Limpopo Province is the northern-most province of South Africa. The province was formerly named the Northern Province but the name was formally changed in February 2002 after deliberation by the provincial government. Other notable considerations were Mapungubwe, the area where the most ancient gold-using civilisation of the province was discovered a few years earlier. The tribe seemed to have strong links to the ruins and civilisation of Great Zimbabwe.

A unique feature of this province is that it shares international borders with three countries: Botswana to the west and north-west, Zimbabwe to the north, and Mozambique to the east. The Limpopo Province is the link between South Africa and countries further afield in sub-Saharan Africa. On its Southern flank, the province shares borders with Gauteng, with its Johannesburg-Pretoria axis, the most industrious metropole on the continent. Thus the province is placed at the centre of the vortex of developing markets, regional, national and international.

These connections are very well served by excellent road, rail and air links. The N1 route from Johannesburg which goes through the length of the province is the busiest overland route in Africa in terms of cross border trade in raw materials and beneficiated goods. The port of Durban, Africaís busiest, is served directly by the province, as are the ports of Richardís Bay and Maputo. The other most significant facility in the province as the heartland of an emerging market, is the Gateway international airport situated in Pietersburg the capital of the province.

The Limpopo Province is divided into four regions:

The Capricorn Region The Bushveld Region The Soutpansberg Region The Valley of the Olifants

The Capricorn Region

The name "Capricorn" is derived from the tropic of capricorn, the bottom of which crosses the Limpopo Province and the northern section of this region. The region of Capricorn stretches from the Ysterberg, all along the foothills of the lush Wolkberg, to the tropic of Capricorn in the north. The region's position makes it a perfect stopover between Gauteng and the northern areas of the province and between the country's North-Western areas and the world-renowned Kruger National Park. It is also in close proximity to the neighbouring countries of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland.

The Bushveld Region

Situated in the magnificent Waterberg Mountain Range of the Limpopo Province, the Bushveld region is the ideal getaway where the weary traveller can relax and revel in the great natural beauty of the bushveld savannah and its rich wildlife heritage. The Waterberg Mountains stretch along more than 5 000 km2 of spectacular vistas and scenic valleys - the ideal destination off the beaten tourism track. The area is steeped in a history and some artefacts found here date back to Stone Age times. The area is a mosaic of culture and tradition as is reflected by the different rural tribes such as the Bapedi, Tswana and Basotho, while the Voortrekkers also left their distinctive mark on the area.

Commercial agriculture is an integral part of this province, and cattle ranching and maize farming are regional institutions - the water-rich valleys of the Limpopo River on the Botswana border provide sweet bushveld grazing, while the plains of the Springbok Flats near the towns of Warmbaths and Potgietersrus are covered with a colourful quilt of carefully cultivated fields of maize and sunflowers. Otherwise, the bushveld landscape, interspersed with sandstone buttresses and baobab, marula and fever trees, supports a number of towns that make up one of the country's fastest-growing industrial and agricultural districts.

This is one of the most mineralised regions in the world and numerous towns form part of the Bushveld Igneous Complex - a 50,000km2 treasure trove yielding massive amounts of minerals such as vanadium, platinum, nickel and chromium. The Bushveld region offers the tourist a bit of both worlds - an infrastructure of excellent facilities and modern conveniences found in the many game reserves and conservation areas, coupled with the opportunity to experience the African wilderness in its pristine state.

The Soutpansberg Region

Flowing across from the northwest and framing the northern border of this province lies the Soutpansberg area - a fertile region where baobabs guard the varied countryside and where rockart and caves entice the visitor to uncover its romantic and historical past. One of the main geographical features of this region is the Limpopo, the country's third most important river, which forms South Africa's northern border. This life-giving river provides sustenance to the predominantly hot, dry lands through which it meanders and its many tributaries support several small, thriving farming villages in the region's northern areas.

In this region tourists will find the former independent homelands of Lebowa and Venda where traditional African cultures thrive. In fact, this fertile valley has been home to cultures dating back to the Iron Age. The western section of the region is framed by the rocky spine of the awe-inspiring Soutpansberg (salt pan mountain) range. The range, with a width in some parts over 30km, features a fertile, well-watered plateau receiving high rainfall and supporting a wide range of crops and cultivated lands. The area also boasts many historical sites, from the relics of the Stone Age San and their inimitable rock artwork, to the marks left by the ancestors of the Venda to the tracks of the Voortrekker wagons which carried European migrants into an unknown land and housed their cultures. The visitor to this region will not help but notice, with splendid scenery, an abundance of nature reserves and a thriving people, the prevalence of an untouched nature.

The Valley of the Olifants

Travelling east visitors will discover the rich natural heritage of the Lowveld with its claim to fame - the world-famous Kruger National Park. This region differs markedly from the rest of the Limpopo Province and is loved for its scenic valleys, mountains and lush vegetation.

As its name suggests, this region falls in the valley of the great Olifants River that meanders through the Kruger National Park, forming the southern border of the province. The valley forms part of the northernmost section of the Drakensberg, and the lowveld vegetation do not end in Mpumalanga, but stretches further north and surrounds many towns in the Northern Province. The rest camps in the northern part of Kruger are part of the province, while a series of exclusive private game reserves adjacent to the Park guarantee a luxurious wildlife experience to even the most discerning traveller.

The Olifants Valley is teeming with a variety of wildlife. It is known for its spectacular scenery, mountains, rivers, dams, history and cultural and ethnic attractions. Apart from its natural beauty, it also has a flourishing industrial sector. The town of Tzaneen, for example, is thriving in the subtropical conditions and boasts extensive tea estates, orange farms and tropical fruit and nut plantations.

The Limpopo Province consists of a variety of habitats - semi-desert, grassland savannah, bushveld and subtropical lowveld vegetation. The Valley of the Olifants contrasts sharply with the other regions.

Population
The population of the Limpopo Province consists of several ethnic groups distinguished by culture, language and race.

The Northern Sotho (Sepedi) make up the largest number, being nearly 57 per cent. The Tsonga (Shangaan) speakers comprise 23 per cent while the Venda make up 12 per cent. Afrikaans speakers make up 2.6 per cent while English-speaking whites are less than half a per cent.

Within the borders of the province are the four previous administrations which were created during the apartheid era: Lebowa, Gazankulu, Venda and Transvaal Administration.

See also: Limpopo River