Before coming to Vryburg we were warned to be aware of crime and to watch our cell phones. Well, of course, it did happen, Oliver nearly lost his cell phone. I tell the story further down. Vryburg is a town in the North West Province, its geo-position 26.9583°S, 24.7297°E and 1200m altitude. It exists because of Stellaland.
It had its beginning in a feud between the Batlapin chief Mankoroane who lived near Taung and the Korona head man David Massouw of Mamusa (now Schweizer-Reneke) at the end of 1881. For this purpose David Massouw recruited white mercenaries, mostly from the Transvaal. In return for their service they were to receive land to settle on. Mankoroane was beaten which meant that the agreement with Massouw was valid and an area under a management committee was established. The first and only president of Stellaland was Gerrit Jacobus van Niekerk (see picture from the museum). The land of the stars, Stellaland, was formally declared on the 6 August 1883 as a republic. A volksraad (parliament) had been established and an administration put in place. Vryburg was laid out to serve as an administrative capital. Among philatelic circles it is known for it stamp issue.
The republic was of short duration, the British colonial administration was a bit concerned that the republic was situated on the route to the north into their newly established Betchuanaland. In February 1885 the British took over without shedding any blood and made it part of the crown colony of Betchuanaland. This was not the same as the protectorate of Betchuanaland. It was roughly the area between the Orange river on the south side the Molopo river to the west and north. In 1895 the area was taken over by the Cape colony.
As explained above Vryburg was established as the capital of Stellaland in 1883, original written as Vrijburg. The name Vryburg is though to come from vry burgers or free burghers. A few high lights in the history of the town. The railway made it to Vryburg in 1890. That was the line going up through Betchuanaland and into Rhodesia. It was elevated to a municipality in 1896.
Vryburg was one of the aims of the first expansionary action of the Boers during the initial phases of the Anglo Boer war. The town was easily taken because of hardly any British military presence and because many of the inhabitants siding with the Boers. That way the town was occupied with hardly any resistance. It was promptly annexed and incorporated into the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, that was Vryburg and its surrounding area of Stellaland.
During May 1900 the British came back to retake the town and kept it for the remainder of the war.
The congregation of the church came about as Vryburg was being established. But it was not the NG but rather the NH church (Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk) that was approached in Potchefstroom to help with setting up the congregation. It was thus that the NH became the state religion for Stellaland when it was established in 1883.
Unity talks between the NH and the NG churches were under way and soon the congregation underwent a name change, but with the breakup of the union it was finally changed to the Nederduits Gereformierde Kerk (NGK) in 1887.
The first church building was erected in 1891 and enlarged 1896. It was in use until a new church was built in 1953. Unfortunately I don't have a good picture of it, that is because of the commotion around nearly loosing a cellphone, see story below. Thus I had to borrow a picture from Google Earth posted by Werner Esterhuizen. But I can inform that the foundation stone for the new church was laid on the 4-December-1953, the architect was Hendrik Vermooten. The picture of the old church I borrowed from the Internet.
It is the St Stephen's church, a nice little church in the typical natural stone style. Unfortunately it is fenced in behind locked gates and in the rush to 'do' Vryburg I did not have time to gain access to the inside of the church. The Internet has very little information, all I could find is that it is a provincial heritage site and dates from 1891.
It's existence points to a strong British influence in the area. Vryburg may have started as a Boer republic of Stellaland, but that was of short duration. British immigrants will have arrived once it was part of British Betchuanaland and later of the Cape colony.
Judging by the number of graves at the Jewish section of the cemetery there was a sizeable Jewish community in Vryburg. This is not the case any more judging by the fact that the synagogue is now used by one of the reformed churches, the billboard shows this to be the Selfstandige Hervormde Kerk.
According to the inscription, the foundation stone was laid in 1939 by S.Lieberthal Esq., president of the Hebrew congregation of Vryburg.
The Tiger Kloof Institutional Institution is a historical place. It is situated next to the N18 about 10km south of Vryburg.
In 1895 three chiefs of the protectorate of Betchuanaland (Botswana now) on a visit to London ask Queen Victoria for assistance to establish a chool of excelence for the protectorate. The result was this school which was established by the London Mission Society.
A start was made during the Anglo Boer war when the society bought the farm. Reverent WC Willoughby with his wife and an instructor of carpentry, Mr Tomkin, arrived at the farm during 1904 with a borrowed wagon and a few tents. Other personnel followed and the school started during 1905 with initially five students. It grew from those humble beginnings into a major institution of learning for the black communities.
After some initial resistance by the chiefs because the school had not been established inside the protectorate, it did become a centre of learning for the people of Betchuanaland. To be noted at the time of independence of Botswana in 1966 most of the cabinet including the president, Sir Seretse Khama, had been pupils at the school. Also the second president, Quett Masire, was a pupil at the school.
Apartheid laws during the 1950's made it difficult for the school to operate normally. It was specifically the Bantu Education act of 1953 causing major concern. But the school still stumbled along until 1963 when it was finally closed.
But this was not the end, there was a revival when the end of apartheid was in sight. Old Tigers and local businessmen got together to restart the school. The property was purchased in 1993 and the old building restored. Learning commenced in 1995. With time all the buildings were refurbished and new once erected. The money to do this came from donations, companies I saw are Anglo-American, De Beers and Sanlam.
The school is now a fee paying school with bursaries available to deserving students, it caters now for grade 1 to 12. It has boarding facilities. The main influx is from the local township of Vryburg.
The most historical building is the clock tower with the attached study hall. The plaque at the tower states: This Clock was presented by; Khama; Chief of the Bamangwato; 1906. Khama, or designated as Khama III was the grandfather of Seretse Khama, the later president of Botswana. And the major building is the Arthington Memorial Church, its foundation stone was laid in 1925. Also to note it was built by the schools masonry apprentices. A more detailed history of the institution can be found here.
The rail reached Vryburg in 1890, that was the extension of the line from Capetown to Kimberley. It was part of the concept Cape to Cairo rail connection propagated by Cecil John Rhodes. From here it was taken further to Mafikeng, trough Betchuanaland via Francistown to reach Bulawayo (Rhodesia) in 1897.
The line is still in use, we did meet a goods train rolling through. The station itself is in-active, with the station building being a roof-less ruin.
The oldest section is actually a re-burial site. Remains were moved from the old cemetery, the text on the memorial stone reads: This communal stone was erected in memory of 334 adults and 100 children (civilians). Buried in the old cemetery north of north road. In the absence of proper registers and grave numbers which made identification impossible. Exhumed and re-buried May 1968. A list of 24 names follows, the names of those that could be identified. The then existing grave stones were also moved to this site and are placed at the perimeter of the small square.
The British soldiers of the Anglo Boer war are buried here. The inscription says: In proud remembrance of British soldiers previously buried at Brussels siding, Geluk, Schweizer Reneke, Taungs, Vryburg old cemetery, Wolmeransstad re-interred here at Vryburg.
In many cemeteries I see the Jewish grave stones all laid flat to prevent vandalism, not here, the stones are still upright and untouched. The number of graves indicate a sizeable community, large enough to have a synagogue, see above.
The concentration camp in Vryburg was a bit of an oddity, because it was not situated in one of the Boer republics. Vryburg at the time of war was in the Cape colony and thus under British rule. The problem, to the British, was that there was a proportion of rebels and, or at least, their families in the camp. The Boer farmers felt that they would rather be part of the Boer Republic, ZAR. See the history of Stellaland above.
When exactly the camp was started is not know, it was first mentioned in April 1901. And it lasted until November 1902 when the last inmates left.
And here is our story. We were going through Vryburg on our way to get to the NG church Harmony, I wanted to take a few pictures. At this time we were heeding the warnings and kept our windows and doors closed. At the church Oliver parked and I just had to cross the walkway to get the picture of the corner stone. Next moment there was a police car making a U-turn in front of the bakkie, but thought nothing of it. A few seconds later a police lady arived with a cell phone in her hand. Asking whether this is my phone. I had to deny this and on looking at it closer I shouted at Oliver 'this is your phone'. It was. How the thieve did this is the mystery, neither Oliver nor me noticed anything, fortunately the passing cop did. This was not the end of it, whilst we are standing around and the police lady shouting at Oliver that he should keep his cell phone out of sight, having the windows closed and the door locked this thieve came out of nowhere crabbed the phone and ran and the police chasing. When he gained distance he stopped and gently put the phone on the road and ran off. That way Oliver's phone was recovered a second time. It was as if the thieve was playing a game. Why did he not just run off with the phone, the cops had no chance of catching him.
Ref 1.: Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Nasou Limited, 1974
Ref 2.: 'A History of Tiger Kloof Educational Institution', information brochure compiled by Cara Pieterse, 2010