(work in progress)
If you decide to meander off the main drag in Potchefstroom, chances are that the feature that will strike you most is the huge number of oak trees that line the streets in the older part of town.
In fact, I have happened across Internet references stating that there are reputedly more oak trees in Potch than there are in Stellenbosch (the South African town renowned for its oaks), although this is actually untrue.
So, given that oaks are not indigenous to Southern Africa, why are there so many oaks around?
I might not understand the Afrikaaner passion for monumental concrete, but I certainly share their enthusiasm for heroic stone carving! This is best illustrated by the staggeringly impressive Voortrekker monument in Pretoria, but is echoed by a small but beautiful memorial in Potch's Trim Park (just beside the City Hall).
The memorial seems to commemorate Potch's founding in 1838, and I am guessing that it was commissioned to celebrate some landmark anniversary (maybe the 150th in 1978?) but as the plaques on both side of the monument have been removed, I have no way of confirming this assumption.
The carving is absolutely beautiful and depicts the Voortrekker era (during which Potch was established by Afrikaaners trekking northwards from the Cape to distance themselves from the British), with a male figure on one side, and a mother and child on the other. It perfectly captures the pride and dignity of a people who have often battled against the odds and have manage to survive.
Unfortunately the peculiarly Afrikaans prediliction for sporting beards without moustaches which is depicted on this monument - and latterly favoured by the likes of Paul Kruger - is still often seen today: not a good look!
The more I look in Potchefstroom, the more I find, and I am bewildered as to why such an interesting and attractive town should operate almost entirely below the VT radar!
On my last visit to Potch (which I travel through regularly on business and often stop off in to break what is a very long journey), I decided to visit Totius' house. Jacob Daniël du Toit (usually known by his pen name of Totius) is Potch's favourite son - although he was actually born in Paarl in the Cape - whose major claim to fame is as the man who completed the first translation of the Bible into Afrikaans.
Totius was a deeply religious man who served in the Anglo Boer War as a military chaplain and later became a professor at the Dutch Reformed Church's Theological College in Potch. In addition to completing the translation of the Bible (a work started by his father), he was a renowned poet, and some of his most touching work was inspired by the death of two of his children in a single year (an infant son killed by disease and a pre teenage daughter who was tragically struck by lightning). His contribution to establishing Afrikaans as a genuine literary medium - rather than just a spoken language - was immense and his sensitive and lyrical translation of the Psalms is regarded as a masterpiece.
What struck me most about my time here was the reinforcement of how very young a language Afrikaans is. Totius was the first person to translate the Bible into Afrikaans and yet he worked during the first couple of decades of the 20th century, barely a hundered years ago - prior to that, the Boers were reliant on the Dutch bible. To put this into context, the missionary Robert Moffat (David Livingstone's father-in-law, who established the Moffat Mission outside Kuruman) had completed the translation of the Bible into Setswana by 1857, almost half a century previously.
Although Totius' house is modestly proportioned and understated, it has a great deal to recommend it - not least of which is the fact that at the time of writing (March 2012), it was free! Secondly, it provides a rare opportunity to visit a beautifully preserved Edwardian home: most historic buildings in South Africa date back to the Victorian era, and after one too many overstuffed Victorian parlours, it is a rare treat to be able to appreciate the clean, uncluttered lines of the Edwardian era. Australians in particular will recognise the design as being reminiscent of the Federation style that dates to the same time period.
Another unexpected delight was the opportunity to appreciate some artwork by a couple of South Africa's best known artists. In Totius' study, there is an exquisite little bronze of two Boer commandoes by Anton von Wouw (the man responsible for Paul Kruger's statue in Pretoria and the Women's Monument in Bloemfontein) and there are also two small paintings by Pierneef (one rather lacklustre Cape landscape, and another far more recognisable piece featuring his characteristic stylised trees). Both pieces were given to Totius in his lifetime, and serve to reinforce that although he was a modest and unostentatious man, he was well known and highly respected in the Afrikaaner community. There is also a beautiful portrait of Totius painted in later life, which hangs over the fire place in his study, and depicts him as a kindly, scholarly man.
Lastly (and this is something that I can very rarely say for South African museums), my visit was greatly enhanced by a charming guide who positively fizzed with enthusiasm and was clearly delighted by the opportunity to share her knowledge. Although entrance is free, please bear in mind that such museums are chronically underfunded, and so a donation at the end of your visit would be hugely appreciated and doubtless wisely used.
Totius' House is part of a complex of buildings that were established when the Theological College of the Dutch Reformed Church relocated from Burgersfort to Potchefstroom in 1905.
The Theological College created the nucleus around which the university developed, and explains its somewhat sonorous previous name: Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir Christelike Hoër Onderwys (Potchefstroom University of Higher Christian Education, often known by the rather unattractive acronym, PUK). In recent years, it has been incorporated into the North West University, and although it is now multiracial, the university still retains a strong Afrikaans character.
Sharp eyed visitors will get extra brownie points for noticing that all the buildings of this complex are the wrong way around, with the road running along their back: the original road onto which they faced has long been consumed by the playing fields of the adjacent school.
Snowflake flour is one of those iconic South African brands which has endured over the decades, which seems somewhat ironic given the country's white supremacist past!
The Snowflake flour mill is located next to the railway bridge and is now abandoned. It is clearly visible from the main road (on your left hand side heading south) and - at least to my mind - is an attractive piece of industrial architecture.
The Landrost (Magistrate's) Post and Telegraph Office on Greyling Street is my favourite building in Potch, and is a late Victorian (1896) building that wouldn't look out of place in Tunbridge Wells!
Life many of the older buildings in Potch, this is a national monument. The excellent website below informs me that the building was designed in a in a Neo-Renaissance or Second Empire style with a prominent convex roof to maximise the central space below. Distinctive architectural features include a portico-cum-veranda, paired colums, blind balustrades on the cornices of the pavilions, squared roof towers above the pavilions, cast iron ornamentations.
The beauty of this building is further emphasised by the sheer hideousness of its successor next door, which was opened in 1966 and embodies almost everything that is distasteful about the architecture of that period!
I have always loved the look of the Kings Hotel in Potch, which captures the spirit of Victorian-era hotels throughout the British Empire. It reminds me of hotels in places like Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, and the architecture is lovely - look at the other photos for the beautiful ironwork on the roof. It must have been a very impressive structure in its heyday, but sadly, those seem to be long past.
Despite having passed this hotel several hundred times over the past couple of decades, I am sad to confess that I have never ventured in! An Internet search yielded absolutely no information at all, except a suggestion that it is a one star hotel - quite an achievement in this day and age - and I suspect that it is a fleapit of note whose only viable source of business these days is the decidedly dodgy looking bar!
I have promised myself that one day, I will stop for a beer to confirm or dispel my suspicions (or let me know if you get there first)!
The City Hall in Potch is an impressive looking building, built in 1909 in an Edwardian Classicist style. It (along with Krugersdorp's Town Hall) is apparently the oldest town hall north of the Vaal River, which makes you realise how very recent our architectural heritage is. For those who are interested, the South African heritage legislation deems that any building older than 60 years has potential heritage value, which must be a source of huge amusement for those from Europe!
The building was inaugurated by the then Colonial Secretary Jan Smuts - other than Nelson Mandela, arguably South Africa's most influential statesman of the 20th century (if you are in the Johannesburg or Pretoria area, then his house in Irene is an absolute must for anyone with an interest in this period - see my Pretoria travel tip).
The neighbouring Andrew Carnegie library - which was built in a similar style - is now the Office of the Speaker for the Provincial Legislature of North West Province.
Once you get up close, you realise that there has been damage to the clock face, and I suspect that maintenance to other parts of the facade may also have been let slip - a great shame for such an elegant building.
The First Dutch Reformed church in Potch was build in 1867-8 and was situated on the corner of Potgieter and Van Riebeeck Street. This was destroyed in 1881 during the First Boer War and rebuilt between 1894 and 1987. The significance of the building was such that the foundation stone was laid by Paul Kruger, the President of the Republic.
Sadly this lovely building was largely destroyed by fire in 2007, but has since been restored to its former glory.
The Goetz Fleischack Museum is housed in the former home of the local magistrate, and is the last surviving building of the townhouses that surrounded Potch's New Market Square (since demolished) in the mid 19th century.
The structure was built between 1860 and 1863 and is unusual in that it is built in the style of a homestead (complete with outbuildings) - more reminiscent of affluent farm buildings in the Karoo than on in the Transvaal.
The complex now houses a museum which I didn't get to see as it closes for lunch between 1300 and 1400. This was a shame, as the lady was there and twiddling her thumbs in the office and clearly hadn't seen a tourist in ages, but I guess that this is just another reflection of the fact that Potch still has a long way to go in jacking up its tourist service (see my comments on the tourist office).
The small but lovely Nederduits Hervormde church is located opposite the City Hall and was built by the first Voortrekker congregation in the Transvaal in 1842. However the church did not get its own minister until 1853.
The original structure was designed so that it could serve as a fortification as well as a church. However, it rapidly became too small for the burgeoning population and construction of the current building began in 1859. Thereafter there have been several later stages of addition, including the whimsical iron tower (whose overlapping tile design rather reminds me of a dragon's scales).
Unfortunately like so many churches in South Africa, it has become necessary to lock them when they are not being used for services, and I was not able to even enter the church grounds when I visited. It seems a great tragedy that places of workship should be considered as 'fair game' by thieves and vandals and therefore unaccessible to people who should be able to use the church when they feel the need, but sadly that's the way it is, and I reluctantly accept that this is probably the only sensible option.
Aardklop happens every year during the last week in September. It consists of theatre productions, art exhibitions; music shows, a massive flea market, lots of food stalls, beer gardens, street theatre, mime etc.
Lots of things for kids like camel rides, horse carts, puppet or kiddies shows and lots more.
Art festivals are booming in South Africa and it is a great portal for upcoming artists to show their work.