Unlike most other countries around the world, South Africa has not one but three capital cities. More precisely, the government branches are divided among three major South African cities: Pretoria, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein. This concept dates back to the creation of the Union of South Africa, where conflicting views on which city should hold the capital led to this compromise. Much like the very idea of the balance of powers, leaders of early South Africa decided that having all government centralized in one place could give that place too much power, so it divided the branches among three provinces.
Pretoria, located in the Gauteng Province, is the administrative capital and the seat of the President of the Cabinet, that is the executive branch. Pretoria is often considered the de facto national capital, and was the capital of Apartheid South Africa. This city is the headquarters for many government departments, as well as foreign embassies.
The city’s name has been the source of controversy for several years, and may soon be changed back to the indigenous name Tshwane. Pretoria is located about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Johannesburg in the northeast of the nation.
Cape Town, South Africa is the legislative capital, and the seat of the nation’s Parliament. South Africa’s parliament consists of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. After Johannesbug, Cape Town is the second largest city by population in South Africa.
Finally, Bloemfontein serves as the judicial capital, as the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal. Bloemfontein is also the capital of its province, the Free State, and is centrally located within South Africa.