The nine provinces of South Africa

South Africa has nine provinces, each with its own legislature, premier and executive council – and distinctive landscape, population, economy and climate.

Map of South Africa
A map of South Africa’s nine provinces (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


Before 1994, South Africa had four provinces: the Transvaal and Orange Free State, previously Boer republics, and Natal and the Cape, once British colonies.

Scattered about were also the grand apartheid “homelands”, spurious states to which black South Africans were forced to have citizenship.

Under South Africa’s new democratic constitution, South Africa was consolidated into into nine new provinces.

Land area

There are vast differences in the size of the provinces, from tiny and crowded Gauteng to the vast, arid and empty Northern Cape. Mpumalanga is the second- smallest province after Gauteng, with the rest all taking between 8% and 14% of South Africa’s total land area.

  • Eastern Cape – 168 966km2
  • Free State – 129 825km2
  • Gauteng – 16 548km2
  • KwaZulu-Natal – 94 361km2
  • Limpopo – 125 755km2
  • Mpumalanga – 76 495km2
  • Northern Cape – 372 889km2
  • North West – 106 512km2
  • Western Cape – 129 462km2


The number of people living in the provinces also varies considerably. Gauteng, the smallest province, has the most people living there – nearly a quarter of South Africa’s population. The Northern Cape, which takes up nearly a third of the country’s land area, has the smallest population: only 2% of the national total.

  • Eastern Cape: 6.56-million
  • Free State: 2.74-million
  • Gauteng: 12.27-million
  • KwaZulu-Natal: 10.27-million
  • Limpopo: 5.4-million
  • Mpumalanga: 4.04-million
  • Northern Cape: 1.15-million
  • North West: 3.5-million
  • Western Cape: 5.82-million

Source: Census 2011, Statistics South Africa

This variation translates into huge differences in population density. Gauteng has an average of 675 people per square kilometre, while the Northern Cape has only three people for each square kilometre.


Although English is the lingua franca of South Africa, there’s considerable variation in home languages between the provinces.

IsiXhosa, for instance, is spoken by almost 80% of people in the Eastern Cape, while around 78% of those in KwaZulu-Natal speak isiZulu. IsiZulu is also the most common home language in Gauteng, but at a much smaller percentage. In the Western Cape and Northern Cape, Afrikaans comes into its own.

Predominant languages by province:

  • Eastern Cape: isiXhosa (78.8%), Afrikaans (10.6%)
  • Free State: Sesotho (64.2%), Afrikaans (12.7%)
  • Gauteng: isiZulu (19.8%), English (13.3%), Afrikaans (12.4%), Sesotho (11.6%)
  • KwaZulu-Natal:: isiZulu (77.8%), English (13.2%)
  • Limpopo: Sesotho (52.9%), Xitsonga (17%), Tshivenda (16.7%)
  • Mpumalanga: siSwati (27.7%), isiZulu (24.1%), Xitsonga (10.4%), isiNdebele (10.1%)
  • Northern Cape: Afrikaans (53.8%), Setswana (33.1%)
  • North West: Setswana (63.4%), Afrikaans (9%)
  • Western Cape: Afrikaans (49.7%), isiXhosa (24.7%), English (20.3%)

Source: Census 2011, Statistics South Africa


Each province has its own provincial government, with legislative power vested in a provincial legislature and executive power vested in a provincial premier and exercised together with the other members of a provincial executive council.

The provincial legislature has between 30 and 80 members elected for a five- year term based on the province’s portion of the national voters’ roll. The legislature is empowered to pass legislation within its functional areas.

The premier is elected by the legislature and, as with the President at national level, is limited to two five-year terms in office. The premier appoints the other members of the executive council (MECs), which functions as a cabinet at provincial level. The members of the executive council are accountable individually and collectively to the legislature.


Population density correlates with the provinces’ slice of South Africa’s economy, with Gauteng having the biggest. The tiny province punches way above its weight, contributing 33.8% to the national gross domestic product in 2013 and around 7% to the GDP of Africa as a whole. Next is KwaZulu-Natal with 16%, followed by the Western Cape with 13.7%. These three provinces collectively contribute nearly two-thirds to the economy.

Read more about South Africa’s nine provinces:

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