Northern Cape province, South Africa
The vast and arid Northern Cape is by far the largest province, slightly bigger than Germany and taking up nearly a third of South Africa's land area. Yet it has the country's smallest population, a little over 1-million people, and an extremely roomy population density of three people per square kilometre.
The province lies to the south of its most important asset, the mighty Orange River, which feeds the agriculture and alluvial diamonds industries. The river forms the border with the country of Namibia in the north, while the Molopo River is at the border with Botswana to the northeast.
The Northern Cape landscape is characterised by vast arid plains with outcroppings of haphazard rock piles. The cold Atlantic Ocean forms the western boundary.
The capital is Kimberley, on the province's eastern border. Other important towns are Upington, centre of the karakul sheep and dried fruit industries, and the most northerly wine-making region of South Africa; Springbok, in the heart of the Namaqualand spring flower country; Kuruman, founded by the Scottish missionary Robert Moffat; and De Aar, hub of the South African railway network.
The Northern Cape is home to the world's largest telescape, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), which is being built at Carnarvon. Sutherland is the site of the southern hemisphere's largest astronomical observatory, the multinational-sponsored Southern African Large Telescope, or SALT.
Northern Cape: quick facts
- Capital: Kimberley
- Languages: 53.8% Afrikaans, 33.1% Setswana
- Population: 1 145 861 (2011)
- Share of SA population: 2.2%
- Area: 372 889 square kilometres
- Share of total SA area: 30.5%
The land and its people
With a total area of 372 889 square kilometres, the Northern Cape is takes up 30.5% of South Africa's land area, with a population of 1.15-million people.
Just over half of the population speak Afrikaans, with other languages being Setswana, isiXhosa and English.
The last remaining true San (Bushman) people live in the Kalahari area of the Northern Cape. The area, especially along the Orange and Vaal rivers, is rich in San rock engravings. A good collection can be seen at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley. The province is also rich in fossils.
Apart from a narrow strip of winter rainfall area along the coast, the province is a semi- arid region with little rainfall in summer. The weather conditions are extreme – cold and frosty in winter, with extremely high temperatures in summer.
The largest part of the province falls within the Nama-Karoo biome, with a vegetation of low shrubland and grass, and trees limited to water courses.
The area is known worldwide its spectacular annual explosion of spring flowers which, for a short period every year, attracts thousands of tourists. This biome contains a number of fascinating plants, including the elephant's trunk (halfmens or "half-man"), tree aloe (kokerboom) and a variety of succulents.
The province has a wealth of national parks and conservation areas. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Africa's first cross-border game park, joins South Africa's Kalahari Gemsbok National Park to the Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. It is one of the largest conservation areas in southern Africa, and one of the largest remaining protected natural ecosystems in the world. The park provides unfenced access to a variety of game between South Africa and Botswana, over its land area of more than 3.6 hectares.
The Ai-Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park spans the border with Namibia, with some of the most spectacular scenery of the arid and desert environments in southern Africa. Bisected by the Orange River, it comprises the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Game Park in Namibia, and the Richtersveld National Park in South Africa. Distinctive features include the Fish River Canyon – often likened to the Grand Canyon in the US – and the Ai-Ais hot springs.
Nowhere is the Orange River more impressive than at the Augrabies Falls, which ranks among the world's greatest cataracts on a major river. The 19 separate falls cascade over a granite plateau, dropping a total of 191 metres to a 43-metre-deep pool gouged out by the force of the water.
The Northern Cape is rich in minerals, with mining contributing nearly a quarter of the GDP. The Rustenburg and Brits districts produce 94% of the country’s platinum, which is more 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.
In the manufacturing arena, automotive parts, electrical machinery, electronic and audio, and medical equipment are manufactured in the province using local material and resources.
The Northern Cape is enjoying a tremendous growth in value-added activities, including game-farming. Food production and processing for the local and export market is also growing significantly.
Underpinning the growth and development plan of the province are the investment projects that link up with the existing plans of the Namaqua Development Corridor. The focus is on the beneficiation and export of sea products.
The economy of a large part of the Northern Cape, the interior Karoo, depends on sheep-farming, while the karakul-pelt industry is one of the most important in the Gordonia district of Upington.
The province has fertile agricultural land. In the Orange River Valley, especially at Upington, Kakamas and Keimoes, grapes and fruit are cultivated intensively. Wheat, fruit, peanuts, maize and cotton are produced at the Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme near Warrenton.
SAinfo reporter, incorporating material from the South African Yearbook
Reviewed: 19 November 2012
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