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, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, though Angola may be included in Central Africa and Malawi and Mozambique in East Africa. From a political perspective the region is said to be unipolar with South Africa as a first regional power.
Another geographic delineation for the region is the portion of Africa south of the Cunene and Zambezi Rivers – that is: South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, 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.
The region is sometimes reckoned to include other territories:
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, copper, titanium, iron, manganese, silver, beryllium, and diamonds.
East and southern Africa are among the earliest regions where modern humans (Homo sapiens) and their predecessors are believed to have lived. In September 2019, scientists reported the computerized determination, based on 260 CT scans, of a virtual skull shape of the last common human ancestor to modern humans/H. sapiens, representative of the earliest modern humans, and suggested that modern humans arose between 350,000 and 260,000 years ago through a merging of populations in East and South Africa.
The region is distinct from the rest of Africa, with some of its main exports including platinum, diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt 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 (estimated at circa US$350 billion) is many times greater than the GDP's of all other countries in the region.
Generally, mining, agriculture and tourism sectors dominate the economies of Southern African countries, apart from South Africa which has a mature and flourishing financial sector, retail sector, and construction sector. Most global banks have their regional offices for Southern Africa based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over the years, some the other Southern African nations have invested in economic diversification, and invested public funds into rail, road and air transportation as part of a concerted effort through SADC to boost regional trade and improve communication and transportation. The countries in this region also belong to the Southern Africa Power Pool, which facilitates the development of a competitive electricity market within the SADC region and ensures sustainable energy developments through sound economic, environmental and social practices. The main objective of the power pool is to develop a world class, robust and safe interconnected electrical system across the Southern African Region. According to a report by Southern Africa Power Pool, the three largest producers of electricity in Southern Africa as at 2017, include Eskom in South Africa with an estimated 46,963MW, Zesco in Zambia with 2,877MW and SNL of Angola with 2,442MW.
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, African 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.
Southern Africa is home to many people. It was initially populated by indigenous or native Africans San, Khoikhoi and Pygmies in widely dispersed concentrations. Due to the Bantu expansion which edged the previous native African peoples to the more remote areas of the region, the majority of African ethnic groups in this region, including the Xhosa, Zulu, Tsonga, Swazi, Northern Ndebele, Southern Ndebele, Tswana, Sotho, Northern Sotho, Shona people, Mbundu, Ovimbundu, Shona, Chaga and Sukuma, speak Bantu languages. The process of colonization and settling resulted in a significant population of native European (Afrikaner, British, Portuguese Africans, etc.) and Asian descent (Cape Malays, Indian South Africans, etc.) in many southern African countries.
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 the 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 large urban populations and where food insecurity goes beyond per-capita availability to issues of access and dietary adequacy.
Urban food security has been noted as an emerging area of 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 food 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.