Explore the Nine Provinces of South Africa

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Provinces of South Africa

Currently, South Africa has nine provinces, each with its own distinct culture. Before Apartheid ended in 1994, South Africa had four provinces: Transvaal, Free State, Natal, and the Western Province. With the new government in 1994, the administrative structure of the South African provinces also changed. Each province received its own executive council, legislature and premier. Each province governs itself to a large extent. 

Let’s explore the provinces of South Africa. As we explore each province, we look at general facts about their size, languages and capital cities. We also consider what each province is known for and some of the popular destinations in each province. 

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on one of these links to make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at not extra cost to you.

Map of South African provinces

The following map depicts South Africa with its nine provinces.

Map of South African Provinces
Mart Bouter, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Western Cape province

The Western Cape Province of South Africa
Wayne Dam (User:Waynedam), CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital cityCape Town
Languages49.7% Afrikaans, 24.7% isiXhosa, 20.2% English
Population 5 822 734
Percentage of SA population11.3%
Area size129 462 square kilometres
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa10.6%
Facts about the Western Cape province of South Africa

South Africa’s Western Cape Province is has a moderate climate and beautiful natural beauty. Here you can discover some of the world’s best beaches here, an excellent food and wine culture, and its hospitable and friendly people. The Western Cape Province is a popular destination for tourists with these offerings. 

The Western Cape Province’s capital city is Cape Town, fondly known as the “Mother City”. Cape Town is South Africa’s legislative capital. 

One of the most famous landmarks representing Cape Town is Table Mountain, one of South Africa’s world heritage sites. You can choose to climb Table Mountain for a complete outdoors experience or take the scenic cable car to the topic for a magnificent view over Cape Town.  

In the Western Cape, you will find various vineyards tugged between the mountain ranges, reflecting the French influence on the South African culture. You can choose from wonderful wine experiences, including wine tastings, a wine tram in Franschhoek or a cycling tour through the vineyards.

Franschhoek in the Western Cape Province of South Africa
Franschhoek in the Western Cape Province of South Africa

If you are looking for beautiful blue-flag beaches, ancient forests and nature reserves, the Western Cape Province has it all. There are many craft markets, historical buildings and art festivals in the Western Cape. 

If you want animal experiences, the Western Cape province is the perfect spot. You can watch whales in Hermanus, see the dolphins frolicking in the ocean, ride ostriches in Oudtshoorn, swim with penguins in Boulder’s Beach or visit Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island. If you are more adventurous, you can choose from various shark-cage diving experiences or abseiling down Table Mountain. 

The Northern Cape province

Northern Cape Map of the Nothern Cape Province of South Africa
Htonl, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital cityKimberley
LanguagesAfrikaans (68%), Setswana (33,1%)
Population1 185 600
Percentage of SA population2.2%
Area size372 889 square kilometres
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa30.5%
Facts about the Northern Cape province of South Africa

Dry and rough landscapes characterise this province. Some call the Northern Cape Province of South Africa the jewel of South Africa. Although this province may at first glance not look like it is worthy of a visit, you may be surprised to discover that large deposits of gemstones (such as opal, jasper and agate) have been found in this province. The most famous gem of the Northern Cape Province is diamonds, for which Kimberly is well-known.

The Big Hole in Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa
The Big Hole in Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa

Vast open plains and red dunes characterise the province. In the spring season, there is an explosion of coloured flowers in the Namaqualand region. Many of South Africa’s national parks exist in this province, and you can find the Big 5 here. The Orange river is in the Northern Cape Province. When there have been good rains, the Augrabies Waterfall, the sixth largest waterfall in the world, flows strong.

If you love 4 x 4 drives, wildlife, river rafting or hiking, a visit to the Northern Cape Province will be worth your while. 

The Eastern Cape province

Map of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa
Htonl, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital cityBisho
Other major citiesPort Elizabeth, also called Nelson Mandela Bay
LanguagesisiXhosa (78,8%), Afrikaans (10,6%), English (5,6%)
Population6 916 200
Percentage of SA population12.6%
Area size68 966
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa13.8%
Facts about the Eastern Cape province of South Africa

The Eastern Cape Province of South Africa features 800 kilometres of beaches alongside the Indian ocean. The province starts at the Tsitsikamma National Park, bordering the Western Cape Province, goes past the golden sunshine coasts of Jeffrey’s Bay, St. Francis Bay and Algoa Bay, all along the wild coast to Port Edward. The beaches are at times interrupted with coves and lagoons. The Eastern Cape Province is popular with surfers, anglers and other vacationers. 

Cape St Francis Beach in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa
Cape St Francis Beach in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa

The province has many national parks to view wildlife, including the big 5 in a natural environment. Visitors choose the Eastern Cape province to view the Big 5 because the area is malaria-free, which is not the case with the famous Kruger National Park. 

If you are a history buff, you will find many historical places to visit in the Eastern Cape province. Former South African president Nelson Mandela was born in Qunu in this province. You can also see the rock painting by the ancient Khoi Khoi people, discover the 19th-century town of Graaf-Reinet with the Valley of desolation and the Anglo-Boer war battlegrounds. 

The KwaZulu-Natal province

Map of the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa
Htonl, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital cityPietermaritzburg
Other major citiesDurban
LanguagesisiZulu (77,8%), English (13,2%), Afrikaans (1,5%)
Population10 919 100
Percentage of SA population19.9%
Area size94 361 square kilometre
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa7.7%
Facts about the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa

The KwaZulu-Natal province is a melting pot of Indian, Zulu and European cultures. The east coast of this province starts at Port Edward, where the Eastern Cape province ends, and it continues up to the national border with Mozambique. This province is sometimes called the garden province because of its subtropical climate and lush green vegetation. 

Moses Mabhiba Stadium in Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa
Moses Mabhiba Stadium in Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa

Another popular destination in KwaZulu-Natal is the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park, one of South Africa’s World Heritage Sites. In the Zulu land area, you will find some battle sites where the Boers/English and Zulus fought each other. 

The province has beautiful beaches and is perfect for swimming with the warm waters from the Indian ocean. Other activities in this province are snorkelling, swimming, angling, scuba diving, or just laying in the sun to relax. A must-visit is another of South Africa’s World Heritage Sites. 

The Free State province

Map of the Free State Province of South Africa
Htonl, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital cityBloemfontein
LanguagesSesotho (64,2%), Afrikaans (12,7%), isiXhosa (7,5%)
Population2 817 900
Percentage of SA population5.1%
Area size129 825 square kilometres
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa10.6%
General facts about the Free State province of South Africa

The Free State province features grassy savannas and fields of maise, wheat and sunflowers. The province has many farms, and you will see windmills throughout the region. 

This province is situated in the middle of South Africa. The Free State province’s northern border is the Vaal River, and the Orange River is at its southern border. 

The capital city of the Free State province is Bloemfontein, which is the judicial capital of South Africa. Bloemfontein houses South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal.

Driving throught the Free State province of South Africa
Driving throught the Free State province of South Africa

A popular place in the Free State province is the Golden Gate National Park, where you can find beautiful sandstone formations. Clarens, the nearest town to the Golden Gate National Park, is a popular destination for South Africans and offers an annual craft beer festival and many art shops. You can also experience the annual cherry festival in Ficksburg in the Free State province.

Another popular destination for locals is Parys, near the northern border of the Free State province. From here, you can visit the Vredefort Dome where a meteorite fell and take part in many outdoor activities, ranging from horse riding, mountain biking and river rafting. 

The North-West province

Map of the North-West province of South Africa
Htonl, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital cityMafikeng
Major cityPotchefstroom
LanguagesSetswana (63,4%), Afrikaans (9,0%), isiXhosa (5,5%)
Population3 707 000
Percentage of SA population6.7%
Area size104 882 square kilometres
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa8.7%
Here are a few facts about the North-West province of South Africa

The North-West province is known as the platinum province as it produces more platinum than any other area globally. This province has two of South Africa’s national wildlife parks, the Madikwe Game Reserve and the Pilanesberg national park near Sun City International. Here you can view wildlife and beautiful African savannah scenery. The climate in the North-West province is hot and dry, with sunshine year-round.

The Sun City Resort is a resort complex in the North-West province, which is popular as it offers many family activities. You can do a safari to view the Big 5 in natures reserves around Sun City. 

The Gauteng province

Map of the Gauteng Province of South Afrca
Wayne Dam (User:Waynedam), CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital cityPretoria
Major cityJohannesburg
LanguagesisiZulu (19,8%), Afrikaans (12,4%), English (13,3%)
Population13 200 300
Percentage of SA population24%
Area size18 178 square kilometres
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa1.4%
Facts about the Gauteng province of South Africa

Gauteng is the Sesotho word for “place of gold. In 1886 gold was discovered in Johannesburg, and this started the Witwatersrand gold rush. The history of Gauteng links to the history of gold in South Africa. Some of the small towns established in the gold rush developed into the largest cities in South Africa, and Johannesburg is an example of this.

FNB Stadium in the South of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa
FNB Stadium in the South of Johannesburg in the Gauteng Province of South Africa

Although Johannesburg is the largest city in Gauteng, and South Africa, the administrative capital of South Africa is Pretoria, located north of Johannesburg.

Gauteng is the economic engine of South Africa, and here you can find some of the best shopping malls in Africa. The Gauteng province is the smallest of the South African provinces, but you can still find some of the best holiday destinations here in the Hartbeespoort or Magaliesburg areas. 

You can also visit another of South Africa’s World Heritage site’s in this province, the Sterkfontein cave complex, also called the Cradle of Mankind. Here, the remains of several hominid fossils, over 2 million years old, were found. 

Gauteng also has Cullinan, an old mining town. Cullinan is where the world’s largest diamond, the Cullinan diamond, was found. 

The Mpumalanga province

Map of the Mpumulanga Province in South Africa
TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital cityMbombela (previously called Nelspruit)
LanguagessiSwati (27.7%), isiZulu (24,1%), isiNdebele (10%)
Population4 283 900
Percentage of SA population7.8%
Area size76 495 square kilometres
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa6.3%
Facts about the Mpumalanga province of South Africa

The Mpumalanga province features the Northern Drakensberg escarpment in the Lowveld. The name of the is SiSwati for the place of the rising sun. You can find stunning natural beauty and diverse cultures here. It offers a range of sights to see, ranging from wildlife, mountain retreats, ancient ruined cities and villages, and wild water sports.

The famous Kruger National Park is in the Mpumalanga province. It is not a malaria-free area but remains extremely popular with both local and international visitors. 

Bourke's Luck Potholes in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa
South African Tourism from South Africa, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can also find forest plantations consisting of pine, gum or wattle trees in Mpumulanga.

The province has many historical sights from the gold rush. You can also visit the Sudwala caves, where people made several archaeological discoveries.

Other popular destinations with local and foreign visitors include the Panorama Route passing by Graskop with the big swing, many waterfalls and God’s Window, Africa’s largest canyon.

The Limpopo province

Map of the Limpopo Province of South Africa
Htonl, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Capital city Polokwane (previously called Pietersburg)
LanguagesSepedi (52,9%), Xitsonga (16.9%), Tshivenda (16,7%)
Population5.3 million
Percentage of SA population10.4%
Area size5 726 800 square kilometres
Area size as a percentage of the total area of South Africa10.3%
Facts about the Limpopo province of South Africa

The Limpopo province is in the north of South Africa. The province’s name is from the Limpopo River that forms its northern and western boundaries. The region is known for the beautiful African bushveld and wildlife.

Entabeni in the Limpopo Province of South Africa
Fyre Mael, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are many game farms, provincial and private game farms in the Limpopo province, including the Kruger National Park at its eastern border. 

Provinces of South Africa

You can also find many resorts with hot springs in Limpopo. These hot mineral baths are perfect for getting out of the African heat and relaxing your muscles.

In terms of culture and history, Limpopo has the heritage sites of the Makapans valley, which is more than three million years old. You can also visit the Rain Queen Modjadji in the rain forest near Tzaneen. 

Sources:

Provinces

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By Sabs

Editor of the South Africa Travel Blog that focuses on travel to South Africa, including destinations, attractions, accommodation, food & drink.

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