North West

On the southern bank of Hartbeespoort Dam lies the archaeological site of one of the oldest farming and herding settlements in South Africa. It comprised several small interlinked homesteads and was first excavated by the pioneering Wits University archaeologist Revil Mason in the 1970s.

At the time of writing, the coronavirus Covid-19 is still disrupting life in South Africa. In this article we recall an earlier pandemic, the so-called ‘Spanish’ Flu that devastated the world of our great-grandparents a century ago. It had a major impact in South Africa and disrupted the building of Hartbeespoort Dam.

The Magaliesberg has a distinguished but little-known history in astronomy. Fifty years ago, three world class observatories were located in the region. Many prominent astronomers came here to observe the southern skies and their observations had far-reaching consequences; the estimated age of the universe was doubled, moon landings were controlled, and South Africa became a leader in astronomical science.
 

The tiny town of Marikana (established in 1870) was never much of a town and for a long time was really no more than a railway station and a collection of shops. In fact, the outside world would not have heard of Marikana at all if it were not for the notorious Lonmin Marikana platinum mining strike and shooting, where 34 striking Lonmin miners were shot and killed by police in 2012.

The Afrikaans version of this article appears on Lennie's blog. Click here to read.

With the quiet of the past few days, one can probably hear the only working clock with bells in the tower of a church in Potchefstroom from kilometres away. That is the clock of the Reformed Church (RC) Potchefstroom Die Bult. This clock has a story with many twists and turns, starting its life in Great Britain and reaching Potchefstroom via Durban.

What we see now happening worldwide with the Coronavirus is not new to Potchefstroom. Pandemics have passed through the city in the past. Three of them stand out. 

September was Heritage Month but here I was in October invited to spend a weekend at Kedar Heritage Lodge to join the celebrations for the unveiling of a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill. Why October? Why Churchill in the Bushveld? Then I remembered. Kedar is a modern reincarnation of President Kruger’s farm and country estate, Boekenhoutfontein (meaning Beech-wood Spring). Now located in the Northwest Province, it was once a jewel in the Transvaal Republic.

One of the landmark historical buildings in Potchefstroom is to be sold by auction. The former King’s Hotel is up for bidding on 21 February. In its heyday the King’s was known as one of the best hotels in the country.

 

Historians, researchers and collectors often come across situations of surviving family members having thrown away or having destroyed historical family documents and photographs as they may either have no sentimental interest or simply cannot relate to their relative’s historical past. Sadly, in these instances, no thought is given to donating such documentation / items to charity organisations where researchers and collectors in turn can “scratch” out relevant material to record potential significant historical information that may be contained therein.

Potchefstroom is home to the longest avenue of oak trees in South Africa. The grand oaks stretch for almost 7km and contribute to the character and beauty of the city. Recent research indicates that the number of trees has declined from 710 to 530 and certain sections are in a deplorable state. In the article below Lennie Gouws explores the history and current state of iconic Oak Avenue.

Concerns about the condition of the oak trees of Potchefstroom have infuriated the people of Potchefstroom over the decades.

An extensive milling industry was in operation since the very early days of Potchefstroom and between 1847 and 1890 no less than nine mills were strung out next to the Mooi River down from the North Bridge. This area was ideally suited for milling operations due to the slope of the riverbank.

A few years ago we were involved in a battle to save historic Nedbank documents that were being thrown away by the company. For a while the future of the documents looked bleak but thankfully the story had a happy ending when top Nedbank executives got involved. The documents were moved to the Sandton head office and the execs committed to hire an archivist to go through the collection. The execs also committed to let the community know what was found and what would then be done with the documents.*

Below are photographs of a remarkable set of  sketches depicting the early buildings of  Mahikeng (Mafikeng / Mafeking). They were submitted by Louise Fincham, a proud resident of the town in the 1970s and 80s. The limited edition set, sketched by the artist Alice Burkett, was commissioned by the local community in the lead up to Mahikeng's Centenary celebrations in 1985. Feel free to add details and memories of the buildings in the comments section below. (Main image - Market House 1899)

 

Potchefstroom today is a city, but in the pioneer years they experienced frontier living at its utmost. The Voortrekkers crossed the Vaal River to colonize the area at the end of 1838 and Potchefstroom was proclaimed on 22 December 1838, the first town to be established by the Voortrekkers. In a short space of time it became a frontier town, the last outpost of 'civilization' for travellers into Africa.

Although it has been severely contested, it is generally accepted that Potchefstroom is the oldest town founded by the Voortrekkers north of the Vaal River and that it was founded in 1838. The Mooi River area was well-known to Andries Hendrik Potgieter, the founder, when his party of Voortrekkers, or emigrants, as they were known at the time, settled here. Potgieter first saw the area during the winter months of 1836 and he passed through the area again later when on commando against Mzilikazi.

We spotted this wonderful story in Heritage Potchefstroom's fourth quarter newsletter. It tells the story of the establishment and growth of the first English church in the Transvaal. Thank you to Heritage Potchefstroom for giving us permission to publish.

About two decades after the first Voortrekkers came to the Mooi River valley, they were followed by itinerant traders, some of whom were English speaking. The Voortrekkers were mostly farmers and in need of the wares that the traders were selling.

Friday 16 October 2015 was a very special day in the history of Tiger Kloof. We opened of the Old Tigers' Hall (which use to be a girls dining hall before apartheid's Bantu Education Act closed the school). The renovated building is dedicated to the memory of all the Old Tigers who attended the institution from 1904 until it was closed in 1962. The building had been derelict for 52 years until last year, when a grant from the Anglo American Chairman's Fund enabled renovation of the old school's girls dining hall.

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