3. FREE STATE
129,825 km2 (50,126 sq mi)
This is a tale of the two rivers, the Vaal up north and the Orange down south. Between the coiling meander lines, lie the flat boundless plains, known as the Free State. The rich soil and pleasant climate allow a thriving agricultural industry. With more than 30,000 farms, which produce over 70% of the country’s grain, it is known locally as South Africa’s breadbasket. The Free State is the only one of the former provinces of South Africa not to undergo border changes, excluding the incorporation of Bantustans. The majestic dragon mountains of the Drakensberg raise the terrain to over 2,000 m in the east. Mineral deposits are plentiful, with gold and diamonds being of particular importance, mostly found in the north and west of the province. The spectacular mountain range of Parys in the northern Free State forms a part of the Vredefort Dome, the largest visible meteor-impact site in the world. Formed 2-billion years ago when a meteorite 10km wide slammed into the earth, the Vredefort Dome is one of South Africa’s eight Unesco World Heritage sites. Bloemfontein, meaning ‘fountain of flowers’, is the largest city of the province and also the judicial capital of South Africa. In SeSotho, the city is known as Mangaung meaning a ‘place of cheetahs’. While the name is a misnomer (the Free State is a province, not a state), it gives the impression that the lives of people who live there are characterized by liberty and an absence of undue restrictions.