South Africa is a nation of over 47 million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages and beliefs. According to the mid-2006 estimates from Statistics South Africa, the country's population stands at some 47.4 million, up from the census 2001 count of 44.8 million.
Africans are in the majority at 37.7 million, making up 79.5% of the total population. The white population is estimated at 4.4 million (9.2%), the coloured population at 4.2 million (8.9%) and the Indian/Asian population at 1.2 million (2.5%).
While more than three-quarters of South Africa's population is black African, this category is neither culturally nor linguistically homogenous. Nine of the country's 11 official languages are African, reflecting a variety of ethnic groupings which nonetheless have a great deal in common in terms of background, culture and descent.
Africans include the Nguni people, comprising the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi; the Sotho-Tswana people, comprising the Southern, Northern and Western Sotho (Tswana); the Tsonga; and the Venda.
South Africa's white population descends largely from the colonial immigrants of the late 17th, 18th and 19th centuries - Dutch, German, French Huguenot and British. Linguistically it is divided into Afrikaans and English speaking groups, although many small communities that have immigrated over the last century retain the use of other languages.
The label "coloured" is a contentious one, but still used for people of mixed race descended from slaves brought in from East and central Africa, the indigenous Khoisan who lived in the Cape at the time, indigenous Africans and whites. The majority speak Afrikaans.
The original inhabitants: now a tiny community in the Kalahari Desert, the San once had southern Africa to themselves.
Khoisan is a term used to describe two separate groups, physically similar in being light-skinned and small in stature. The Khoi, who were called Hottentots by the Europeans, were pastoralists and were effectively annihilated; the San, called Bushmen by the Europeans, were hunter-gatherers. A small San population still lives in South Africa.
The majority of South Africa's Asian population is Indian in origin, many of them descended from indentured workers brought to work on the sugar plantations of the eastern coastal area then known as Natal in the 19th century. They are largely English-speaking, although many also retain the languages of their origins. There is also a significant group of Chinese South Africans.
In terms of religious affiliation, about two-thirds of South Africans are Christian, mainly Protestant. They belong to a variety of churches, including many that combine Christian and traditional African beliefs. Many non-Christians espouse these traditional beliefs. Other significant religions are Islam, Hinduism and Judaism.