The Northern Cape (Afrikaans: Noord-Kaap) is the largest and most sparsely populated province of South Africa. It was created in 1994 when the Cape Province was split up. Its capital is Kimberley. It includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, part of an international park shared with Botswana. It also includes the Augrabies Falls and the diamond mining regions in Kimberley and Alexander Bay. The Namaqualand region in the west is famous for its Namaqualand daisies.
The southern towns of De Aar and Colesberg, in the Great Karoo, are major transport nodes between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. In the northeast, Kuruman is famous as a mission station and also for its 'eye'. The Orange River flows through the province, forming the borders with the Free State in the southeast and with Namibia to the northwest. The river is also used to irrigate the many vineyards in the arid region near Upington.
Native speakers of Afrikaans comprise a higher percentage of the population in the Northern Cape than in any other province. The Northern Cape's four official languages are Afrikaans, Tswana, Xhosa, and English. Minorities speak the other official languages of South Africa, and a few people speak Khoisan languages such as Nama and Khwe.
The provincial motto, Sa ||a !aĩsi 'uĩsi (“We go to a better life”), is in the Nǀu language of the Khomani people. It was given in 1997 by one of the language's last speakers, Ms. Elsie Vaalbooi of Rietfontein, who has since died. It was South Africa's first officially registered motto in a Khoisan language. Subsequently, South Africa's national motto,Keexarrake, was derived from the extinct Northern Cape language.
The Northern Cape is also the home of over 1,000 San who immigrated from Namibia following the independence of the country; they had served as trackers and scouts for the South African government during the war, and feared reprisals from their former foes. They were awarded a settlement in Platfontein in 1999 by the Mandela government.
The precolonial history of the Northern Cape is reflected in a rich, mainly Stone Age, archaeological heritage. Cave sites include Wonderwerk Cave near Kuruman, which has a uniquely long sequence stretching from the turn of the twentieth century at the surface to more than 1 million and possibly nearly 2 million years in its basal layer where stone tools, occurring in very low density, may be Oldowan.Many sites across the province, mostly in open air locales or in sediments alongside rivers or pans, document Earlier, Middle and Later Stone Age habitation. From Later Stone Age times, mainly, there is a wealth of rock art sites – most of which are in the form of rock engravings such as at Wildebeest Kuil and many sites in the area known as Xam ka kau, in the Karoo.
They occur on hilltops, slopes, rock outcrops and occasionally as in the case of Driekops Eiland near Kimberley, in a river bed. In the north eastern part of the province there are sites attributable to the Iron Age such as Dithakong.Environmental factors have meant that the spread of Iron Age farming westwards from the 17th century – but dating from the early first millennium AD in the eastern part of South Africa was constrained mainly to the area east of the Langeberg Mountains, but with evidence of influence as far as the Upington area in the eighteenth century.
From that period the archaeological record also reflects the development of a complex colonial frontier when precolonial social formations were considerably disrupted and there is an increasing fabric heavy imprint of built structures, ash-heaps, and so on. The copper mines of Namaqualand and the diamond rush to the Kimberley area resulted in industrial archaeological landscapes in those areas which herald the modern era in South African history.
All archaeological traces in the Northern Cape that are greater than 100 years old are automatically protected by the South African Heritage Resources Act, while some are formally protected by declaration as either Provincial Heritage Sites e.g. Wildebeest Kuil and Nooitgedacht or National Heritage ,Wonderwerk Cave. The archaeology of the Richtersveld is part of the universal cultural value recognised in the area’s listing as a World Heritage Site, while sites included on South Africa's Tentative List for World Heritage inscription include Wonderwerk Cave and the Khomani heartland.
The Northern Cape is South Africa's largest province, and distances between towns are enormous due to its sparse population. Its size is just shy of the size of the American state of Montana and slightly larger than that of Germany. The province is dominated by the Karoo Basin and consists mostly of sedimentary rocks and some Dolerite intrusions.
The south and south-east of the province is high lying 1200m-1900m in the Roggeveld and Nuweveld districts. The west coast is dominated by the Namaqualand region, famous for its spring flowers. This area is hilly to mountainous and consists of Granites and other metamorphic rocks. The central areas are generally flat with interspersed salt pans. Kimberlite intrusions punctuate the Karoo rocks, giving the province its most precious natural resource, Diamonds. The north is primarily Kalahari Desert, characterised by parallel red sand dunes and acacia tree dry savanna.
Northern Cape has a shoreline in the west on the South Atlantic Ocean. It borders the following areas of Namibia and Botswana:
- Karas Region, Namibia – northwest
- Hardap Region, Namibia – far northwest
- Kgalagadi District, Botswana – north
Domestically, it borders the following provinces:
- North West – northeast
- Free State – east
- Eastern Cape – southeast
- Western Cape – south and southwest
The major river system is the Orange or Gariep River Basin, draining the interior of South Africa westwards into the Atlantic Ocean. The political philosopher Neville Alexander has used the idea of the ‘Garieb’ as a metaphor for nationhood in South Africa, a flowing together, in preference to the rainbow metaphor where the diverse colours remain distinct. The principal tributary of the Orange is the Vaal River, which flows through part of the Northern Cape from the vicinity of Warrenton.
The Vaal, in turn, has tributaries within the province: the Harts River and the Riet River, which has its own major tributary, the Modder River. Above the Orange-Vaal confluence, the Seekoei River drains part of the northeastern Karoo into the Orange River above the Van der Kloof Dam. Next downstream from the Orange-Vaal confluence is the Brak River, which flows non-perennially from the south and is in turn fed by the Ongers River, rising in the vicinities of Hanover and Richmond respectively.
Along the Orange River near the town of Kakamas, the Hartebeest River drains the central Karoo. Above Kenhardt the Hartebeest is known as the Sak River, which has its source on the northern side of the escarpment, southeast of Williston. Further downstream from Kakamas, below the Augrabies Falls, and seldom actually flowing into the Orange River, is the Molopo River, which comes down from the Kalahari in the north.
With its tributary, the Nossob River, it defines part of the international boundary between South Africa and Botswana. Further tributaries of the Molopo River include the Kuruman River, fed by the Moshaweng River and Kgokgole River, and the Matlhwaring River. Flowing west into the Atlantic, in Namaqualand, is the Buffels River and, further south, the Groen River.
The Northern Cape Province is divided into five district municipalities, which are subdivided into 27 local municipalities.