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Free State




The Free State (Afrikaans: Vrystaat, Sotho: Foreistata; before 1995, the Orange Free State) is a province of South Africa. Its capital is Bloemfontein, which is also South Africa’s judicial capital. Its historical origins lie in the Orange Free State Boer republic and later Orange Free State Province. The current borders of the province date from 1994 when the Bantustans were abolished and reincorporated into South Africa. It is also the only one of the four original provinces of South Africa not to undergo border changes, excluding the reincorporation of Bantustans.



The provincial government consists of a premier, an executive council of ten ministers, and a legislature. The provincial assembly and premier are elected for five-year terms, or until the next national election. Political parties are awarded assembly seats based on the percentage of votes each party receives in the province during the national elections. The assembly elects a premier, who then appoints the members of the executive council.

The premier of Free State as of 2009 was Ace Magashule of the African National Congress.



The Free State is situated on a succession of flat grassy plains sprinkled with pastureland, resting on a general elevation of 3,800 feet only broken by the occasional hill or kopje. The rich soil and pleasant climate allow for 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 province is high-lying, with almost all land being 1,000 metres above sea level. The Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains foothills raise the terrain to over 2,000 m in the east. The Free State lies in the heart of the Karoo Sequence of rocks, containing shales, mudstones, sandstones and the Drakensberg Basalt forming the youngest capping rocks. Mineral deposits are plentiful, with gold and diamonds being of particular importance, mostly found in the north and west of the province.


Fauna and flora

The flats in the south of the reserve provides ideal conditions for large herds of plain game such as black wildebeest and springbok. The ridges, koppies and plains typical of the northern section are home to kudu, red hartebeest, white rhinoceros and buffalo. The African wildcat, black wildebeest, zebra, eland, white rhinoceros and wild dog can be seen at the Soetdoring Nature Reserve near Bloemfontein. The South African cheetahs has been reintroduced in the Free State for the first time after a hundred years of regional extinction, at the Laohu Valley Reserve near Philippolis.


The Free State experiences a continental climate, characterised by warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters. Areas in the east experience frequent snowfalls, especially on the higher ranges, whilst the west can be extremely hot in summer. Almost all precipitation falls in the summer months as brief afternoon thunderstorms, with aridity increasing towards the west. Areas in the east around Harrismith, Bethlehem and Ficksburg are well watered. The capital, Bloemfontein, experiences hot, moist summers and cold, dry winters frequented by severe frost.

Bloemfontein averages: January maximum: 31 °C (min: 15 °C), July maximum: 17 °C (min: -2 °C), annual precipitation: 559 mm

Bethlehem averages: 27 °C (min: 13 °C), July maximum: 16 °C (min: -2 °C), annual precipitation: 680 mm


In the southeast, the Free State borders seven districts of Lesotho:

  • Mokhotlong – farthest to the east
  • Butha-Buthe – northwest of Mokhotlong and northeast of Leribe
  • Leribe – southwest of Butha-Buthe and northeast of Berea
  • Berea – southwest of Leribe and north of Maseru
  • Maseru – south of Berea and northeast of Mafeteng
  • Mafeteng – southwest of Maseru and northwest of Mohale’s Hoek
  • Mohale’s Hoek – southeast of Mafeteng

Domestically, it borders the following provinces:

  • KwaZulu-Natal – east
  • Eastern Cape – south
  • Northern Cape – west
  • North West – northwest
  • Gauteng – north
  • Mpumalanga – northeast

The Free State borders more districts of Lesotho and more provinces of South Africa than any other province.

It is traversed by the north-westerly line of equal latitude and longitude.



Free State districts and local municipalities

The Free State is divided into one metropolitan municipality and four district municipalities. The district municipalities are in turn divided into nineteen local municipalities.


  • Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality
  • Xhariep District: Letsemeng, Kopanong, Mohokare, Naledi
  • Lejweleputswa District: Masilonyana, Tokologo, Tswelopele, Matjhabeng, Nala
  • Thabo Mofutsanyana District: Setsoto, Dihlabeng, Nketoana, Maluti-a-Phofung, Phumelela, Mantsopa
  • Fezile Dabi District: Moqhaka, Ngwathe, Metsimaholo, Mafube



The Free State’s major towns include:

  • Bloemfontein in Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality
  • Bethlehem in Thabo Mofutsanyana
  • Sasolburg, Parys and Kroonstad in Fezile Dabi
  • Welkom, Odendaalsrus and Virginia in Lejweleputswa

List of cities and towns in the Free State




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.



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 main vegetable crop is asparagus, both white and green varieties. Although horticulture is expanding and becoming increasingly export-orientated, most produce leaves the province unprocessed.

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.



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.


Manufacturing and industry

The Maluti-a-Phofung Special Economic Zone is the Free State’s share of the logistics and industrial corridor. The Vehicle Distribution Centre was launched in November 2012. This project was established in partnership with the German Bremen Logistics Group, which committed R60 million towards this project. The Harrismith Food Processing Park forms part of the broader development initiative. The green economic solar zone in the Xhariep district was expected to result in the establishment of the Xhariep Solar Park harnessing the solar radiation in the southern part of the Free State. The Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme forms part of Eskom’s capital expansion programme. This energy infrastructure project, located on the border of the Phumelela and Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipalities in the Free State and eMnambithi Local Municipality and the uThukela District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, received a R3,5 billion capital injection. Sasol South Africa, the largest producer of synthetic fuels on the sub-continent, remains a key role-player in the Free State economy. Its investment in its Sasolburg operations is evident from the Wax Expansion project, the Ethylene Purifi cation Unit 5, which started in 2013, the Gas Engine Power Plant and Clean Fuels 2. The Omnia Nitric Acid complex, located within the Sasol Industrial Complex, includes a nitric acid plant, an ammonium nitrate plant, a porous ammonium nitrate plant, a fleet of 145 specialised ammonia rail tankers and other ancillary facilities.

The project is in line with growth in the explosives and fertiliser markets and operations.     The roll-out of broadband infrastructure and digital migration has been included in Strategic Infrastructure Project 15 with Broadband Infraco appointed as the coordinator. One of the private sector initiatives regarding broadband was FibreCo’s start of construction of the fi rst 1 000-km link connecting Bloemfontein with Johannesburg and East London in May 2012. The construction of FibreCo’s fibre optic network in the Free State resulted in the employment of over 718 people through local sub-contractors.



The Free State is also rich in mineral wealth, gold representing 20% of the world’s total gold production. Mining is the province’s major employer. 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 by-product.

Bituminous coal is also 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.


In the north-eastern 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 Clarens, Bethlehem, Ficksburg, Ladybrand and Wepener.

The Free State has wide horizons and blue skies, farmland, mountains, goldfields and widely dispersed towns. It lies in the heart of South Africa, with Lesotho nestling in the hollow of its bean-like shape. Between the Vaal River in the north and the Orange River in the south, this immense rolling prairie stretches as far as the eye can see. According to the Mid-Year Population Estimates, 2013, there were over 2,7 million people in the Free State on about 129 480 km2 of land. The main languages spoken are Sesotho, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. Mangaung, comprising Bloemfontein, Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu, has an established institutional, educational and administrative infrastructure and with Bloemfontein being South Africa’s judicial capital, the province houses the Supreme Court of Appeal. Important towns include Welkom, Sasolburg, Odendaalsrus, Kroonstad, Parys, Phuthaditjhaba, Bethlehem and the charming village of Clarens situated in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains. Some of South Africa’s most valued San rock art can be found in the Free State. Other tourist attractions include the Golden Gate National Park, the annual air show in Bethlehem, the Cherry Festival in Ficksburg and the Fauresmith International Endurance Ride equestrian event. The annual Mangaung African Cultural Festival, known as Macufe, is hosted in partnership with the Tourism Authority and the Performing Arts Centre of the Free State. The Vredefort Dome, 10 km in diameter, is South Africa’s seventh World Heritage Site.