How many countries are in southern Africa? From Madagascar and Malawi to Zambia and Zimbabwe, here’s everything you need to know!
Southern Africa encompasses a diverse range of countries, each with its own historical and geopolitical narrative. The southernmost region of Africa is typically defined by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), an organisation which includes 16 countries. These are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The region’s character is marked by a complex history of colonialism, with European powers such as Britain, Portugal, and Germany playing significant roles. The struggle against colonial rule and apartheid, especially in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, is a critical part of the region’s recent history, shaping its current political and social landscape, and defining borders to this day.
If you’d love to know how many countries are in Southern Africa, then keep reading, as we define the region’s geopolitical limits.
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How many countries are in Southern Africa?
Southern Africa comprises the countries located in the southernmost part of the African continent. Sounds simple right? Annoyingly, however, Southern Africa can be defined differently in various contexts, leading to variations in the number of countries included in this region.
At a minimum, the conventional geographical definition typically includes 10 countries: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
However, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional economic community established to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development, offers a broader definition.
The SADC encompasses 16 member states: Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
This expanded definition includes countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Tanzania, which are not traditionally considered part of Southern Africa in a strictly geographical sense.
To confuse matters even further, the United Nations geoscheme division of the world tries to claim that there are only five countries in Southern Africa. They only name Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa within the Southern African region, but for practical purposes, this list is far too small and only really focuses on the political and historical influence of South Africa, the country, rather than the wider geographical sphere.
This distinction in definitions arises from different criteria used to categorise countries. While the geographical definition focuses on the physical location at the southern tip of Africa, the SADC’s broader scope is influenced by political, economic, and social factors that foster collaboration and integration among its member states.
List of the countries in Southern Africa
I like to look at the broadest scope of countries that could be included in a geopolitical region, which is why I tend to prefer the wider definition offered by the SADC. The 16 countries that are members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and are often considered part of Southern Africa in this broader context are as follows:
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)
- South Africa
This list includes countries that are geographically in Southern Africa as well as others that are part of the SADC and are considered part of the region in a broader economic and political sense.
What’s the United Nations’ definition of Southern Africa?
The United Nations, for statistical and analytical purposes, groups the world’s countries into various regional classifications through its United Nations Geoscheme. According to this scheme, Southern Africa, as defined by the United Nations, only includes the following five countries:
- Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland)
- South Africa
This definition is primarily used for statistical analysis and data collection purposes by various UN bodies. It’s important to note that the UN’s regional groupings differ from geographical or cultural definitions of regions, as they are often based on considerations relevant to the work and statistical needs of the United Nations. For this reason, I don’t tend to use the UN definition for Southern Africa, as it’s just far too small.
So, where is Southern Africa?
As a geographical region, Southern Africa stretches across the southernmost part of the African continent. The region is framed by Central Africa to the north, marking where Southern Africa begins. To the east, it is bounded by the Indian Ocean, and to the west, by the Atlantic Ocean. Its southern boundary is defined by the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
The region’s landscape is diverse, ranging from the vast expanses of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana to the mountainous regions of Lesotho, notable for its high altitude. The Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa and the highlands of Zimbabwe and Malawi also contribute to the varied topography.
Southern Africa’s river systems, including the Zambezi, Limpopo, and Orange Rivers, are key geographical features. The Zambezi is especially renowned for Victoria Falls, while Lake Malawi, shared by Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania, is a significant body of water in the area.
The climate of Southern Africa varies from the arid deserts of Namibia and Botswana to the more subtropical regions along the eastern coastline. This variation is characterised by differences in rainfall, temperature, and humidity.
Rich in biodiversity, Southern Africa hosts numerous national parks and wildlife reserves, supporting a range of ecosystems from savannas and grasslands to forests and wetlands. The region is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including the Big Five.
What is the Southern African Development Community (SADC)?
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a regional organisation focused on promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development in Southern Africa. Established on 17th August 1992, SADC evolved from the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), which was formed in 1980. Its primary goal is to foster collaboration and integration among its member states.
Key aspects of SADC include:
- Member States: SADC consists of 16 member countries from Southern Africa, including Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
- Objectives: The main objectives of SADC are to achieve economic development, peace and security, and growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration.
- Areas of Focus: SADC works in various sectors including agriculture and food security, infrastructure and services, trade, industry, finance, and investment, social and human development, natural resources and environment, politics, defence, and security.
- Initiatives and Projects: The community implements various projects and initiatives aimed at improving regional economic integration, industrialisation, and infrastructural development. This includes improving transportation and communication networks, energy resources, and facilitating free trade among member countries.
- Governance: SADC has a governance structure that includes a Summit of Heads of State or Government, a Council of Ministers, a Secretariat, and various committees and advisory bodies. The Summit, which is the supreme policy-making institution of SADC, sets the policy direction and controls the functions of the community.
SADC plays a critical role in coordinating development projects and policies in Southern Africa, aiming to create a region where economic well-being, improvement of the standards of living and quality of life, freedom and social justice, and peace and security are achieved.
Is Southern Africa the same as South Africa?
Southern Africa and South Africa are not the same. South Africa is a single, sovereign country within the larger region of Southern Africa.
- South Africa: This is a sovereign nation located at the southern tip of the African continent. It’s known for its diverse culture, languages, and significant historical events, such as the struggle against apartheid. South Africa has its own distinct government, economy, and demographics.
- Southern Africa: This refers to a geographical region that includes multiple countries, among them South Africa. Southern Africa typically encompasses countries like Angola, Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, in addition to South Africa itself.
While South Africa is an integral part of the Southern African region, it represents just one of the countries within this larger geographical area.
Are Eswatini and Lesotho in South Africa?
Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) and Lesotho are not part of South Africa; they are independent, sovereign countries. However, both are entirely landlocked within the geographic region of Southern Africa and share borders with South Africa.
- Lesotho: Lesotho is a unique country in that it is entirely surrounded by South Africa. It is known for its mountainous topography and is the only country in the world that is entirely above 1,000 meters in elevation.
- Eswatini: Eswatini is bordered by South Africa to the west and Mozambique to the east. Despite its small size, Eswatini maintains its own distinct cultural identity and government.
Both countries, while geographically located within or next to South Africa, maintain their own independent political systems, economies and cultural identities.
Where does Central Africa begin?
Central Africa, as a geographical region on the African continent, begins north of Southern Africa. The delineation between Central and Southern Africa is not strictly defined by precise geographical coordinates but rather by a transition in physical geography, cultural regions, and political boundaries.
Generally, the northern boundary of Southern Africa and the southern boundary of Central Africa can be considered around the countries that border the southernmost nations of Southern Africa. This includes:
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The DRC, a large country in Central Africa, shares its southern border with Zambia and Angola, both of which are part of Southern Africa. The upper parts of the DRC are often considered the beginning of Central Africa.
- Tanzania: While Tanzania is sometimes included in the definition of Southern Africa, particularly in the context of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), geographically and culturally, it often marks the transition zone between Southern and Central Africa, especially its northern regions.
This boundary is more conceptual than physical, reflecting changes in ecosystems, ethnic compositions, languages, and historical influences. The transition from Southern to Central Africa is therefore marked more by these gradual changes than by a clear-cut geographical line.
Where does East Africa begin?
East Africa, as a geographical region, begins to the east of Central Africa and north of Southern Africa. It’s defined by both its physical geography and cultural attributes. The region typically includes countries along the eastern coast of Africa and some that are slightly inland. The boundaries of East Africa are not strictly demarcated by specific geographical coordinates but rather are understood in terms of regional characteristics and proximity.
Generally, East Africa is considered to include the following countries:
- Coastal Nations: These are countries along the eastern coast of Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and Mozambique. Tanzania, as mentioned earlier, often serves as a transition zone, being part of both Eastern and Southern African regions, depending on the context.
- Island Nations: The region also encompasses island nations in the Indian Ocean, such as Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, and Mauritius.
- Inland Countries: Some countries that are not directly on the East African coast but are considered part of the region due to cultural and historical ties include Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan.
The Great Rift Valley, a significant geological feature that runs through much of East Africa, is a defining characteristic of the region’s physical geography. This area is also known for its diverse ecosystems, ranging from the savannas of Kenya and Tanzania to the highlands of Ethiopia and Rwanda.
So, how many countries are in Southern Africa?
Whether you consider the United Nations concise list of five countries, the broader expanse of the 16-nation Southern African Development Community, or the geographical grouping of 10 countries, each perspective offers its own unique insights into what defines Southern Africa.
This diversity in definitions underscores the interplay of geography, politics, and regional cooperation in shaping the boundaries and character of the southernmost region in Africa.
FAQ: How many countries are in Southern Africa?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in Southern Africa?’:
Q1. How many countries are in Southern Africa according to the United Nations?
The United Nations recognises only five countries in Southern Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa.
Q2. What is the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and how many countries does it include?
The SADC is a regional economic community aiming to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth in Southern Africa. It includes 16 member states.
Q3. Can you list the countries that are members of the SADC?
The SADC member states are Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Q4. What is the commonly accepted geographical definition of Southern Africa?
Geographically, Southern Africa typically includes 10 countries: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Q5. Why are there different definitions of Southern Africa?
Different definitions arise due to various criteria such as geographical location, political alliances, and historical connections. The UN definition is based on statistical convenience, SADC focuses on regional cooperation, and the geographical definition considers physical location.
Q6. Are Lesotho and Eswatini part of South Africa?
No, Lesotho and Eswatini are independent, sovereign nations, although both are landlocked within the geographic region of Southern Africa.
Q7. Does the definition of Southern Africa vary for different organisations?
Yes, organisations like the United Nations, African Union, and SADC may define Southern Africa differently based on their specific purposes and criteria.