Mpumalanga (name changed from Eastern Transvaal on 24 August 1995), is a province of South Africa. The name means “east”, or literally “the place where the sun rises” in the Swazi, Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu languages. Mpumalanga lies in eastern South Africa, bordering Swaziland and Mozambique. It constitutes 6.5% of South Africa’s land area. It shares borders with the South African provinces of Limpopo to the north, Gauteng to the west, the Free State to the southwest, and KwaZulu-Natal to the south. The capital is Nelspruit. Before 1994, Mpumalanga was part of Transvaal Province.
History of Mpumalanga Province
Mpumalanga means ‘Place of the Rising Sun’ and is the name given to the new province in Eastern Transvaal in 1993. It includes part of the old Transvaal and the former homeland KaNgwane, as well as parts of Gazankulu and Lebowa. The province forms a very important part of South Africa’s heritage. There are many game reserves including the world famous Kruger National Park. The natural heritage also includes Bourke’s Luck potholes and the Sodwala caves. The cultural heritage includes San rock paintings, Ndebele wall paintings, and the old mining town, Pilgrim’s Rest.
In 1873, Alec ‘Wheelbarrow’ Patterson discovered alluvial gold near what is today Pilgrim’s Rest. At first he tried to keep it a secret, but then a similar discovery was made by William Trafford. This led to the world’s biggest gold rush of the time. But in 1886 reef gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand, which caused an even bigger rush. Many people left Pilgrim’s Rest and went to the Witwatersrand, but mining in the eastern Transvaal still continued until 1972.
Percy Fitzpatrick’s famous book, Jock of the Bushveld, is the true story of Fitzpatrick’s Staffordshire Bullterrier and their adventures in the South African lowveld. Fitzpatrick was a transport rider, which is somebody who carried goods between the harbours on the coast and the towns, especially mining towns, in the interior of the country. They provided a very needed service before railways were built, and even afterwards, as the trains were very slow. They used ox-wagons to transport food, clothes, tools and other goods. When all Fitzpatrick’s oxen died after they were bitten by tsetse flies, his business was ruined. He had to find a new job in Johannesburg, which meant that he had to give Jock away. One night, Jock’s new owner thought he was a stray dog that was stealing his fowl. He shot Jock dead.
Fitzpatrick wrote Jock’s story in a book, Jock of the Bushveld, which was published in 1907. Today it is still as popular as it was then and more than one movie has been made of the story. There are also many monuments for Jock in Mpumalanga, including one in the Kruger National Park.
The Drakensberg Escarpment divides Mpumalanga into a westerly half consisting mainly of high-altitude grassland called the Highveld and an eastern half situated in low-altitude subtropical Lowveld/Bushveld, mostly savanna habitat. The southern half of the Kruger National Park is in the latter region. The Drakensberg exceeds heights of 2000 m in most places, with this central region of Mpumalanga being very mountainous. These regions have alpine grasslands and small pockets of Afromontane forest. The Lowveld is relatively flat with interspersed rocky outcrops. The Lebombo Mountains form a low range in the far east, on the border with Mozambique.
Some of the oldest rocks on earth have been found in the Barberton area; these ancient greenstones and metamorphosed granites form the Crocodile River Mountains in the southeast of the province. The Lowveld is underlaid by African Cratonic Basement rocks of ages in excess of 2 billion years. The Highveld is mostly Karoo Sequence sedimentary rock of a younger, Carboniferous to Permian age.
Mpumalanga is the only South African province to border two provinces of Mozambique (Gaza Province to the northeast and Maputo Province to the east), as well as all four districts of Swaziland (Lubombo, Hhohho, Manzini, and Shiselweni Districts).
Fauna and flora
The diverse and special flora and fauna of the province enjoys protection in a range of nature reserves, including:
Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, previously known as Gaza-Kruger-Gonarezhou Transfrontier Park. This international game park brings together some of the best and most established wildlife areas in southern Africa. The park is managed as an integrated unit across an unprecedented three international boundaries which includes the Kruger National Park (South Africa), Limpopo National Park (Mozambique) and Gonarezhou National Park (Zimbabwe).
Sabi Sand Game Reserve, which is built up of numerous private reserves: Nottens Bush Camp, Idube Safari Lodge, Chitwa Chitwa Game Lodge, Djuma Game Reserve, Exeter Game Lodge, Inyati Private Game Reserve, Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve, Lion Sands Private Game Reserve, Londolozi Game Reserve, Mala Mala Game Reserve, Savanna Private Game Reserve and Ulusaba Game Lodge.
The Lowveld is subtropical, due to its latitude and proximity to the warm Indian Ocean. The Highveld is comparatively much cooler, due to its altitude of 2300 m to 1700 m above sea level. The Drakensberg Escarpment receives the most precipitation, with all other areas being moderately well-watered by mostly summer thunderstorms. The Highveld often experiences severe frost, while the Lowveld is mostly frost-free. Winter rainfall is rare, except for some drizzle on the escarpment. The differences in climate are demonstrated below by the capital, Nelspruit, which is in the Lowveld, an hour from Belfast on the Highveld.
The climatic contrasts between the drier Highveld region, with its cold winters, and the hot, humid Lowveld allow for a variety of agricultural activities. 68% of Mpumalanga is used by agriculture. Crops include maize, wheat, sorghum, barley, sunflower seed, soybeans, macadamia’s, groundnuts, sugar cane, vegetables, coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, citrus, subtropical and deciduous fruit.
Forestry is extensive around Sabie in the far north east of the province. Located near the forests, Ngodwana is the site of one of South Africa’s largest paper mills (Sappi).
Natural grazing covers approximately 14% of Mpumalanga. The main products are beef, mutton, wool, poultry and dairy.
Extensive mining is done and the minerals found include gold, platinum group metals, silica, chromite, vanadiferous magnetite, argentiferous zinc, antimony, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, tin, coal, andalusite, chrysotile asbestos, kieselguhr, limestone, magnesite, talc and shale.
Gold was first discovered in Mpumalanga province in 1883 by Auguste Roberts in the mountains surrounding what is now Barberton. Gold is still mined in the Barberton area today.
Mpumalanga accounts for 83% of South Africa’s coal production. 90% of South Africa’s coal consumption is used for electricity generation and the synthetic fuel industry. Coal power stations are in proximity to the coal deposits. A coal liquefaction plant in Secunda (Secunda CTL) is one of the country’s two petroleum-from-coal extraction plants, which is operated by the synthetic fuel company Sasol.
Mpumalanga is popular with tourists. Kruger National Park, established in 1898 for the protection of Lowveld wildlife, covering 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 sq mi), is a popular destination. The other major tourist attractions include the Sudwala Caves and the Blyde River Canyon.
Many activities including the big jump, mountain and quad biking, horse trails, river rafting and big game viewing are endemic to the region. This is “Big Five” territory. Towns in the Lowveld are Barberton, Mbombela, White River, Sabie, Graskop, Hazyview, Malelane, Pilgrim’s Rest, Lydenburg and Nkomazi.
In 2008, a Haute Cuisine route was formed, trickling from Nelspruit down to Hazyview. The Lowveld Gourmet Route covers the four top fine dining restaurants the area has to offer. The restaurants include Summerfields Kitchen, Oliver’s Restaurant, Orange and Salt.
The Wakkerstroom area in the Southern Mpumalanga highlands is a world-renowned birding hot spot.[according to whom?] The special birds that tourists travel to see are Rudd’s lark, Botha’s lark, wattled crane and yellow-breasted pipit, among over 300 grassland species.
History of the park
The Kruger National Park was first established by the President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger, in 1898. Realising that the Lowveld animals needed to be protected, the area between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers was set aside for restricted hunting in 1884. Kruger’s revolutionary plan only fully came to fruition in 1898 when the Sabie Game Reserve was established (later to be renamed the Kruger National Park).
When Scottish-born James Stevenson-Hamilton was appointed as the first Warden of the park in 1902, it was still known as the Sabie Game Reserve. The Sabie Game Reserve was merged with the Shinwedzi Game Reserve in 1927 (after the proclamation of the National Parks Act) and became the Kruger National Park. Motorists paid 1 pound entrance fee to the park. Accounts of these early days can be found in the Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library at Skukuza, which houses a collection of ecologically orientated books, paintings and memorabilia and is well worth a visit for the history-orientated traveller.
The surface area of the park is 19,633 square kilometres and plays host to more than 753 species of animal and 1982 species of plants in the park. There are 254 known cultural heritage sites in the Kruger, including 130 rock art sites.
Homo erectus roamed the area about 500 000 years ago and cultural artefacts from 100 000 to 30 000 years ago have been found and confirmed. More than 300 archaeological sites of Stone Age humans have been found, making the Kruger National Park a place of great history. Significant archaeological ruins can be found at Thulamela and Masorini and are well worth seeing, while there are numerous examples of San Rock Art scattered through the park and worthy of exploration.
In more recent times the San (Bushmen) and Iron Age peoples lived in the area about 1500 years ago making way for the Nguni people of further North and the European explorers and settlers who arrived in the 19th century.
In 1957 the first wilderness trails were pioneered by a Natal Parks Board game ranger named Ian Player (brother of legendary South African golfer Gary Player) and his friend and mentor Magquba Ntombela. Dr Player is well-known for his work in environmental fields and international involvement in wildlife conservation.
The wilderness trails established by Dr Player, as well as the walking safaris, were pioneered in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s by visionary South African conservationists and forward-thinking individuals which has partly resulted in the Kruger National Park we know and love today.
Visit our diverse reserves
Andover Nature Reserve
Barberton Nature Reserve
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
Loskop Dam Nature Reserve
Mabusa Nature Reserve
Manyeleti Nature Reserve
Mdala Nature Reserve
Mkhombo Nature Reserve
Mthethomusha Nature Reserve
Ohrigstad Dam Nature Reserve
S.S. Skosana Nature Reserve
Songimvelo Game Reserve
Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve
Climb the word third highest canyon and the only green canyon in the world Blyde river canyon. Visit the only tourist attraction where God has a window.
Explore the oldest cave in the world and spend the night in the world’s best game reserves.
Mpumalanga is considered to be one of the most geographically diverse and unbelievably beautiful places in South Africa. People are drawn to Mpumalanga by the magnificent scenery, by the fauna and flora and by the saga of the 1870s gold rush era and a wealth of fascinating tribal legends. Mountains, panoramic passes, valleys, rivers, waterfalls and forests characterise the landscape.
This is also Big Game Country, the setting for dozens of sanctuaries teeming with wildlife and birds. Visit the world’s most famous game reserve, climb the world’s third-highest canyon, explore the world’s oldest cave and spend the night in the world’s best private game lodges.
The entire Mpumalanga area offers exceptional opportunities for bird-watching, hiking, horse-riding and fishing. Streams once panned for gold have become the haunts of eager anglers and lazy trout. Steeped in the history of pioneers, hunters and fortune seekers, fascinating gold rush towns abound. Mpumalanga offers something for everyone.
“Mpumalanga a truly pioneering spirit”