The Mozambican Plain (Planícíe Moçambicana) with its endless sweeping savannas, meandering rivers, a string of coastal lakes and high sand dunes, dominates the landscape of the southern region. Although most of the land lies below 100 metres, the eastern border with Swaziland and South Africa is marked by the Lebombo Mountains which do reach over 500 metres occasionally. At its mouth the Limpopo River drains more than 60% of this sector, while the Incomati, Inharrime and Nhavarre rivers have drainage basins covering the rest of the area.
The low altitude and the fact that much of the southern region falls within the driest parts of Mozambique results in the characteristic swampy grasslands dotted with mopane and acacia trees. The coastal dune belt is covered by dense scrub and forest, which gives way to deciduous miombo woodland a little further inland. The flood plains of the rivers are populated by herbaceous meadows and savanna well suited to the saline alluvial soils. The higher margin in the south-west is characterized by distinctive Lebombo savannas. Though the once extensive mangrove swamps have been almost completely drained in the vicinity of Maputo city, those in the Maputo Elephant Reserve and around the edge of Inhambane Bay are still thriving.
From Piti and Chinguti in the south to Poelela and Manhali in the north, this region of Mozambique is dotted by 24 fair-sized freshwater lakes. This is a feature unique to this area of the country, as there are no natural coastal lakes anywhere else in Mozambique.
People of the Shangaan tribe make up 70% of the population of the southern region, with the Ronga nation comprising most of the balance. This is also the part of Mozambique where the influence of the Portuguese colonial period is most evident. Catholicism is the dominant religion, while 50% of the inhabitants of Gaza, Inhambane and Maputo provinces speak Portuguese, with the proportion rising to 70% in Maputo city itself.
South of the Sabi River (Rio Save) is Mozambique's southern region made up of the provinces of Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo. The northernmost point of this region is Nova Mambone at the mouth of the Rio Save and the southernmost location is Ponta do Ouro. Pafúri and Cabo Inhambane are the western and easternmost reaches respectively. The southern region's highest point is Mount M'Ponduine (801 metres) in the Lebombo range on the border with Swaziland. Otherwise the rest of the land rarely rises more than 100 metres above sea level.
All three provinces comprising the southern region have boundaries with the Indian Ocean's Mozambique Channel, with Inhambane's coastline, at over 600 kilometres, being the longest. The powerful Mozambique Channel, with its inshore counter-currents, has created significant coastal features such as spits, dunes, lagoons, sand bars and islands. The best known of these shoreline attractions are lagoa Uembje at Bilene, Pontas do Ouro and Pomene, and the Bazaruto Archipelago. Long, white, sandy beaches, protected in the main by offshore coral and rock reefs, border almost the entire length of this portion of Mozambique. Three main rivers drain southern Mozambique. In order of size these are the Komati (Incomati), Limpopo and Sabi (Save) rivers. The lack of elevation in this very flat area called the Mozambican Plain (Planicie Moçambicana) prevents the formation of spectacular features such as waterfalls and rapids, with wide meanders, marshes and mangrove swamps being dominant fluvial features. Suitable dam sites are consequently few and far between. Inhambane Province has no major dams and Maputo and Gaza provinces only one each (Umbuluzi and Massingir, respectively). Much use is made of ground water and natural lakes to supply the southern region's towns and cities with water for domestic and industrial usage.
The surface geology of this area is characterized by the sedimentary lavas of the Lebombo Mountains and the depositional sand flats of the Limpopo and Changane rivers. The limits of the continental shelf extend over 100 kilometres out to sea off Beira, accounting for the formation of the islands and sand bars in the mouth of the Rio Púngoè, as well as for the immense delta of the Rio Zambeze, which extends for 50 kilometres beyond the coast and is over 150 kilometres wide during flood season (April to July at the mouth).
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