Mpumalanga province, South Africa

Mpumalanga – “the place where the sun rises” – is a province of spectacular scenic beauty and an abundance of wildlife, lying in the northeast of South Africa.

Blyde River Canyon Mpumalanga
The Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga is one of the largest canyons on earth. Its lush subtropical foliage may even make the world’s largest “green” canyon. (Image: South African Tourism)

Compiled by Mary Alexander

Bordered by the countries of Mozambique and Swaziland to the east and the Gauteng to the west, Mpumalanga lies mainly on the high plateau grasslands of the Middleveld, which roll eastwards for hundreds of kilometres.

In the northeast, it rises towards mountain peaks and terminates in an immense escarpment. In places this escarpment plunges hundreds of metres down to the low-lying area known as the Lowveld.

In the eastern region lies the southern half of the Kruger National Park, a nature reserve teeming with African wildlife in a total area roughly the size of Israel.

Mpumalanga map

Cities and economy

Mpumalanga is highly accessible, with a network of excellent roads and railway connections, as well as a number of small airports, including the Kruger International Airport.

The capital of Mpumalanga is Nelspruit, the major city in the Mbombela Local Municipality and the administrative and business hub of the Lowveld.

Emalahleni is the centre of the local coal-mining industry. Standerton, in the south, is known for its large dairy industry. Piet Retief in the southeast is a production area for tropical fruit and sugar.

A large sugar industry is also found at Malelane in the east. Ermelo is the district in South Africa that produces the most wool. Barberton is one of the oldest gold-mining towns in South Africa. Sabie is in the forestry heartland of the country.

The Maputo Development Corridor links the province with Gauteng and the Port of Maputo in Mozambique, acting to release the economic potential of the landlocked parts of the country.

Mpumalanga: quick facts

  • Capital: Mbombela
  • Languages: 27.7% siSwati, 24.1% isiZulu, 10.4% Xistonga, 10.1% isiNdebele
  • Population: 4 039 939 (2011)
  • Share of South Africa’s population: 7.8%
  • Area: 76 495 square kilometres
  • Share of South Africa’s total land area: 6.3%
  • Mpumalanga tourism and parks agency

THE NINE PROVINCES OF SOUTH AFRICA

Mpumalanga: the land and its people

With a total area of 76 495 square kilometres, Mpumalanga is slightly larger than the Czech Republic. It’s second-smallest province after Gauteng, taking up 6.3% of South Africa’s land area and with a population of just over 4-million people.

About a third of the people speak siSwati, the language of neighbouring Swaziland, with isiZulu, Xistonga and isiNdebele commonly heard.

Mpumalanga falls mainly within the grassland biome. The escarpment and the Lowveld form a transitional zone between this grassland area and the savanna biome. Long sweeps of undulating grasslands change abruptly into thickly forested ravines and thundering waterfalls of the escarpment, only to change again into the subtropical wildlife splendour of the Lowveld.

The province is a summer-rainfall area, with occasional winter snow on high ground in the escarpment. The escarpment area sometimes experiences snow on high ground. Thick mist is common during the hot and humid summers.

Sabie and Graskop provide a large part of the country’s total requirement for forestry products.

These forestry plantations are an ideal backdrop for ecotourism opportunities, with a variety of popular hiking trails, a myriad waterfalls, patches of indigenous forest and many nature reserves.

Lake Chrissie is the largest natural freshwater lake in South Africa and is famous for its variety of aquatic birds, particularly flamingos.

Industry

Mpumalanga is rich in coal reserves, and home to South Africa’s major coal-fired power stations – three of which are the biggest in the southern hemisphere. EMalahleni, the biggest coal producer in Africa, is the site of the country’s two oil-from-coal plants.

Mpumalanga produces about 80% of the country’s coal and remains the largest production region for forestry and agriculture.

One of the country’s largest paper mills is situated at Ngodwana, close to its timber source. Middelburg produces steel and vanadium.

The best-performing sectors in the province include mining, manufacturing and services. Tourism and agriprocessing are potential growth sectors.

Agriculture

An abundance of citrus and many other subtropical fruit – mangoes, avocados, litchis, bananas, pawpaws, granadillas and guavas – as well as nuts and a variety of vegetables are produced in Mpumalanga.

Mbombela is the second-largest citrus-producing area in South Africa and is responsible for one third of the country’s export in oranges.

Groblersdal is an important irrigation area, yielding crops such as citrus, cotton, tobacco, wheat and vegetables. Carolina-Bethal-Ermelo is mainly a sheep-farming area, but potatoes, sunflowers, maize and peanuts are also produced in the region.

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