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The most widely spoken language in South Africa is isiZulu. The country has a total of 11 official languages, among them isiXhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi, English, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, siSwati, Tshivenda and isiNdebele. The constitution includes measures to protect and promote the use of indigenous languages, which are dwindling with time.
South Africa's population of 45 million is roughly 75% black, 13% white, 9% mixed (white, Malay and black) and 3% Asian. The population's diverse racial make-up generates a fair amount of linguistic variety, and the different groups often say hello and make small talk in languages other than their own. The banter is lilting, singsong and quite catchy:
"Sawubona!" - Hello!
"Yebo, sawubona." - Hello.
"Kunjani?" - How's it going?
"Sekona, Yabonga" - I am well, thanks.
Travelers to South Africa should contact the Health Ministry about malaria a month or two before traveling. There are several types of malaria pills; medical professionals will recommend different pills based on the length of your trip and on whether you plan to visit areas where malaria is particularly pervasive (Mpumalanga, for instance). The pills have a reputation for causing nightmares and other unpleasant side effects, but not everyone is affected, and the pills protect against the very real danger of malaria. In addition to bringing malaria pills with you to South Africa, stocking up on insect spray is also a good idea.
South African Airways flies in cooperation with El Al direct from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg three times a week; coordinating with SAA can help lower the price of tickets within South Africa. Internal flights are a must; the distances are vast and doing the trip entirely on wheels would require a stay of several months.
Israeli cellphones work in most places, though not in extremely remote locations. Local cellphones can be rented at international airports. Most hotels provide Internet access, and most hotels, restaurants and shops accept recognized international credit cards.
Visitors can travel on their own or with a driver (on the left side of the road!); roads are paved and marked, and English is spoken widely enough to make travel uncomplicated. For the small expense of hiring a tour operator, you can guarantee yourself a local expert who can ease long hours on the road with stories, personal recollections and bits of history. Tour operators work with visitors to plan an itinerary based on budgetary concerns and the length of the trip. Operators often have deals with hotels and local attractions; because of the discounted prices they can secure, hiring a tour operator is often not much more expensive than booking hotel rooms and paying admission fees yourself. An added bonus to hiring a tour operator is that the traveler always has someone to help with unexpected itinerary changes. Tour operators can also bail you out of a sticky situation, like if your rental car breaks down in the middle of a five-hour drive. A tour company owned by Amos Ordo hosts Israelis regularly and can arrange kosher food and Hebrew-language tours (commentary on South African and Israeli politics offered free of charge).
The country has two main climates. South Africa being located in the southern hemisphere, summer lasts between September and March. In the north, east and center of the country, summer is rainy, while the winter (April through August) is cold and dry. The south has wet winters (June-September), while its summer weather is similar to that of the Mediterranean. Any time of year is pleasant for a visit except between mid-December and mid-January, when summer vacation and Christmas fill nearly every travel spot with local tourists. A particularly good time for a visit is between June and August, when the pleasantly cool winter is a balm for the stifling Israeli summer. Springtime, which lasts between September and October, is also ideal, with much of the country in bloom.
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