North West lies in the north of South Africa on the Botswana border, fringed by the Kalahari desert in the west, Gauteng province to the east, and the Free State to the south. It is known as the Platinum Province for the wealth of the metal it has underground.
Mahikeng (previously Mafeking, then Mafikeng) is the capital, and best known for the famous siege during the Boer War, which ended in a decisive victory for the British and made a hero of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts. The siege was movingly recorded by South African intellectual, linguist, journalist and activist Sol T Plaatje in his Boer War Diary: an African at Mafeking.
The city lies near the Botswana border and forms a single urban area with its neighbouring town, Mmabatho. Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp are the biggest cities in the province; other main towns are Brits and Rustenburg.
Most economic activity is concentrated in the southern region between Potchefstroom and Klerksdorp, as well as Rustenburg and the eastern region, where more than 80% of the province’s economic activity takes place.
North West has a number of major tourist attractions, including the internationally famous Sun City, the Pilanesberg National Park, the Madikwe Game Reserve and the Rustenburg Nature Reserve.
North West: quick facts
- Capital: Mahikeng
- Major city: Potchefstroom
- Languages: 63.4% Setswana, 9% Afrikaans
- Population: 3 509 953 (2011)
- Share of South Africa’s population: 6.8%
- Area: 106 512 square kilometres
- Share of South Africa’s total land area: 8.7%
The land and its people
With a total area of 106 512 square kilometres, North West is slightly smaller than the US state of Pennsylvania. It’s the country’s fourth-smallest province, taking up 8.7% of South Africa’s land area and with a population of 3.5-million people.
Two-thirds of the people speak Setswana, the language of neighbouring Botswana, with the rest speaking Afrikaans and isiXhosa.
The landscape is largely flat regions of scattered trees and grassland. The Magaliesberg mountain range in the northeast extends about 130 kilometres from Pretoria to Rustenburg, while the Vaal River forms the province’s southern border.
A summer-rainfall region, temperatures range from up to 31°C in summer to as little as 3°C in winter.
North West’s most famous attraction is the Sun City complex, which lies next to the Pilanesburg National Park. Sun City is one of the world’s biggest entertainment centres, with a casino, an 18-hole golf course, theatres and concert halls, beaches and a wave pool at the Valley of the Waves, a meticulously reconstructed tropical rainforest, and a number of world-class hotels that include the remarkable Palace of the Lost City.
Portions of two of South Africa’s eight Unesco World Heritage sites fall within the borders of North West: the Vredefort Dome, the world’s largest visible meteor-impact crater, and the Taung hominid fossil site, which has been incorporated into South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind.
Mining contributes 23.3% to the North West economy, and makes up more than a fifth of the South African mining industry as a whole. Ninety-four percent of the country’s platinum is found in the Rustenburg and Brits districts, which produce more platinum than any other single area in the world.
North West also produces a quarter of South Africa’s gold, as well as granite, marble, fluorspar and diamonds.
Employment along the Platinum Corridor, from Pretoria to eastern Botswana, accounts for over a third of total employment in North West.
North West is sometimes referred to as the Texas of South Africa, with some of the largest cattle herds in the world found at Stellaland near Vryburg. The Marico region is also cattle country, while the areas around Rustenburg and Brits are fertile, mixed- crop farming land.
The province is an important food basket in South Africa. Maize and sunflowers are the most important crops and the North West is the major producer of white maize in the country.
SouthAfrica.info reporter, incorporating material from the South African Yearbook
Updated: 3 November 2015
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