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Limpopo Province

Provinsie Limpopo

Limpopo

Limpopo Province, the most northerly of the nine new provinces, adopted its arms on 23 March 1998, when it was known as Northern Province. The blazon reads:

Arms: Or, a baobab tree and a chief wavy, Vert; the shield ensigned of a circlet Or, heightened of eight cycad leaves supported by sets of buffalo horns, Argent.

Supporters: Two buffalos proper.

Special compartment: An undulating compartment, Vert above and Sable below, the lower edge Or.

Motto: Peace, Unity and Prosperity.

Arms explained:
The tree is a specimen of Adansonia digitata, common in Africa north of the Limpopo River but in South Africa found only in Limpopo Province. It belongs to a family found in the Americas, Australia and Madagascar, but this species is unique to the African continent and is widespread. The baobab’s favoured environment is relatively low-altitude hot, dry woodland.

The Afrikaans name for the tree is kremetartboom (cream of tartar tree). Boer pioneers reportedly made cream of tartar from the pulp of the fruit, but it appears that it is in fact citric acid that can be produced in this way.

Everyone’s Guide to the Trees of South Africa by Keith, Paul and Meg Coates Palgrave has this to say:

“They are grotesquely fat with a height of between 10 and 20 m, and have a massive trunk with a girth of usually about 10 m in circumference. The bole tends to taper quite suddenly and then branch well above the ground.

“The spreading branches are relatively short and thin and, when bare, look a lot like roots. This gives rise to a belief held among certain tribes that God planted the baobab upside-down.”

The leaves on mature trees are compound and digitate (having the form of a spread hand; hence the specific name). Saplings have simple leaves, which probably accounts for the belief among some tribes that there is no such thing as a young baobab.

Continuing with Coates Palgrave:

“The waxy white flowers are about 15 cm in diameter. They fade to brown when picked and have an unpleasant smell.

“The ovoid fruit is up to 26 cm long, and has a hard woody shell that is covered with greenish-grey velvety hairs. The seeds are embedded in a whitish powdery pulp which contains tartaric acid, potassium bitartrate and vitamin C. The seeds are refreshing to suck. They can also be soaked in water to make a palatable drink, and this has been used to treat fevers and vitamin C deficiency.

“Recent carbon dating indicates that some very large specimens may be over 3 000 years old. The vitality of these trees is remarkable, and even when the interior of the bole has been burnt out, they continue to flourish. The roomy hollow trunks of Baobabs have served as houses, prisons, storage barns and places of refuge from marauding animals. However, when they die, the trees collapse into mounds of fibrous pulp.”

The Encyclopćdia Britannica adds that the trunks are sometimes used for water storage, and that a fibre from the bark is used for rope and cloth. The Standard Encyclopćdia of Southern Africa mentions that the tree is deciduous, and so leafless in winter (unusual for tropical Africa).

The line of division for the chief (the top of the shield) suggests the course of the Limpopo River which, together with its tributary the Marico, forms the northern (abutting Zimbabwe) and north-western (Botswana) border of the province – more than a third of the province’s boundaries. This was the river that Rudyard Kipling called “the great, grey, green, greasy Limpopo River” in his allegorical tale The Elephant’s Child.[1]

The crest comprises branches of cycad trees – most likely the Modjadji cycad, Encephelartos transvenosus. Cycads are an ancient order of plants (Zamiaceć) which flourished between 200 and 300 million years ago. Most of those species which survive are endangered. Cycads are found in various parts of the world, but only the genus Encephelartos occurs in South Africa.

The Modjadji cycad is a very tall species that can reach 13 m in height. They form natural forests on the mountainsides above the capital of the Rain Queen, Modjadji, in the Bolobedu district. These trees have been strictly protected by succeeding generations of Rain Queens, the hereditary rulers of the Sotho-speaking Lobedu tribe. The species is also found in the Soutpansberg mountains.

Alternating in the crown are small horns of the Cape or African buffalo, Syncerus caffer; bulls of this bovine creature also serve as supporters. This animal – still found wild in parts of the province, and once home as far south as the Western Cape – is counted as one of the Big Five for game viewing. Never domesticated, the buffalo is regarded as one of the most dangerous animals to man when wounded. Bulls can reach the height of 150 cm at the shoulder and weigh up to about 900 kg.

The generic name Bubalus (which is usually reserved for the Indian buffalo, Bubalus bubalis, also called water buffalo or carabao) is sometimes also given to not only the Cape buffalo but also to the anoa and the tamarau, small forest buffalo of the genus Anoa which are found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (anoa), and the Philippine island of Mindoro (tamarau).

The compartment would appear to represent the mountainous terrain found in much of the province.

The motto is in English, presumably because this language is seen as being neutral in the province.

About the province:
The province formally came into being on 27 April 1994, when all-race elections were held for the first time in South Africa. It was initially called Northern Transvaal (being taken solely from the Transvaal Province as it was between 1910 and ’79), but the legislature soon chose to call it Northern Province. On 12 February 2002 a new name, Limpopo Province, was announced.

It is headed by a Premier, elected by and from the Provincial Legislature, who is assisted by an Executive Council chosen from the Legislature.

Pietersburg, which had briefly served as the capital of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek in 1901 following the withdrawal of the republican government first from Pretoria and then from Lydenburg, became the capital. Also in February 2002, Pietersburg was renamed Polokwane.

However, the legislature is seated at Lebowakgomo, which was the capital of Lebowa.

The province comprises the districts that made up the “independent” homeland state of Venda, as well the non-independent homeland states of Lebowa (North Sotho-speaking) and Gazankulu (xiTsonga-speaking). The districts making it up (excluding Venda) were initially:

Thabazimbi, Warmbad, Waterberg (chief town Nylstroom), Ellisras, Potgietersrust, Mokerong, Sheshego, Bochum, Nebo, Thabamoopo, Pietersburg, Soutpansberg (chief town Louis Trichardt), Messina, Sekhukhuneland, Naphuno, Letaba, Phalaborwa, Namakgale, Bolobedu, Sekgosese, Giyani and Malamulelele.

Additional new placenames as of February 2002 were Bela-Bela (Warmbaths), Modimolle (Nylstroom), Mokopane (Potgietersrust) and Musina (Messina). Some months later Makado (Louis Trichardt) was also announced.

The province incorporates the northern half of the Kruger National Park, divided between the Phalaborwa district in the south and Soutpansberg in the north. This is an ironic allocation, since this portion of the Soutpansberg district is separated from the rest of Soutpansberg by districts formerly belonging to Venda, as well as by Malamulele, Giyani, Bolobedu and Sekgosese.

The languages spoken in the province are chiefly Afrikaans (among white people and as a lingua franca in mixed situations), tshiVenda, Sesotho sa Lebowa (or North Sotho), xiTsonga and Northern isiNdebele. English is the language of a small (chiefly white) minority, but is also politically favoured because of the association of Afrikaans with apartheid.

North Sotho is frequently also called Sepedi, although the Pedi people and their dialects are no more than the largest grouping among the Sotho-speakers of the province.

XiTsonga, also known as Shangaan, is also spoken in a far larger region to the east of the Kruger Park, in Mozambique. It was the language of the Gaza kingdom, one of whose early kings was Shoshangane. The Gaza state was unique among those that arose during the Mfecane in that it was built by an invading group from South Africa (abeNguni from the same region where the Zulu kingdom flourished), but retained the language of the conquered people. The Tsonga language was nonetheless influenced by isiNguni.



[1] Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child was part of the inspiration for an exploration of a South African placename – as it happens, not in Limpopo but in North-West – on this page.


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  • Image courtesy of Bruce Berry.


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