UNDER CONSTRUCTION, this could take a while
A town in the Free State, next to the N1, coming from Bloemfontein it is 115km to Winburg. It's geo-position: 28.5188°S, 27.0117°E and 1433m a.m.s.l.
Sometimes called the oldest town in the Free State, but this is if one ignores Philipollis in the Southern Free State. That one started as a mission station already in 1824, some years before the Voortrekkers arrived in the Free State.
The area between the Vet- and the Vaal river was bartered by Hendrik Potgieter from the Bataung chief Makwana for 42 head of cattle. With the first treks the area became a focus point from which some of the Voortrekkers would go east and north. The need for a town had become a necessity, but where was it going to be. A dispute arose which was settled by a referendum amongst the trekkers towards the end of 1841. A town was established in 1842. Where the name originates from is not very certain. The most common explanation is that it is from winning the battle with the Matabele in 1837 to the north of the Vaal and thus removing a threat from the settlement.
The town was declared a municipality in 1872.
The formation of the congregation of Winburg goes back to 1840. At that time the area of the Free State, the area over the Vaal and Natal were all part of the republic of Natalia, with the administrative centre being in Pietermaritzburg. The only minister they had was Daniel Lindley, a Presbyterian missionary from America (USA).
The foundation stone for the present church was laid by the president of the Free State MT Steyn on 20 Jan 1899. Work on the building was interrupted by the Anglo Boer War. It was complete enough that it could be used as a shelter for some of the families who's head was on commando and as a hospital. Construction re-commenced after the war and the church was inaugurated in March 1904.
An inspiring building in a neo-Gothic style, it was designed by the architect brothers JH and AE Till. The same architects were also responsible for the design of the three English churches in Kroonstad, the Methodist, the Anglican and the Presbyterian (they would most likely object to be called English, being of Scottish origin) churches.
Another NG church only two blocks away from the big church, I thought this strange. It was introduced to me as the rebel church. And that is the story, it's formation goes back to the 1914 rebellion. That was the rebellion against South Africa declaring war on Germany. It led to armed conflict with a major battle fought between the rebels and the South African army being fought near the town at Mushroom Valley.
The aftermath of this was a request by the church council that the rebels should resign as elders from the council. It eventually led to a group leaving the congregation which they called Rietfontein. Named so after the farm adjoining Winburg.
Initially they held church services in the town hall, in 1919 they built a basic church. 1941 they had enough money collected to build the present church on the same terrain. The architect was Gerard Moerdyk.
When in the 1930's it was agreed that there should be a central Voortrekker monument to celebrate the centenary of the Great Trek, Winburg was one of the choices, in the end it lost out to Pretoria. But the idea was not forgotten since Winburg played such a major part as a hub of many treks. Eventually in 1968 it did get it's Voortrekker monument. Although not on the same, large scale as the one in Pretoria.
It is a concrete construction of five columnsThe symbolism is explained on the plaque, see picture to the right. The bronze plaque mentioned in the last sentence is not there any more, it has been stolen.
On a previous visit we found the gate closed and locked, this time it was wide open allowing us access to the monument. There was one single security guard on duty who signed us in and also opened the museum for us. The place did not look like it was neglected but one can also not say it is well looked after. The concrete of the structure does not look very healthy, there are some cracks exposing the re-enforcing to the weather. Rust is visible at some places.
The museum is not functional, some of the exhibits have been moved to Bloemfontein, so we were told. It is still worth visiting, it not only concentrates on the lives of the Voortrekkers, but covered everything: fauna & flora, geology and previous habitation. There is a new section, a political addition. It is about the women's struggle against apartheid.
Near the museum is the Steyn house, it is the birthplace of Marthinus Theunis Steyn, the later president of the Orange Free State. Shortened known as MT Steyn, he was president of the Free State from 1896 to 1902.
The house is a typical farmhouse of the time, consisting of a bedroom, a kitchen and a lounge. It was declared a national monument in 1952 and kept in a good state. It is furnished in the style of the time and there is a collection of various items used in the kitchen and for general living.
Ref 1.: Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Nasou Limited, 1974