What is the capital of South Africa? That is a question with three answers. Unlike most countries around the world, South Africa has not one but three capital cities!
To have multiple capitals is not unique to South Africa. There are a few countries with more than one capital. And their reasons vary. Benin, Bolivia, Tanzania, Chile, Kingdom of eSwatini (Swaziland) and Malaysia all have two capital cities. However, South Africa takes it one step further and is the only country boasting three capital cities.
That is unique, right? But the decision to have three capital cities was not one made lightly. And it started when the Union of South Africa was created in 1910. This caused a lot of talk about which city would have the honour of being the capital. Different parties had different views on the appropriate city. To spread the balance of power and the branches of government, a compromise was reached to create three capital cities instead. The three different capitals of South Africa are divided into three government bases. The administrative capital is Pretoria. South Africa’s legislative capital is Cape Town. And last but certainly not least is Bloemfontein, the judicial capital.
Decades after the decision of having three capital cities was made, former President Nelson Mandela proposed consolidating the capitals in 1997. The idea was revisited in 2016 by former President Jacob Zuma. Both argued that logistically and financially, South Africa could benefit from having one capital. However, since 1910 and for now, the three capital cities of South Africa remain as is.
The administrative capital of South Africa is Pretoria but the city is also known as Tshwane, its indigenous name. Pretoria is home to the government’s executive branch, including the President of the Cabinet, multiple foreign embassies, and governmental departments.
Did you know that Pretoria is famous for its purple Jacaranda flowers in spring? During the 2010 Soccer World Cup the city was also home to the world’s largest soccer ball. It has one of the longest urban streets in the world and famous businessman, Elon Musk, was born here.
South Africa’s legislative capital is Cape Town, also known as the Mother City, the second largest city in population. The parliament is located here in the multicultural metropolis, as well as the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces.
Did you know that Cape Town is home to the Cape Floral Kingdom, Table Mountain, and a large breeding colony of African penguins? Off the coast of Cape Town, there is also Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.
The judicial capital of South Africa is Bloemfontein and the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal. Except for constitutional matters which are referred to the Constitutional Court, it is South Africa’s highest court of appeal.
Did you know that the author of Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien, was born in Bloemfontein? The city is also known for its rich Anglo Boer War history. In fact, one of the world’s first concentration camps was situated outside Bloemfontein. And it is also the only city in the world with a game reserve at its centre.