The vast and arid Northern Cape is the largest province in South Africa, taking up nearly a third of the country’s land area. It covers an area of 372 889km² and has a population of 1 145 861, the least populous of South Africa’s provinces. It is bordered by Namibia and Botswana to the north, and also by the North West, Free State, Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces. The cold Atlantic Ocean forms the province’s western boundary.
The capital city is Kimberley. Other important towns are Upington, centre of the karakul sheep and dried-fruit industries, and the most northerly winemaking region of South Africa; Springbok, in the heart of the Namaqualand spring-flower country; Kuruman and De Aar, the second most important junction of South Africa’s railway network. Sutherland is host to the southern hemisphere’s largest astronomical observatory, the multinational sponsored Southern African Large Telescope.
The Northern Cape is rich in minerals. Alluvial diamonds are extracted from the beaches and the sea between Alexander Bay and Port Nolloth. The Sishen Mine near Kathu is the biggest source of iron ore in South Africa, while the copper mine at Okiep is one of the oldest mines in the country. Copper is also mined at Springbok and Aggeneys. The province is rich in asbestos, manganese, fluorspar, semi-precious stones and marble.
The province has fertile agricultural land in the Orange River Valley, especially at Upington, Kakamas and Keimoes, where grapes and fruit are cultivated intensively. The interior Karoo relies on sheep farming, while the karakul-pelt industry is one of the most important in the Gordonia district of Upington. Wheat, fruit, peanuts, maize and cotton are produced at the Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme near Warrenton.
The Northern Cape is divided into five district municipalities and further subdivided into 27 local municipalities.