Limpopo is South Africa’s northernmost province, lying within the great curve of the Limpopo River. It is a region of contrasts, from true bushveld country to majestic mountains, primeval indigenous forests, unspoilt wilderness and patchworks of farmland.
The province borders the countries of Botswana to the west, Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east. In the eastern region lies the northern half of the magnificent Kruger National Park, a nature reserve teeming with African wildlife in a total area roughly the size of Israel.
Limpopo is the gateway to the rest of Africa, with its shared borders making it favourably situated for economic cooperation with other parts of southern Africa.
The Maputo Development Corridor is to link the province directly with the Port of Maputo in Mozambique, creating development and trade opportunities, particularly in the southeast. Limpopo connects to the corridor via the Phalaborwa Spatial Development Initiative, a network of rail and road corridors linked to major seaports. This is complemented by airports in centres such as Phalaborwa and Musina, as well as the Gateway International Airport in Polokwane.
The capital is Polokwane, located in the middle of the province. Further north is Modimolle, the hub of the local table-grape industry set near the beautiful Waterberg mountain range; Makhado at the foot of the Soutpansberg mountains; and Musina, with its thick-set baobab trees.
Other important Limpopo towns include the major mining centres of Phalaborwa and Thabazimbi, and Tzaneen, a producer of tea, forestry products and tropical fruit. Bela- Bela, with its popular mineral water baths, is near the southern border.
Through the centre of the province runs the Great North Road, an important route into Africa, which crosses into Zimbabwe at the major border post of Beit Bridge.
Limpopo: quick facts
- Capital: Polokwane
- Languages: 52.9% Sepedi, 17% Xitsonga, 16.7% Tshivenda
- Population: 5 404 868 (2011)
- Share of SA population: 10.4%
- Area: 125 755 square kilometres
- Share of total SA area: 10.3%
The land and its people
With a total area of 125 755 square kilometres, Limpopo is slightly larger than the US state of Pennsylvania. It’s the fifth-largest of the country’s nine provinces, taking up 10.3% of South Africa’s land area and with a population of 5.4-million people.
The principal home language is Sesotho, spoken by more than half the population, followed by Xitsonga and Tshivenda.
Limpopo is in the savanna biome, an area of mixed grassland and trees generally known as bushveld. A summer-rainfall region, the northern and eastern areas are subtropical with hot and humid summers and mist in the mountains. Winter is mild and mostly frost-free.
Rich in natural beauty, culture and wildlife, Limpopo has a thriving tourism industry. In addition to the Kruger National Park, there are 54 provincial reserves and several luxury private game reserves.
It’s also home to the Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, one of the country’s eight World Heritage sites. South Africa’s first kingdom, Mapungubwe developed into the subcontinent’s largest realm, lasting for 400 years before it was abandoned in the 14th century. Its highly sophisticated people traded gold and ivory with China, India and Egypt.
Valuable archaeological artefacts have been discovered in the area, which lies on the open savannah of the Mapungubwe National Park at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe Rivers.
Limpopo’s rich mineral deposits include platinum group metals, iron ore, chromium high- and middle-grade coking coal, diamonds, antimony, phosphate and copper, as well as mineral reserves such as gold, emeralds, scheelite, magnetite, vermiculite, silicon and mica. Base commodities such as black granite, corundum and feldspar are also found. Mining contributes to more than a fifth of the provincial economy.
The province is a typical developing area, exporting primary products and importing manufactured goods and services. It has a high potential for development, with resources such as tourism, rain-fed agriculture, minerals and abundant labour offering excellent investment opportunities.
The bushveld is cattle country, where extensive ranching operations are often supplemented by controlled hunting. About 80% of South Africa’s hunting industry is found in Limpopo.
Sunflowers, cotton, maize and peanuts are cultivated in the Bela-Bela and Modimolle areas. Modimolle is also known for its table-grape crops.
Tropical fruit, such as bananas, litchis, pineapples, mangoes and pawpaws, as well as a variety of nuts, are grown in the Tzaneen and Makhado areas. Tzaneen is also at the centre of extensive tea and coffee plantations.
Limpopo, known as the “garden of South Africa” produces about the majority of South Africa’s mangoes, papayas, avocados and tomatoes. As well as thousands of tons of potatoes, the province also produces tea, citrus, bananas, and litchis in abundance.
Extensive forestry plantations are also found in the region, including hardwood for furniture manufacture.
In addition to commercial agriculture, subsistence farming is the mainstay of a large section of the rural population.