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Limpopo, South Africa’s northernmost province, borders on Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana, making it the ideal gateway to Africa. Named after the Limpopo River that flows along its northern border, the province is rich in wildlife, spectacular scenery and a wealth of historical and cultural treasures.

Limpopo is situated at the North Eastern corner of the Republic of South Africa. The province formally came into being on 27 April 1994, when all-race elections were held for the first time in South Africa. It was initially called Northern Transvaal (being taken solely from the Transvaal Province as it was between 1910 and ’79), but the legislature soon chose to call it Northern Province. On 12 February 2002 a new name, Limpopo Province, was announced.

It is headed by a Premier, elected by and from the Provincial Legislature, who is assisted by an Executive Council chosen from the Legislature. Pietersburg, which had briefly served as the capital of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek in 1901 following the withdrawal of the republican government first from Pretoria and then from Lydenburg, became the capital. Also in February 2002, Pietersburg was renamed Polokwane. However, the legislature is seated at Lebowakgomo, which was the capital of Lebowa. The province comprises the districts that made up the “independent” homeland state of Venda, as well the non-independent homeland states of Lebowa (North Sotho-speaking) and Gazankulu (xiTsonga-speaking).

A unique feature of this province is that it shares international borders with three countries: Botswana to the west and north-west, Zimbabwe to the north, and Mozambique to the east. Limpopo is the link between South Africa and countries further afield in sub-Saharan Africa. On its Southern flank, the province shares borders with Gauteng, with its Johannesburg-Pretoria axis, the most industrious metropole on the continent. Thus the province is placed at the centre of the vortex of developing markets, regional, national and international.

These connections are very well served by excellent road, rail and air links. The N1 route from Johannesburg which goes through the length of the province is the busiest overland route in Africa in terms of cross border trade in raw materials and beneficiated goods. The port of Durban, Africa’s busiest, is served directly by the province, as are the ports of Richard’s Bay and Maputo. The other most significant facility in the province as the heartland of an emerging market, is the Gateway international airport situated in Polokwane the capital of the province.

The province is linked to the Maputo Development Corridor through the Phalaborwa Spatial Development Initiative, which is a network of rail and road corridors connected to the major seaports, opening up Limpopo for trade and investment. This is complemented by the presence of smaller airports in centres such as Phalaborwa and Musina, as well as the Gateway International Airport in Polokwane, the capital city, which lies strategically in the center of the province.

The Great North Road, running through the centre of the province, strings together a series of interesting towns such as Bela-Bela, with its popular mineral spa; Modimolle, with its beautiful Waterberg mountain range; Mokopane; Polokwane;

Makhado, at the foot of the Soutpansberg mountain range; and Musina, with its thick-set baobab trees. The crossing into Zimbabwe is at Beit Bridge. Other important Limpopo towns include the major mining centres of Phalaborwa and Thabazimbi; and Tzaneen, producer of tea, forestry products and tropical fruits.

The province is in the Savanna Biome, an area of mixed grassland and trees, generally known as bushveld. The province’s natural resources include more than 50 provincial nature reserves and several private game reserves. The largest section of the Kruger National Park is along Limpopo’s eastern boundary, which borders on Mozambique.

Several museums and national monuments bear testimony to the ancient people and fearless pioneers who braved the unknown. Living museums include the Bakone Malapa Museum near Polokwane, where Bapedi tribespeople practise age-old skills for the benefit of visitors; and the Tsonga Open-Air Museum near Tzaneen. Mapungubwe (“Place of The Jackal”) Hill, some 75 km from Musina, is a world heritage site. It served as a natural fortress for its inhabitants from about 950 to 1200 AD.

The people

According to the Mid-Year Population Estimates, 2011, over 5,5 million people live on about 123 910 km2 of land in Limpopo. English is the language of a small (chiefly white) minority, but is also politically favored because of the association of Afrikaans with apartheid. North Sotho is frequently also called Sepedi, although the Pedi people and their dialects are no more than the largest grouping among the Sotho-speakers of the province. XiTsonga, also known as Shangaan, is also spoken in a far larger region to the east of the Kruger Park, in Mozambique. It was the language of the Gaza kingdom, one of whose early kings was Shoshangane. The Gaza state was unique among those that arose during the Mfecane in that it was built by an invading group from South Africa (abeNguni from the same region where the Zulu kingdom flourished), but retained the language of the conquered people. The Tsonga language was nonetheless influenced by isiNguni.


In terms of agriculture, Limpopo could be described as the garden of South Africa, or even that of the whole continent, given its rich fruit and vegetable production. It produces 75% of the country’s mangoes; 65% of its papayas; 36% of its tea; 25% of its citrus, bananas, and litchis; 60% of its avocados; two thirds of its tomatoes; and 285 000 tons of potatoes. Other products include coffee, nuts, guavas, sisal, cotton and tobacco. Over 170 plantations produce timber. In addition, cotton, sunflower, maize, wheat cultivation and grapes are produced. Most of the higher-lying areas are devoted to cattle and game ranching, earning a reputation for quality biltong (salted, dried meat), which is a popular South African delicacy.

Industry and mining

Limpopo also has abundant mineral resources, making mining the critical sector of the province’s economy by contributing 22% of the gross geographic product. The platinum group metals include platinum, chromium, nickel, cobalt, vanadium, tin, limestone and uranium clay. Other reserves include antinomy, phosphates, fluorspar, gold, diamonds, copper, emeralds, scheelites, magnetite, vermiculite, silicon, mica, black granite, corundum, feldspar and salt.

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