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Heritage Highlights 5 – Paardeberg/Perdeberg Heritage Site and vicinity

Jul 9, 2024

Alana Bailey

In the series Heritage Highlights, AfriForum sheds light on heritage landmarks in the country where communities get involved themselves to preserve our unique cultural and historical legacy.

Paardeberg, or Perdeberg as it is currently known, is a site of great historical significance, where a dedicated heritage committee makes a special effort to ensure that it is attractive to visitors and especially to safeguard  it for posterity.

Frans du Toit, Chairperson of the Paardeberg Heritage Committee, shares more information on this site and the committee’s endeavours with us.

Alana:    Thank you very much for participating in our series, Frans. What is the history of this site?

Frans:    This is where the Battle of Vendutiedrift (Vendusiedrif, as it is currently pronounced) took place during the Anglo-Boer War. The monument erected here, is located where General Piet Cronjé’s camp was besieged by the British forces at the time.

General Cronjé’s forces were on the defensive, trying to stop a British invasion of the Boer Republic (the Orange Free State). After the Boers’ victory at Magersfontein, where the British forces indeed suffered a crushing defeat, Cronjé’s war council decided to maintain their position, rather than to regroup elsewhere. This gave the British forces a chance to get reinforcements. Lord Frederick Roberts sent General John French to relieve Kimberley and then to cut off the Boer forces with his mounted cavalry and hedge them in against the Modder River. During the night, the Boers managed to slip away in the moonlight. They moved in a north-easterly direction upstream along the Modder River. French stopped them at Vendusiedrift where they had to cross the river. Unfortunately, the river was in flood. Cronjé instructed the Boers to dig themselves in there. The British forces attacked them at Koedoesrant with a heavy bombardment. Their oxen and horses fled and the Boers were now pinned down. They could not get away.

By this time, General Christiaan de Wet advanced from Jacobsdal in the south in an effort to come to the rescue of Cronjé’s forces. De Wet and his men took up a position at Oskoppies on the opposite side of the river. It is also here where Danie Theron had to sneak through British forces during the night in order to convey a message to Cronjé’s war council that De Wet would try to open a way for them to escape. The following night they tried to erect a chain bridge across the river, but the hundred British guns blasted it to pieces. The attempt failed. Thereafter, Cronjé’s war council voted in favour of surrender, against Cronjé’s will. Approximately four thousand Boers were captured and deported to Ceylon.

Alana:    Where is this site?

Frans:    It is approximately 120 kilometres from Bloemfontein along the N8 in the direction of Kimberley. Take the Perdeberg exit on the right and continue along the dirt road until you cross the railway line. From here, keep right for about 8 kilometres until the battlefield becomes visible on the right. If you are approaching from Kimberley, it is about 40 kilometres to get there.

Alana:    Who owns the site?

Frans:    The battlefield is owned by Herman Pietersen, but it is accessible to the public.

Alana:    Please tell us more about the community’s involvement here.

Frans:    The Perdeberg Boerevereniging has sub-committees, namely the Geloftefees Committee and the Heritage Committee, which are partly funded by the Boerevereniging to host celebrations of the Day of the Vow at the Perdeberg Boerevereniging Hall, as well as to renovate and maintain the heritage sites in the immediate vicinity.

In 2022, the Heritage Committee relocated the 1938 Great Trek Commemorative Monument to the Boerevereniging’s site, as its previous location had become surrounded by squatters and it could no longer be safely preserved.

Last year (2023), an ambitious project was undertaken – we built a visitor-friendly tourist centre on the battlefield, providing detailed information, illustrated with large colour photographs. AfriForum contributed to this project.

Alana:    Why should people visit the site?

Frans:    Apart from the colourful history of the site, access is easy and visitors get detailed information about the events that took place here.

Furthermore, it is close to the Magersfontein Battlefield and Kimberley, which itself is a city with a fascinating history and many attractions. Furthermore, there is the De Wet Museum at Oskoppies. It is owned by the Van Niekerk family.

Other points of interest in the area include the abovementioned Perdeberg’s 1938 Great Trek Commemoration Monument, as well as various monuments and graves of both Boer and Brit, the new visitor centre at Vendusiedrif, the Poplargrove Monument and the farmhouse at Abrahamskraal where Charles Oertel lived. The book Punt van die swaard by Dr Louis Bothma tells the true story of this interesting family’s fortunes. Currently, efforts are underway to try and save the house, but funds are required.

Another significant heritage site nearby is the Boschrand Battlefield, but it is only accessible by appointment, as it is privately owned.

Alana:    What usually surprises first-time visitors to the site?

Frans:    People are usually misled by the name Battle of Paardeberg. They think the battle has to do with the mountain itself. The mountain however is a landmark only. Today, when you look at the lush, irrigated farms and pecan orchards all along the river, it is hard to imagine that such a bloody battle took place here.

Visitors are also surprised by the good condition of the sites. This is the result of the fact that the sites are being maintained and funded by the farmers of the area themselves, which only makes one realise once more that if we are not going to preserve our heritage ourselves, no one is going to do it.

Alana:    Which challenges are you facing and what is on your wish list?

Frans:    Funding is certainly the biggest challenge, but next to that is involvement – it is difficult to get people to participate in our activities, mostly as a result of the hectic pace of life of our time. Fortunately, there are still helpful people that contribute to keep this area’s unique history alive.

We would like to expand and improve the visitor centre. Among other things, ablution facilities are required. We would also like the Wesfront Vasbyt hike that once took place with Dr Louis Bothma as guide, in collaboration with AfriForum Youth, to take place once more.

Alana:    What is your advice to people who would like to get involved in the preservation of a historical landmark?

Frans:    It is easy. Commit. And DO!

Alana:    Thank you very much for your excellent work – AfriForum is looking forward to our cooperation in future.

Contact details

Frans du Toit – 083 411 7228 or Retha Nel – 082 466 7886.

About the author

Alana Bailey

Alana Bailey is Head of Cultural Affairs at AfriForum

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