By John Young
With R150-billion in committed investments so far, Limpopo’s newest major project, the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (SEZ), has every chance of being a real game-changer.
The SEZ takes advantage of one of Limpopo’s greatest strategic advantages, namely its location. With a stated aim of benefitting the economies of the region, including neighbours Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the SEZ is expected to create more than 20 000 jobs in a range of sectors. The largest projects will be in minerals, mineral beneficiation, energy and logistics.
Another SEZ at Tubatse in eastern Limpopo, together with an industrial park designed to promote and enhance opportunities along the value chain that the marula fruit can bring, and the revitalisation of industrial parks at Seshego and Nkowankowa point to the fact that parks are a central plank of provincial economic planning.
Regional economic overview
Mining continues to be biggest contributor to provincial Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at 24.5%. The number of jobs in this sector reached more than 100 000 in 2018, up from just over 70 000 in 2013. With several big new projects underway, a significant number of new jobs will be created in the short term.
Tourism is seen as one of the biggest potential earners (and employers) with almost limitless potential. The sector within tourism that is receiving the most attention from authorities at the moment is biodiversity, but there are equally unrivalled opportunities in adventure tourism, culture and heritage, birding, golf and the list goes on. Nearly eight million international tourists have visited the province since 2014 and more than 27-million South Africans have visited some part of Limpopo in the same period. The combined land area of Limpopo’s national, provincial and private game and nature reserves is 3.6-million hectares. According to the Premier’s office, the tourism sector employs about 22 400 people.
Limpopo covers about 10% of South Africa’s land mass and is home to about 10% of the country’s population. The 2011 census recorded 5.4-million residents. The main languages of the people of Limpopo are Sesotho, Xitsonga and Tshivenda but English is widely used in business and government.
The Limpopo Province’s 125 754 km² covers a remarkably diverse geographical and cultural landscape that is also rich in minerals and agricultural products.
The N1 highway (“Great North Road”) is a key reason for the province’s important role in the nation’s logistics sector. It passes through Limpopo from the south to the border town of Musina and on to Zimbabwe and its neighbours in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The busy N11 highway links the province to Botswana to the west and Mpumalanga Province to the east.
Most of South Africa’s logistics operators have a presence in the provincial capital city of Polokwane and freight logistics hubs have been established in that city and in Musina.
Transport within the city of Polokwane is being transformed by the introduction of a bus rapid transport system, Leeto la Polokwane. In the province as a whole, 22.6% of households in Limpopo use bus transport and 45.8% use taxis.
Great North Transport falls under the Limpopo Economic Development Agency. The company has more than 500 buses, covers about 36-million kilometres every year on 279 routes, employs more than 1 200 people and transports 37.6-million passengers.
The Polokwane International Airport (PIA) is wholly owned by the provincial government and run by the Gateway Airports Authority Ltd (GAAL), an agency of the Limpopo Department of Transport. It has the potential to be an important regional cargo airport. SA Airlink offers 21 flights to Johannesburg six days a week. The airline also provides links between Phalaborwa and Johannesburg, and between Hoedspruit and Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The province has a sophisticated rail network which Transnet Freight Rail aims to further expand, primarily to haul the province’s vast reserves of coal away to the coast at Richards Bay.
The Provincial Government of Limpopo has committed itself to the Limpopo Economic Growth and Development Plan (LEGDP), which aims to build a stronger, more industrialised economy and to create jobs and reduce social inequality.
Existing manufacturing in the province is centred on mining areas (smelters and refineries), agricultural estates (juices and concentrates) and Polokwane (food and beverages). Agri-processing is strong, with Pioneer Foods, McCain, Granor Passi, Kanhym, Westfalia and Enterprise Foods prominent, but this sector still has potential to grow.
When it comes to exports Limpopo punches above its weight because of the abundance of mineral wealth under the ground, and the superb fruit and vegetables that the province’s farmers cultivate.
Potatoes are grown, together with 75% South Africa’s mangoes and tomatoes; papayas (65%); tea (36%); citrus, bananas and litchis (25%) and 60% of the country’s avocadoes. ZZ2 is one of the country’s largest agricultural enterprises. ZZ2 is most famous for the large quantity of tomatoes and avocadoes produced but its product range is also large: mangoes, onions, dates, cherries, apples, pears, stone fruit, almonds and blueberries.
The best-performing sub-sector of South African exports in recent years has been fruit and nuts. Limpopo has been a major contributor to the country’s excellent export record: fruit and nuts from the province’s eastern regions are hugely popular in international markets and Limpopo’s commercial farmers are extremely efficient.
Minerals: The province has huge reserves of coal, platinum, chromium, uranium clay, nickel, cobalt, vanadium, limestone and tin. Demand will always fluctuate, and the commodities cycle has recently been very volatile, but the world will always need minerals.
Limpopo assets include the largest diamond mine in South Africa, the biggest copper mine in South Africa, the biggest open-pit platinum mine in the country and the biggest vermiculite mine in the world. The province has 41% of South Africa’s platinum group metals (PGMs), 90% of South Africa’s red-granite resources and approximately 50% of the country’s coal reserves. Antimony, a highly strategic mineral found in large quantities in China, is another of Limpopo’s major assets.
The Provincial Government of Limpopo has committed to allocating 20% of state procurement to enterprises owned by both women and young people. This is line with placing “young people at the centre of our economic development programme”, in the words of Premier Mathabatha.
Limpopo’s regions and major cities
Limpopo’s dry, cattle-rearing, western areas contrast with the subtropical regions of the east where forestry thrives and the central regions where vast plantations produce 60% of the country’s tomatoes. The area north of the Soutpansberg Mountains is semi-arid. The Waterberg mountains stretch over 5 000 km². There are five district municipalities in Limpopo and the capital city is Polokwane (population 629 000).
The centrally situated city of Polokwane is the capital of Limpopo Province. Located on the Great North Road (N1 highway) and almost equidistant from the high-density population of greater Johannesburg and the neighbouring countries of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Polokwane’s upgraded international airport plays an increasingly important regional role.
Polokwane is the province’s main centre for industry, commerce, education and medical services. The city is close to big concentrations of mineral deposits and to fertile agricultural lands. Its industries reflect this diversity. Large industrial concerns such as Silicon Smelters (one of the biggest of its kind in the world) and a big brewery run alongside at least 600 industrial enterprises of a smaller scale. The range is broad: soft drink and fruit juice manufacture, confectionery, bricks, clothing, meat-processing, packaging and jewellery.
Polokwane has excellent hotel and conferencing facilities. It is a good starting point for tourism trips into the province and beyond. Unusually, the city has its own game reserve on 3 200 hectares of semi-bushveld land. Several annual festivals are held in Polokwane, including the Mapungubwe Arts Festival. Nearby Moria attracts up to a million people every year, when the Zion Christian Church celebrates Easter.
A subtropical climate and fertile soils combine to make greater Tzaneen one of South Africa’s most productive areas in fruit and vegetables. Steep valleys and gently sloping mountains provide ample opportunities for tourism of all sorts.
The Letaba Valley produces a large proportion of South Africa’s mangoes, avocadoes and tomatoes. Citrus fruits also thrive, as do macadamia nuts, litchis, paw-paws and bananas. Forty sawmills operate in the area, drawing on the heavily forested hills around the city. Tzaneen is the economic hub of the region, with a population of 80 000.
The Phalaborwa Spatial Development Initiative passes through the Greater Tzaneen Municipal Area, while one of the major road links between Gauteng and the Kruger National Park also passes through the area, providing excellent logistical links for tourism and business.
Known as the Gateway to the Kruger National Park, Phalaborwa is situated in such a moderate climatic belt that it is also sometimes known as the town of Two Summers, so similar are the summer and winter temperatures.
Phalaborwa has a good airport and the town’s proximity to the Kruger National Park makes it a tourism hub. The town has several attractions of its own. Cruises on the Olifants River are popular and the highly regarded Hans Merensky Country Club golf course hosts national tournaments. The prospect of meeting wildlife on the fairway adds spice to the golf experience. Palaborwa Mining Company (PMC) is the major economic driving force in the area. Copper has been mined in the region for many centuries, with evidence from as far back as 400AD having been found.
The popular Marula Festival is held in Phalaborwa in February every year. This not only promotes the iconic fruit (and its associated foods and beverages) but is a celebration of local arts and crafts and music. Sports events such as golf and soccer tournaments and half-marathons are held to coincide with the festival.