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Northern Cape

The Northern Cape is the largest province in South Africa – slightly bigger than Germany – taking up almost a third of the country’s total land area. The province lies to the south of its most important asset, the mighty Orange River, which provides the basis for a healthy agricultural industry. The Northern Cape is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the west, and Namibia and Botswana to the north-west and north respectively. It is fringed by the Swartberg mountain range on its southern border with the Western Cape in the Calvinia district.

Its major airports are Kimberley and Upington. The province has an excellent road network, which makes its interior easily accessible from South Africa’s major cities, harbors and airports. Sutherland hosts the southern hemisphere’s largest astronomical observatory, the multinational- sponsored Southern African Large Telescope. The Northern Cape was shortlisted as one of two sites to host the Square Kilometre Array, a giant next-generation radio telescope being developed by scientists from 17 countries.

The province has several national parks and conservation areas, namely the: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park; Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park; and Augrabies Falls National Park. The largest part of the province lies in the Nama- Karoo Biome, with low shrubland and grass vegetation, and trees limited to water courses. The area is known worldwide for its spectacular annual explosion of spring flowers, which attract thousands of tourists. This biome contains a number of fascinating plants, including the elephant’s trunk (“halfmens” or half-man), tree aloe (“kokerboom” or quiver tree) and a variety of succulents.

The people

The Northern Cape is sparsely populated and houses almost 1.1 million people on 361 830 km2 of land (Mid-Year Population Estimates, 2011). About 68% of the population speaks Afrikaans. Other languages spoken widely in the province are 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 fossils and San rock engravings. A good collection can be seen at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley.

Agriculture and industry

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.


Mining contributes 27,6% to the gross regional domestic product. Iron-ore mining in the northeastern corner of the province has been expanding despite the global recession, driven largely by a demand for steel from China. Sishen is the biggest iron-ore mine in the country and its owner, Kumba Iron Ore, is engaging in a new project at Kolomela (previously known as South Sishen). New manganese projects are also underway. Diamond mining, in contrast, has seen volumes and jobs lost. Diamond mining is increasingly moving away from the older mines to alluvial mining along the Orange River and its tributaries and in the Atlantic Ocean. The Northern Cape also has copper, asbestos, fluorspar, semi-precious stones and marble.

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Page last modified: 23-10-2012 19:13:01 ZULU