The Free State is a province of South Africa. Its capital is Bloemfontein, which is also South Africa's judicial capital. Its historical origins lie in the Orange Free State Boer republic. The current borders of the province date from 1994 when the Bantustans were abolished and included into the provinces of South Africa. It is also the only one of the former provinces of South Africa not to undergo border changes, excluding the incorporation of Bantustans.
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.
Fauna and flora
The grassy plains in the south of the reserve provides ideal conditions for large herds of plain game such as black wildebeest and springbok. The ridges, koppies and plains typical of the northern section are home to kudu, red hartebeest, white rhino and buffalo. The African wildcat, black wildebeest, zebra, eland, white rhino and wild dog can be seen at the The Soetdoring Nature Reserve near Bloemfontein.
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.
In the southeast, the Free State borders seven districts of Lesotho:
Domestically, it borders the following provinces:
- KwaZulu-Natal - east
- Eastern Cape - south
- Northern Cape - west
- North West - northwest
- Gauteng - north
- Mpumalanga - northeast
- The Free State borders more districts of Lesotho and more provinces of South Africa than any other province.
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 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 biofuels, 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.
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.
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.
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, Free State 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, Free State,Bethlehem, Ficksburg, Ladybrand and Wepener. Sesotho is the dominant home language in most of the province. Afrikaans dominates the south-west (where there is a large coloured community) and in many major towns (where there is a large white community) and is widely spoken in Bloemfontein (which imcompasses a large white and coloured community). isiZulu is the major language in the far-eastern municipality of Phumelela. Setswana is the main language in Tokologo (north-west), and in and around the city of Thaba Ncha, in the south-east of the province. It is the only province in the country with a Sesotho majority.
- University of the Free State (Bloemfontein)
- Central University of Technology (Bloemfontein, Welkom).
- Other educational institutions
- Flavius Mareka FET College (Kroonstad, Mphohardi, Sasolburg).
- Provincial Sport Teams
- African Warriors (Phuthaditjhaba)
- Carara Kicks F.C. (Welkom)
- Bloemfontein Celtic
- Free State Cheetahs (Bloemfontein)
- Griffons (Welkom)
- Diamond Eagles (Bloemfontein)