Mpumalanga means 'place where the sun rises'. It is bordered by Mozambique and Swaziland in the east, and Gauteng in the west. It is situated mainly on the high plateau grasslands of the Middleveld, which roll eastwards for hundreds of kilometres. In the northeast, it rises towards mountain peaks and then terminates in an immense Escarpment. In some places, this Escarpment plunges hundreds of metres down to the low-lying area known as the Lowveld.
The area has a network of excellent roads and railway connections, making it highly accessible. Because of its popularity as a tourist destination, Mpumalanga is also served by a number of small airports.
Nelspruit is the capital of the province and the administrative and business centre of the Lowveld. Witbank is the centre of the local coal-mining industry; Standerton, in the south, is renowned for its large dairy industry; Piet Retief in the southeast is a production area for tropical fruit and sugar, while a large sugar industry is also found at Malelane in the east; Ermelo is the district in South Africa that produces the most wool; Barberton is one of the oldest gold-mining towns in South Africa, and Sabie is situated in the forestry heartland of the country.
The province falls mainly within the grassland biome. The Escarpment and the Lowveld form a transitional zone between this grassland area and the savanna biome. Long sweeps of undulating grasslands abruptly change to the thickly forested ravines and thundering waterfalls of the Escarpment, only to change again to present the subtropical wildlife splendour of the Lowveld.
Sabie and Graskop provide a large part of the country's total requirement for forestry products. These forestry plantations are an ideal backdrop for ecotourism opportunities, with a variety of popular hiking trails, a myriad of waterfalls, patches of indigenous forest, and a variety of nature reserves.
Lake Chrissie is the largest natural freshwater lake in South Africa, and is famous for its variety of aquatic birds, especially flamingos.
Even though it is one of the smaller provinces (some 79 490 km2 in surface area), Mpumalanga has a population of about three million people.
Some 29% of those aged 20 years or older have not undergone any schooling, while the population growth rate is higher than the national average. The main languages spoken are siSwati, isiZulu and isiNdebele.
Agriculture and forestry
This is a summer-rainfall area divided by the Escarpment into the Highveld region with cold frosty winters and the Lowveld region with mild winters and a subtropical climate.
The Escarpment area sometimes experiences snow on high ground. Thick mist is common during the hot humid summers.
An abundance of citrus fruit and many other subtropical fruits mangoes, avocados, litchis, bananas, pawpaws, granadillas, guavas as well as nuts and a variety of vegetables are produced here.
Nelspruit is the second-largest citrus-producing area in South Africa. It is responsible for one-third of the country's export in oranges. The Institute for Tropical and Sub-tropical Crops is situated here.
The natural forests of the area could not supply enough timber for the burgeoning mining industry in the early days of gold mining. Plantations of exotic trees, mainly pine, gum and Australian wattles, were established to supply wood for the mine props. These trees did so well that the Sabie area became the biggest single region of forestry plantations in South Africa.
Groblersdal is an important irrigation area which yields a wide variety of products such as citrus fruit, cotton, tobacco, wheat and vegetables.
Carolina-Bethal-Ermelo is sheep area. Potatoes, sunflower seeds, maize and peanuts are also produced in this region.