The destination most people associate with the North West Province is the commercialised and completely over-the-top Sun City complex with its casinos, theatres, restaurants, fake beaches and mythical kingdoms. But there is so much more to this very interesting and somewhat underrated destination. The Magaliesberg, so close to Johannesburg, is a welcome oasis of mountain greenery, and the Pilanesberg and Madikwe Game Reserves offer big game viewing in spectacular surroundings.
The economy of the North West is firmly based on agriculture and mining, both of which activities influence the landscape immensely. Seemingly endless fields of maize or sunflowers stretch to the horizon in places while, in other areas, large herds of cattle wonder around chewing the cud, mining headgear towers above the bush, or enormous blocks of granite lie tumbled at the base of disembowelled hills.
The North West bills itself as the Platinum Province, a claim that is not without justification. And the basis for this justification is a fascinating geological accident dating back 2050 million years. For it was then that the Bushveld Igneous Complex formed. This is the largest igneous intrusion exposed at the surface of the earth, and it is the most extensive and thickest structure of its kind known in the world. Now, in case you didn’t know, igneous rocks are volcanic rocks. Extrusive igneous rocks exit the ground in liquid form as volcanoes or huge magma flows, while intrusive igneous rocks stay underground slowly solidifying. That’s what happened to the BIC. And, as it cooled, different minerals solidified at different temperatures creating a neatly layered structure of a range of minerals – including some really rare and economically important ones like chromite, vanadium, platinum. It is due to this fortuitous geological incident that South Africa mines more than half of the world’s chrome and platinum. If you’re wondering what the big deal is about chrome – you need it to make stainless steel. Imagine your kitchen without that.
But it is culturally that this region really differs from the rest of the country. There are fascinating archaeological remains of huge Iron Age Tswana cities, small towns like Groot Marico languish in a time-warp that may or may not be mampoer-induced, and whole regions like Bophirima retain a frontier mentality that harkens back to the days when most of the region was the independent Boer republic of Stellaland. And much of the Cradle of Humankind falls into this province, too. So, wherever you hail from, here lie your roots.