Southern Africa is the southernmost region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics, and including several countries. The term southern Africa or Southern Africa, generally includes Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Definitions and usage
UN scheme of geographic regions and SACU
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was established in 1980 to facilitate co-operation in the region. It includes:
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- South Africa
The region is sometimes reckoned to include other territories:
- Angola – part of Central Africa in the UN scheme.
- Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mayotte, Mauritius, Mozambique, Réunion, Seychelles, Zambia, Zimbabwe – part of Eastern Africa in the UN scheme.
Another geographic delineation for the region is the portion of Africa south of the Cunene and Zambezi Rivers – that is: South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and the part of Mozambique which lies south of the Zambezi River. This definition is most often used in South Africa for natural sciences and particularly in guide books such as Roberts' Birds of Southern Africa, the Southern African Bird Atlas Project and Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. It is not used in political, economic or human geography contexts because this definition cuts Mozambique in two.
In terms of natural resources, the region has the world's largest resources of platinum and the platinum group elements, chromium, vanadium, and cobalt, as well as uranium, gold, titanium, iron and diamonds.
The region is distinct from the rest of Africa, with some of its main exports including platinum, diamonds, gold, and uranium, but it is similar in that it shares some of the problems of the rest of the continent. While colonialism has left its mark on the development over the course of history, today poverty, corruption, and HIV/AIDS are some of the biggest factors impeding economic growth. The pursuit of economic and political stability is an important part of the region's goals, as demonstrated by the SADC. In terms of economic strength, South Africa is by far the dominant power of the region. South Africa's GDP alone is many times greater than the GDPs of all other countries in the region.
Southern Africa has a wide diversity of ecoregions including grassland, bushveld, karoo, savannah and riparian zones. Even though considerable disturbance has occurred in some regions from habitat loss due to human overpopulation or export-focused development, there remain significant numbers of various wildlife species, including white rhino, lion, leopard, impala, kudu, blue wildebeest, vervet monkey and elephant. It has complex Plateaus that create massive mountain structures along the South African border.
There are numerous environmental issues in Southern Africa, including air pollution and desertification.
Culture and people
Southern Africa is home to many cultures and people. It was once populated by San, Khoikhoi and Pygmies in widely dispersed concentrations. Due to the Bantu expansion which edged the previous peoples to the more remote areas of the region, the majority of ethnic groups in this region, including the Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Northern Ndebele, Southern Ndebele, Tswana, Sotho, and Shona people, BaLunda, Mbundu, Ovimbundu, Chaga and Sukuma, speak Bantu languages. The process of colonization and settling resulted in a significant population of European (Afrikaner, British, Portuguese Africans, etc.) and Asian descent (Cape Malays, Indian South Africans, etc.) in many southern African countries.
Agriculture and food security
At the national level, only a few Southern Africa countries produce enough food to meet their own needs (e.g. South Africa), making the rest dependent on their capacity to purchase imported food (e.g. Namibia and Botswana) or on food aid (e.g. Lesotho, DRC, Malawi and Zimbabwe). Some key factors affecting the food security within the regions including political instability, poor governance, droughts, population growth, urbanisation, poverty, low economic growth, inadequate agricultural policies, trade terms and regimes, resource degradation and the recent increase in HIV/AIDS.
These factors vary from country to country for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo has favourable climatic and physical conditions, but performs far below its capacity in food provision due to political instability and poor governance. In contrast, semi-arid countries such as Botswana and Namibia, produce insufficient food, but successfully achieve food security through food imports due to economic growth, political stability and good governance. The Republic of South Africa is a major food producer and exporter in the region.
Data on Agricultural production trends and food insecurity especially in term of food availability for Southern Africa is readily available through The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and Southern African Development Community (SADC)- Food, Agriculture and Nature Resource Directorate (FARN). However this data might not fully capture the reality of a region with high urban populations and where food insecurity goes beyond per capital availability to issues of access and dietary adequacy.
Urban food security has been noted as an emerging area of development concern in the region, with recent data showing high levels of food insecurity amongst low-income households. In a study of eleven cities in nine countries: Blantyre, Cape Town, Gaborone, Harare, Johannesburg, Lusaka, Maputo, Manzini, Maseru, Msunduzi (Durban Metro) and Windhoek, only 17% of households were categorized as ‘food secure’ while more than half (57%) of all households surveyed were found to be ‘severely food insecure’.
Some factors affecting urban food insecurity include climate change with potential impact on agricultural productivity, the expansion of supermarkets in the region, which is changing the way people obtain food in the city, rural to urban migration, unemployment and poverty. The issue of food insecurity in general and urban food insecurity in particular in the region is also characterized by an increased consumption of caloric junk and processed foods leading to potential increase in the co-existence of undernutrition and dietary related chronic diseases such as obesity and hypertension. In South Africa for example, while over 50% experience hunger, 61% are overweight or morbidly obese. There is only limited data on the other Southern African countries.
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