The city of Mangaung is a hidden tourism jewel, which is perfectly located in the centre of the country. Besides being the only city in the world with a game reserve, Naval Hill Game Reserve, located in the inner city of the centre, Mangaung is endowed with a rich political history and offers visitors beautiful rose gardens, restaurants, clubs, botanical gardens, suburban parks, historical museums and building, and a zoo. The judicial capital of SA is home to among others, the Appeals Court. The city’s tourism experience is made exceptional by its warm and friendly people as well as quality service and hospitality offered at its tourism establishments.
Bloemfontein was officially founded in 1846 as a fort by British army major Henry Douglas Warden as a British outpost in the Trans-Oranje region. At that stage, the area was occupied by various groups of peoples, including Cape ColonyTrek Boers, Griqua, and Basotho. The site was originally chosen largely because of its proximity to the main route to Winburg and the absence of horse sickness. Bloemfontein was the original farm of Johannes Nicolaas Brits who sold the farm to Major Warden.
There are various interpretations and legends around the origin of the name “Bloemfontein”. Bloemfontein literally means “fountain of flowers” or “flower spring” in Dutch and one of the origins of the name is believed to be that it was named after an abundance of flowers that grew around a fountain on a farm owned by a Dutch settler, Johannes Nicolaas Brit.Popular legends also include an ox named “Bloem” owned by one of the pioneer farmers that was taken by a lion near a fountain on his property, while another names Jan Blom (1775–1858), a Korana KhoiKhoi leader who inhabited the area.The flowery splendour of the 4 000 rose bushes planted at King’s Park has earned the city the nickname “City of Roses”.
Bloemfontein was the capital of the Orange Free State Republic from 1854 to 1902. In 1880, the town received municipal status and had a population of about 2567. Robert Innes was the first town mayor. A railway line was built in 1890 connecting Bloemfontein to Cape Town and an electric system was installed in 1900.
On 13 March 1900, following the Battle of Paardeberg, British forces captured the city and built a concentration camp nearby to house Boer women and children. Bloemfontein remained the capital of the Orange River Colony from 1902 to 1910 and became the judicial capital of the Union of South Africa in 1910. The South African Native National Congress (later renamed the African National Congress) was formed on 8 January 1912 in Bloemfontein with John Langalibalele Dube elected as the first president. The former National Party (NP) was formed on 1 July 1914 in Bloemfontein.
On 23 May 1913, a group of women from the urban Waaihoek location protested against pass laws by adopting a passive resistance stance and refusing to carry permits. After this demonstration, unrest spread to other towns in the Free State. At the time, it was the only province that enforced passes for black women. The pass for black women in the Free State was withdrawn in 1918 after Charlotte Maxeke led a deputation to then Prime Minister Louis Botha. The city retained its status as the provincial capital of the Free State before and after the 1994 local government elections. It remains the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal.Bloemfontein’s rich cultural and historical heritage is reflected in its museums, art galleries, and cultural festivals. The city also offers excellent recreational, shopping, and entertainment facilities.
National, provincial, and local government buildings
Bloemfontein houses some of the most impressive sandstone buildings in the Free State. The Appeal Court (completed in 1929), the Free State Division of the Supreme Court, and the Fourth Raadzaal in the famous President Brand Street are typical examples of this architecture. The Fourth Raadzaal was the seat of the legislature of the former Republic of the Orange Free State and currently houses sittings of the Free State Legislature. The City Hall is one of the impressive sandstone buildings designed by Sir Gordon Leith. It is also located in President Brand Street, which has been declared a national conservation area in its entirety.A modern glass construction, the Bram Fischer Building, was inaugurated in 1992 and serves as the headquarters of the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality.
The 1912 founding venue of the ANC in Waaihoek has recently been declared a national heritage site and extensive renovation work was undertaken to restore it.
Bram Fischer House
The Bram Fischer House at 72 Reitz Avenue, Westdene was the home of the Fischer family from 1910 to 1946. Bram Fischer, born in 1908, was a member of the Communist Party and the lawyer who represented the ANC members who were accused in both the Treason and Rivonia Trials in the 1960s. He was arrested in 1965 and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. Fischer was later transferred to a hospital after being diagnosed with cancer. He died in 1976. Fischer House is in the process of being declared a national heritage site.
Thomas Maphikela was one of the founder members of the ANC in Bloemfontein. Many important ANC meetings were held at Maphikela House, which is now a national monument.
These houses were built in 1952 to coincide with the visit of King George V to Bloemfontein in order to conceal the squatter settlements in the area.Other historical buildings include the National Afrikaans Literature Museum, the Old Presidency (residence of presidents of the former Republic of the Orange Free State), the First Raadzaal (erected in 1849 and served as church and parliament house for Bloemfontein and the Free State), and the Anglican Cathedral (where the city’s founder, Major Henry Douglas Warden, laid the foundation stone in 1850). The twin-spire Dutch Reformed Church building was completed during 1880 on the site of a much smaller church of which the famous Rev. Andrew Murray was the minister. Here the last three presidents of the former Republic of the Orange Free State took oath of office.
National Women’s Memorial
The National Women’s Memorial, sculpted by Anton Van Wouw in the form of a 36,5 metre high sandstone obelisk, honours the nearly 27 000 women and children who lost their lives in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War.
The War Museum is dedicated to the South African men who fought against the British in the Anglo-Boer War and other struggles in South Africa. Its exhibits include photographs, paintings, documents, books, uniforms, weapons, and sculptures from that time.
The National Museum in Bloemfontein is a natural history, cultural history, and art museum. It houses a large variety of archaeological and paleontological exhibits, of which the Florisbad skull is the most famous and known all over the world.
Cleansing, Healing and Reparation Memorial
This memorial, situated on the grounds of the City Hall, serves as a symbol of the sacrifices made by various individuals and groups in the Free State in the fight for freedom in various conflicts during the past centuries.
Free State Youth Martyrs’ Monument
Commemorating young people who lost their lives in the struggle against apartheid is the focal point of this monument.
Queen’s Fort Military Museum
The Old Fort was erected in 1848 and originally housed the Artillery Unit of the Free State. The museum depicts all major military conflicts in the Free State from 1820, as well as the struggle against apartheid.
President Brand Cemetery and Presidents’ Acre
Many men, women, and children who had lost their lives in the Anglo-Boer War are buried in the President Brand Cemetery.The Presidents’ Acre that forms part of this cemetery is the final resting place for former State Presidents of South Africa.
The Bloemfontein Zoo was established in 1920. Covering some 15 hectares, the zoo keeps about 65 mammal species as well as a grand selection of birds. It is also home to the Big Five along with tigers, hippos, panthers, and antelope. Interestingly, Bloemfontein Zoo was a pioneer in the breeding of the liger, a cross between a lion and tiger.
The 70 ha Free State Botanical Garden is crisscrossed by trails that offer visitors, including the elderly and disabled, a chance to enjoy its beautiful indigenous plants and numerous species of birds. Some six hectares of the garden have been set aside to grow as much of the Free State flora as possible.
Bloemfontein Orchid House
The Orchid House, situated in Hamilton Park on the western slope of Naval Hill, is home to a wondrous array of over 3 000 beautiful and delicate orchid plants. A specially designed section – the Fragrance Garden – has been set aside for visitors who are visually impaired.
Franklin Game Reserve
The Franklin Game Reserve on Naval Hill is the only city centre game reserve in the world.
Philip Saunders Resort
The Philip Saunders Resort re-opened in 2011 following an extensive renovation of the resort. Excellent conference and entertainment facilities, ideal also as a wedding location, together with upgraded chalets and recreation facilities are available.
Botshabelo (meaning ‘place of refuge’) is the second largest township in South Africa, second only to Soweto. It is situated on the Lesotho road 65km east of Bloemfontein. Since 2000, the town has been part of the Municipality. The Overwacht Farm House was the first settlement in Botshabelo. The area was established in 1978 as an apartheid-engineered town for the displaced Basotho people in the Free State. Most of the present inhabitants moved to the town from rural farms. Botshabelo offers the potential as a major industrial hub with approximately 154 factories with available infrastructure.
Thaba Nchu, located 60 km east of Bloemfontein, derives its name from the 2138 metre Thaba Nchu Mountain. This area was the stronghold of the Baralong tribe during the 19th century. Led by chief Moroka, the Barolong settled in this area in the 1830s. The Wesleyan missionary, Rev James Archbell, established a mission station here in 1833. A trading centre developed around the church.The Voortrekkers and the Barolong became allies united against their common enemy, Mzilikazi and his Matabele tribe. From 1836, Thaba Nchu became a gathering point for various Trekker groups from the Cape Colony, including those of Hendrik Potgieter, Gerrit Maritz, and Piet Uys. Thaba Nchu was considered a friendly native state of the boer-governed Orange Free State, established in 1854.
The area became a safe haven for tribes fleeing the King of the Zulu’s, Shaka Zulu.
It, however, became an insular territory during the Basotho Wars, during which the Basotho were expelled from its vicinity. In the late 1800s, the Free State became home to Chief Moshoeshoe and the Basotho tribe.In 1873, Thaba Nchu became a municipality. During apartheid, the area formed part of the “independent” state of Bophuthatswana (1979). It was re-incorporated into South Africa prior to the 1994 general elections.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Moroka House in Ratlou Village was once the home of Doctor James Sebe Moroka, President-General of the ANC between 1949 and 1952.
Chief Moroka’s grave
The grave of Chief Moroka at the Wesleyan Mission Station has been declared a national monument but can only be viewed with special permission. The Chief’s Kgotla (kraal) is also situated in the area.
Bronze Voortrekker plaques mark the trails made by the Voortrekkers’ ox wagons during the Great Trek of 1838. The Anglo-Boer War Sannaspos Battlefield site is situated a short distance west of the town on the road to Bloemfontein.
Mmabana Cultural Centre
The Mmabana Cultural Centre, a community project, was established to improve the cultural awareness of the local residents. The centre offers music, drama, dance, art, and sports. The curio shop on the premises sells beadwork, pottery, and art.
Selosesha Public Library
The library serves as a Government Information Service, a Literacy Corner, a Business Information Service, a toy library, a Community Information Service, and a computer room with ten computers, each with Internet connection and word processing function. The history and heritage of Thaba Nchu-Selosesha is cleverly depicted in an amazing work of mosaic art by Richards Bollers of the local Mmabana Cultural Centre.
Maria Moroka National Park
Situated at the foot of the Thaba Nchu Mountain, the Montloatse Setlogelo Dam is surrounded by the Maria Moroka Park. The undulating grassy plains embraced by wooden hills, with the mountain standing guard in the north, earned this area the name ‘Big Sky Country’. Well-known wildlife species such as zebra, black wildebeest, eland, springbok, blesbok, red hartebeest, and white rhino are found here. More than a hundred species of birds, including a variety of aquatic species, have been recorded here. Large flocks of Blue Crane can be seen in the parkfrom time to time.
Rustfontein Nature Reserve
The Rustfontein Dam is located 50 km east of Bloemfontein just off the Bloemfontein/Thaba Nchu road (R64). The surrounding countryside, with its tree studded koppies and grassy hillsides, provides an attractive backdrop to the dam. Recreational facilities include angling, sailing, skiing, and windsurfing.