formerly Orange Free State, province (1995 est. pop. 2,782,000), 49,866 sq mi (129,153 sq km), E central South Africa
. It was renamed Free State shortly after the 1994 constitution went into effect. Bloemfontein
is the capital and largest city; other important cities include Bethlehem and Kroonstad. The province is chiefly a plateau, rising gradually from c.4,000 ft (1,220 m) in the west to c.6,000 ft (1,830 m) in the east; there are higher elevations in the Drakensberg Range in the southeast. The economy is mainly agricultural; corn, sorghum, potatoes, wheat, sheep, and cattle are raised. Gold mining is also important, and uranium oxide, diamonds, and coal are mined. Synthetic rubber, fertilizers, plastics, textiles, and processed foods are manufactured, and oil is refined from coal. Bloemfontein is the province's road and rail hub. The Univ. of the Orange Free State in Bloemfontein is the chief institution of higher education.
In the early 19th cent. the Orange Free State was inhabited mainly by the Bantu-speaking Tswana people. Afrikaner farmers (Boers) entered the territory from the 1820s; after 1835 their immigration accelerated (see Trek, Great). In 1848 the British, who then held Cape Colony and Natal, annexed the region as the Orange River Sovereignty. After conflicts with the Boers and failure to establish an orderly administration, Britain, by the Bloemfontein Convention (1854), granted the territory independence as the Orange Free State. With the increased tension following the raid into the Transvaal (1895-96), led by L. S. Jameson, the Free State was drawn into the conflict between Britons and Boers that resulted in the South African War (1899-1902). The British again annexed the Free State, as the Orange River Colony, in 1900. In 1907 the colony was granted self-government, and in 1910 it became a founding province of the Union (now Republic) of South Africa.
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