The land

Gallery: Free State province, South Africa

The Free State’s complicated history has played out across its varied landscape, which runs from the Maloti Mountains in the east through flat central farmlands to the Karoo desert regions in the west and south.


The borders of the province, a bean shape curved around the Kingdom of Lesotho, were first established in 1848, when the British made the Orange Free State their colony. It is one of only two South African provinces – the other is KwaZulu-Natal – to have kept its pre-apartheid boundaries.

Bloemfontein’s Mystic Boer

Giant colourised photos of Boer guerrillas in the South African (Anglo-Boer) War line the walls of Die Mystic Boer bar and nightblub in Bloemfontein, the capital of the Free State. (South African Tourism, CC BY 2.0)

Lining the walls of Die Mystic Boer bar and nightclub in Bloemfontein are colourised original portraits of Boer guerrillas, some of them children, who fought in the South African (Anglo-Boer) War of 1899 to 1902. (South African Tourism, CC BY 2.0)

Chemicals factory in Sasolburg

The Sasol Infrachem chemicals processing plant in Sasolburg, an industrial town in the far north of the Free State near the Gauteng border. The town was founded in 1954 to support Sasol, a state-owned company created to manufacture oil from coal. South Africa has plenty of coal reserves, but no oil. Today Sasol is a ginat multinational petrochemicals corporation. (Media Club South Africa)

The Sasol Infrachem chemicals processing plant in Sasolburg, an industrial town in the far north of the Free State near the Gauteng border. The town was founded in 1954 to support Sasol, a state-owned company created to manufacture oil from coal. South Africa has plenty of coal reserves, but no oil. Today Sasol is a giant multinational petrochemicals corporation. (Media Club South Africa)

Cosmos flowers on a country road

Cosmos flowers in bloom are a common sight along rural Free State roads in spring and autumn. Cosmos are native to Mexico and found across South America. The plants are now widespread in South Africa, brought here in contaminated horse feed imported from Argentina during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War of 1899 to 1902. (Graeme Williams, Media Club South Africa)

Cosmos flowers in bloom are a common sight along Free State roadsides in spring and autumn. Cosmos are native to Mexico and found across South America. The plants are now widespread in South Africa, brought here in contaminated horse feed imported from Argentina during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War of 1899 to 1902. (Graeme Williams, Media Club South Africa)

Crop circles near Jacobsdal

An aerial view of circular crop fields watered by centre-pivot irrigation systems near the small farming town of Jacobsdal in the eastern Free State, near the Northern Cape border. (Jean Boris Hamon, CC BY-NC-ND)

An aerial view of circular crop fields watered by centre-pivot irrigation systems near the small farming town of Jacobsdal in the western Free State, near the Northern Cape border. (Jean Boris Hamon, CC BY-NC-ND)

Eastern Free State farm road in winter

Winter colours on farmland and snow on mountains near the town of Harrismith in the eastern Free State. (Steve Slater, CC BY 2.0)

Winter colours on farmland and snow on mountains near the town of Harrismith in the eastern Free State. (Steve Slater, CC BY 2.0)

Farmland near Fouriesberg

A tree-lined stream runs through fields bordered by sandstone outcrops near the Free State town of Fouriesburg. (Jonathan Gill, CC BY-NC 2.0)

A tree-lined stream runs through fields bordered by sandstone outcrops near the Free State town of Fouriesburg. (Jonathan Gill, CC BY-NC 2.0)

The golden sandstone of the eastern Free State

Late afternoon sun shines off sandstone cliffs in the Golden Gate National Park. In the19th and early 20th centuries blocks of eastern Free State sandstone, prized for their softness and lovely colour, were used to build churches, public buildings and grand homes across the province. <em>(<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr-pi/25833266367/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Pieter Edelman</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">CC BY-NC-ND 2.0</a>)</em>

Late afternoon sun shines off sandstone cliffs in the Golden Gate National Park. In the 19th and early 20th centuries blocks of eastern Free State sandstone, prized for their softness and lovely colour, were used to build churches, public buildings and grand homes across the province. (Pieter Edelman, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Nelson Mandela on Naval Hill

A statue of Nelson Mandela with his fist raised in the amandla salute overlooks the city of Bloemfontein. Naval Hill rises in the centre of the city and includes museums and a nature reserve. (South African Tourism, CC BY 2.0)

On Naval Hill a statue of Nelson Mandela, his fist raised in the amandla salute, overlooks the city of Bloemfontein. Naval Hill rises in the centre of the city and includes museums and a nature reserve. (South African Tourism, CC BY 2.0)

Presidency of the Boer republic

The Old Presidency building in Bloemfontein was the residence of presidents of the Orange Free State Boer republic from 1886 to 1900, the year the British captured the city during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War. It was designed by English architects Lennox Canning and F Goad, with later additions by Sir Herbert Baker. Today it is a museum focused on the lives and times of the Boer presidents. (Media Club South Africa)

The Old Presidency building in Bloemfontein was the residence of presidents of the Orange Free State Boer republic from 1886 to 1900, the year the British captured the city during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War. It was designed by English architects Lennox Canning and F Goad, with later additions by Sir Herbert Baker. Today it is a museum focused on the lives and times of the Boer presidents. (Media Club South Africa)

Supreme Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, the largest city in the Free State. The court is the second-highest court in South Africa – after the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg– with the power to judge appeals against decision made in the High Court. Bloemfontein is both South Africa's judicial capital and the capital of the Free State. (Media Club South Africa)

The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. The court is the second-highest court in South Africa – after the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg – with the power to judge appeals against decisions made in the High Court. Bloemfontein is both South Africa’s judicial capital and the capital of the Free State. (Media Club South Africa)

Thunder clouds over the Maloti Mountains

A late summer thunderstorm brews over the Maloti Mountains in the eastern Free State. The Maloti lie on the Kingdom of Lesotho's northern boundary with the Free State. They are part of the Drakensburg system of mountains. The Maloti Drakensberg has been named a Unesco World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural beauty and the wealth of San Bushman rock out found in its caves and rock shelters. (Graeme Williams, Media Club South Africa)

A late summer thunderstorm brews over the Maloti Mountains in the eastern Free State. The Maloti lie on the Kingdom of Lesotho’s northern boundary with the province. They are part of the Drakensberg system of mountains. The Maloti Drakensberg has been named a Unesco World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural beauty and the wealth of San Bushman rock art found in its caves and rock shelters. (Graeme Williams, Media Club South Africa)

Researched and written by Mary Alexander.
Updated 21 April 2018.
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