Large crowds gathered for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Photo by frames-of-mind/flikr

South Africa is a country that lives, breathes, and exudes uniqueness. In some ways it stands out as an oddity among other countries of the world because some things about it are unique in a way that we never even thought to think about. Since it is impossible to entirely capture the essence of a country in a lifetime, let alone in a few short words, here are some odd numbers that have special significance and that showcase a few of South Africa’s unique features—seven colors, five languages, three capital cities, one nation.

SEVEN COLORS in the rainbow from which South Africa derives its nickname, “the rainbow nation.” Though most countries can lay some claim to this title, South Africa boasts a blend of cultures, yet each maintains its own distinct identity—much like the bands of light in a rainbow maintain their separate colors. South Africa is a “biodiversity hotspot,” both because of its broad range of climates—from tropical to mountainous to grassland to desert—and its broad range of sociocultural identities. The United States is a “melting pot” that has, to an extent, homogenized distinct cultures into a harmonious blend, but South African cultural identity comes from each person’s ancestry. South Africans distinguish those of English ancestry from those of Portuguese or Greek heritage, and they differentiate themselves further by which native tribe they belong to and which language they speak.

FIVE LANGUAGES in the national anthem: Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Afrikaans, and English. The first stanza starts out in the click-heavy Xhosa and transitions after two lines to Zulu, which sounds almost the same to untrained ears. The second stanza is sung entirely in Sotho, another native African dialect. The third stanza is sung in Afrikaans, a tribute to the power and prestige that Afrikaans speakers once held and, to some degree, still retain. The fourth and final stanza is sung in English. Though the different languages maintain their unique identity, they work together to build a song that sounds whole and movingly beautiful. Such is the way of South Africa. Different languages are spoken, different cultural identities are groomed, and yet the country embraces this diversity and finds unified harmony in accepting its people’s differences.

THREE CAPITAL CITIES: Pretoria, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein. Under Apartheid, Pretoria was the capital city of South Africa and remains the administrative capital in present-day South Africa. Cape Town, where many of those who resisted the rule of Apartheid took up headquarters, serves as the legislative seat of South Africa and houses the Parliament. And Bloemfontein, which has been the judicial capital of the country since 1910, still serves today as the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal. The division of the country’s government into these three capital cities reflects the long and complicated political history of South Africa, beginning with the Dutch East India Company and moving through British occupation and Afrikaner rule to the country’s present-day republic. Each of the capital cities honors events that have contributed to the rich cultural heritage of South Africa.

ONE RECOGNIZED RACE: African. Though South Africa has almost a dozen national languages, a range of skin tones representing every part of the world, and vastly different political and socioeconomic viewpoints in each culture, one thing binds all these different groups together—the race they belong to. Whether native South Africans tell you in Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Greek, Hindi, Mandarin, Afrikaans, or English—or in a multitude of other languages and dialects—they will tell you in no uncertain terms that they are African.

—Lynnae Jackson

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