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Klerksdorp


 
 


Klerksdorp
is located forty kilometres west of Potchefsroom, 166 km southwest of
Johannesburg and 138 km north of Welkom. The presence of rock engravings (now a
national monument) on the farm Bosworth near present-day Klerksdorp suggest
that the San occupied this area from c.500 AD. The Seleka baRolong under
Sefunelo lived around the upper reaches of the Harts river near Klerksdorp in
the 1820’s, and were displaced from there by the baTaung in May 1824.



 



The modern
Klerksdorp has a much later founding date. In 1837 early parties of
Voortrekkers led by C.M. du Plooy crossed the Vaal and settled along the banks
of a river they called Schoonspruit (Clear River). He established a farm named
Elandsheuvel. A number of other Trekkers joined him, and in exchange for the
construction of a dam and water furrow on the farm they were given sections of
the large farm. The settlement had twelve founding Voortrekker families. The
Tshidi, Ratlou and Rapulana clans of the baRolong returned to the district in 1841
and were given permission by Hendrick Potgieter, the Trekker leader, to
resettle in the vicinity. The Tshidi remained here to 1848 when they moved to
the Molopo river. Du Plooy’s father-in-law, Jacobus de Clercq, was elected
landrost of Potchefstroom two years later and helped the Schoonspruit community
to establish and lay out a market town. Initially referred to as Oude Dorp, it
was renamed Klerksdorp after de Clercq in 1853. He became the area’s first
Landdrost. Klerksdorp remained a quiet outpost, consisting of a few buildings
and a store run by James Taylor and Thomas Leask, the latter who became quite a
well-known personality in the emerging town.



 



Isolated
from the rest of the world, the development of Klerksdorp became stagnant, with
no communication with the outside world. As the settlement’s white residents
were generally illiterate, we have no written records of their living
conditions. Barter was common, as hard cash was very difficult to come by.



 



Its rustic
somnolence was shattered in 1885 when a series of gold strikes, one actually on
the town commonage, precipitated a gold rush and 4000 diggers descended on the
town. They drew lots to determine rights to mine on the commonage. A dusty
assembly of iron shacks, canteens and a stock exchange (still extant today)
sprawled over the veld. It then became necessary to build a railway line, which
was completed and officially opened by President Paul Kruger in 1897. In 1889
there were 200 commercial buildings in Klerksdorp, including 69 canteens for
the thirsty diggers. But by 1889 the Schoonspruit Goldfield was eclipsed by the
richer, higher grade ore, discoveries of the Witwatersrand. Most of the
companies formed were over-capitalised and could not make a profit. The stock
exchange closed and fortunes were lost. In 1902, an eight-member Health Board
was formed to run the town’s affairs. This Board removed all Africans living in
the town to a Native Location named Jouberton. Klerksdorp became a Town Council
in 1902 and absorbed all members of the Health Board.



 



Klerksdorp
rebuilt its shattered economy to become one of the largest grain farming
centres in the world. The Central Western Co-operative Company became the second
largest in the world and was based in the town. It acquired municipal status in
1903 and the high silos, mills and elevators on the modern Klerksdorp skyline
testify to the continuing importance of maize. In 1932 a young Canadian engineer,
Guy Carlton Jones, led a team that discovered the western deep level gold
deposits and Klerksdorp once again enjoyed a spectacular mining revival. The town’s
beginning and existence can be attributed to gold mining. Hence the founding of
the Stillfontein Gold Mine in 1949, with one Jack Scott as its first chairman.



 



The
Klerksdorp Museum is housed in a prison built in 1891, and depicts aspects of
the commercial and social history of the town. The station building was opened
by President Kruger in 1897 and was declared a national monument in 1983.
During the South African War a concentration camp was erected by the British in
Klerksdorp, and a cemetery and monument to those who lost their lives has been
preserved. Historically due to South Africa's segregaded past, the African
population of Klerksdorp had lived at Jouberton and Kanana, which are also close
to Orkney, and the so-called coloured population at Alabama on the road to
Kimberley. From its founding, Klerksdorp was administered as an inferior part
of Potchefstroom, and always occupied a secondary position to the latter.
Klerksdorp’s white residents hated this scenario and fought for an independent
status. They finally succeeded and, on 1 January 1918, Klerksdorp was
proclaimed a sub-district, which included parts of Potchefstroom, Lichtenburg and
Wolmaranstad.  



 



Even though
the first gold was discovered in Klerksdorp, today no mine exists within the
town’s municipal boundaries. However, the town benefits from the industry
through many gold mine employees who live in the town and do their shopping in
it. Klerksdorp was renamed ‘Matlosana’ by the ANC-led government after they came
into power in April 1994. Today, Klerksdorp’s Jouberton Township has some 40, 000
Africans, while about 7, 000 Coloureds live in Alabama, and about 2, 000
Indians in Manzilpark.





South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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