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Northern Cape Province

Provinsie Noord-Kaap

Kalahari Gemsbok National Park / name


Northern Cape Province

Arms approved on 25 August 1997 by the Provincial Legislature, having been developed by the province’s Directorate of Arts and Culture. They may be blazoned:

Arms: Per fess gules and azure, a lozenge argent overall between in chief two daisies or. In base, two bars wavy counterchanged; out of the central wave a thorn tree issuant proper.

The shield ensigned of a crown or, its circlet decorated with a beaded Bushman headring azure charged with lozenges gules fimbriated argent; the circlet embellished with alternating roundels gules, each charged with an annulet or, and flat-topped mounds or.

Supporters, compartment and motto: Dexter a gemsbok (Oryx gazella gazella), sinister a kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), both proper and standing upon a compartment representing the rocky ground characteristic of the Augrabies National Park. In the base of the compartment a scroll inscribed: sa k//?a: !aisi ?uisi.

Explanation:
The lozenge or diamond shape that dominates the shield design represents the mineral wealth and economic wellbeing of the province. While it also takes in minerals such as the iron ore of Sishen, the manganese of the Postmasburg district and the copper of Namaqualand – the object of the Cape Colony’s first mineral rush, which began in 1852 – and Copperton (both now largely worked out), it is a specific reference to the alluvial diamonds of the Orange and Vaal Rivers, finds of which in 1866 and ’69 triggered the great South African diamond rush, and to the kimberlite pipes of Kimberley, first exploited in 1871.

When the first diamond was found, what is now the City of Kimberley (and the capital of the Northern Cape) was a farm called Du Toitspan and the main pipe a small hill which was named Colesberg Koppie by the first diggers there, who came from Colesberg. The rush resulted in the excavation of the koppie (initially in small claims) to an unprecedented depth, creating what is now the Big Hole (officially called the Kimberley Open Mine).

A lozenge like the one in these arms is found in the arms of the City of Kimberley.

The daisies are not identified as to species, and there are in fact two different genera to which they could belong. The English common name Namaqualand daisy is given to Dimorphotheca sinuata, while the Afrikaans equivalent name, Namakwalandse gousblom, belongs to Arctotis fastuosa. Both are characteristic of the flora of Namaqualand, the westernmost part of the province, which is semi-desert but which, after good winter rains, produces flowers as far as the eye can see. The area in which this flowering occurs extends southwards into the Western Cape Province. Both genera are typical in the diverse range of floral types found in this springtime carpet. However, the species that most closely resembles the flowers on the shield are A breviscapa, which has petals that are entirely yellow-gold, whereas both A fastuosa and D sinuata have petals characterised by black markings at the base.

Namaqualand is so called because it is the (southern part of the) traditional home of the Nama or Namaqua Khoikhoi.[1] (The suffix “-qua” means “people”.) The Nama, who were the westernmost of the Khoikhoi peoples living along the Orange River, are also to be found in southern Namibia in an area known as Namaland.[2] Although many of the Namaqua have lost their own language and now speak Afrikaans, the Nama language is the last surviving dialect of Khoikhoi.

The wavy bars – white/silver on the blue parts of the shield and blue on the silver or white lozenge – represent the two great rivers, the Orange (known to the Khoikhoi as the Gariep) and the Vaal, which join west of Kimberley. Their combined flow is the dominant geographical feature of the province, especially at Prieskapoort, where the waters cut through a major rock stratum to escape from the plateau that characterises the eastern half of South Africa’s interior, and at Augrabies, near the Namibian border, where a second major stratum is breached. From a point close to Augrabies to the Atlantic Ocean, the river forms the border with Namibia. In the country’s geological past, the waters of the upper Orange and the Vaal were unable to escape the plateau and instead flowed southward to a vast morass in what is now one of the driest areas of the Northern Cape. It is believed that this region at that time closely resembled the Okavango Delta of Botswana.

The thorn tree is not identified by species, but it would appear likely to belong to the Acacia genus. The two species typically found in the Northern Cape are the Karoo thorn, Acacia karroo, and the camel thorn, A erioloba, both of which can reach a considerable height.

The coronet is made up of a bead headring and an embellishment that includes further beadwork motifs. The headring is a characteristic ornament of the hunter-gatherer Bushman[3] people, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Northern Cape, who were closely related to the cattle-keeping Khoikhoi.

The dexter supporter is a gemsbok (Oryx gazella gazella), which was the sinister supporter in the arms of not only the Cape Colony and Cape Province, but also the Union of South Africa.

The sinister supporter is the greater kudu (usually simply called kudu in South Africa), which stands about 130 cm tall at the shoulder and is found in hilly bush country or open woods in Southern and Eastern Africa. It is noticeably taller than the lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis, 100 cm tall at the shoulder), which is a native of East Africa.

Besides the fact that kudu are part of the wildlife of the province, a kudu head is found in the arms of the National Parks Board, which controls both the Augrabies National Park and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park (see below). While the province does not indicate the motivation for including a kudu, Mpumalanga (which includes half the Kruger National Park) has two kudu for supporters.

The Augrabies National Park is not only a place of great natural beauty but is regarded in traditional Bushman and Khoikhoi culture as being of great religious significance. It is in a very arid part of the province, and for most of the year the Orange or Gariep River and its waterfalls are the only water to be found there.

The motto, sa k//?a: !aisi ?uisi, is in the /’Auni language of a clan of Bushmen people who live at Rietfontein in the Kalahari desert and was provided by Mrs Elsie Vaalbooi. At the time the motto was adopted, Mrs Vaalbooi was 97 years old and was the last /’Auni speaker alive. The motto translates as: “Strive for a better life.”

Its pronunciation is difficult for anyone unacquainted with the click languages of Southern Africa. There is a difficulty in interpreting it, since my only source is the illustration of the arms, which shows a rather indistinct character resembling a question mark, but which is not indicated in the Encyclopćdia Britannica, my source for a pronunciation key. However, the other characters are // and !. The first (spelt in the Nguni languages and South Sotho with an X) is a click made with the tongue against the side of the mouth (above the molars), while the sound ! (close to the sound spelt in Nguni and South Sotho, Q) is made with the tongue against the roof of the palate. The name /’Auni contains a third click sound (/, represented in Nguni and South Sotho as C), and is made with the tongue against the front teeth. Its nearest equivalent in Western usage is the “tsk, tsk” sound made by some English-speakers.

About the province:
The Northern Cape Province – one of four new provinces split from the Cape Province – formally came into being on 27 April 1994, when all-race elections were held for the first time in South Africa. It is headed by a Premier, elected from and by the Provincial Legislature, who is supported by an Executive Council whose members must be members of the legislature.

The Northern Cape is the largest province in area in post-1994 South Africa, but the smallest in population. It includes the colony of Griqualand West (1874-1880, annexed as a result of the diamond rush) and roughly the southern two thirds of the colony of British Bechuanaland (annexed to the Cape Colony in 1895; see North-West Province for more information), as well as Namaqualand, Bushmanland and parts of the Great Karoo.

The province comprises 26 magisterial districts. Where the district name differs from the principal town, the town is named in brackets. The districts are:

Barkly West, Britstown, Calvinia, Carnarvon, Colesberg, De Aar, Fraserburg, Gordonia (Upington), Hanover, Hartswater, Hay (Griquatown), Herbert (Douglas), Hopetown, Kenhardt, Kimberley, Kuruman, Namaqualand (Springbok), Noupoort, Philipstown, Postmasburg, Prieska, Richmond, Sutherland, Victoria West, Warrenton and Williston.

The Gordonia district also includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, which in 2000 became part of the vast Kgalakgadi Transfrontier Park, in which the fences along the Botswana and Namibian borders were removed to allow free passage of game.

The borders with Namibia are a straight line northwards from the Orange River along the longitudinal line 20° East and, from this line westwards, the north bank of the Orange River. Most river boundaries in South Africa lie along the middle of the river, but this north bank border was laid down in 1848 when Sir Harry Smith, Governor of the Cape, made the river the northern frontier of the colony, and it remained in place when Germany annexed South West Africa.

When Namibia attained independence in 1990, that country’s government requested Walvis Bay and the shifting of the river border to the middle.

Walvis Bay was handed over on 1 March 1994 (and so did not become part of Northern Cape Province), but the question of the river border was put off (despite various promises) until 2001, when the South African government announced that it would stick to the policy of the Organisation for African Unity, that colonial boundaries should remain unaltered.

Suggestions have been made that the capital be moved from Kimberley – at the eastern end of the province and only a metres away from the Free State – to Upington, roughly in the middle of the province. But even though Kimberley lies far from its water supply and Upington is on the Orange River, it was decided that Kimberley, the largest settlement in the province, should remain the capital.

Name of the province:
Since the Orange or Gariep river is the dominant geographical feature of the Northern Cape, it was proposed that the province take its name from the river. However, this did not find favour with the legislature, perhaps because the name Gariep was a reminder to the Tswana and other Bantu-speaking members that they were latecomers in the area. Instead it was decided to retain the name Northern Cape, even though it is a fairly empty name reflecting a geographical direction and an association with a promontary at the south-western extremity of the Western Cape.



[1] The term Khoikhoi (also written as Khoekhoe or Kwekwena) means “men of men”. It is applied to the descendants of Tshu-Khwe Bushmen (still to be found along the Botswana/Zimbabwe border near Hwange and westwards along Botswana’s northern border) who acquired cattle and trekked southwards, first to the Orange or Gariep River and subsequently to the Eastern and Western Cape coastal regions.

[2] In the days of the Union of South Africa, Namaland was frequently called Great Namaqualand, and the region south of the Orange River Little Namaqualand. This terminology has now fallen away.

[3] It is fashionable to refer to Bushmen as San, since “Bushman” (“Bosjesmannen” in Dutch) was originally a taunt used to describe the rough shelters used by these Stone Age hunters. However, “San” is also a taunt, used by Khoikhoi to dismiss the hunter-gatherers as being “almost animals”. A conference of surviving Bushman/San bands in Namibia in 1995 agreed to use the term Bushman for their ethnic group.


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  • Scan courtesy of Bruce Berry.


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    Comments, queries: Mike Oettle

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