By Fikile Tikana
North West Province in South Africa is perhaps best known as the world capital of platinum mining. But it is also a province that treats its visitors to a seamless blend of a rich cultural history, fun and entertainment on a grand scale, and spectacular wildlife and natural scenery.
Situated in the northernmost central part of South Africa, the province is bordered by Botswana in the north, and separated from several other South African provinces by the Vaal River that flows along its southern border. To the east it is bordered by the densely populated province of Gauteng, as well as Free State, and can easily be accessed by road or air from Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein, while Gaborone in Botswana is also just a short hop away.
In this friendly province the old and the natural mix easily with the new and the glitzy: from cultural heritage sites and game reserves, to the glamour and buzz of the gambling and entertainment hub of Sun City…a Las Vegas in the African bush.
The majority of the province’s population of around 4-million are BaTswana people who speak SeTswana and are also the majority in neighbouring Botswana. Their history in the region stretches across centuries marked by wars and migration before settling here and establishing their rich cultural presence. Other groups found here include the Ndebele in the east, the Sotho in the south and Afrikaans-speaking communities throughout the province. Most people here speak English as their second language.
Much of the central landscape is defined by bushveld and grasslands scattered with trees and shrubs; the mountains, deep valleys, rivers and dams of the northeast; the flat and arid semi-deserts plains of the west; and the lush vegetation of areas bordering the Vaal River in the south. The climate is relatively moderate, with temperatures generally ranging between 17° and 31 °C in summer and between 3° and 21°C in the winter, and rainfall in the summer.
The province’s economy is mainly based on mining and agriculture, while in the northeast there are industrial manufacturing hubs that spill over from Gauteng. The province is of course world famous for being home to the western part of the Platinum Belt, which runs north of the 130km-long Magaliesberg mountain range stretching from Pretoria to Rustenburg and Sun City. The Platinum Belt produces some 78% of the world’s platinum. Other minerals mined in North West include gold, uranium and diamonds. Agriculture is based on sheep farms, cattle and game ranches, and crops including maize, sunflowers, tobacco, cotton and citrus.
The province is divided into four regions, which overlap with district municipalities: Bophirima Region / Dr Ruth S Mompati District, with major towns Schweizer-Reineke and Vryburg; Central Region / Dr Ngaka Modiri Molema District, with major towns Mahikeng and Lichtenburg; Bojanala Region / Bojanala Platinum District, with major towns Brits, Hartbeespoort, Broederstroom, and Mabopane (including Sun City); and Southern Region / Dr Kenneth Kaunda District, with major towns Klerksdorp, Potchefstroom, Orkney, Ventersdorp and Fochville.
The province’s capital is the historic town of Mahikeng (previously Mafikeng or Mafeking), made famous during the Anglo Boer War when Boer forces led by General Piet Cronje for 217 days laid siege to the town and its British garrison under command of Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, the later founder of the worldwide Boy Scouts movement. Also trapped in the town during the siege was Lord Edward Cecil, the son of the British Prime Minister.
Mahikeng owes its origin to a rather bloody and destructive period of war and upheaval in Southern Africa, the infamous ‘Difequane’. The ‘Difequane’ was a period of intertribal war, aggravated by the passage of the exiled Zulu chief, Mzilikazi, through the area. In this period many tribes were annihilated, displaced or absorbed into other or new tribes and ethnic nations. The period gave rise to a major new nation, the Basotho, while it also cemented the Zulu nation into its modern form and saw the establishment of the Ndebele kingdom of Matabeleland in present-day Zimbabwe under Mzilikazi. The name of Mahikeng, meaning ‘the place among rocks’, which refers to the volcanic rocks that provided temporary shelter to Stone Age humans in their hunt for animals in the area, was given to the area in 1852 by early BaRolong chiefs who had settled along the Molopo River.
The Mahikeng Museum houses extensive ethnographic and Anglo-Boer War exhibits. South of the town is Kanon Kopje, a defensive fort built during the Warren Expedition of 1885. Nearby is also the Kgotla of the Barolong Boora Tshidi, the tribal meeting place of Chief Montshoia. A monument honouring the Barolong who died during the Mahikeng Anglo Boer War siege stands beside another in recognition of Kgosi Besele Montshoia, head of the Barolong Regiment during the siege. Also nearby is the Mahikeng Siege Cemetery. There are a number of sites linking the famous Sol Plaatje, a South African politician, journalist, campaigner for human rights, novelist and translator, to Mahikeng at the time of the siege. These sites include his residence, his newspaper office and printing works.
Also located in Mahikeng is the provincial parliament with its impressive government offices known as the Garona. The Mmabana Cultural Centre nearby promotes music and many artistic disciplines through numerous practical workshops and exhibitions. The Mmabatho Conference Centre has facilities to host up to 6,000 delegates and is centrally located for transport and hotels.
Other major towns in North West include the commercial centre of Klerksdorp, the historic university town of Potchefstroom, Rustenburg and Brits on the Platinum Belt, the gold mining town of Orkney, and Vryburg in the west. Zeerust is the large major town before crossing into Botswana and lies within the Groot Marico region made famous in his humorous books, featuring the famous character Oom Scalk Lourens, by the acclaimed author Herman Charles Bosman.
Far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life, in spirit though not in distance, the province offers an escape route to a slice of the real Africa. It is home to breath-taking scenic beauty, rolling fields of maize and golden sunflowers, vast plains of African bushveld, superb game parks boasting the Big Five, magnificent golf courses, water-based leisure activities, sporting facilities, heritage and cultural sites and attractions, world class entertainment at Sun City, hiking, hot-air ballooning, mountain climbing, and more….truly a spectacular blend a of 21st century living and the mystique and traditions of ancient Africa.
Culture & Heritage
The province has many historical and cultural sites, including several cultural villages that both entertain and enrich as they interpret the indigenous people of South Africa in their own unique manner. So important is cultural heritage to this province that it even has its own Heritage SongJust a 20-minute drive from Sun City is the Mphebatho Cultural Museum situated in Moruleng Village. This vibrant community centre provides an alternative experience of the heritage, culture and tradition of the Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela people living in the vicinity of the Pilanesberg mountains and Pilanesberg National Park. Mahikeng is also the traditional capital of the Barolong people where many cultural and historic offerings are to be found, including the Lotlamoreng Cultural Reserve and Montshiwua Dam where there is a cultural village, recreational area and a demarcated waterfowl sanctuary.
On the way to Sun City and its magnificent modern Palace of the Lost City hotel and resort, is the real Lost City of Mogale, the ancestral home of Chief Mogale (1810-1869), after whom the Magaliesberg was named, and his Po people. Here you can see remains of well-preserved late Iron Age settlements, both early Ndebele and Tswana/Sotho. Highlights include the chief’s courtyard and reception area, the chief’s private place of worship, his cattle kraal, ceremonial cairns, the remains of the slaughtering kraal, the place of ancestral worship, and much more.
In the border area between Gauteng and the Magaliesberg mountains, near the Hartbeespoort Dam, is the Lesedi Cultural Village, and international favourite where you can experience an interpretative African experience of the cultures and traditions of South Africa’s indigenous people. Buya Zulu is an authentic Zulu kraal headed by Jo Mbogwazi, who with his group, originate from Hluhluwe in northern Zululand. Here visitors experience traditional huts, utensils, people wearing traditional clothes, and the arts of shield and spear making, beadwork and traditional pottery.
Located near the Hartbeespoort Dam and the town of Brits, is the Mapoch Ndebele Village with its colourfully painted abodes housing the Ndebele villagers. Close to Hebron, the Gaabo Motho Cultural Village is a scenic mountain-top village that offers the best African traditional fare. The village relays ancient survival and birthing practices and visitors can meet an authentic traditional healer. Furthermore, a visit to the Kortkloof Cultural Village in the ‘Mampoer Country’, Groot Marico, is dedicated to the Tswana tribe. Mampoer is a traditionally distilled, once-illegal brandy or ‘moonshine’, made from fermented fruit and contains anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of alcohol. Mampoer tours can be enjoyed in the Groot Marico region. And at Schoemansdrift, outside Potchefstroom, mampoer tasting sessions can be enjoyed in a house with an Anglo Boer War history.
Parks and Game Reserves
Apart from having among the most cultural villages and heritage sites of any province in the country, the province is also home to a stunning array of national parks and game reserves. There are a total of 14 national parks and provincial reserves within its borders. In total the province has more than 36 national parks, games reserves and conservancies. The most well-known are the Pilanesberg and Madikwe National Parks, which are administered by the North West Parks and Tourism Board. The Province also shares the Magaliesberg Protected Natural Environment with Gauteng.
Formally protected areas in the province comprise all of 283,308 hectares or approximately 2.4% of the surface area of the province. This includes national parks, provincial nature reserves, private nature reserves and protected natural environments. There are 10 registered conservancies and several game farms or ranches in the province, with a total area of about 160,000 hectares of land committed to game farming. Species conserved on these farms are predominantly antelope such as kudu, duiker and steenbok. Other animals such as sable, Cape buffalo, gemsbok, eland, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest and even black rhinoceros also occur in North West.
The Province has over 40 wetlands and one RAMSAR site at Barberspan, which is recognised as a wetland of international importance.
Among the many superb parks, reserves and conservancies – all well worth a visit – are the 4,600 hectare Mahikeng Game Reserve which hosts a wide variety of game and is on the principal breeding parks for White Rhino. The Manyane Game Lodge features a lion enclosure and crocodile camp, while the nearby Botsalano Game Reserve is a popular weekend attraction for game viewing.
Other parks, conservancies and reserves include Elephant Sanctuary at Hartbeesport Dam; the Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary at Hartbeespoort Dam; the Ukutula Lion Park near Brits; the Pilanesberg National Park at Sun City; the Kwena Crocodile Farm at Sun City; the Hartbeespoort Dam Snake and Animal Park; the Rustenburg Nature Reserve; the Silkaatsnek Nature Reserve at Hartbeespoort Dam; Predator World at Sun City; the Akwaaba Predator Park at Rustenburg; the Kgaswane Nature Reserve at Rustenburg; the Lion & Safari Park at Broederstroom; the Phaladingwe Hiking Trail at Broederstroom; the Sandveld Nature Reserve at Bloemhof; Predator’s Pride at Hartbeespoort; the Hartbeespoort Aquarium; the Wolwespruit Nature Reserve at Leeudoringstad; the Molopo Nature Reserve at Vryburg; the Borakalalo National Park; the Barberspan Bird Sanctuary at Delareyville; the Eagle Waters Wildlife Resort at Broederstroom; the Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve; and the Botsalano Game Reserve at Mafikeng.
Water world & gambling resort
Two of the province’s world-renowned attractions are the gambling resort of Sun City and a world of water sport and entertainment at Hartbeespoort Dam. In 1979, the pioneering entrepreneur, Sol Kerzner, built the iconic Sun City casino resort, set in an extinct volcanic crater in the Pilanesberg north of Magaliesberg and Rustenburg. It became a true ‘Las Vegas in the African bush’.
In the years since, the resort has become renowned for its slot machines and gaming tables, fast foods and excellent cuisine, luxury and budget accommodation, Follies-style topless shows, top-star entertainers, international sporting events, game drives and exotic drinks by the pool. Over the years Sun City grew to a massive, sprawling gambling, sport and entertainment complex. It now includes the original Sun City Hotel now known as the Soho Hotel, the Cascades Hotel, The Cabanas, the Vacation Club and its star offering, the Palace of the Lost City.
Within the resort complex you will find fabulous facilities and attractions like the Valley Of Waves, a beach with a ‘sea’ and machine-made surfing waves; the Gary Player Country Club where the Nedbank Golf Challenge is hosted each year; Zip 2000; SunStar; Sun Central; the Maze of the Lost City; Sun City Casino; South African Hall Of Fame; Motseng Cultural Village; Mankwe Gametrackers & Pilanesberg Game Reserve; Waterworld; and Kwena Gardens. At its Super Bowl Arena top international shows and sporting events are regularly featured.
To the southeast of Sun City, close to Gauteng and Pretoria, lies Hartbeespoort village and the Hartbeespoort Dam on the Crocodile River with its white-water rapids. From the top of the Magaliesberg mountain, which can be reached via the Hartbeespoort Aerial Cableway, magnificent views of the village, dam and valley below can be enjoyed. The area around the dam has become a favourite residential area – both permanent and for weekend getaways by city dwellers. The dam itself is popular for yachting, fishing, board sailing and other water sports. The dam area also includes a large number of animal, bird and reptile sanctuaries, cultural attractions, game reserves, markets, roadside arts and crafts sellers, restaurants, pubs and guest houses.