North West

Christian Woite was executed by firing squad in Potchefstroom on the 6 January 1881. That was at the time of the siege of Potchefstroom during the 1st Boer War of 1880/81. It was the British garrison that was besieged by Boer forces.

Who was Christian Woite and how and why did he suffer this fate? Woite was a resident of Potchefstroom and a citizen of the Republic. He lived there with his wife Anna and nine children. Originally he came from Germany.

 

One of the most remarkable early European visitors to the Magaliesberg region was the Scottish missionary Robert Moffat. He was born on 21 December 1795 in Ormiston, Scotland. His parents were not wealthy, and at the age of 13, he was apprenticed to a gardener. It was hard, physical labour, which no doubt developed in Moffat a toughness which stood him in good stead later in life. In the evenings Moffat attended classes, during which he not only learnt Latin, but was also given instruction in blacksmithing and playing the violin.

This week’s news reports about the current spike in the Covid pandemic echo down the ages to 120 years ago. Stories about the measles outbreak in the winter of 1901 in the Potchefstroom concentration camp sound eerily familiar with overcrowded hospitals, exhausted medical staff and a lack of beds and medical equipment – and a very high mortality rate.

Drawing primarily on careful analysis of oral traditions, scholars are in general agreement that most Tswana communities are offshoots of the Bahurutshe, who moved southwards through what is today Botswana and established themselves along the Madikwe (Marico) River, probably in about 1500 AD (see Carruthers 2014, p. 213). The Bakwena were one of the most prominent offshoots from the Bahurutshe.

A love of pets might be seen as a modern trend and reaching ever higher popularity. People nowadays even subscribe to medical aid for their pets. They have them micro-chipped so that when the animal might become lost, the information of the owner can be ascertained by reading this chip. People even have their beloved pets cloned, so that they, in perpetuity, can have their pet with them.

In Episode 1 of this series (click here to read), mention was made of the agro-pastoralists (farmers who grew crops and kept livestock) who moved into the Magaliesberg region in about 225 AD. Scholars have categorised them as people of the "early iron age", as they possessed and made use of the technology needed for smelting and forging iron in order to make tools and weapons.

It is unknown when exactly human beings first arrived in the Magaliesberg, but stone tools from the area date back hundreds of thousands of years. There are, however, three important archaeological sites in the Magaliesberg where radio-carbon dating has revealed fascinating evidence of the way early occupants lived at least 6 000 years ago. These sites are Kruger Cave, west of Olifantspoort (excavated by Prof Revil Mason - see main image), and Jubilee Shelter and Cave James, east of Silkaatsnek (excavated by Prof Lyn Wadley).

In August 2020, a Blue Plaque was unveiled at Swartruggens on the 120th anniversary of the siege of the Elands River Post. It commemorates the remarkable resilience of a small garrison of Australians and Rhodesians during the South African War. General Jan Smuts, who took part on the Boer side, described it thus:

As you approach Hartbeespoort Dam on the R511, the road rises steeply over Saartjie’s Nek to reveal a spectacular view of the dam with the cliffs of the Magaliesberg behind. On a koppie to the right, a massive granite cross commemorates General Hendrik Schoeman and overlooks the grand panorama that he envisioned but never lived to see.
 
The memorial
 

The Battle of Diamond Hill took place on the 11 and 12 June 1900. Sir Ian Hamilton, one of the generals who took part in the battle, described it as the turning point in the South African War, so in this Memoir we look at what happened and why it was so important.

 

Magalies Memoirs focus on incidents in the Magaliesberg region and perhaps not everyone knows that it was here, in the heart of the Magaliesberg Biosphere Reserve, that gold was first discovered in the Transvaal, decades before diggers rushed to Barberton or George Harrison stumbled on the Witwatersrand Main Reef. “Discovered”, of course, needs to be qualified. We know from artifacts found at places like Mapungubwe and Thulamela that gold has been mined, treasured and traded for more than a thousand years – probably much longer.

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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