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The Highveld is the portion of the South African inland plateau which has an altitude above approximately 1500 m, but below 2100 m, thus excluding the Lesotho mountain regions to the south-east of the Highveld. It is home to some of the country's most important commercial farming areas, as well as its largest concentration of metropolitan centers, especially the Gauteng conurbation, which accommodates one-third of South Africa's population.
Location and description
The Highveld constitutes parts of the Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, and Limpopo provinces, and virtually all of Gauteng and the northern Free State. The Highveld is bordered by the Bushveld and the Lowveld in the north, northeast, and northwest, the Drakensberg mountains to the east and southeast, the Kalahari desert in the west, and the Great Karoo to the southwest. The Highveld covers an area of almost 400,000 km², or roughly thirty percent of South Africa's land area.
The Highveld rainy season occurs in summer, with substantial afternoon thunderstorms being typical occurrences in November, December, and January. Frost occurs in winter.
Urban areas and industry
Cities located on the Highveld include Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Vereeniging, Welkom, Carletonville, and the cities of the West Rand and East Rand. The diamond-mining city of Kimberley lies on the border of the Highveld and the southeastern Kalahari.
Approximately half the gold ever produced in the world has been mined on the Highveld since 1880. The largest deposits are located in the Witwatersrand, which centres on Johannesburg, with smaller deposits in the northern Free State near Welkom and Virginia. The Highveld is also exceedingly rich in vanadium, diamonds, coal, and manganese.
Agriculture in the Highveld is generally dominated by extensive grain production and the grazing of beef cattle, with more intensive production of maize, wheat, sorghum, citrus fruits, groundnuts, sunflowers, and vegetables, occurring in irrigated areas and farmland closer to urban areas. The peat base of the grassland acts as a natural filter providing sources of clean water.
Naturally occurring vegetation in the Highveld consists of different types of well-established grassland depending on the varying amounts of rainfall across the area: subtropical and temperate grassland, with true savannah not dominating the ecosystem until more tropical latitudes. The major grass species are Hyparrhenia hirta and Sporobolus pyramidalis and among these are other grasses and herbs. Trees and shrubs never thrived due to the frequent fires that occurred in the dry season and the heavy grazing (once by wild animals and now by livestock).
The highveld is home to a number of endangered animals including Straw-coloured Fruit Bats, Africa's largest snake the African rock python (Python sebae), Mountain Zebras and South Africa's national bird the Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus). The only endemic bird species is Botha's Lark (Spizocorys fringillaris) and there are two endemic mammals; Free State Pygmy Mouse (Mus orangiae) and the Rough-haired Golden Mole (Chrysospalax villosa). As well as the python other reptiles include Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus) and Rock Monitor (Varanus albigularis).
Threats and preservation
Like so many areas of grassland all over the world the Highveld is excellent agricultural land and most of the area has been converted for farming. The grassland areas now remaining in the natural state are in various nature reserves, which although a small portion of the Highveld are still the largest areas of remaining grassland in South Africa. The protected areas include Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, Verloren Valei Nature Reserve, Nooitgedacht Dam Nature Reserve, Bronkhorstspruit Dam Nature Reserve, Vaal Dam Nature Reserve and Koppies Dam Nature Reserves and Willem Pretorius Game Reserve.