Profile of the Free State

About the Free State – South Africa

The Free State 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 crop fields, rising to lovely sandstone mountains in the northeast. The province 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, and home to South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal, the University of the Free State, and the Central University of Technology. Important towns 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 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

With a total area of 129 825 square kilometres, the Free State is the country’s third-largest province, only slightly bigger than the Western Cape, taking up 10.6% of South Africa’s land area. Its mid-2010 population was an estimated 2.9-million people. Two-thirds speak Sesotho, the language of neighbouring Lesotho, followed by Afrikaans and a sprinkling of isiXhosa.

A summer-rainfall region, the Free State can be extremely cold during the winter months, especially towards the eastern mountainous regions. The western and southern areas are semi-desert. A beautiful range of hills near Parys in the northern Free State is actually part of the Vredefort Dome, the largest visible meteor-impact site in the world. Formed two 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 Free State, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti mountains, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park is the province’s prime tourist attraction. The 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 of this region has been used for the lovely dressed-stone buildings found on the Eastern Highlands, while decoratively painted Sotho houses dot the grasslands. 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. South Africa’s national road, the artery between Gauteng and the Western and Eastern Cape, cuts through the centre of the Free State. Before democracy in 1994, the province was known as the Orange Free State. An independent Boer republic in the 19th century, it became a province under the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Free State Climate

The Free State is hot in summer, when most of the rain falls (between 600 mm and 750 mm in the east to less than 300 mm in the west), but it can be very cold in the winter, with heavy frost over most of the province. Snow often is recorded on the eastern mountains, and occasionally over the rest of the region. The seasons in the province look as follows: Summer: December – February; Winter: April – July; Spring: July – September; and Autumn: January – March. The average winter temperature is 7.7ºC and the average summer temperature, 23º C.

INVESTING IN THE FREE STATE

Mining

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 province has 12 gold mines, producing 30% of South Africa’s output and 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.

Gold mines in the Free State also supply a substantial portion of the total silver produced in the country, while considerable concentrations of uranium occurring in the gold-bearing conglomerates of the Goldfields are extracted as a byproduct. Bituminous coal is mined and converted to petrochemicals at Sasolburg. The Free State also produces high-quality diamonds from its kimberlite pipes and fissures, and the country’s largest deposit of bentonite is found in the Koppies district.

Jewellery and Beneficiation

Lucrative opportunities for the export of jewellery exist in markets such as the US, Canada, Norway and Switzerland, which have provided preferential access to South African jewellery manufacturers. The Free State Goldfields region is seen as a cluster area for gold jewellery. Harmony Gold, through direct supplies of gold to mass producers, creates a large opportunity and favourable disposition for the prospective investor.

The challenge facing this industry is to promote and develop an internationally known indigenous jewellery industry and brand, to move away from unmounted diamond exports towards higher value-added jewellery products. Scope exists for the manufacturing of upmarket rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, anklets and brooches made from gold, silver, and precious and semi-precious stones. The focus should be on high quality products with unique designs.

Industry

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. Sasol is the world leader in Fischer-Tropsch technology, a catalyzed chemical reaction in which carbon monoxide and hydrogen are converted into liquid hydrocarbons, producing a synthetic petroleum substitute for use as synthetic lubrication oil or as synthetic fuel.

Agriculture

Agriculture dominates the Free State landscape, with cultivated land covering 32 000 square kilometres, and natural veld and grazing a further 87 000 square kilometres of the province. It 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 province. Animal products contribute a further 30%, with the balance generated by horticulture.

Ninety percent of the country’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 the country’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. The province exports about 1.2 million tons of cut flowers a year. Soil conditions in several areas of the Free State are ideal for floriculture. South Africa also has advantages in production technology, quality control and transport infrastructure.

Property

The province contains a vast spread of industrial and commercial properties, ranging from unused mining facilities to massive industrial parks. These buildings are available at highly competitive rates. These include standard and custom-built factories, industrial incubators, shopping centres, small industrial parks, office blocks, and so on.