The recently completed Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) is a low cost, innovative, 10 m class optical telescope, which began limited scientific operations in August 2005, just 5 years after ground-breaking. This paper describes the design and construction of SALT, including the first-light instruments, SALTICAM and the Robert Stobie Spectrograph (RSS). A rigorous systems engineering approach has ensured that SALT was built to specification, on budget, close to the original schedule and using a relatively small project team. The design trade-offs, which include an active spherical primary mirror array and a fixed altitude telescope with a prime focus tracker, although restrictive in comparison to conventional telescopes, have resulted in an affordable 10 m class telescope for South Africa and its ten partners. Coupled with an initial set of two seeing-limited instruments that concentrate on the UV-visible region (320 - 900 nm) and featuring some niche observational capabilities, SALT will have an ability to conduct some unique science. This includes high time resolution studies, for which some initial results have already been obtained. Many of the versatile modes available with the RSS - which is currently being commissioned - are unique and provide unparallelled opportunities for imaging polarimetry and spectropolarimetry. Likewise, Multi-Object Spectroscopy (with slit masks) and imaging spectroscopy with the RSS, the latter using Fabry-Perot étalons and interference filters, will extend the multiplex advantage over resolutions from 300 to 9000 and fields of view of 2 to 8 arcminutes. Future instrumentation plans include an extremely stable, fibre-fed, high resolution échelle spectrograph and a near-IR (to between 1.5 to 1.7 μm) extension to the RSS. Future development possibilities include phasing the primary mirror and AO. Finally, extrapolations of the SALT/HET designs to ELT proportions remain viable and are surely more affordable than conventional, fully steerable, des igns.