant grasses, bushes, and shrubs. Much of the area is used for sheep grazing. North of the High Veld is the Bush Veld (also called the Transvaal Basin). This region averages less than 1,200 m (4,000 ft) in elevation. It is broken into basins by rock ridges, and slopes downward from the Transvaal Drakensberg in the east to the Limpopo River in the west. The Bush Veld receives more rain than the High Veld or Middle Veld and includes large areas of intensive cultivation as well as mixed-farming and cattle-grazing districts.
Between the edge of the high central plateau region and the eastern and southern coastline the land descends in a series of abrupt steps. In the east an interior belt of hill country gives way to a low-lying plain known as the Eastern Low Veld. In the south, two plateaus, the Great, or Central, Karoo and the Little, or Southern, Karoo, are situated above the coastal plain. The plateau of the Great Karoo is separated from the lower Little Karoo by the Swartberg mountain range. A second range, the Langeberg, separates the Little Karoo from the coastal plain. Both the plateaus and the coastal plain are areas of mixed farming.
The southwestern edge of the central plateau region is marked by irregular ranges of folded mountains which descend abruptly to a narrow coastal plain, broken by the isolated peak of Table Mountain. The lower parts of this southwestern region are the centers of wine and fruit industries. "South Africa" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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