A country rich in culture and diversity, with a painful colonial and post-colonial past but a bright and hopeful future, South Africa has much to offer its international student population. With the biggest and most successful economy on the African continent, it has become a model for other African nations struggling towards modernization. Following a horribly divisive and repressive period of apartheid that lasted for over 50 years, South Africa has also made amazing strides towards becoming a just and equal polity and has earned global recognition for its peace efforts through the work of Nelson Mandela. It is now considered one of Africa's leaders, a role which it has stepped into with grace, having acted as host to several world conferences and being very active in African politics through the African Union. Furthermore, South Africa has been able to turn one of its most serious issues - the HIV/AIDS epidemic - into a strength: it is on the cutting edge of research in the area, and has been the recipient of numerous humanitarian and scientific grants to fund further research and social programs.
The areas of urbanization and sustainable development have been major issues, not only for South Africa, but also for much of the rest of the African continent. South Africa's success in modernizing its major cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town is spurring further developments in research across the globe. In 2002, Johannesburg was chosen to host the World Conference on Sustainable Development, during which the town of Alexandra, near Johannesburg, was touted as an archetype for future development programs. Sustainable development and poverty continue to be hot topics for South Africa, and anyone interested in studying urbanization, trade policy, environmental law, social issues and human rights, the role of politics in alleviating poverty, or any of a number of other topics would find that opportunities for research and employment abound in South Africa.
If your interests take a technological bent, South Africa is also the leader in the African telecommunications and cellular technology industries. Telkom, a part-government, part-private owned corporation, is the supplier of 39% of the telephone lines on the African continent and is the 28th largest telecommunications provider in the world. Cellular technology and usage has also skyrocketed in South Africa. Following the connections of Vodacom and Mobile Technology Network (MTN) in April 1994, cellular phone usage exploded and by January 2001, about 25% of the population was connected.
South Africa also boasts one of the richest and largest showcases of flora and fauna in the world. It is home to more species of mammals than Europe and Asia combined. In the Cape area alone one can find over 8,000 species of plant-life, most of which is unique to South Africa. Furthermore, the country has set aside land for 22 national parks and over 200 provincial parks, many of which are home to South Africa's famous big game animals and other fauna. South Africa has also recently made a concerted effort at conservation, and its knowledgeable park rangers work to provide safaris and other tourism activities that enable visitors to enjoy the beauties of the country while also preserving the biodiversity and natural balance of the region.