Bethlehem Township

Edited on 5 October


Bethlehem (Location).
Bethlehem or the "Oud Locasie" as it was sometimes termed, was a township adjacent to the town of Rustenburg. For many years it served as the place of residence for Rustenburg's African population.

A map showing the Rustenburg District . 
Bethlehem was started by the Rev. Ferdinand Zimmermann of the Hermannsburg Missionary Society (HMS) in 1867 or 1868. He collected together an African congregation of Oorlamse Africans. These were people who had been incorporated into Dutch (later Afrikaans) speaking society.  This occurred largely as a result of the practice of the Boers to capture and indenture African children, allegedly orphans. These inboekelinge  (literally apprentices) were manumitted (or set free) at the age of twenty-one. However many of them, estranged from African society, and unable to speak any other language but Dutch, chose to retain their ties to white society.
The name Bethlehem was given to the location by the congregation, and reflects their early Christian character. The location within walking distance of the town, and the residents were allowed to cultivate crops n plots of land in Bethlehem itself.  The residents worked largely in domestic service for the white residents of Rustenburg, and acquired a range of unique skills, such as cooking, washing and the preparation of preserves such as meat and fruits.

 The HMS built a church in Bethlehem and the community remained close knit, choosing to retain its identity, primarily through the speaking of Afrikaans only, and by marrying with other Oorlam people. It's population stood at about 1,200 in the 1920's.  A Health Board was established in 1902, and Bethlehem was formally constituted as a township in 1904, being granted the status of a Village Council in 1912.
 It became the practice for the Bethlehem residents to rent out backyard shacks to newcomers, and by the 1930s Bethlehem was becoming very overcrowded and in many respects resembled a slum. It was also unusual at this time, for a large African population to be living so close to a "white" town" in what was becoming an increasingly segregated country. Accordingly, the authorities decided to remove the township. The Bethlehem Advisory Committee agreed to the removal, but the residents asked to be given a new location of their own close by to Rustenburg town. This never happened and after nearly two decades of bureaucratic indecision, it was decided to break up Bethlehem and move the residents to the new township of Tlhabane, about eleven kilometres distant. Here the former residents of Bethlehem were unable to retain the social cohesion they had enjoyed at Bethlehem, and they were economically disadvantaged. The site where Bethlehem once stood now comprises the western extent of Rustenburg itself, and even the former Bethlehem Church has now been destroyed

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

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