16 January 2006

A country code curiosity

BerlinBear avatar It is a quirk of the internet country code system (ISO 3166) that South African websites have the two letter country code .za. This came to my attention yesterday as I was hunting for Thabo Mbeki's web presence. Until now, whenever I saw the country code .za, I had always assumed it referred to Zambia, but it doesn't at all. In fact, Zambia has the country code .zm.

Does anyone know why this is? From this list of country codes, I see the reason that South Africa couldn't be
.sa, namely that Saudi Arabia has that code. What I don't understand is how come South Africa got the .za code over Zambia, which would seem to me to have a more logical claim to that particular digraph. And why would South Africa be assigned that abbreviation anyway? Does the 'z' in .za stand for South in some other language, such as Zulu or Xhosa, perhaps?

Can someone who knows more about internet history and the assignment of country codes than I - not hard, since I know nothing about it whatsoever - enlighten me as to how and why this anomaly came about? I appreciate that it's not exactly an issue that moves the world, but I'd be really interested to know.