Potchefstroom

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.*

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.

Below is a very interesting piece that helps to answer the question 'What are the oldest towns in South Africa?'. It appeared in the book Town Planning in South Africa written by T.B. Floyd in 1960. The piece does not mention pre-colonial African settlements so feel free to add these in the comments section below the article.

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