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The two major historic groups were the Xhosa and Zulu peoples.
In 1487, the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias led the first European voyage to land in southern Africa.
Since 1994, all ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in the country's democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces.
South Africa is often referred to as the "Rainbow nation" to describe the country's multicultural diversity, especially in the wake of apartheid.
Further hominin remains have been recovered from the sites of Makapansgat in Limpopo, Cornelia and Florisbad in the Free State, Border Cave in Kwa Zulu-Natal, Klasies River Mouth in eastern Cape and Pinnacle Point, Elandsfontein and Die Kelders Cave in Western Cape.
These sites suggest that various hominid species existed in South Africa from about three million years ago starting with Australopithecus africanus.
Mzansi, derived from the Xhosa noun umzantsi meaning "south", is a colloquial name for South Africa, Extensive fossil remains have been recovered from a series of caves in Gauteng Province.
The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been termed the Cradle of Humankind.
The sites include Sterkfontein, which is one of the richest hominin fossil sites in the world.
South Africa is a multiethnic society encompassing a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions.
Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, which is among the highest number of any country in the world.