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Free State Tourism Information

Quick Facts: Free State

  • Capital of the Free State: Bloemfontein
  • Bloemfontein is the capital of the Free State and home to South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal, the University of the Free State and the Central University of Technology
  • Languages: 64.4% Sesotho, 11.9% Afrikaans, 9.1% isiXhosa
  • Population: 2 938 236 (2006)
  • Share of South Africa’s population: 6.2%
  • Area: 129 825 square kilometres
  • Share of total South Africa’s area: 10.6%
  • Population density: 23 people per square kilometre
  • Gross regional product: R69-billion (2003)
  • Share of total South Africa’s GDP: 5.5%
  • Golden Gate Highlands National Park
  • Vredefort Dome: the largest visible meteor-impact site in the world
  • Maluti mountains
  • San (Bushman) rock art
  • Home to South Africa’s largest gold-mining complex ‘Free State Consolidated Goldfields’
  • ‘Harmony Gold Refinery’ and ‘Rand Refinery’ are the only two gold refineries in South Africa.

Introducing Free State

The Free State lies in the heart of South Africa, with the Kingdom of Lesotho nestling in the centre of its bean-like shape.  Situated between the Vaal River in the north and the Orange River in the south, this region of South Africa is one of flat, rolling grassland and crop fields, rising to beautiful sandstone mountains in the northeast. The Free State is the granary of South Africa, with agriculture central to its economy, while mining on the rich goldfields reef is its largest employer. Bloemfontein is the capital of the Free State and home to South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal, the University of the Free State and the Central University of Technology.

Important cities and towns in the Free State, South Africa, include Welkom, the heart of the goldfields and one of the few completely preplanned cities in the world; Odendaalsrus, another gold-mining town; Sasolburg, which received its name from the petrochemical company Sasol; Kroonstad, an important agricultural, administrative and educational centre; Parys, on the banks of the Vaal River; Phuthaditjhaba, a vast and sprawling settlement known its beautiful handcrafted items; and Bethlehem, which is the gateway to the Eastern Highlands of the Free State.

South Africa's national road runs through the centre of the Free State and is an important link between Gauteng and the Western and Eastern Cape.  Before democracy in 1994, the Free State was known as the Orange Free State. An independent Boer republic in the 19th century, the Free State became a province under the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Size of the Free State, South Africa

With a total area of 129 825 square kilometres, the Free State is roughly the size of Nicaragua.  The Free State is South Africa’s third-largest province, only slightly bigger than the Western Cape, taking up 10.6% of South Africa's land area.   Its population is approximately 2.9-million.

Languages spoken in the Free State, South Africa

Two-thirds of the people living in South Africa’s Free State speak Sesotho, the language of neighbouring Lesotho, followed by Afrikaans and a sprinkling of isiXhosa.
 
Weather in the Free State

Being a summer-rainfall region (November – April) , the Free State in South Africa can be extremely cold during the winter months ( May – October ), especially towards the eastern mountainous regions. The western and southern regions of the Free State are semi-desert.
 
Free State’s landscape and attractions

  • Golden Gate Highlands National Park
  • Vredefort Dome: the largest visible meteor-impact site in the world
  • Maluti mountains
  • San (Bushman) rock art

A beautiful range of hills near Parys in the northern Free State forms part of the Vredefort Dome which is the largest visible meteor-impact site in the world. Formed 2-billion years ago when a meteorite 10 kilometres wide slammed into the earth, the Vredefort Dome is one of South Africa's seven Unesco World Heritage sites.

In the northeastern area of the Free State, situated in the rolling foothills of the Maluti mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is the province's prime tourist attraction. The Golden Gate Highlands National 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 sandstone here has been used for the lovely dressed-stone buildings found on the Eastern Highlands, while decoratively painted Sotho houses dot the grasslands in the Free State. Some of South Africa's most valued San (Bushman) rock art is found in the Free State, particularly in the regions around Bethlehem, Ficksburg, Ladybrand and Wepener.

Mining in the Free State, South Africa

In the Free State, mining is the province's major employer. A gold reef over 400 kilometres long, known as the goldfields region, stretches across Gauteng and the Free State.  South Africa is the world's largest gold producer, and the country's largest gold-mining complex is Free State Consolidated Goldfields, with an area of 330 square kilometres.

The Free State is home to 12 gold mines and produces 30% of South Africa's output, 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.

The gold mines, which can be found in the Free State, also supply a substantial portion of the total silver produced in South Africs, while considerable concentrations of uranium occur in the gold-bearing conglomerates of the goldfields which are extracted as a byproduct.

Bituminous coal is also mined here, and converted to petrochemicals at Sasolburg. The Free State also produces high-quality diamonds from its kimberlite pipes and fissures, and South Africa’s largest deposit of bentonite is found in the Koppies district.

Industry in the Free State of South Africa

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.

Agriculture in the Free State

The landscape of the Free State in South Africa is characterized by the provinces agriculture.  With cultivated land covering 32 000 square kilometres, and natural veld and grazing a further 87 000 square kilometres of the province, agriculture plays a major part in this region of South Africa.

The Free State 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 Free State. Animal products contribute a further 30%, with the balance generated by horticulture.

Ninety percent of South Africa’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 South Africa’s potato yield comes from the province's high-lying areas.

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

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