In the 1840s, Voortrekkers under the leadership of Andries Potgieter established Zoutpansbergdorp, a town 100 kilometres (62 mi) to the north west. This settlement had to be abandoned because of clashes with the local tribes. They founded a new town in 1886 and named it Pietersburg in honour of Voortrekker leader Petrus Jacobus Joubert. The British built a concentration camp at Pietersburg during the Boer War to house almost 4,000 Boer women and children. The town officially became a city on 23 April 1992; on 25 February 2005, the government declared the official name of the city as Polokwane, a name that was generally in use by the speakers of Northern Sotho. The city was the site of the ANC national conference which saw Jacob Zuma take over as head of the party.
In 1904 Pietersburg had a population of 3,276, of whom 1,620 (49.5%) were whites. Pietersburg was a white-designated area during apartheid and so had an overwhelming white majority before 1990. After the dismantling of apartheid the city still retained a large white population. Neighbouring townships have a black majority.
The South African census showed the population of Polokwane City as 130,028 with 43,846 households in the 2011 census.
Under the apartheid government certain areas were allocated to certain racial groups; these areas still have a majority of these racial groups present. Westernburg is a former Coloured township. Seshego and Turfloop are former black townships outside Polokwane. Nirvana is a former Indian township. Former White suburbs in the city include: Bendor, Welgelegen, Moregloed, Annadale, Ivydale, Flora Park, Fauna Park, Penina Park, Ivy Park, Hospital Park, Ster Park, Dalmada, Broadlands, Woodlands, and Thornhill. Serala View and Marula Heights are new "black" elite suburbs.
These suburbs no longer host exclusive racial groups and the local government has launched a project to encourage ethnic integration.
Polokwane features a semi-arid climate under the Köppen climate classification. Despite its position on the Tropic of Capricorn, the climate is tempered by its position on a plateau 1230 meters above sea level. Average temperatures reach around 21–22 °C (70–72 °F) in January and fall to 11 °C (52 °F) in July. As with much of inland South Africa, Polokwane has experienced notably warmer seasons over the last decade than its long term average. Polokwane has a dry climate with a summer rainy season and a pronounced dry spell during winter. Average annual rainfall is 495 millimetres (19.5 in), with December or (less often) January the wettest month and July the driest.
A public airport, Polokwane International Airport, (IATA: PTG, ICAO: FAPP), is located just North of the city. There are daily flights to Johannesburg.
Polokwane lies roughly halfway between Gauteng (300 km) and the Zimbabwean border (200 km) on the N1 highway, which connects Zimbabwe with the major cities of South Africa, such as Pretoria, Johannesburg, Bloemfontein and Cape Town.
Running east, the R71 connects the city with Tzaneen, Phalaborwa and the Kruger National Park.
The Nelson Mandela road traffic island is situated on the outskirts of Polokwane when approaching from the direction of Johannesburg. It was built prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup as part of beautifying the city for the event.
There are a number of private bus services running in the city and also services connecting Polokwane to other major centers in the country.
Polokwane is connected to Johannesburg and other major centres via rail. Agricultural produce in the area, including tomatoes, citrus fruit, bananas and avocados, is also transported via freight rail.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation has a branch located in the city. The city also hosts a branch of the country's largest independent radio station, Jacaranda RM/FM, which is broadcast from either Pretoria, Nelspruit or Polokwane. The first and only commercial radio station in Limpopo, CapricornFM also broadcasts from the city. The city has a selection of locally distributed newspapers and an online publication named Hello Polokwane.
There is a Sun International casino and hotel in Polokwane. Meropa Casino and Entertainment World is a Moroccan-style 24-hour casino with various outdoor entertainment amenities such as go-karts, mini-golf and a wildlife park.The Bakone Malapa Northern Sotho Open-Air Museum — Depicts the traditional and modern-day lifestyle of the Bakone people. The museum is centered on a traditional village still occupied by members of the tribe, who sell various crafts to tourists. Background information can be obtained in the visitor center. Within the museum complex are archaeological sites with remains of iron- and copper-smelting installations, as well as rock paintings from around 1000 B.C.
Eersteling Monuments — The site of the country's first gold crushing site and its first gold power plant are marked by monuments.
The Irish House — Historic building which functions as a museum.
One of the earliest churches established in Polokwane (then Pietersburg) was the "English Church." Prior to 1894 there were occasional services for the English Church held by visiting priests in the local Court House. Work began on building a church in Market Street in 1895. The building was completed in 1897 and Christ Church had a permanent venue. The church struggled with a lack of members during the Anglo-Boer war (Boer Wars) but regular services resumed in November 1901 and have continued to this day. The Anglican church moved from Market Street to Biccard Street in the 1960s. There is also a Roman Catholic church situated in Biccard street.
The first Jewish settlers in Pietersburg arrived between 1890 and 1900 from Lithuania, Russia, and Latvia, and the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation was founded in 1897. A synagogue was built on Jorissen Street in 1921. The Jewish community grew rapidly in the 1930s and 1940s; a larger synagogue was built in 1953 and the old synagogue was then converted into a communal hall. The number of Jews in Pietersburg began to decline from the late 1950s. In 2003, as the congregation had dwindled, the synagogue was closed and its benches, bimah, and other contents were shipped to Israel, where they were installed in the Mevasser Synagogue in Tel Mond in memory of the Pietersburg synagogue.
The Pietersburg Golf Club along with the golf course was established in the late 1800s. The immaculate lush green course comprises a full 18 holes. Retief Goosen (born 3 February 1969) was born in Pietersburg and honed his skills at the Pietersburg Golf Club.
The Polokwane Cricket Club is one of the oldest in the country and was established in 1902.
Noordelikes Rugby Club is the largest amateur rugby club based in the city.
Starting in 2013, the city will host a Limpopo provincial team in the Vodacom Cup.
Springbok rugby captain, Victor Matfield grew up in Polokwane. Former Springbok rugby captain John Smit was born in Polokwane.
Winners Park F.C., Black Leopards F.C. and Polokwane City F.C., and Baroka F.C., South African football clubs, are based in the city.
Polokwane has a number of swimming clubs. Former Olympic gold-medalist and world-record swimmer Lyndon Ferns is from the city.
There is a large tennis club situated in the city and various local tournaments are held regularly.
In 2017 Gift Ngoepe became the first African player in the Major League Baseball, playing shortstop and second base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ngoepe's mother Maureen managed the baseball clubhouse in Randburg, near Johannesburg. Ngoepe's brother Victor also plays in the Pirates' farm systemPeter Mokaba Stadium, a newly constructed stadium for the 2010 FIFA World Cup
Polokwane provides access to various nature and wildlife viewing opportunities for ecotourists. The Polokwane Bird and Reptile Park is home to over 280 species of birds. The Polokwane Game Reserve houses various South African species of wildlife, birdlife, and plants in an unspoiled bushveld environment. The Moletzie Bird Sanctuary protects rare birds like the Cape vulture. The Modjadji Rainforest near Duiwelskloof holds the largest concentration of indigenous cycads in the world, and Cheune Crocodile Farm provides a place to learn about the life of crocodiles.
An extensive art collection is preserved in Polokwane's art gallery, open to the public. The city has more public sculptures per capita in its parks than elsewhere in South Africa. Polokwane was also the first to unveil a bust of the ex-president Nelson Mandela in its City Square (Civic Gardens), and it was authorised by Nelson Mandela personally.
The city is considered the premier hunting destination in South Africa.
The city hosts several major industries such as Coca-Cola and South African Breweries. As the capital of the Limpopo province the city also has a large commercial area with the four largest banks in the country all having at least three branches in the city. The city was well known for its manufacturing facility in Seshego of Tempest Radios & Hi-Fis, the largest employer in the region.
The Tshwane University of Technology, and the University of South Africa both have satellite campuses in the city. The University of Limpopo's Turfloop campus is situated about 30 km east of Polokwane.Seshego High School
Moloko High School
Pietersburg Hoërskool (PHS) 
Tom Naude High School
Noorderland High School
Capricorn High School
Heuwelkruin Kollege (Part of the Curro group of private schools)
Flora Park Comprehensive High School (FCHS)
Mookamedi High School
Bokamoso Senior Secondary School
Masedibu High School
Mohlakaneng High School
Khaiso High School
Eagles Nest Christian School
Pemps (Pietersburg English Medium Primary School)
Mmaphuti High School
Kopano Senior Secondary School
Northern Muslim School
Mountainview High School
Doasho Senior Secondary School
Taxila Secondary School
M.E. Makgato Secondary School
Mall of the North
Polokwane is a sister city with: Reggio Emilia, Italy
Victor Matfield, former South African national rugby team captain
John Smit, former South African national rugby team captain
Marthinus van Schalkwyk, former Minister of Tourism in the Cabinet of South Africa.
Lyndon Ferns, Olympic gold-medalist and former world record swimmer
Peter Mokaba, a controversial anti-apartheid activist
Julius Malema, South African public and political figure
Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, was a South African political analyst, businessman and politician
Caster Semenya, a South African middle-distance runner and world champion
Retief Goosen, a South African professional golfer who was in the top ten in the Official World Golf Ranking for over 250 weeks between 2001 and 2007
By 1931, the Pietersburg municipal council had assumed a pseudo-heraldic "coat of arms". The shield depicted a crossed pick and shovel, two crossed wheatsheaves, and the date 1904 surrounded by a riband bearing the motto Labor omnia vincit. The crest was an ostrich.
A proper coat of arms was designed in the 1960s. It was registered with the Transvaal Provincial Administration in August 1967 and at the Bureau of Heraldry in September 1969.
The arms were : Azure, on a fess Argent, between in chief a lion passant Argent, armed and langued Gules, and in base two chevrons humette, and a horseshoe Argent, placed 2 and 1, two cogwheels Gules. In layman's terms, this was a blue shield displaying, from top to bottom, a silver lion with red tongue and claws, a silver stripe bearing two red cogwheels, and two silver chevrons and a horseshoe.
The crest was a golden eagle, and the motto, once again, was Labor omnia vincit.
The Polokwane municipal council registered a new coat of arms at the Bureau in October 2003.
The arms are : Vert, on a fess Argent, a woven grain basket, between two hoes with blades turned inward proper, their handles towards centre-base counterchanged Or and issuant from a voided cogwheel the inner ring cotised Argent, therein a sun Or; on a chief of the last a short-clawed Lark (Mirafra chuana) perched upon a leaf of the silky thorn tree (Acacia rehmanniana) proper, between two demi-peaks with points embattled Brunatre, issuant from the respective shield flanks. In layman's terms, the shield depicts, from top to bottom, (1) a short-clawed lark perched on an acacia leaf between two stylised peaks, (2) a woven grain basket between two hoes on a silver background, and (3) a silver cogwheel on a green background.
Above the shield is a brown rustic crown. The motto is Unity - equity - prosperity.