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North-West Province

Provinsie Noord-Wes

British Bechuanaland


North-West Province

Arms for the North West Province registered with the Bureau of Heraldry on 7 May 1999. The blazon reads:

Arms: Per saltire Gules and Azure, a saltire quadrate Vert, fimbriated Argent, charged in the centre with a representation of a calabash water container within a leather thong cradle, Or; the shield ensigned of a circlet edged Argent, the centre Or, resting thereupon a pair of horns Argent supporting a sunflower proper.

Supporters: Two sable antelopes proper, horned and unguled Or.

Motto: Kagiso le Tswelelopele.

Arms explained:
These arms constitute the only device among the nine provinces which is explicitly based on the colours and (to some extent) forms of the national flag brought into use on 27 April 1994. This is perhaps because the province is a new creation under a régime unwilling to acknowledge that it is based essentially on the “independent” homeland state the Republic of Bophuthatswana.

The field is divided diagonally into quarters, red above and below, blue left and right. Over the field is superimposed a green saltire or diagonal cross, edged in silver or white. The saltire is quadrate; in other words it has a diagonal trapezium (in heraldic language a lozenge) over the middle, in the same colour as the saltire.

On the lozenge is a calabash, blazoned as gold (Or), but actually drawn in natural colours (proper), which represents the Tswana culture of the indigenous peoples whose tribal lands formed the basis of both Bophuthatswana and North-West.

In the crest the circlet is blazoned as Argent, but is actually drawn in ivory shades. The inner ring is drawn as blazoned, gold. The horns resting on the circlet are not identified, but resemble those of the Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), although these are often dark in colour, whereas the horns in the crest are white to pale grey.

The sunflower (Helianthus anuus) in the crest represents agriculture in the region, where sunflowers are grown for their nutritious seeds and for the oil they produce. Sunflower oil is used in cooking as well as in soap and paints, and as a lubricant. The seeds are reportedly used to make bread and a coffee-like beverage, although this would appear to be a use uncommon in South Africa. The sunflower is not native to Africa, having been introduced from the Americas, but is a common crop in the summer rainfall region. The flower probably also is symbolic of the bright sunshine needed to produce a sunflower crop.

The supporters are a pair of sable antelope (Hippotragus niger). This species lives in herds in forests in Southern Africa and is a familiar part of the wildlife of at least the eastern half of North-West. It stands up to 137 cm tall at the shoulder. The animals shown are male, and can be identified by their black colouring; females are more reddish brown. The sable antelope is closely related to the roan antelope (H equinus).

The motto translates as “Peace and prosperity.”.

About the province:
The North-West 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.

North-West inherited the twin towns of Mafikeng (established in 1885 as Mafeking, capital of British Bechuanaland and the Protectorate, and famous for resisting a siege during the South African War) and Mmabatho (established as a capital for Bophuthatswana). The two were merged under the name Mafikeng, and now comprise the province’s capital.

It comprises two elements:

1. The districts that made up the “independent” homeland state of Bophuthatswana, except for the district of Thaba Nchu (which was returned to the Free State) and the subdistrict Moretele 2, which is now part of Mpumalanga.

2. Added to these were (from the Cape Province) the district of Vryburg (which from 1882 to ’85 was the Republic of Stellaland) and (from the Transvaal Province) the districts (previously known as the Western Transvaal) of:

Christiana, Bloemhof, Schweizer-Reneke, Wolmaransstad, Delareyville, Klerksdorp, Lichtenburg, Coligny, Potchefstroom, Ventersdorp, Koster, Marico, Swartruggens, Rustenburg and Brits.

The province is bordered to the north by Botswana in the west and by Limpopo Province in the east; to the east by Gauteng; to the south by Free State in the east and Northern Cape in the west.

The province has a historical link with the colony of British Bechuanaland, even though it covers only roughly the northern third of that colony’s territory, plus further territory to the east which is somewhat larger in extent.

British Bechuanaland came into being because the Tswana people (or Bechuana, as they were then called by colonials) had come under exploitative pressure from Boer freebooters who had, after being rewarded by certain Tswana chiefs with land in return for military services rendered, set up two Boer republics to the west of the line demarcated by Britain as the western boundary of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek.

The republics – Stellaland (its capital at Vryburg) and Goshen (its administration based at the hamlet of Rooigrond, just south of present-day Mafikeng) – threatened the security of the region. A British expeditionary force under Sir Charles Warren was raised in 1884 to suppress the republics, and Vryburg was captured in February ’85. The inhabitants of Goshen could not be found – it was established much later that the male Boers had left their families with relatives in the ZAR and offered their services as transport riders (with oxwagons) to the expeditionary force! Their earnings enabled them to purchase farms in the Western Transvaal.

In November ’85 Warren annexed the territory between the Orange River in the south, the Molopo and Nossob rivers in the north (both of these watercourses are in fact normally dry), German South West Africa in the west, and Griqualand West and the ZAR on the east as British Bechuanaland. The initial proclamation in fact gave the Auob River as the north-western boundary, and this was altered a few days later to the Nossob. The Nossob bend is the characteristic outline of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, now part of Northern Cape Province.

The colony was annexed to the Cape Colony in 1895.

With the consent of the Tswana chiefs to the north of the Molopo, Sir Charles also proclaimed a British protectorate there, calling it the Bechuanaland Protectorate. It was this state that became independent in 1966 as the Republic of Botswana.

The languages spoken in the province are chiefly Afrikaans (among white people, and as a lingua franca in mixed situations) and Setswana. However, English plays a greater role than in the past, thanks to Bophuthatswana’s decision to drop Afrikaans in schools and administration in favour of English. The present government of North-West also has a preference for English. There is also an English-speaking minority, especially in the towns.

Of all the new provinces it is, ethnically speaking, the most appropriate as regards its boundaries, because it includes the majority of tribal trust lands occupied by Tswana speakers. It also has the longest border in common with Botswana (largely along the Molopo River), which is also appropriate since the Tswana nation is roughly equally divided between North-West and Botswana.

There is also a Tswana-speaking region in Namibia which, under apartheid, was self-governing under the name of Tswanaland.

It is a pity that the province is saddled with a name that reflects no more than a geographical direction, especially because it is home to the southern half of the Tswana nation.


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  • Image courtesy of Bruce Berry.


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    Comments, queries: Mike Oettle

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