Potchefstroom, North West

Founded: 1838

Named after Andries Hendrik Potgieter being a combination of 'Pot', 'chef' acknowledging him as chief, and 'stroom' (stream).


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At the beginning of the nineteenth century the North-West Province was occupied by the Barolong and Bathlaping tribes. The first White men to penetrate into it were the missionaries who found it an attractive field for their endeavours.

The first Voortrekkers came from the south and encountered the warriors of the roaming Ndebeles. It was November 1837 and near the end of what came to be known as the Nine Days Battle — that the final showdown between the Voortrekkers and the Ndebele chief, Mzilikazi occurred.

Andries Hendrik Potgieter had mustered a force of 330 men and set out to defeat the troublesome Mzilikazi. There was a series of bitter clashes in which the Ndebele suffered heavy losses and their villages were torched.

On the sixth day of the battle, Mzilikazi made a last desperate bid for victory by sending in his secret weapon, the oxen cavalry. There was a wild battle, but the clamour and the smell of blood overwhelmed the oxen. They stampeded through the bush, goring and trampling their own masters. For three days the Voortrekkers chased the shattered Ndebele army northwards. Mzilikazi's power in the Transvaal was completely broken. He fled across the Limpopo and, on the high central ridge of the future Zimbabwe, he re-established his people in what came to be known as Matabeleland.

After the victory, Potchefstroom was laid out in 1838 by the Voortrekkers, led by Andries Hendrik Potgieter. However the site of what was later the Oude Dorp flooding was so bad that after two years the village moved to a new site - 'one hour by horse', according to the Voortrekkers' rough manner of calculating distances and laid out on the traditional dorp [town] grid-iron pattern which typifies these early pioneer towns.

Shortly afterwards a church was built. Potchefstroom was conceived as a centre of government, formerly known as Mooirivierdorp, Potchefspruit and finally Potcbefstroom, the present name appearing on a document for the first time on 16 October 1840. After the annexation of Natal in 1842 many other Voortrekkers came to settle here, so that for some years the area became the focus of White settlement in the Transvaal. In the course of time retired farmers came to live on smaller and more easily managed properties - deep, narrow erven with homesteads facing the road built by English workmen who were brought from Natal for that purpose.

As well as being the new Republic's headquarters, it was also a trading centre and a base for exploration of the interior. Adventurers, hunters, traders and prospectors streamed through Potchefstroom. Among them was Pieter Jacob Marais, a former 'forty-niner' from the California gold rush, who in 1853 brought to the town a few specks of gold he had found in a stream flowing off the Witwatersrand. Although no more gold was found at the time it was a hint of things to come.

In 1854 the capital was shifted to Pretoria, but Potchefstroom retained its commercial and cultural importance. The first newspaper in the Transvaal, the Transvaal Argus, was printed here on 8 May 1866.

The small town soon became an agricultural as well as a governmental and religious focus for the district - the first agricultural show north of the Vaal River was held there in 1867. It was a good sized dorp when the hamlet of Pretoria, the official seat of the government of the Transvaal a little over a 160 kms away, attracted a mere handful of inhabitants and it shared with Pretoria some of the dignity of government - and some of the spoils.

The newly-formed Transvaal Agricultural Society offered in 1888, the year after its inception, a £5 (R10) prize at its annual show for the best display of Transvaal minerals. It was won by Karl Gottlieb Mauch, the German geologist who was destined to be the great prophet of South Africa's golden future.

Mauch had collected his minerals during a trip with the renowned hunter Henry Hartley, who showed him the remains of ancient mines in the Transvaal and Zimbabwe.

In 1867 Mauch returned to Potchefstroom after a second trip into the wilds and claimed that he had discovered the legendary golden Ophir of Solomon and Sheba. His tales started a rush of fortune-hunters from around the world and Potchefstroom became the gateway to a new El Dorado.

Mauch won another £5 (R10) for his mineral specimens at the next agricultural show, but these two prizes were all the profit he ever made from his prospecting since he found no payable deposits.

In 1872 Mauch returned to Germany, penniless and despondent. In 1875, a few years before the great discoveries of the Witwatersrand confirmed all his predictions, he dozed off at his bedroom window, fell out to the ground and was killed.

During the 1870's and 1880's the western frontier was to be the cause of protracted friction between the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) on the one hand, and the Bantu tribes and the British Government on the other.

Under President Kruger, dominant buildings for the purposes of administration were erected, architecture without precedent in the Transvaal. These are still full of vitality. A good example is the Municipal Buildings.

The western Transvaal also became involved in two wars between the Boers and the British: the First War of Independence and the Anglo-Boer War.

The first shot in the Anglo-Transvaal War was fired at Potchefstroom on 16 December 1881, when 500 Republicans rode into the town and occupied the printing works. British soldiers who tried to throw them out were driven off in a gun battle and had to retreat into the Old Fort, where they were besieged for three months.

Though 25 soldiers and six Republicans died in the siege, it ended amicably on 23 March 1882, with the Republican leader Piet Cronje inviting the British officers to dinner at the Royal Hotel. The next day the British marched out of the fort with drums beating and flags flying. The remains of the fort and the adjoining cemetery are a national monument.

A tangible atmosphere of the pioneer days of the Voortrekkers still survives in Potchefstroom, the oldest white town in the once Transvaal and former capital of the South African Republic (ZAR).

Potchefstroom is the centre of an agricultural area producing maize, vegetables, fruit and poultry.

A theological school opened by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1905 has grown into the North-West University NWU (previously the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education) where there is a music conservatory, a library, and a remarkable museum, whose exhibits include original Voortrekker wagons, old weapons, and 75 paintings by the celebrated German artist Otto Landsberg.

Potchefstroom has a leisure resort at Lakeside, on the Mooi River, with swimming, boating, fishing, and a caravan park with chalets.

Some others in ARTEFACTS that have connections with Potchefstroom.
Of interest is that John FASSLER, later to become Professor and Head of the School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, was born here. The family of Pieter Simon DYKSTRA donated his papers, drawings and photographs to the Gereformeerde Kerk Museum in Potchefstroom. James Noble CORMACK lived there and Carl Theodore SCHREVE was resident in Potchefstroom in 1928. Anthony M DE WITT was recruited to work on the projected Lebombo railway line, when the Lebombo project was abandoned DE WITT stayed in Potchefstroom until he left for Cape Town in about 1880. William Abercrombie MITCHELL worked in Potchefstroom after 1927. Hendrik Jacobus LOUW entered the competition for the Main Building at Potchefstroom University (c1930 -).

List of references:

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pp 187-188
Maeder, GA & Zinn, C. 1917. Ons kerk album van Hollandsche kerken en leeraren. Capetown: Cape Times. pp 198-200
Oberholster, JJ. 1972. The historical monuments of South Africa. Cape Town: Rembrandt Van Rijn Foundation for Culture at the request of the National Monuments Council. pp 309-311
Picton-Seymour, Désirée. 1989. Historical Buildings in South Africa. Cape Town: Struikhof Publishers. pp 179-180
Richardson, Deirdré. 2001. Historic Sites of South Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers. pp 265-269

List of structures:

Abraham Kriel Childrens' Home / Kinderhuis Abraham Kriel: 1950s?.
Carnegie Library: 1914.
Church: pre 1993. Grimbeek Park,
Experimental Farm: pre-1911.
Fort: c1880.
Frederikstad: 1885.
General's House: 1902.
Gereformeerde Kerk: 1896.
Gereformeerde Kerk: 1952. Die Bult,
Gereformeerde Kerk: 1959.
Gereformeerde Kerk - Noordbrug: n.d..
Gerrit Worstsaal: n.d..
Goetz-Fleischack House: 1860.
Government Buildings: pre-1911.
GWH & HWH Calderbank's Building: 1938.
Historic Dwellings (72-76): n.d..
Historic Gereformeerde Church Building: 1905-1907.
Hospital adds, Potchefstroom: 1924.
House: c1890.
House Calderbank - Residence: 1905.
House JA Grové: 1959.
House Monyemore: 1990. Ikageng,
House of President MW Pretorius: 1868.
King's Hotel: n.d..
Krugerskraal Homestead and Property (Tygerfontein, District): n.d..
Land Bank: 1941.
Landbank Official Residence: 1950s?.
Landdrost, Post and Telegraph Office: 1896.
Library and Tourist Information Centre: n.d..
Magistrates Residence: n.d..
Mental Hospital, Potchefstroom: n.d..
Mr Mortimer's House: pre-1906.
National Bank: pre-1906.
Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk: 1894.
Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk - Mooirivier: 1918.
Nederduitse Hervormde Kerk: 1866.
Netherlands Bank: pre 1938.
North-West University - Former Arts Block: n.d..
North-West University, Animal Science Building: n.d..
North-West University, Heimat Hostel: 1927.
North-West University, Konservatorium - Conservatoire of Music: 1960.
North-West University, Laboratories: 1928.
North-West University, Main Building: 1930.
North-West University, Men's hostel: 1930.
North-West University, Northern Wing of the Nutrition and Family Ecology Building: 1935.
North-West University, Pharmacy Building: n.d..
North-West University, Physiology Building: n.d..
North-West University, Psychology Building: n.d..
North-West University, Sports Centre: pre 1993.
North-West University, Student Centre: 1980.
NZASM South-Western Line Bridge over the Mooi River: 1895+.
NZASM South-Western Line Railway Station: 1897.
NZASM South-Western Line Railway Station - Machavie: 1895+.
Oak Avenue: 1910.
Old Berlin Mission Complex: n.d..
Old Gaol: 1898.
Old Gaol, Warder's House: 1898.
Old Magistrate's Court: n.d..
Old Post Office: n.d..
Old Powder Magazine: 1854-1857 : 1898.
Police Station: 1939 : 2001.
Potchefstroom Boys' High School: 1904-1905.
Potchefstroom Boys' High School - Buxton Boarding House: 1937.
Potchefstroom Boys' High School - Milton and Granton Boarding Houses: n.d..
Potchefstroom College of Agriculture, Administration Building: 1907.
Potchefstroom College of Agriculture, Selborne Hall: 1913.
Potchefstroom Gimnasium: n.d..
President Pretorius Museum: 1868 : 1980.
Railway Station - First: 1897.
Railway Station - Second: 1918.
Rector's Residence: 1942.
Rector's Residence - now Totius House Museum: 1905.
Snowflake Building: 1921.
Sport Building & Cricket Pavilion: 1975.
St Mary's Anglican Church: 1890.
St Wilfred's Church, sanctuary, chapel, and half the nave: c1932. Hillcrest,
Stock Exchange - First: 1890-1891.
Strydom House: 1932.
Synagogue: 1920.
Totius House: pre 1919. Krugerskraal farm,
Town Hall: 1907.
Volkskas Bank - now ABSA: 1958.
Volkskas Bank and Office Building: 1950s?.
Voortrekker Fort (?) (Farm Elandsfontein): n.d..
Wesleyan Church: 1905.
ZAR Road Bridge over the Mooi River, 'Noordbrug': 1890-1964.
ZAR Road Bridge over the Mooi River, 'Oosbrug': 1890.
ZAR Road Bridge over the Mooi River, 'Suidbrug': 1890.