Geography and climate


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. They are:

  • The Eastern Cape
  • The Free State
  • Gauteng
  • KwaZulu-Natal
  • Limpopo
  • Mpumalanga
  • The Northern Cape
  • North West
  • The Western Cape

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.

Map of South Africa before 1994
A map of South Africa before 1994, showing the original four provinces of the Cape, Orange Free State, Natal and Transvaal, as well as the apartheid "homelands" (Image: South African History Online)

Under South Africa's new democratic constitution, South Africa was broken up into nine 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

Land area by province
South Africa's land 
area by province
Source: Statistics South Africa

Population

The number of people living in the provinces also varies considerably. Gauteng, the smallest province, has the most people living there, while the Northern Cape, which takes up nearly a third of South Africa's land area, has by far the smallest population.

  • 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.

Languages

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 Cape Town and its surrounds, 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

Government

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.

Economy

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 33.7% to the national gross domestic product in 2010 and a phenomenal 10% to the GDP of Africa as a whole. Next is KwaZulu-Natal with 15.8%, followed by the Western Cape with 14.1%. These three provinces collectively contribute nearly two-thirds to the economy.

Read more about South Africa's nine provinces:

SAinfo reporter

Reviewed: 16 November 2012

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Satellite image of South Africa A satellite image of South Africa (Image: Nasa) South Africa's nine provinces South Africa's nine provinces (Image: Mary Alexander)

SA's provinces: quick facts

The Eastern Cape EASTERN CAPE
Capital: Bisho
Major city: Port Elizabeth
Languages: 78.8% isiXhosa, 10.6% Afrikaans, 5.6% English
Population: 6 562 053 (2011)
Share of total SA population: 12.7%
Area: 168 966 km2
Share of total SA area: 13.9%
Population density: 39 people per km2
Gross regional product: R203.9-billion (2010)
Share of total SA GDP: 7.7%

The Free State FREE STATE
Capital: Bloemfontein
Languages: 64.2% Sesotho, 12.7% Afrikaans, 7.5% isiXhosa
Population: 2 745 590 (2011)
Share of total SA population: 5.3%
Area: 129 825km2
Share of total SA area: 10.6%
Population density: 21 people per km2
Gross regional product: R145.4-billion (2010)
Share of total SA GDP: 5.5%

Gauteng GAUTENG
Capital: Johannesburg
Languages: 19.8% isiZulu, 12.4% Afrikaans, 11.6% Sesotho, 13.3% English
Population: 12 272 263 (2011)
Share of total SA population: 23.7%
Area: 16 548km2
Share of total SA area: 1.4%
Population density: 675 people per km2
Gross regional product: R897,6-billion (2010)
Share of total SA GDP: 33.7%

KwaZulu-Natal KWAZULU-NATAL
Capital: Pietermaritzburg
Major city: Durban
Languages: 77.8% isiZulu, 13.2% English
Population: 10 267 300 (2011)
Share of total SA population: 19.8%
Area: 94 361km2
Share of total SA area: 7.7%
Population density: 109 people per km2
Gross regional product: R420,6-billion (2010)
Share of total SA GDP: 15.8%

Limpopo LIMPOPO
Capital: Polokwane
Languages: 52.9% Sepedi, 17% Xitsonga, 16.7% Tshivenda
Population: 5 404 868 (2011)
Share of total SA population: 10.4%
Area: 125 755 km2
Share of total SA area: 10.3%
Population density: 43 people per km2
Gross regional product: R191,9-billion (2010)
Share of total SA GDP: 7.2%

Mpumalanga MPUMALANGA
Capital: Mbombela
Languages: 27.7% siSwati, 24.1% isiZulu, 10.4% Xistonga, 10.1% isiNdebele
Population: 4 039 939 (2011)
Share of total SA population: 7.8%
Area: 76 495km2
Share of total SA area: 6.3%
Population density: 53 people per km2
Gross regional product: R187.4-billion (2010)
Share of total SA GDP: 7%

The Northen Cape NORTHERN CAPE
Capital: Kimberley
Languages: 53.8% Afrikaans, 33.1% Setswana
Population: 1 145 861 (2011)
Share of total SA population: 2.2%
Area: 372 889km2
Share of total SA area: 30.5%
Population density: 3 people per km2
Gross regional product: R61,2-billion (2010)
Share of total SA GDP: 2.3%

North West NORTH WEST
Capital: Mahikeng
Major city: Potchefstroom
Languages: 63.4% Setswana, 9% Afrikaans
Population: 3 509 953 (2011)
Share of total SA population: 6.8%
Area: 106 512km2
Share of total SA area: 8.7%
Population density: 34 people per km2
Gross regional product: R177.1-billion (2010)
Share of total SA GDP: 6.7%

The Western Cape WESTERN CAPE
Capital: Cape Town
Languages: 49.7% Afrikaans, 24.7% isiXhosa, 20.2% English
Population: 5 822 734(2011)
Share of total SA population: 11.3%
Area: 129 462 km2
Share of total area: 10.6%
Population density: 45 people per km2
Gross regional product: R376.3-billion (2010)
Share of total GDP: 14.1%

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