South Africa or Southern Africa: what’s the difference?
The quick answer: ‘South Africa’ refers to just one country. ‘Southern Africa’ refers to multiple countries in the south of Africa.
The African continent is massive: it’s around 1.25 times bigger than North America, and contains over 50 countries. That’s why it can be helpful to segment it into geographical regions, such as West Africa and East Africa. However, when it comes to the south, we run into a problem …
When we talk about ‘West Africa’, it’s widely understood that this refers to a number of countries. But when we say ‘South Africa’, people can misunderstand what exactly is being described. ‘South Africa’ is the name of just one country in the south of Africa. (Thanks, name-creators!) The country of South Africa doesn’t cover the full geographic south of Africa.
To get around this confusion, we need to correctly differentiate the terms ‘southern Africa’ and ‘South Africa’ in the way we speak about them. As a general rule: Use the term ‘South Africa’ when referring to the single country. Use ‘southern Africa’ when referring to the region. Southern Africa usually includes the countries of: Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Common mistakes: South Africa or Southern Africa
Here are some examples of common mistakes that people make when talking about the south of Africa. Why does it matter? Because at the very least, it’s about showing respect to the millions of people who live there.
- DON’T SAY: Botswana is in South Africa. DO SAY: Botswana is in southern Africa.
- DON’T SAY: Meerkats only live in deserts and grasslands in South Africa. DO SAY: Meerkats only live in deserts and grasslands in southern Africa.
- DON’T SAY: When I was in South Africa, I visited Victoria Falls. DO SAY: When I was in southern Africa, I visited Victoria Falls.
- DON’T SAY: Zimbabwe is a region in South Africa. DO SAY: Zimbabwe is a country in southern Africa.
- DON’T SAY: The Zambezi River is in the southern tip of Africa. DO SAY: The Zambezi River is in the south of Africa.
Now, when we talk about countries in the SADC region, that’s a story for another day …
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