The Northern Cape is South Africa’s largest province, taking up almost a third of the country’s total land area. However, the province is sparsely populated with only about 1,2 million people on 372 889 km2 of land. About 68% of the people speak Afrikaans while Setswana, isiXhosa as well as English are also widely spoken.
Mid-year population estimates Northern Cape, 2018
Population estimate: 1 225 600
% of total population 2,1
The last remaining true San people live in the Kalahari area, mainly along the Orange and Vaal rivers. Many fossils and San rock engravings have been found here, some of which are displayed at the McGregor Museum in Kimberley.
The province is noted for its San rock art, diamond diggings, 4X4 safaris and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. It is a vast stretch of semi-desert land. The province is renowned for its spectacular display of spring flowers which, for a short period every year, attracts thousands of tourists.
The province lies to the south of its most important asset, the mighty Orange River. The Orange river provides the basis for a healthy agricultural industry. The Northern Cape borders the Atlantic Ocean in the west with Namibia and Botswana to the north and north-west, respectively. It is fringed by the Swartberg mountain range on its southern border.
The Northern Cape is located in the north-western corner of South Africa and has a shoreline of approximately 313 km along the Atlantic Ocean. Despite its incredible size as compared to the rest of the country, the province only accommodates 2,2% of the total South African population as per Provincial Mid-Year Estimates 2013 conducted by Statistics.
With two major airports at Kimberley and Upington, and an excellent road network, the province’s interior is easily accessible from South Africa’s major cities, harbours and airports. Sutherland hosts the southern hemisphere’s largest astronomical observatory, the multinational-sponsored Southern African Large Telescope. The Northern Cape is one of two sites to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio-telescope. Developed by scientists from 17 countries, it will be the largest and most advanced radio telescope in the world.
Among many other benefits, the province’s tourism and hospitality industry is profiting from the project, as scientists and other interested parties are flooding into the town of Carnarvon. The province has several national parks and conservation areas, including the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park as well as the Augrabies Falls National Park. The largest part of the province lies in the dry Nama-Karoo Biome, which 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 area is also well known for its spectacular annual spring flowers, which attract thousands of tourists.
Scattered throughout the Northern Cape province you’ll find the roughly hewn Corbelled houses that where built by the trekboere (roaming farmers or pioneers). These stock farmers migrated from the south into the Karoo in the early 1800’s, to discover that trees where sparse and rocks aplenty. Consequently, they set about building shelter with the available raw materials.
As there could be no wooden trusses to support the roof, they made use of an ancient method of construction known as corbelling. This technique was implemented by placing successive courses of flat stone, each one extending a little further inward than the layer beneath, until the walls almost met at the apex. The remaining hole over the roof could then be closed with a single slab. These thick stone walls were excellent insulators against the extreme heat of summer. The floors of most corbelled houses where made of smeared earth that was coloured a rich red with a mixture of fat and oxblood and then polished with a smooth stone.
Megalithic builders in Mediterranean countries used this building technique from as long ago as 4000 years, with examples of this style of architecture found in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Greenland and Italy.
Constructed in a similar fashion (of limestone boulders) the trulli houses of Alberabello, Italy, feature domed or conical roofs and have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Similarly, within South Africa, many of the corbelled houses of the Northern Cape enjoy Heritage status.
Our corbelled houses can also be compared with the Syrian beehive houses, with their thick mud brick walls, designed for the desert climate even harsher than that of the Karoo.
Today, many of the corbelled houses on farms in the Fraserburg, Williston and Carnarvon areas have been revamped as guest accommodation and you can lie in bed and stare up at the circular stone ceiling imagining a bygone era. One can also visit the Carnarvon Museum which is positioned right next to a corbelled house and enjoy this interesting architecture.
Northern Cape Agriculture and industry
The economy of the province’s Karoo region depends on sheep farming, while the karakul-pelt industry is one of the most important in the Gordonia district. The province has fertile agricultural land, especially in the Orange River Valley. A variety of fruit is cultivated at Upington, Kakamas and Keimoes. The Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme near Warrenton facilitates the production of wheat, fruit, peanuts, maize and cotton.
Wine is also produced in the Northern Cape’s Orange River wine region. This wine production accounts for 25,6% of South Africa’s Colombard vines as well as 10% of its Chenin Blanc. The Niewoudtville Rooibos Tea processing initiative centres on the development and economic empowerment of smallholder farmers. It is aimed at unlocking economic potential, creating sustainable jobs and increasing the skills base. The installation of pasteurisation (Pasteurization or pasteurisation is a process that kills microbes in food and drink, such as milk, juice, canned food, and others.) equipment has been completed and tea has been exported to countries such as Germany, Spain and Japan.
Northern Cape Mining
Mining contributes 27,6% to the gross regional domestic product. Iron-ore mining in the north-eastern corner of the province has been expanding despite the global recession, driven largely by China’s demand for steel.
Sishen is the biggest iron-ore mine in the country and its owner, Kumba Iron Ore, is engaging in a new project at Kolomela. New manganese projects are also underway. Diamond mining, in contrast, has seen declining volumes and job losses. 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 province also has copper, asbestos, fluorspar, semiprecious stones and marble.
Northern Cape Population
- Afrikaans 56,8%
- Setswana 33,4%
Population: 1 193 780
Percentage share of the total South African population: 2,1%
Area: 372 889 km2
Source: Stats SA’s Mid-year population estimates 2017 and Community Survey 2016.
Frances Baard district of Northern Cape province of South Africa. The seat of Frances Baard is Kimberley. The majority of its 324 814 people speak Afrikaans. The district code is DC9.
The Frances Baard District Municipality is a Category C municipality located in the far eastern portion of the Northern Cape Province. It shares its northern borders with the North West Province and its eastern border with the Free State Province. The municipality is the smallest district in the Northern Cape, making up only 3% of its geographical area. However, it accommodates the largest proportion of the province’s population.
It comprises the four local municipalities of Dikgatlong, Magareng, Phokwane and Sol Plaatje. Kimberley, which is where the district municipality is located, is less than 500km away from Johannesburg in the north, less than 1 000km away from Cape Town in the south, and less than 800km away from the Port of Durban in the east.
Area: 12 836 km²
John Taolo Gaetsewe district of the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The seat of the authority is Kuruman. The majority of its 176,899 people speak Setswana. The district code is DC45.
The John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality (previously Kgalagadi) is a Category C municipality located in the north of the Northern Cape Province, bordering Botswana in the west. It comprises the three local municipalities of Gamagara, Ga-Segonyana and Joe Morolong, and 186 towns and settlements, of which the majority (80%) are villages.
The boundaries of this district were demarcated in 2006 to include the once north-western part of Joe Morolong and Olifantshoek, along with its surrounds, into the Gamagara Local Municipality.
It has an established rail network from Sishen South and between Black Rock and Dibeng. It is characterised by a mixture of land uses, of which agriculture and mining are dominant. The district holds potential as a viable tourist destination and has numerous growth opportunities in the industrial sector.
Area: 27 322km²
Cities/Towns: Bankhara-Bodulong, Deben, Hotazel, Kathu, Kuruman, Mothibistad, Olifantshoek, Santoy, Van Zylsrus
Namakwa district of the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The seat of Namakwa is Springbok and the region is also known as Little Namaqualand. The majority of its 108,118 people speak Afrikaans. The district code is DC6.
The Namakwa District Municipality is a Category C municipality located in the Northern Cape Province. It is bordered by the republic of Namibia in the north, ZF Mgcawu Local Municipality in the north-east, Cape Winelands District Municipality in the south, West Coast District Municipality in the south-west, Pixley Ka Seme District Municipality in the east, Central Karoo District Municipality in the south-east, and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.
It is the largest district in the province, making up over a third of its geographical area. It is comprised of six local municipalities: Nama Khoi, Hantam, Khai-Ma, Kamiesberg, Karoo Hoogland and Richtersveld. The seat of the Namakwa District Municipality is Springbok.
Area: 126 836km²
Cities/Towns: Aggeneys, Alexander Bay, Brandvlei, Bulletrap, Calvinia, Carolusberg, Concordia, Eksteensfontein, Frasersburg, Garies, Hondeklip Bay, Kamieskroon, Kleinzee, Koingnaas, Komaggas, Kuboes, Leliefontein/Kamiesberg, Loeriesfontein, Middelpos, Nababeep, Nieuwoudtville, O’Kiep, Onderste Doorns, Pella, Pofadder, Port Nolloth, Richtersveld, Sanddrift, Springbok, Steinkopf, Sutherland, Williston
Main Economic Sectors: Agriculture, tourism
Pixley ka Seme district of the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The seat of Pixley ka Seme is De Aar. The majority of its 186,351 people speak Afrikaans as first language. The district code is DC7.
The Pixley Ka Seme District Municipality is a Category C municipality situated in the south-east of the Northern Cape Province. It shares its borders with three other provinces, namely the Free State to the east, the Eastern Cape to the south-east, and the Western Cape to the south-west. It is the second-largest district of the five in the province, but makes up almost a third of its geographical area.
The district is comprised of eight local municipalities: Ubuntu, Umsobomvu, Emthanjeni, Kareeberg, Renosterberg, Thembelihle, Siyathemba and Siyancuma. Its main town is De Aar. Traffic flows through the region, linking the major industrial areas of the country.
The area has a low rainfall, while the largest river in South Africa flows through it. Two of the major dams in South Africa, the Vanderkloof and Gariep Dams, are situated on the borders of the district municipality.
Area: 103 411km²
Cities/Towns: Britstown, Burgerville, Campbell, Carnarvon, Colesberg, Copperton, De Aar, Douglas, Griekwastad, Griesenkraal, Hanover, Hopetown, Hutchinson, Loxton, Marydale, Niekerkshoop, Norvalspont, Noupoort, Petrusville, Philipstown, Prieska, Richmond, Riet River, Schmidtsdrif, Strydenburg, Van der Kloof, Vanwyksvlei, Victoria West, Vosburg
The ZF Mgcawu district of the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The seat of ZF Mgcawu is Upington. The majority of its 236,783 people speak Afrikaans. The district code is DC8.
The ZF Mgcawu District Municipality (previously Siyanda District Municipality) is a Category C municipality forming the mid-northern section of the Northern Cape Province, bordering with Botswana in the north and Namibia in the west.
It makes up just under a third of the province’s geographical area, of which 65 000km² comprise the vast Kalahari Desert, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the former Bushmanland. This district comprises five local municipalities: Dawid Kruiper, Kai !Garib, Tsantsabane, !Kheis and Kgatelopele. Upington is the district municipal capital, where the municipal government is located.
Area: 102 484km²
Cities/Towns: Beeshoek, Brandboom, Danielskuil, Eksteenskuil, Groblershoop, Kakamas, Keimoes, Kenhardt, Lime Acres, Mier, Postmasburg, Rietfontein, Upington
The Big Hole in Kimberley is the largest hand-dug excavation in the world. In 1871, diamonds were discovered at the site and mined manually by prospectors.
- De Aar is the most important railway junction in South Africa. The author Olive Schreiner lived in the town for many years. Visitors can dine in her former house, which has been converted into a restaurant.
- Namaqualand is also home to the Ais-Ais/Richtersveld National Park. It is managed jointly by the local Nama people and South African National Parks.
- Namaqualand is famous for a spectacular annual show in spring when an abundance of wild flowers covers vast tracts of desert.
- Upington is the commercial, educational and social centre of the Green Kalahari, owing its prosperity to agriculture and its irrigated lands along the Orange River. A camel-and-rider statue in front of the town’s police station pays tribute to the “mounties”, who patrolled the harsh desert territory on camels.
- The Kalahari Raptor Centre cares for injured birds. Many of these majestic creatures can be seen at close quarters.
- The Wonderwerk Cave at Kuruman features extensive San paintings that may be viewed by appointment.
- Known as the “Oasis of the Kalahari”, Kuruman is blessed with a permanent and abundant source of water that flows from Gasegonyana (Setswana for “the little water calabash”) – commonly called the “Eye of Kuruman” – which yields 20 million litres of water a day.
- The house where Sol Plaatje (African National Congress founding member and human-rights activist) lived in Kimberley, has a library of Plaatje’s and other black South African writers’ works, and several displays, including a portrayal of black involvement in the South African/Anglo-Boer War.
- Hanover is known for its handmade shoes and articles made mostly from sheepskin and leather.
- Mokala National Park is a reserve established in the Plooysburg area south-west of Kimberley in the Northern Cape, South Africa on 19 June 2007. The size of the park is 26,485 hectares. “Where Endangered Species Roam”…Mokala is SANParks’ newest park. It is situated approximately 70km south-southwest of Kimberley, and west of the N12 freeway to Cape Town. Nestled in the hills, Mokala’s landscape boasts a variety of koppieveld (hills) and large open plains.
Malaria is not considered to be endemic to the Northern Cape, but the province is identified as a region that could become suitable for malaria vectors as a result of climate change and other environmental factors. The Molopo and Orange River regions and the far northern parts of the province are considered to be especially important in this respect.
A small number of malaria cases are reported in the province each year.