Mpumalanga is highly accessible, with a network of excellent roads and railway connections, as well as a number of small airports. The Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport became operational in 2002.
Nelspruit is the capital, and the administrative and business hub of the Lowveld.
Witbank is the centre of the local coal-mining industry; Standerton, in the south, is known for its large dairy industry; and Piet Retief in the southeast is a production area for tropical fruit and sugar.
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 Maputo Development Corridor, which links the province with Gauteng and the Port of Maputo in Mozambique, heralds a new era of economic development and growth for the region. As the first international toll road in Africa, the corridor is set to attract investment and release the local economic potential of the landlocked parts of the country.
Mpumalanga: quick facts
· Capital: Nelspruit
· Languages: 30.8% siSwati, 26.4% isiZulu, 12.1% isiNdebele
· Population: 3 617 600 (2010)
· Share of SA population: 7.4%
· Area: 76 495 square kilometres
· Share of total SA area: 6.3%
The land and its people
With a total area of 76 495 square kilometres, Mpumalanga is slightly larger than the Czech Republic. It's second-smallest province after Gauteng, taking up 6.3% of South Africa's land area and with a mid-2010 population of 3.6-million people.
Some 30% of the people speak siSwati, the language of neighbouring Swaziland, with 26% speaking isiZulu and 12% isiNdebele.
Mpumalanga 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 change abruptly into thickly forested ravines and thundering waterfalls of the escarpment, only to change again into the subtropical wildlife splendour of the Lowveld.
The province is a summer-rainfall area, with occasional winter snow on high ground in the escarpment. The escarpment area sometimes experiences snow on high ground. Thick mist is common during the hot and humid summers.
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 waterfalls, patches of indigenous forest and many nature reserves.
Lake Chrissie is the largest natural freshwater lake in South Africa and is famous for its variety of aquatic birds, particularly flamingos.
Mpumalanga is rich in coal reserves, and home to South Africa's major coal-fired power stations – three of which are the biggest in the southern hemisphere. Witbank, the biggest coal producer in Africa, is the site of the country's second oil-from-coal plant after Sasolburg.
Mpumalanga produces about 80% of the country's coal and remains the largest production region for forestry and agriculture. Mining, manufacturing and electricity contribute to 41.4% of the province's GDP, with the remainder from government services, agriculture, forestry and related industries. Mpumalanga is the fourth-biggest contributor to the South Africa's GDP.
One of the country's largest paper mills is situated at Ngodwana, close to its timber source. Middelburg produces steel and vanadium.
The best-performing sectors in the province include mining, manufacturing and services. Tourism and agriprocessing are potential growth sectors.
An abundance of citrus and many other subtropical fruit – mangoes, avocados, litchis, bananas, pawpaws, granadillas and guavas – as well as nuts and a variety of vegetables are produced in Mpumalanga.
Nelspruit is the second-largest citrus-producing area in South Africa and is responsible for one third of the country's export in oranges. The Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops is located in the city.
Groblersdal is an important irrigation area, yielding crops such as citrus, cotton, tobacco, wheat and vegetables. Carolina-Bethal-Ermelo is mainly a sheep-farming area, but potatoes, sunflowers, maize and peanuts are also produced in the region.
SAinfo reporter, incorporating material from theSouth African Yearbook