Bloemfontein is the Judicial Capital of South Africa and the seat of the Supreme Court of Appeal. It is part of the renamed Mangaung Metropolitan Authority – ‘Manguang’ being the Sotho name for ‘Bloemfontein’ and meaning ‘The Place of Cheetahs’. Bloemfontein is 4,557 ft above sea level and with temperatures around 35C sightseeing required determination!
In c.1840 a Dutch farmer called Johannes Brits settled on land near a reliable fountain known as Bloem’s Fountain. However, the British governing the Cape Colony wanted to expand their sphere of influence and negotiated land ownership with the Griquas. Major Henry D Warden was instructed to establish control in the area and took over Brits’ farm in 1846 for minimal compensation. In 1848 Sir Harry Smith visited the new British settlement and named it the Orange River Sovereignty. The area proved unrewarding however, and in 1854 the Orange River Republic was established and the British left.
The first Raadsaal was built as a Church and School by Major Warden, and was the Council Chamber for the governing body of the Orange River Republic which held its meetings in the Raadsaal from 1849-52. The Republic’s first two Presidents – Hoffman and Boshoff – were sworn in in this building in 1852 and 1854. It is the oldest building in Bloemfontein and a fascinating museum with a knowledgable Curator, and there is also a Wagon Museum – do visit.
The second and third Raadsaals were built and demolished but the fourth Raadsaal (1873) is an imposing building in the centre of town. General Christiaan de Wet is commemorated by a dramatic statue in front of the building.
Brand Street, a wide and imposing street in the centre of town, has several grand sandstone buildings: the Appeal Court (1929), the National Afrikaans Literature Museum (1875 onwards), the Appeal Court, the National Museum, and the Residency – to name a few.
Not everything was beautiful – the river which attracted the original settlers is reduced to an unattractive conduit, and Herzog Square in the centre of town was decidedly unappealing.
By mid-afternoon we were dripping with perspiration and very tired – time for an ice cream and the air-conditioned hotel!
You may be interested in
The history of Bloemfontein