The Northern Cape is on a strong growth path

Investments in towns such as De Aar and Kuruman are indicators of a broader uptick in investment and growth in the Northern Cape, led by mining and renewable energy projects.

Turbines on hills of Roggeveld Wind Farm. Credit: Roggeveld Wind

A wide range of investments across several sectors and by public and private entities is an indication that the Northern Cape is on a growth path.

In his 2024 State of the Province Address, Premier Zamani Saul noted significant employment increases in agriculture, energy and mining and said that the province’s GDP had advanced in the five-year term of office of the provincial administration from R119-billion to R148-billion. The bulk of this growth was attributed to the mining sector, via strategic investments in renewable energy and generally good global commodity prices.

Renewable energy and mining are the two sectors that have been making highly visible and significant investments. These include the giant wind projects such as the Roggeveld Wind Farm (147MW) and the Loeriesfontein Wind Farm (140MW) and solar projects like the newly announced Mooi Plaats project near Noupoort.

The province’s vast iron-ore mines continue to produce huge quantities of material, subject only to the capacity of the rail network run by Transnet to deliver what is produced to the country’s ports. Minerals Council South Africa, the industry’s employer organisation, estimates that the opportunity cost to the minerals sector of bad transport logistics in 2022 was about R50-billion. Existing mining enterprises such as the iron-ore and manganese operations of Kumba Iron Ore and Assmang have been joined by Indian and Australian miners looking for zinc and copper, vital ingredients of the transition to a cleaner energy future. Vedanta Zinc International is investing heavily at Aggenenys (the Gamsberg project) while Copper 360 and Orion Minerals are mining between Springbok and Prieska. Afrimat has bought new Northern Cape mines as part of its expansion policy.

The other sectors where growth is easy to spot are public infrastructure, education and radio astronomy through the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio astronomy project. Infrastructure and education are the subject of separate articles in this journal and the SKA has for some years now been steadily building towards full capacity. It is a globally significant scientific project that is already having an impact on lives in Carnarvon, where mathematics teachers are funded and through the Sol Plaatje University where data scientist students are dreaming dreams that were unheard of just a few years ago for residents of the Northern Cape.

Astronomy is changing lives in the Northern Cape. Credit: NCTA

But economic indicators at town level are perhaps the best illustrations of growth tendencies. The revival of a precast concrete factory in De Aar is important for the region’s economic prospects, not just for the railway sleepers that Colossal Concrete is going to make there on contract, but for the potential that it holds for the province’s builders and for renewable energy contractors and manufacturers.

Similarly, the fact that home-grown hotel group Country Hotels has three properties in each of the towns of Kuruman and Pofadder points to an economy where things are happening. With ten other hotels, inns and lodges in the province and with a focus on the corporate market, the hotel group’s growing footprint counts as a good bellweather for the state of business in the Northern Cape.

Railway sleepers are again being made in De Aar. Credit: Colossal Concrete

Resilience

The Northern Cape, as a dry province that relies heavily on agriculture, has adopted a Northern Cape Climate Change Adaptation Response Strategy. This allows for a framework to tackle climate change issues. Floods, droughts and fires are becoming more frequent and more severe; planning can at least mitigate the negative outcomes to some extent.

Farmers in the Northern Cape have learnt to be resilient over the years and there are certain niche products that thrive in the mostly dry landscape. One of these, rooibos, has not only secured an internationally recognised Geographical Indication (GI), but is also enhancing its international market share. Red espresso is now a “thing” in some of the trendy capitals of the world.

Another hot beverage made in the Northern Cape could follow rooibos onto the world stage. A variety of the mesquite tree apparently has seedpods that can produce something resembling coffee without the side effects of caffeine. This is according to an article on IOL by Sarene Kloren. Because the tree is an invasive alien, it would be in everyone’s interests if mesquite coffee became popular. The Coetzee brothers of Prieska have been making MannaBrew’s Mesquite Superfood Coffee since 2020 and they are harvesting between 50 and 60 tons annually. Pods are hand sorted by up to 1 000 seasonal workers and the Coetzees are hoping the health benefits of their brew will catch on.

Credit: Raisins SA

Other support for agriculture will come in the form of infrastructure at the Upington Industrial Park, which will act as a services centre for road, rail and air transport, agriculture, agro-processing and manufacturing.

Farmers and agro-processors are increasingly drawing attention to the need for good roads for the delivery of their products to market and they will be hoping that parks like UIP will help to provide the necessary infrastructure.

One of the most important types of infrastructure in the Northern Cape is Special Economic Zones, each of which has its own focus sectors and each of which is being developed by a combination of public and private investment. At various stages of implementation and planning, the various SEZs are the Kathu Industrial Park, the Upington Industrial Park, the Namakwa Special Economic Zone in Aggeneys (intended as industrial cluster for mining and agriculture services, beneficiation and manufacturing with Vedanta Zinc International as the core tenant) and the Boegoebaai Port and Green Hydrogen Cluster.