The provinces of South Africa
South Africa is divided into nine provinces.
Historically, there were only four provinces, covering the same geographical area. In other words, while the borders of the country did not change, the internal divisions did. These changes came about fairly recently, during the last 20 years, so that is why you may sometimes encounter references to the previous names of the provinces which were the Cape Province (which was split into the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape), Natal (which is now known as KwaZulu-Natal), the Transvaal (which was broken into Mpumalanga, Gauteng, North-West and Limpopo) and the Orange Free State (now known simply as the Free State). Although the country of Lesotho is entirely surrounded by South Africa, it has never been a part of South Africa, and remains independent to this day.
During the history of South Africa, some of the provinces, such as the Free State and the Transvaal, were actually independent countries in their own right. This changed after colonisation by the British empire. However, it is important to note that while the provinces enjoy a certain level of autonomy, it is nowhere near as pronounced as in other federal countries such as the USA. This is why it would be inaccurate to say that South Africa is a federal state. It is not. The provinces of South Africa are governed in important matters by national government.
This section of the site provides more information on each province.