North West is home to Sun City resort and the world’s richest platinum reserves, so tourism and mining dominate. It lies in the north of South Africa on the Botswana border, with the Kalahari desert to the west, Gauteng province to the east and the Free State to the south.
Compiled by Mary Alexander
Mahikeng (previously Mafeking, then Mafikeng) is the capital of North West, known for a famous siege during the Anglo-Boer South African War. 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.
Mahikeng lies close to Botswana and forms a single urban area with its cross-border 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 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 NINE PROVINCES OF SOUTH AFRICA
North West: 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 Stella near Vryburg. The Marico region is also cattle country, while the areas around Rustenburg and Brits are fertile, mixed-crop farmland.
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.
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