Botshabelo started life as a German Mission Station in 1858. The name means “Place of Shelter” and the station was erected by two German missionaries, Alexander Merensky and Heinrich Grutzner, near the town of Middelburg. Originally built to house themselves and their followers, the missionaries soon started taking in other Pedi converts, refugees fleeing from the persecution of Chief Sekukhuni. The community made its own bricks, cultivated its own food and even had its own postal service, bakery, school, church, blacksmith shop, bookbindery and mill. By 1873, some 3 000 people were living at the mission and a stone fort was built to protect them. The fort, a unique blend of Western and Sotho architecture was named after the German Emperor but later renamed Fort Merensky. Famous South Africans born at or near the mission include the geologist Hans Merensky, who spent his childhood years here, and world-renowned artist Gerard Sekoto whose work can be seen in galleries throughout the world. The impeccably restored fort and village, situated in a delightful game and nature reserve, has been proclaimed a national museum.
Adventure And Sport
Hiking: There are three hiking trails in the area, namely the eight-hour Klein Asvogelkrans Circular Walk, the six-hour Baboonstail Walk that start and end at Botshabelo and meanders through the Klein Olifants River Valley, and the shorter, four-hour Botshabelo Nature Trail along the escarpment surrounding the mission station.
Art And Crafts
Botshabelo Cultural Village and Open-air Museum: The village is an extension of the Botshabelo Museum complex and takes the visitor on a “live” tour through the development of Ndebele architecture, art and culture. The museum has become a popular location for international film and photo shoots. Local residents maintain the village while practising their local art and crafts. Some live in the village and their beadwork and other crafts are on sale here. Botshabelo gave birth to such inspiring internationally renowned artists as Esther Mahlangu, her sister Betty and daughter-in-law, Catharina who have been commissioned to paint museum walls, passenger buses and a BMW limousine.
Fauna And Flora
Botshabelo Nature Reserve: The reserve has several picnic sites and other recreational facilities on the grassy, tree-lined banks of the Klein Olifants River. To really appreciate the lovely surroundings take a hike along the escarpment surrounding the mission station and look out for the Olifants River cycads (Encephalartos lanatus) that are endemic to this area.
History And Architecture
Botshabelo Mission Museum Complex: The entire village is a museum and the many beautifully restored historic buildings such as the fort, the parsonage, old mission houses, the church and the old dining hall are open to visitors. This is the place to visit if you want to experience some of the atmosphere and elements of the pioneering days on the frontier.