Free State province of South Africa. According to the Mid-year population estimates, 2017, there were over 2,8 million people in the Free State on about 129 825 km2 of land. The main languages spoken are Sesotho, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.
The Free State has wide horizons and blue skies, farmland, mountains, goldfields and widely dispersed towns. It lies in the heart of South Africa, with Lesotho nestling in the hollow of its bean-like shape. Between the Vaal River in the north and the Orange River in the south, this immense rolling prairie stretches as far as the eye can see.
The Free State sprawls over high plains and stretching along the Maluti Mountains bordering Lesotho. Near the sandstone cliffs and Basotho Cultural Village of Golden Gate Highlands National Park is Clarens, a town distinguished by its art galleries. The Anglo-Boer War Museum in South Africa’s judicial capital of Bloemfontein traces the Free State’s history as a Boer republic.
Mangaung, comprising Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu, has an established institutional, educational and administrative infrastructure. With Bloemfontein being South Africa’s judicial capital, the province houses the Supreme Court of Appeal. Important towns include Welkom, Sasolburg, Odendaalsrus, Kroonstad, Parys, Phuthaditjhaba, Bethlehem and the charming village of Clarens situated in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains.
Some of South Africa’s most valued San rock art can be found in the Free State. Other tourist attractions include the Golden Gate National Park, the annual air show in Bethlehem, the Cherry Festival in Ficksburg and the Fauresmith International Endurance Ride equestrian event. The annual Mangaung African Cultural Festival, known as Macufe, is hosted in partnership with the Tourism Authority and the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State. The Vredefort Dome, 10 km in diameter, is South Africa’s
seventh World Heritage Site.
Although the Free State is the third-largest province in South Africa, it has the second-smallest population and the second-lowest population density. The economy is dominated by agriculture, mining and manufacturing. Known as the ‘bread basket’ of South Africa, about 90% of the province is under cultivation for crop production. It produces approximately 34% of the total maize production of South Africa, 37% of wheat, 53% of sorghum, 33% of potatoes, 18% of red meat, 30% of groundnuts and 15% of wool. The province is the world’s fifth-largest gold producer, with mining the major employer. It is a leader in the chemicals industry, being home to the giant synthetic-fuels company, Sasol.
The Vredefort Dome, 10km in diameter, about 100km south-west of Johannesburg, is South Africa’s seventh World Heritage Site.
The Free State is divided into one metropolitan municipality (Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality) and four district municipalities, which are further subdivided into 18 local municipalities.
Free State Agriculture
Agriculture dominates the Free State landscape, with cultivated land covering 32 000 km2 and natural veld and grazing 87 000 km2 of the province. Field crops yield almost two thirds of the gross agricultural income of the province. Animal products contribute a further 30%, with the balance generated by horticulture.
Free State Mining
The National Development Plan has intensified the mining potential that still exists in the goldfields region of Matjhabeng in the Lejweleputswa District as a job intervention zone. The De Bron-Merriespruit Gold Project and the Bloemhoek Gold Project are included as potential development projects in the scope of work of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission.
The province has 12 gold mines, producing 30% of South Africa’s output and making it the fifth-largest producer of gold in the world. Gold mines in the Free State also supply a substantial portion of the total silver produced in the country. Uranium occurring in the gold-bearing conglomerates of the goldfields is extracted as a by-product. The Free State’s gold reef of more than 400 km stretches across the province from Gauteng. South Africa’s largest goldmining complex is Free State Consolidated Goldfields, with an area of 330 km2.
Bituminous coal is mined and converted to petrochemicals at Sasolburg.
The province also produces high-quality diamonds from its kimberlite pipes and fissures, and the country’s largest deposit of bentonite is found in the Koppies district.
Free State Manufacturing and industry
The Maluti-a-Phofung Special Economic Zone is the Free State’s share of the logistics and industrial corridor. The Vehicle Distribution Centre was established in partnership with the German Bremen Logistics Group, which committed R60 million towards this project. The Harrismith Food Processing Park forms part of the broader development initiative. The green economic solar zone in the Xhariep district was expected to result in the establishment of the Xhariep Solar Park, harnessing the solar radiation in the southern part of the Free State.
The Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme forms part of Eskom’s capital expansion programme. This energy infrastructure project is located on the border of the Phumelela and Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipalities in the Free State and eMnambithi Local Municipality and the uThukela District Municipality in KwaZuluNatal.
Sasol South Africa, the largest producer of synthetic fuels on the sub-continent, remains a key role-player in the Free State economy. Its investment in its Sasolburg operations is evident from the Wax Expansion project, the Ethylene Purification Unit 5, the Gas Engine Power Plant and Clean Fuels 2. The Omnia Nitric Acid complex, located within the Sasol Industrial Complex, includes a nitric acid plant, an ammonium nitrate plant, a porous ammonium nitrate plant, a fleet of 145 specialised ammonia rail tankers and other ancillary facilities.
Opportunities for growth
The current state and shape of Free State’s economy clearly presents huge opportunities for investors in the manufacturing sector. The Free State Development Corporation (FDC) is actively searching for investors, and giving them a helping hand, as in the construction of factories in the Harrismith and Botshabelo areas. The opening of a Makro store in Bloemfontein, and extensions being carried out on other retail malls, indicate that a recovery in the provincial economy is under way.
Massive investments by companies in the oil and gas and petrochemical sector in Sasolburg have also boosted the economy. In agriprocessing, a number of opportunities exist in the province. Some products that are being explored are cherries, asparagus, vegetables, wholesale meat, leather and increased seed production in the province’s eastern reaches. Tourism is another sector that is being targeted as the province seeks to diversify its economy away from an over-dependence on agriculture and mining.
The town of Bothaville hosts one of the largest agricultural festivals in the world, NAMPO, every year during May. Attendance of the 2011 festival set a new record of 73 552 people over the four-day period. The town is also the head office of Maize South Africa.
The longest bridge in South Africa is the D.H Steyn bridge at 2 993 meter on the outskirts of the town Bethulie in the Xhariep district.
Centre point of SA
Emmaus, the centre point of South Africa, is located 20 km from the town of Petrusburg in the Xhariep district.
The annual Cherry Festival held in Ficksburg (Setsoto Local Municipality) is the oldest crop festival in South Africa. A little known fact is that all of South Africa’s glazed cherries are produced in Ficksburg. The 45th anniversary of this festival will be celebrated in 2012.
Commercial Plane Crash
Spitzkop, a koppie near Memel, was the site of South Africa’s first commercial plane crash. On 15 May 1948 a Skyliner (a version of the well known DC3) belonging to Mercury Airways, crashed into Spitzkop, killing all 13 people on board. The crash was, at the time, regarded as South Africa’s biggest air disaster.
The largest dam in South Africa is the Gariep Dam in the Xhariep district.
The world’s oldest dinosaur eggs, 200 million-year-old prosauropod dinosaur embryos, were found in the Golden Gate National Park in the Thabo Mofutsanyane district in 1978.
Fauresmith is the only town in South Africa, and one of only three in the world, where the railway line runs down the centre of the main road.
The largest grain silo’s in the world is found at Wesselsbron.
Founded in 1870, Jagersfontein (Xhariep district) is the world’s oldest diamond mining town and the first place where diamonds were discovered in its mother stone or blue ground, or as it’s now known, Kimberlite. Of the ten biggest diamonds ever found, two came from the Jagersfontein mine.
Highest town above sea level
Petrus Steyn is the Free State town highest above sea level at 1702 meters.
The largest indoor arena in the southern hemisphere is in Parys. The Parys Indoor Arena is a first in South Africa and includes a sand warm-up arena in the Shute and a grass arena for flat work and lunging. The SA Boerboel championships, horse shows and cattle shows are regularly hosted at the arena. There are approximately 460 indoor stables, private boxes for spectators and it has its own restaurant and bar.
Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area
The Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Conservation Area is a trans-boundary initiative in Lesotho and South Africa. It includes a conservation area and World Heritage Site, which was included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in December 2000. The conserved areas include the Ukhahlamba World Heritage Site, Golden Gate National Park, QwaQwa National Park, Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve, and conserved areas within Lesotho.
Olive Tree Forest
The largest wild olive tree forest in South Africa is located at 20 km outside Parys near Venterskroon
The 1914 Rebellion started in Memel three and a half years after the establishment of the Union of South Africa. In 1914, when war broke out between Britain and Germany, the South African government’s announcement that its indeed to invade German South West Africa (today’s Namibia), fighting broke out between former Generals of the Anglo-Boer War and government forces.
The Maloti Route is the longest signed tourism route in South Africa. It starts in Harrismith and proceeds through the Free State to the Orange River after which it crosses the Eastern Cape to the N2 on the Wild Coast. It also includes Lesotho from the north to the south. In the Free State it passes through Ladybrand, Hobhouse, Wepener, Vanstadensrus and Zastron on the R26 Route.
The Vredefort Structure in the Vredefort/Parys area has been declared South Africa’s 7th International World Heritage Site and is recognized worldwide as the oldest and biggest meteorite impact site.
Free State Population.
- Sesotho 71,9%
- Afrikaans 10,9%
- IsiXhosa 5,7%
Population: 2 834 714
Percentage share of the total South African population: 5,1%
Area: 129 825 km2
Source: Stats SA’s Mid-year population estimates 2017 and Community Survey 2016