Free State Province

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Coat of arms for the Free State

The Free State Province lies in the heart of South Africa, with the Kingdom of Lesotho nestling in the hollow of its bean-like shape. Lying between the Vaal River in the north and the Orange River in the south, the region is one of flat, rolling grassland and crops fields, rising to lovely sandstone mountains in the northeast.

 

Capital: Bloemfontein

 

Main Language: Afrikaans, Sesotho

 

Premier: Ace Magashule

 

First Premier: Mosiuoa Lekote

 

When the Voortrekkers move away from the Cape Colony in the great Trek, some of them settled just north of Orange River, which formed the border between the Cape Colony and the rest of South Africa. There they founded many towns and farms. But they soon came into conflict with some of the black groups, especially the Basotho. The Basotho were a black nation which was found by Moshoeshoe after the mfecane. Their capital was at Thaba Bosui, which means Mountain of the Night in Sotho. In 1853 the Boers (as the Voortrekkers who had settled in the new republics were now called) declared the area the Orange Free State, a Boer republic like the ZAR.

They fight against Moshoeshoe many times, mostly over who owned what land and where the border between the OFS and the Basotho- kingdom actually was. During the protracted Second Basotho War of 1864 to 1868, Moshoeshoe asked for British protection to protect his Kingdom. The Basotho kingdom became a British protectorate and the Second Basotho War came to an end. As a measure to appease the Boers, the British granted most of the Basotho’s fertile land to the Orange Free State creating the current Lesotho borders with the Free State.

When the Anglo- Boer War broke out in 1899, the Orange Free State helped the ZAR to fight against the British. But in 1902 the Boers lost the war and their republics became the British colonies. The name of the Orange Free State was changed to the Orange River Colony. In 1910, it became one of the provinces of the new Union of South Africa, and the name was changed back to the Orange Free State. After South Africa’s transition to democracy the Orange Free State became a South African province and the name was changed to Free State.

The province is the granary of South Africa, with agriculture central to its economy, while mining on the rich goldfields reefs is its largest employer. In May 2011 Manguang, comprising Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu, became South Africa’s newest metropolitan authority. It has an established institutional, educational and administrational infrastructure, and houses the Supreme Court of Appeal, the University of Free State and the Central University of Technology.

 Important towns include Welkom, the hearts of the goldfields and one of the few completely preplanned cities in the world; Odendaalsrus, another gold-mining town; Sasolburg, which gets 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 for its beautiful handcrafted items; and Bethlehem, gateway to the Eastern Highlands of the Free State.

The land and its people

The Free State is the third- largest province in South Africa, but it has the second-smallest population and the second-lowest population density. Free State culture has an interesting dynamic. It is centred around traditional African cultures, but built on the influences of the early European settles. Out of this has come a uniquely South African culture, which not only reflect this province’s historical past, but also the great diversity of its people. With almost 2.8 million people live there, with two-thirds speaking Sesotho, the language of neighbouring Lesotho, followed by Afrikaans and less than 10% speaking isiXhosa. The Free State culture is a true melting pot of traditions.

 Free State people have descended directly from several traditional Southern African groups as well as a long line of Dutch forebears. This combination has evolved into the unique South African culture of the Free State today. Arguably the first group to lay claim to this region were the San (Bushmen). Their ancient drawing speaks of the animals that shared their lives on the Free State plains including, most interestingly, hippos.

Further down the timeline, Free State culture is heavily influenced by the Basotho or South Sotho people who arrived here in the late 1700s. Despite many battles through the decades, including with and European settlers, the Basotho survived and are dominant Free State cultural group today.

Larger Producing Mines

GOLD

The Free State gold field falls entirely within the Free State Province. Many big mines, some of them even producing uranium, are active here. Though a substantial of gold remain in the field, the generally lower grades and weak gold price, combined with increasing production costs in real terms, as the deposits are mined at ever- deeper levels, mean that some of the gold mines have became marginal to sub-economic and face closure in the near future. A total of 16 gold mines are still active in the Free State gold field.

COAL

The Vereeniging- Sasolburg coal fields ranks third in South Africa in order of importance, while the Free State supplies a saleable output of 10,5 per cent of national coal output. Two mines are producing, namely the New Vaal Colliery and Sigma Mine, both exploiting bituminious coal. Sixteen years ago some 5 000 Mt of low grade coal, suitable for power generation and the possible production of liquid fuel, was proven by exploration.

Most coal (tubuminious) produced during 1994.

 DIAMONDS

Diamond production has been important in the Free State Province for decades. The well known Jagersfontein and Monasterymines have been closed, but four mines have been producing diamonds for Kimberlite rock, namely the Samada, Koffiefontein, Salene (Star) and Sonnenberg (Loxton). Total diamond production during 1994 amounted to 198 564 carats.

Small producing mines

LIMESTONE

Calcrete is present in the western parts of the Free State Province and limestone reserves are substantial. Agricultural- and dolomitic limestone is being produced in opencast workings in the Henneman and Vitjoenstroon District.

GRANITE

Rough granite blocks are extracted in the Parys district for use as dimension stone.

GYPSUM

Gypsum is produced from an open cast working in the Boshof district.

SALT

Salt is produced from salt pans in the Western Free State where it has been precipitated by the evaporation of brines. Production is concentrated around the Florisbad salt pan, north of northwest Bloemfontein. Salt is being produced from some 20 localities.

SAND AND STONE AGGREGATE

Sand and stone aggregate are produced from various quarries in the Province. A quantity of 3 622 065 t aggregate and sand was sold during 1994, with a value of R41 997 109.

Top attractions

GOLDEN GATE HIGHLANDS NATIONAL PARK

The Golden Gate Park lies at the foot of the Maluti Mountains, and offers visitors over 11000 hectors of true highland habitant, and is home to an array of animals, including black wildebeest, eland, springbok, Burchell’s zebra, the rear bearded vulture and bald ibis. The park gets its name from the bright rays of golden sunlight cast on the park’s sandstone cliffs – truly a sight to behold.

BASOTHO CULTURAL VILLAGE

Nestled in the heart of the QwaQwa national park lies the Basotho Cultural Village, a place that time forgot where the Basotho still practice their traditional ways today. Explore the traditions of the village as you step to the ‘khotla’, the gathering place of men, or enjoy a taste of traditional African beer. Alternatively hear the wise words of traditional healer before watching the women grind maize in their decorated huts.

BLOEMFONTEIN BOTANICAL GARDENS

The botanical gardens consist of a mix of planted and indigenous environments, with two dams, reeds, small hills and indigenous Karee and Wild Olive trees. It also includes an Orchid house said to be the most modern of its kind in the southern hemisphere. The park is also home to over 100 species of birds, and is a perfect place to spend a relaxing day enjoying the scenery.

WAR MEMORIALS AND MONUMENTS

The Anglo Boer War, which broke out in October 1899, was a turning point in South Africa’s history, and the last full scale war fought on South African soil. The Free State offers a number of war monuments and memorials, including battlefield site monuments, museums and war and concentration camp cemeteries.

STEAM TRAIN EXCURSIONS

The Sandstone Steam Rail Company has made it its mission to restore steam trains for tourists to enjoy excursions along the historic Bethlehem-Bloemfontein Rail road. Enjoy timeless travel through unique African destinations such as Maseru or Ladybrand, with many stops to explore and enjoy the scenery- an unusual yet relaxing way to explore vistas and history of the Free State.

OLIEWENHUIS ART MUSEUM

Originally a residence for Governor Generals and State Presidents of South Africa, the museum collects only South African arts and has an excellent compilation of historic and contemporary paintings, sculptures and graphic art. The underground reservoir, built in 1904, is now a general space for workshop, exhibitions and conferences. Visitors can not only enjoy the fine artworks on display, but also will be entertained on weekends by local musicians while enjoying light lunches or walking trails through the surrounding area.

Major Events and Festivals

PHILIPPOLIS WITBLITS FESTIVAL

Visit the oldest town in the Free State to share a proud local tradition- Witblits (white lightning) - a potent local spirit. The festival held in early April, offer a range of activities, including boeresports (traditional farming sports) for the children, food, stalls, and of course Witblits tasting. Philippolis is also well known as an artist haven, with many studios on offer to visit artist in action.

AARDKLOP ARTS FESTIVAL

Have the time of your life at the five day Aardklop festival, held every September in Potchefstroom. Feel the beat of the earth as you enjoy a feast of entertainment, be it jazz, classical music, hard rock, cabaret, circus theatre or poetry.

FICKSBERG CHERRY FESTIVAL

First held in 1969, the Ficksberg Cherry Festival now attract around 20 000 visitors annually every November. Enjoy breath taking scenery while you participate in cherry and asparagus tasting, tours, picnics and music, a truly rustic, traditional festival.

RUSTLER’S VALLEY FESTIVALS

Rustler’s valley in the eastern Free State host a number of annual events, including the Spring Equinox Celebration in September and trance, dance and drumming festivals in November and December, as well as New Year’s celebration. The scenery of the Maluti Mountains surrounding the valley is worth the trip alone.

Manufacturing

The Free State, best known for its maize production has, in the last decade, reduced its dependency on the primary sector, and has become a manufacturing economy. Some 14% of the province manufacturing is classified as high-technology industries, which is the highest percentage of all the provincial economies. This growth in high-tech industries is significant in the context of the changing contribution of the gold mining industry to the GGP.

The province three-tier development strategy centres on competitiveness, empowerment, capacity-building and beneficiation. Manufacturing is the second-largest sector in the regional economy. Among the most important activities are the chemical products manufactured by Sasol and the further beneficiation of agricultural product. A wide variety of industries have developed around the production of basic chemical from coal. 

Last updated : 22-Feb-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 31-Mar-2011

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