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Free State Information

 



South Africa's Free State province experiences a climate characterised by warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters. The eastern Free State areas experience frequent snowfalls, especially on the higher ranges. In contrast the western areas of the Free State can be extremely hot in summer. Mostly the rainfall in the Free State occur as brief afternoon thunderstorms and the province becomes drier towards the west.

Situated on flat boundless plains, the rich soil and pleasant climate of the Free State allows for a thriving agricultural industry. With a large percentage of South Africa's farms situated in the Free State, the province is responsible for producing the majority of the country's grain. The Free State province is mostly high-lying with the Drakensberg and Maluti mountains raising the terrain to over 2000 m in the east.

Free State's dominant language is Sesotho with Afrikaans the dominating language in the south-west as well as in some of the major towns. The other main home languages are isiZulu and Setswana. Free State is land locked and borders six South African provinces namely Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, North West province, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

The Free State province of South Africa is generally divided into two regions; the Transgariep & Goldfields region and the Northern and Eastern Free State region.

History of the Free State

The The landscape of the Free State is characterised by the typical expanse of the South African interior plateau. The treeless grass plains are now maize and wheat fields or, especially in the drier regions, sheep farms. The "platte Land" is the heart of rural South Africa. To this day many of the Afrikaans families who live here, claim ancestors who came into this area during the Great Trek. These very hospitable people are known to be conservative and God fearing. Their moral values are stamped by the Calvinist Dutch Reformed Church (NG Kerk) that came into the country with the very first colonists of the Cape in 1652.

International tourism has - quite wrongly - neglected the Free State so far. But the province offers many worthwhile spots. Besides the very attractive Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the game and nature reserves of Sterkfontein Dam, Willem Pretorius and Soetdoering are of particular interest. They are never as crowded as the big game parks in Mpumalanga or in KwaZulu-Natal, and excellent accommodation and camping sites are available.

Free State Geography

 

The Free State is situated on flat boundless plains in the heart of South Africa. The rich soil and pleasant climate allow a thriving agricultural industry. With more than 30,000 farms, which produce over 70% of the country's grain, it is known locally as South Africa's breadbasket. The province is high-lying, with almost all land being 1,000 metres above sea level. The Free State lies in the heart of the Karoo Sequence of rocks, containing shales, mudstones, sandstones and the Drakensberg Basalt forming the youngest capping rocks. The Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains foothills raise the terrain to over 2000 m in the east. Mineral deposits are plentiful, with gold and diamonds being of particular importance, mostly found in the north and west of the province.


Free State Climate

 

The Free State experiences a continental climate, characterised by warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters. Areas in the east experience frequent snowfalls, especially on the higher ranges, whilst the west can be extremely hot in summer. Almost all precipitation falls in the summer months as brief afternoon thunderstorms, with aridity increasing towards the west. Areas in the east around Harrismith, Bethlehem and Ficksburg are well watered. The capital, Bloemfontein, experiences hot, moist summers and cold, dry winters frequented by severe frost.

  • Bloemfontein averages: January maximum: 31°C (min: 15°C), July maximum: 17°C (min: -2°C), annual precipitation: 559 mm
  • Bethlehem averages: 27°C (min: 13°C), July maximum: 16°C (min: -2°C), annual precipitation: 680 mm

Free State Economy

 

The province is the granary of South Africa, with agriculture central to its economy, while mining on the rich goldfields reef is its largest employer.

Agriculture

Agriculture dominates the Free State landscape, with cultivated land covering 32 000 square kilometres, and natural veld and grazing a further 87 000 square kilometres of the province. It is also South Africa's leader in the production of bio fuels, or fuel from agricultural crops, with a number of ethanol plants under construction in the grain-producing western region.

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. Ninety percent of the country's cherry crop is produced in the Ficksburg district, which is also home to the country's two largest asparagus canning factories. Soya, sorghum, sunflowers and wheat are cultivated in the eastern Free State, where farmers specialise in seed production. About 40% of the country's potato yield comes from the province's high-lying areas.

The main vegetable crop is asparagus, both white and green varieties. Although horticulture is expanding and becoming increasingly export-orientated, most produce leaves the province unprocessed.

The Free State's advantage in floriculture is the opposing seasons of the southern and northern hemispheres. The province exports about 1.2 million tons of cut flowers a year.

Mining

The Free State is also rich in mineral wealth, gold representing 20% of the worlds total gold production. Mining is the province's major employer. 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. The Harmony Gold Refinery and Rand Refinery are the only two gold refineries in South Africa.

Gold mines in the Free State also supply a substantial portion of the total silver produced in the country, while considerable concentrations of uranium occurring in the gold-bearing conglomerates of the goldfields are extracted as a byproduct.

Bituminous coal is also mined, and converted to petrochemicals at Sasolburg. 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.

Industry

Since 1989, the Free State economy has moved from dependence on primary sectors such as mining and agriculture to an economy increasingly oriented towards manufacturing and export. Some 14% of the province's manufacturing is classified as being in high-technology industries - the highest of all provincial economies. The northern Free State's chemicals sector is one of the most important in the southern hemisphere. Petrochemicals company Sasol, based in the town of Sasolburg, is a world leader in the production of fuels, waxes, chemicals and low-cost feedstock from coal.

Tourism

In the northeastern Free State, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is the province's prime tourist attraction. The park gets its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the spectacular sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag or Sentinel Rock, which keeps vigil over the park. The little town of Clarens close to Golden Gate Highlands National Park has old sandstone buildings, art galleries, and many B&B's, Self catering and Hotel accommodation.

The sandstone of this region has been used for the lovely dressed-stone buildings found on the Eastern Highlands, while decoratively painted Sotho houses dot the grasslands. Some of South Africa's most valued San (Bushman) rock art is found in the Free State, particularly in the regions around Clarens, Bethlehem, Ficksburg, Ladybrand and Wepener.

Free State Education

 

  • Universities
    • University of the Free State (Bloemfontein)
    • Central University of Technology (Bloemfontein, Welkom)
  • Other educational institutions
    • Flavius Mareka FET College (Kroonstad, Mphohardi, Sasolburg)

Transgariep & Goldfields

Northern & Eastern


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