There are striking differences between South Africa's nine provinces, from tiny, crowded and landlocked Gauteng to the hot, humid and almost equally crowded coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal in the east and, in the west, the vast, dry and empty landscape of the Northern Cape.
The provinces are, in alphabetical order, the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape, North West, and the Western Cape.
Sections in this article:
South Africa is a coastal nation, with oceans on its shores from the northwest down south and up again to the northeast. Four of its nine provinces lie on the coast: the Northern Cape to the northwest, which abuts the Atlantic Ocean, then the Western Cape, which shares both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, and, towards the east, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, which both enjoy the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
Inland is Mpumalanga, just north of KwaZulu-Natal and bordering the countries of Swaziland and Mozambique. The other landlocked provinces are Limpopo in the far north, North West, the Free State and, in the middle of South Africa, Gauteng.
The Eastern Cape lies in the southeast of South Africa.
The Free State is a landlocked province in the centre of South Africa.
Gauteng is the smallest province, but has the largest population and economy.
KwaZulu-Natal lies on the eastern coastline of South Africa.
Limpopo is South Africa’s northernmost province.
Mpumalanga lies in the northeast of South Africa.
The Northern Cape is in the northwest is South Africa’s largest and driest province.
North West lies in the northern centre of South Africa.
The Western Cape is at the southernmost point of the African continent.
Before 1994, South Africa had four provinces: the Transvaal and Orange Free State, previously Boer republics, and Natal and the Cape, once British colonies. Scattered about were also the grand apartheid "homelands", spurious states to which black South Africans were forced to have citizenship.
Under South Africa's new democratic constitution, which came into effect on 4 February 1997, the four provinces were broken up into the current nine, and the "homelands" blinked out of existence. The Cape became the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and the western half of North West, while the Transvaal became Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the eastern half of North West.
Natal was renamed KwaZulu-Natal, incorporating the "homeland" of KwaZulu, and the Orange Free State became simply the Free State.
The table below shows the apartheid-era territories, and portions of territories, that were incorporated into South Africa’s nine new provinces.
|TERRITORIES INCORPORATED INTO SOUTH AFRICA'S NINE PROVINCES|
|Province||Former province||Former "homeland"|
|Eastern Cape||Cape Province||Transkei, Ciskei|
|Free State||Orange Free State||QwaQwa|
|Limpopo||Transvaal||Venda, Lebowa, Gazankulu|
|Mpumalanga||Transvaal||KwaNdebele, KaNgwane, Bophuthatswana, Lebowa|
|Northern Cape||Cape Province||–|
|North West||Transvaal, Cape Province||Bophuthatswana|
|Western Cape||Cape Province||–|
South Africa's largest province is the Northern Cape, and the smallest Gauteng. Yet the Northern Cape's desert conditions mean only 2% of the country's population live there, even though it takes up almost a third of South Africa's land area. Gauteng is under 5% of the size of the Northern Cape, yet it is home to almost a quarter of South Africa's population - thanks to a developed economy and infrastructure based on mining and, more recently, finance.
In percentages: South Africa's largest province is the Northern Cape (30.5%) and the smallest Gauteng (1.5%). In between are the Eastern Cape (13.8%), the Free State (10.6%) and Western Cape (also 10.6%), Limpopo (10.3%), North West (8.6%), KwaZulu-Natal (7.8%) and Mpumalanga (6.3%).
|PROVINCIAL LAND AREA|
|Province||Area||Percentage of total|
|Eastern Cape||168 966 km2||13.8%|
|Free State||129 825 km2||10.6%|
|Gauteng||18 178 km2||1.5%|
|KwaZulu-Natal||94 931 km2||7.8%|
|Limpopo||125 755 km2||10.3%|
|Mpumalanga||76 495 km2||6.3%|
|Northern Cape||372 889 km2||30.5%|
|North West||104 882 km2||8.6%|
|Western Cape||129 462 km2||10.6%|
|TOTAL|| 1 220 813 km2
South Africa’s provincial populations vary considerably. Gauteng, the smallest province, has the largest population, and KwaZulu-Natal the second-largest. The Northern Cape, which takes up nearly a third of South Africa's land area, has the smallest population. The Eastern Cape has the third-largest population, and Western Cape the fourth-largest.
|SOUTH AFRICA'S POPULATION BY PROVINCE – CENSUS 2011|
|Province||Population||% of total|
|Eastern Cape||6 562 053||12.7%|
|Free State||2 745 590||5.3%|
|Gauteng||12 272 263||23.7%|
|KwaZulu-Natal||10 267 300||19.8%|
|Limpopo||5 404 868||10.4%|
|Mpumalanga||4 039 939||7.8%|
|Northern Cape||1 145 861||2.2%|
|North West||3 509 953||6.8%|
|Western Cape||5 822 734||11.3%|
|TOTAL||51 770 560||100%|
This variation translates into huge differences in population density, reflecting the urban or rural nature of each province.Average number of people per square kilometre in each province:
Of course, this density is not smoothly distributed across each provinces. Population density rises to over
3 000 people per square kilometre in the major urban centres of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban, and drops to under one person for every square kilometre in rural and semi-desert regions of the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape.
There is also a wide variation in the racial composition of the different provinces’ populations. Africans are the majority population group in seven of the nine provinces, comprising from 75% to 97% of the provincial total. Yet they make up less than a third of the population in the Western Cape (26.7%) and under a half in the Northern Cape (46.5%).
The distribution of a population group can reflect that people’s history in the country. Coloured South Africans are to be found mainly in the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape (respectively 61.1%, 12% and 10.7% of South Africa’s total coloured population) because they are descended from a mixture of slaves brought to what was then the Cape Colony, white immigrants to the colony, and the indigenous Khoisan people who lived in the Cape at the time.
Similarly, the vast majority (71.6%) of Indian South Africans live in KwaZulu-Natal because they were brought to Natal in the early 20th century to work on sugarcane plantations. And only 0.3% of Indians live in the Free State (0.1% of the total Free State population), as they were forbidden by law to enter what was then the Orange Free State during the apartheid era.
Provincial distribution also reflects a group’s socioeconomic position. White South Africans, the beneficiaries of the apartheid system, are largely found in the more developed and urbanised provinces of Gauteng (40.4% of the total white population, and 18.9% of the total Gauteng population) and the Western Cape (19.4% of the total white population, and 18.4% of the Western Cape population).
South Africa has 11 official languages, but there are vast differences in language distribution and the numbers of those who speak a particular language at home. Although English is the lingua franca of the country, there is considerable variation in languages between the provinces.
Except for Gauteng and Mpumalanga, each province is dominated by a single language, spoken by more than half the population. In the Eastern Cape it’s isiXhosa, spoken by 83.4% of the population; in KwaZuluNatal it’s isiZulu, the language of 80.9% of the people. Afrikaans dominates in the Northern and Western Cape (respectively 68% and 55.3% of the provincial population), while Sesotho is most common in the Free State (64.4%) and Limpopo (52.1%) and Setswana in North West (65.4%).
Gauteng and Mpumalanga are more linguistically heterogenous, with no single language dominating.
IsiZulu is the most common language in South Africa, spoken by nearly 23% of the total population. But it’s a regional language, with 71.8% of its speakers to be found in KwaZulu-Natal, where it is the language of 80.9% of the provincial population. Over 18% of isiZulu speakers are to be found in Gauteng, the second province in which it is in the majority, with its speakers making up 21.5% of the provincial population. The third province in which the language is the largest is Mpumalanga, where it is spoken by more than a quarter of the population, who make up 7.6% of all South African isiZulu speakers. The presence of the language in the remaining six provinces is negligible.
South Africa’s second most common language is isiXhosa, a language similar to isiZulu and spoken by 17.6% of all South Africans. It too is regional, with a third of its speakers living in the Eastern Cape, where it is the language of 83.4% of the provincial population. It’s also strong in the bordering Western Cape, where 13.6% of all isiXhosa speakers live, making up nearly a quarter of the provincial population. There are a fair number of isiXhosa speakers in the Free State, North West and Gauteng (respectively 9.1%, 5.8% and 7% of the provincial population), but it is not widely spoken in the other provinces.
In third place is Afrikaans, spoken by 13.3% of the total population - mainly coloured and white South Africans. Most Afrikaans speakers (41.8%) live in the Western Cape, where it is the language of more than half of the provincial population. It’s also common in Gauteng, where 20.9% of Afrikaans speakers live, making up 14.4% of the population. Although only 9.5% of Afrikaans speakers live in the Northern Cape, it’s the dominant language there, spoken by 68% of the provincial population. Afrikaans is also spoken by 9.3% of the people of the Eastern Cape, 11.9% of the Free State’s population, and 7.5% of the people of North West.
Sepedi, the fourth most common language in South Africa, is the language of Limpopo, where it’s spoken by 54.8% of the provincial population - 65.1% of all Sepedi speakers. It’s also found in Gauteng, where nearly a quarter (24.3%) of Sepedi speakers are to be found, making up 11.2% of the population. In Mpumalanga 10.2% of the population speak Sepedi, or 8.1% of all Sepedi speakers.
While English is spoken to some degree by many South Africans, as a home language it is most common in KwaZulu-Natal, where over a third (34.9%) of all English-speaking South Africans are found, making up 13.6% of the provincial population. Another third (30%) of English speakers live in Gauteng, where it is the language of 12.5% of the population, and 23.8% in the Western Cape, where it is spoken by 19.3% of the population.
Setswana is largely found in North West, a province bordering the country of Botswana, where the language dominates. It is spoken by 65.4% of all North West residents, or 56.2% of all Setswana-speaking South Africans. Setswana is also found in the Northern Cape, where it is spoken by 33.7% of the population, in Gauteng (9.9%) and the Free State (6.8%)
Sesotho is the language of the Free State, which borders the kingdom of Lesotho. It is spoken by 64.4% of the Free State population, or 49% of all Sesotho-speaking South Africans. Sesotho is also found in Gauteng, where it is spoken by 13.1% of the population - a third (32.4%) of all Sesotho-speaking South Africans - and in North West, where it is spoken by 6.8% of the population.
isiNdebele, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga
South Africa’s minority official languages are isiNdebele, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.
IsiNdebele, spoken by 1.6% of South Africa’s population, is largely found in Mpumalanga, where 48.6% of its speakers are found, or 12.1% of the provincial population. Almost a third of isiNdebele speakers reside in Gauteng, but make up only 2.3% of the province's population.
SiSwati is the language of the Swazi people, spoken by 2.7% of South Africans. The vast majority (83%) of siSwati speakers are found in the province of Mpumalanga - on the border of Swaziland - where they are the majority linguistic group, making up 30.8% of the provincial population. Nearly 11% of siSwati speakers are found in Gauteng, where they make up only 1.4% of the population.
Tshivenda is spoken by 2.3% of South Africans, mainly in the province of Limpopo, where 82% of Tshivenda speakers live, or 15.9% of the provincial population. Another 15.7% of Tshivenda speakers live in Gauteng, where they make up 1.7% of the population.
Xitsonga, spoken by 4.4% of the national population, is found in Limpopo (45% of Xitsonga speakers and 22.4% of the provincial population), Gauteng (28.6% of speakers and 6.2% of the population) and Mpumalanga (19.7% and 11.6%).
Each province has its own provincial government, with legislative power vested in a provincial legislature and executive power vested in a provincial premier and exercised together with the other members of a provincial executive council.
The legislature has between 30 and 80 members elected for a five-year term based on the province’s portion of the national voters’ roll. The legislature is empowered to pass legislation within its functional areas
The premier is elected by the legislature and, as with the president at national level, is limited to two five-year terms in office. The premier appoints the other members of the executive council, which functions as a cabinet at provincial level.
The members of the executive council, known as MECs, are accountable individually and collectively to the legislature.
Population density correlates with the provinces' slice of South Africa's economy, with Gauteng having the biggest. The tiny province punches way above its weight, contributing 34.7% to national gross domestic product (GDP) in 2012.
Next is KwaZulu-Natal with 15.8%, and the Western Cape with 14%.
The province with the smallest contribution to GDP is the Northern Cape, at only 2.2%, followed by the Free State with 5.2%.
|GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT PER PROVINCE 2012|
||Contribution to economy
Source: Statistics South Africa
Compiled by Mary Alexander