South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world . It is divided into nine provinces, each with its own legislature, premier and executive council.

Eastern Cape

Capital: Bhisho
Principal languages:
isiXhosa (78,8%)
Afrikaans (10,6%)
English (5,6%)
Population: 6 916 200 (12,6% of total)
Area (km2): 168 966 (13,8%)

The Eastern Cape, at 168 966 km2, is South Africa's second-largest province after the Northern Cape, taking up 13,9% of South Africa's land area.

The province has a population of more than 6,9 million people, the majority of whom speak isiXhosa, followed by Afrikaans and English.

The province is home to a number of Higher Education institutions, including the:

  • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
  • University of Fort Hare
  • Walter Sisulu University of Technology.

It has airports in Port Elizabeth, East London, Mthatha and Bhisho, and boasts two major harbours in East London and Port Elizabeth respectively.

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Free State

Capital: Bloemfontein
Principal languages:
Sesotho (64,2%)
Afrikaans (12,7%)
isiXhosa (7,5%)
Population: 2 817 900 (5,1% of total)
Area (km2): 129 825 (10,6% of total)

In 2015 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.

With Bloemfontein being South Africa’s judicial capital, the province houses the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Agriculture dominates the Free State landscape with cultivated land covering 32 000 km2 and natural veld and grazing a further 87 000 km2 of the province.

The Free State 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.

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Capital: Johannesburg
Principal languages:
isiZulu (19,8%)
Afrikaans (12,4%)
English (13,3%)
Population: 13 200 300 (24% of total)
Area (km2): 18 178 (1,4% of total)

Gauteng contributes 33,9% to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) and is also one of the biggest contributors to the economy of the continent.

The population of 13 million people has the highest per-capita income level in the country.

Most overseas visitors enter South Africa via OR Tambo International Airport.

Some 50 km north of Johannesburg lies Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa. The magnificent Union Buildings, which overlook the city from where it sits on Meintjieskop, represent the official seat of the South African Government and house the offices of the country's President.

The University of Pretoria is the largest residential university in South Africa, while the University of South Africa is believed to be the largest correspondence university in the world. Other universities include the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg.

In addition, Gauteng is home to leading research institutions such as the:

  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
  • Agricultural Research Council
  • Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute
  • Human Sciences Research Council.

Gauteng dominates the South African economy in every major sector except agriculture, mining and quarrying. Mining produces only 6% of Gauteng's total income and 31% of export earnings.

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Capital: Pietermaritzburg
Principal languages:
isiZulu (77,8%)
English (13,2%)
Afrikaans (1,5%)
Population: 10 919 100 (19,9%)
Area (km2): 94 361 (7,7%)

KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province has a population of more than 10 million people living on 92 100 km2 of land. IsiZulu is spoken by the majority of the people, followed by English.

Visitors can enter the province through the King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy, north of Durban, or use the extensive national road network. There are also two major harbours – the port of Durban, which is one the busiest in Africa, and Richards Bay, which is an important coal-export harbour.

Tertiary institutions of learning in the province include the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the Durban Institute of Technology.

KwaZulu-Natal is the only province with a monarchy specifically provided for in the Constitution.

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Capital: Polokwane
Principal languages:
Sepedi (52,9%)
Xitsonga (16.9%)
Tshivenda (16,7%)
Population: 5 726 800 (10,4%)
Area (km2): 125 754 (10,3%)

Limpopo is linked to the Maputo Development Corridor through the Phalaborwa SDI, which is a network of rail and road corridors connecting 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.

Limpopo produces a wide range of agricultural products. 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 and two thirds of its tomatoes.

Limpopo also has abundant mineral resources, making mining the critical sector of the province's economy by contributing 22% of the gross geographic product.

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Capital: Mbombela
Principal languages:
siSwati (27.7%)
isiZulu (24,1%)
isiNdebele (10%)
Population: 4 283 900 (7,8%)
Area (km2): 76 495 (6,3%)

Mpumalanga, which means “Place Where the Sun Rises”, is home to just more than 4 million people, with the principle languages being Siswati and isiZulu.

With a surface area of only 76 495 km2, it is the second-smallest province after Gauteng, yet has the fourth-largest economy in South Africa.

Bordered by Mozambique and Swaziland in the east, and Gauteng in the west, it is situated mainly on the high plateau grasslands of the Middleveld.

Because of its popularity as a tourist destination, Mpumalanga is also served by a number of small airports, including the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport.

Mbombela is the capital of the province and the administrative and business centre of the Lowveld.

Agriculture, as the backbone of the province's economy, employs 8,1% of its total workforce.

An abundance of citrus fruit and many other subtropical fruit – mangoes, avocados, litchis, bananas, papayas, granadillas, guavas – as well as nuts and a variety of vegetables are produced here.

Mpumalanga is rich in coal reserves, with eMalahleni the biggest coal producer in Africa. South Africa’s major power stations are situated in this province. Kendal power station's cooling towers are  the largest structures of their type in the world. The Kusile power station near Delmas, which was completed in 2016, is the country’s biggest, contributing a massive 4 800 MW of electricity to the national grid.

Middelburg, which produces steel and vanadium, is home to Columbus Stainless, South Africa's only producer of stainless steel flat products.

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Northern Cape

Capital: Kimberley
Principal languages:
Afrikaans (68%)
Setswana (33,1%)
Population: 1 185 600 (2,2% of total)
Area (km2): 372 889 (30,5% of total)

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 1,1 million people on 361 830 km2 of land.

About 68% of the people speak Afrikaans while Setswana, isiXhosa and English are also widely spoken.

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 was chosen as one of two sites to host the Square Kilometre Array radio-telescope (better known as the SKA Project). 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 benefiting 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, namely the:

  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
  • Ai-Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Conservation Park
  • Augrabies Falls National Park.

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.

Wine is also produced in the Northern Cape's Orange River wine region, which accounts for 25,6% of South Africa's Colombard vines and 10% of Chenin Blanc.

Mining contributes 27,6% to the gross regional domestic product. Sishen is the biggest iron-ore mine in the country.

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 Niewoudtville Rooibos Tea processing initiative centres on the development and economic empowerment of smallholder farmers. The tea is exported to countries such as Germany, Spain and Japan.

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North West

Capital: Mahikeng
Principal languages:
Setswana (63,4%)
Afrikaans (9,0%)
isiXhosa (5,5%)
Population: 3 707 000 (6,7%)
Area (km2): 104 882 (8,7%)

North West is known as the Platinum Province, owing to its wealth of this precious metal.

The province has a population of 3,6 million people who mainly speak Setswana.

Mahikeng is the capital, well-known for the Mafikeng siege which took place in October 1899 during the Anglo-Boer/South African War.

North West has a number of major tourist attractions, including Sun City, the Pilanesberg National Park, Madikwe Game Reserve and the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust.

A portion of one of South Africa's seven Unesco world heritage sites also fall within the borders of North West namely the Taung hominid fossil site, which has been incorporated into South Africa's Cradle of Humankind.

Mining contributes 23,3% to the North West's economy, and makes up 22,5% of the South African mining industry as a whole.

The Rustenburg and Brits districts produce 94% of the country's platinum, which is more than any other single area in the world. In addition to granite, marble, fluorspar and diamonds, the province also produces a quarter of South Africa’s gold.

North West's manufacturing sector is centred at the municipalities of Brits, Rustenburg, Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp and Mahikeng, which account for more than 50% of total manufacturing production in the province.

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Western Cape

Capital: Cape Town
Principal languages:
Afrikaans (55,3%)
isiXhosa (24,7%)
English (19,3%)
Population: 6 200 100 (11,3% of total)
Area (km2): 129 462 (10,6% of total)

Table Mountain, the Cape winelands, Robben Island and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are among the province's most popular tourist attractions.

The Western Cape is also known for its floral diversity. The Cape Floristic Region World Heritage Site, comprising eight separate protected areas, covers an area of more than 553 000 ha stretching from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Cape.

Cape Town, often referred to as the "Mother city", houses Parliament and is the country’s legislative capital.

The agricultural sector accounts for 60% of regional exports.

The Western Cape is also well known for its wine production. According to a study, commissioned by the SA Wine Industry Information & Systems, published in 2015, some 300 000 people were employed both directly and indirectly in the wine industry in 2015, including farm labourers, those involved in packaging, retailing and wine tourism.

Some 75% of all South African fishing take place along the Western Cape coastline. The rich fishing grounds on the west coast are protected from exploitation by a 200 km commercial fishing zone and a strict quota system. Snoek, Cape lobster, abalone, calamari, octopus, oysters and mussels are among the delicacies produced in these waters.

The Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone (SBIDZ) is drawing strong international interest. The Saldanha Bay IDZ Licencing Company signed six lease agreements with international and South African oil and gas companies. These include firms specialising in oilfield services, oi rig operations, logistics operators, ship repair, engineering and market support.

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SA Yearbook 2015/2016