The national spotlight will fall on Upington on 24 September 2019, as the official host city for this year’s Heritage Day celebrations. This honour comes in the same week as World Tourism Day on 27 September 2019, making it the ideal opportunity to highlight the many attractions of the Northern Cape’s second-largest town.
SAnews.gov.za reports that Sports, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the city was chosen for its historical and heritage significance, since this year was declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations.
Upington is located on the banks of the Orange (Gariep) River and is sometimes referred to as the Northern Cape’s “river city”. As the closest major centre to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the town is seen as the gateway to the Kalahari Desert, a region that is home to a number of Khoi, San and Nama people.
Mthethwa said it is important to value the languages, culture and heritage of indigenous communities and to protect these practices and customs from dying out.
Here are 10 facts you may not have known about Upington:
- In the mid-19th century, the northern reaches of the Cape Colony were awash with cattle rustlers, gun runners, river pirates and outlaws. Koranna chief Klaas Lucas (the Koranna are one of the five main Khoisan groupings) appealed for a mission station to be set up to bring stability to the region, and one was duly established by the Reverend Christiaan Schröder in the early 1870s. The settlement was originally called Olijvenhoutsdrift (or Olyfenhoutsdrift) due to the abundance of olive trees in the area.
- Today, the Schröder mission station and church houses Upington’s Kalahari-Oranje Museum. This landmark is famous for its life-sized bronze donkey statue, which pays tribute to the animal’s contribution to the development of the region. There’s also a camel and rider statue outside the police station to recognise those who patrolled the harsh desert territory on camelback.
- Upington was renamed in 1898 in honour of Sir Thomas Upington, who was attorney general and, briefly, prime minister of the Cape Colony in the late 1800s. He had visited the town in 1879 and established a police station outpost there in a bid to curb the lawlessness in the area.
- Upington truly epitomises the Northern Cape’s tagline of “the Province of Extremes”. Located on the northern banks of the Orange River, it is a contrasting region of lush, green irrigated vineyards juxtaposed with red semi-desert vistas. This oasis-meets-desert character has led to the area being dubbed the Green Kalahari.
- According to OpenAfrica.org, 10% of South Africa’s vineyards (or 23.5-million vines) are located in the Green Kalahari region. Upington is home to the award-winning Orange River Cellars, the second-largest wine cooperative in the world. Its wine grapes originate from some 900 producers along the banks of the Orange River.
- Upington is said to be the sunniest location on the planet for three months of the year (during the southern hemisphere summer). From November to January, it records on average between 11.4 and 11.8 hours of sunshine a day.
- Upington is the main town in the Dawid Kruiper Municipality, named after the ‡Khomani San leader and cultural rights activist. Kruiper (1941-2012) appeared in the 1989 Jamie Uys film The Gods Must Be Crazy II, and was invited to speak about the rights of indigenous people at the United Nations in 1994. Many credit Kruiper for paving the way for the successful land claims of South Africa’s indigenous people, and for agitating for the preservation of the San languages. He was outspoken about the alleged theft of traditional knowledge – particularly the medicinal properties of the succulent plant hoodia – by Western pharmaceutical companies.
- Upington International Airport, previously known as Pierre van Ryneveld Airport after the founding commander of the South African Air Force, boasts one of the longest tarred runways in the world – 4 900m. According to the Airports Company South Africa, it’s the longest civilian runway in the southern hemisphere and one of the few able to land a space shuttle.
- Upington’s Date Palm Avenue is said to be one of the longest and densest palm avenues in the southern hemisphere, at over 1km in length. More than 200 date palms were planted there in 1935 and today two rows of towering, majestic palms escort visitors to Die Eiland holiday resort.
- Many San, Basarwa and Khwe (Khoe), the aboriginal people of the Kalahari Desert, live in the Upington area. They were traditionally hunter-gatherers, but have increasingly turned to farming. Archaeological and genetic evidence suggests that the San have lived in Southern Africa for at least 22 000 years, and that they are one of the oldest peoples – if not the oldest – in the world. Some experts have hypothesised that the San are the “genetic Adam” from which all humans can ultimately trace their genetic heritage.