South Africa is a hugely diverse country, therefore the number of religions found within its borders is extremely large. European influences are evident, as are influences from more recent immigrants to the country, while traditional religion in South Africa also plays a major part in the day to day life of the country. So, as you would expect from a country with truly free expression of religion, you’ll find absolutely everything here!
Christianity accounts for the largest percentage of religious people in South Africa, with an estimated 80% of the population listing themselves as a Christian of some denomination. Christianity isn’t quite as simple as that in South Africa though, as there is a definite mix between traditional African religions and Christianity, meaning that a large percentage Christians in the country follow one of the African Indigenous Churches. These follow the Bible but also include traditional beliefs, and traditional healers are often found within these churches. Traditional beliefs mixed with Christianity are widespread in rural areas, although they are found frequently in cities as well.
Recent immigration to the country has also seen a remarkable growth in many other religions, with Islam and Hinduism being two of the fastest growing religions in the country. If you need a place to worship for either of these religions, you’ll find someone in any major city, although rural locations will rarely have anything other than a Christian church and a local healer. Islam and Hinduism are mainly practiced by coloureds (the descriptions used to describe ethnicity in South Africa are very different to anywhere else) although Islam is spreading quickly among the black population. Judaism has a very small presence in the country, however cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg have synagogues to worship in.
When it comes to finding food prepared in accordance with religious beliefs, your task becomes more difficult. If you are in a large town or city, there will be stores and restaurants that can cater for this. In the rural areas though, finding halal or kosher food will be almost impossible. Don’t panic too much though – simply stock up before you leave the cities or stick to a more vegetarian diet! Remember: South African cooking can make anything taste great, even without any meat!
Unusually for an African country, around 15% of the population state that they have no religion at all, which is testament to the open and free society created in the most liberal part of Africa. This kind of attitude is mostly found in urban areas, where the pace and hubbub of modern life has overtaken the need to focus on religion for many.
As with any country, it is important to respect the religions found there. As a conscientious traveller though, you should not run into any problems here, as nearly everyone shares the kind of friendly spirit that epitomises a visit to the Rainbow Nation!
Many different charities offer religious gap years in South Africa, where you can help with a variety of different tasks. Take a look at our list of South African gap years to see if there’s anything you like the look of!