Polokwane (Pietersburg)

The name of the capital of the Limpopo, Polokwane, means “Place of Safety”. Known until fairly recently as Pietersburg, it is the largest metropolitan complex in the north of the country. Polokwane was founded in 1884, when the Voortrekkers (early Boer settlers) found it necessary to seek a healthier and safer area south of the Soutpansberg Mountains in which to settle. The government of the Transvaal Republic bought the eastern section of the farm Sterkloop and named the town that they established there after the Voortrekker leader, Commandant-General Piet Joubert, the then President of the Transvaal Republic.

Most of the white settlers in the area previously lived in Schoemansdal, a town that they abandoned on account of the endless conflict between them and the black tribes in the area. When land became available in the Polokwane (Pietersburg) area, people were eager to relocate because they considered the new location to be safer. Then, when gold was discovered at nearby Eersteling in 1871, the future of the town was secured. Polokwane (Pietersburg) was granted city status on 23 April 1992. Today, it also encompasses the Seshego community, a large township.

Polokwane is centrally situated and is the largest city close to the neighbouring countries of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. The climate in the area is superb, as the city lies on a plateau, 1 300 m above sea level. Moderate temperatures allow people to spend most of their time outdoors. It is a busy but friendly town, vibrant with the ethnic richness that is typical of Africa. It has excellent accommodation and sporting facilities and is a convenient distance from the Kruger National Park.

Significant icons in the area include the University of the North and Zion City at Moria. This is the main seat of the Zion Christian Church, a black denomination with the largest following in the country. During Easter weekend, many thousands of followers congregate at Moria.


 

Adventure And Sport

4×4 Trails: The ideal way to discover the natural and cultural attractions of the remote mountain area of Sekhukhuneland is by 4×4.

Hiking: There are also several hiking trails in the area and a good place to start would be the Polokwane Game Reserve just outside the city.

Hunting: The area around Polokwane is widely considered to be a premier hunting destination. The Polokwane Tourism Association can be contacted for more information.

Archaeology And Palaeontology

Bakone Malapa: This spot is also the site of some very interesting archaeological finds, such as a rock carving at the southern foot of the koppie (hillock), which indicates the presence of early San hunter-gatherers in the area.


 

Art And Crafts

Eloff Gallery: This gallery is located on the corner of Dorp and Jorissen Streets and contains original South African art, as well as the works of local Limpopo artists. The works on display include crafts, pottery and wooden sculptures.

Gemco Arts, Crafts and Curio Centre: The Centre exhibits and sells an astounding collection of semi-precious stones, ivory and jewellery.

Polokwane Art Museum: Situated in the Danie Hough Cultural Centre in the Library Gardens in Hans van Rensburg Street, this unique museum houses one of the country’s most extensive and elaborate municipal collections of artwork — more than 1 000 pieces.

Sculpture Art Park: Polokwane has more public sculptures per capita in its parks than any other city in the country. It also has the only open-air Sculpture Art Park in Africa, situated in the gardens of the Civic Square. The Art Park boasts the largest number of sculptures per square metre in the country. These magnificent sculptures are displayed to their best advantage at this attractive spot. The sculpture featuring a giraffe family has become a familiar landmark of the city.

Industrial sculptures: Some other-worldly industrial sculptures stand under camel thorn trees at the northern entrance to the town. This display commemorates the city’s significant industrial base.

Nelson Mandela Bust: The bust of former president Nelson Mandela, officially authorised by him, was recently unveiled in the city. Other very well-known sculptures in the town include a group statue of “Boere Orkes” musicians and that of a kwela mouth organ player.

The Place Art Gallery: Art in all its different facets can also be enjoyed at The Place Art Gallery on Biccard Street.


 

Cultural/Community Tourism

Bakone Malapa Northern Sotho Open-air Museum: This museum, 9km from Polokwane on the Chuniespoort Road, offers visitors a glimpse of the lifestyle and culture of the Bakone tribe, one of the three groups constituting the Northern Sotho people. The museum also depicts the cultural changes that have been brought about by the need to adapt to the modern world. The Bakone elders blessed the venture and the village museum was built with the help of the entire tribe, particularly of the older men and women, who could still remember what the old traditional buildings looked like.

The structures, erected against the slopes of a series of high “koppies” (hillocks), reflect a typical “kraal” (enclosure) of 250 years ago, inhabited by a chief with three wives. Each wife had her own separate household and separate “malapa” (huts) and the males had a special gathering place (kgoro) built for them. The modern unit, built to show the elements of cultural change in the architecture after contact with Western civilisation, consists of three structures, a sleeping hut, kitchen and living room.

Two of the “lapas” (traditional buildings) house a collection of exhibits that detail the Bakone’s history. Live demonstrations of traditional skills, such as fire-making, beer brewing, pottery and woodcarving, are given for visitors.

Guided tours are conducted at set times during the day. Listening to the guides is an experience not to be missed, since they know all about the culture, history and traditions of the people and have a unique way of sharing their knowledge with the audience.

A hiking trail has been laid out behind the museum, on which visitors can view 17 different species of indigenous trees and several archaeological relics. A curio shop and tea garden has also been established at the site.

Sekhukhuneland: Sekhukhuneland is renowned, not only for its lovely scenery, but also for the people who live here. Several 4×4 trails traverse the mountain stronghold in this remote corner of the Drakensberg region, where the African people still live in much the same way as their ancestors did.


 

Entertainment And Shopping

Bushcraft Trading Store: Interesting curios and handmade goods are on sale at this store. The Farmyard sells a wide selection of fresh vegetables, fruits and baked goods.

Meropa Entertainment and Casino Complex: The newly-established attraction has gambling facilities, as well as a bird, reptile and butterfly park and a traditional cultural village.

Shopping Centres: Middestad (“Mid-city”) Centre, at the corner of Market and Rissik Streets, contains a variety of modern shops, chain stores and fast-food outlets. A new shopping centre to the eastern part of the city, Savannah Centre, offers an excellent range of entertainment, restaurants and movies.


 

Fauna And Flora

Chuene Crocodile Farm: Learn all about crocodiles when you visit the Chuene Crocodile Farm, 34 km outside the city on the Chuniespoort Road.

Moletsi Nature Reserve: About 35 km north-west of Polokwane (Pietersburg) lies the 350-ha Moletsi Nature Reserve. The reserve has a “raptor restaurant”, in which a bird display takes place once a week. The display starts when fresh carcasses are put out and the birds give their fantastic aerial show, sweeping and soaring through the air and then swooping down to taste the “dish of the week”. The weekly feast is attended by the rare Cape vulture, endangered bali Ibis, lanner falcon, lappet-faced vulture, black eagle, yellowbilled Kite, maribou stork and migratory steppe eagle, to name a few. Game animals such as impala, klipspringer and kudu also roam the reserve.

Moletzie Bird Sanctuary: This safe haven is renowned for protecting the rare Cape Vulture. A large variety of birds can also be seen here.

Polokwane Bird and Reptile Park: The Park has a large variety of bird and reptile species and snake demonstrations are held daily.

Polokwane Bird Sanctuary: Situated off Road R521, this sanctuary is not only home to a large variety of colourful species of birds, (some 280 have been identified here) , but also has several picnic spots.

Polokwane Game Reserve: Polokwane has one of the largest municipal game reserves in the country, extending over an area of 3 200 ha. The reserve protects one of the last remaining localised vegetation types known as the Pietersburg Plateau False Grassland. Plant species vary from acacia trees and red grass to mountain aloes. The short-clawed lark is a well known inhabitant of the grass plains. The reserve is inhabited by more than 21 different species of game and has several hiking trails. Be on the lookout for white rhino, eland, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, zebra, impala, springbok, nyala and gemsbok. A farmhouse in the reserve provides overnight facilities, but the trail can be completed in one day. From town, take the Dorp Street extension to reach the reserve.


 

History And Architecture

City Hike: The Polokwane hiking trail is a hike through the central business area to see the architectural history and development of the city since the previous century.

Concentration Camp Cemetery: Positioned in Kobalt Street, the cemetery bears silent witness to the suffering of Afrikaans women and children, as well as of many black people (usually servants), who were incarcerated in concentration camps by the British during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 to 1902).

Eersteling Monument: The monument marks the site of the first gold crushing and gold power plant in the country. It is located 18 km from the city on the N1 National Road to Mokopane (Potgietersrus).

Gazebo: The elegant gazebo in the Civic Square was built in 1924 and is reminiscent of a bygone, more gracious era.

Gun Memorial: In 1893, at the end of the Makgoba War, all guns were confiscated and melted down. During the construction of the golf course in 1975, this mass of metal was discovered and was then established as a memorial. The memorial is situated in the gardens of the Library in Hans van Rensburg Street.

Horse Rail: The historic Horse Rail dates from the days when horses and carriages were the transport modes of the day. It is near the Post Office in Landdros Mare Street.

Hugh Exton Photographic Museum: More than 23 000 glass negatives taken during the first 50 years of the town’s existence bring history to life, picture by picture. This unique collection by the renowned local photographer, Hugh Exton, is lovingly preserved in the Old Dutch Reformed Church, the town’s first church, on the Civic Square. The church building was erected in 1890 and was renovated during the city’s centenary year.

Irish House: At the corner of Vorster and Market Streets stands a unique green building, a magnificent example of Victorian architecture, called “The Irish House”. In 1886, a businessman named Moschke started a business on the corner of Vorster and Market Streets. In 1906, a devastating fire destroyed nearly all the shops in the street. Moschke valiantly rebuilt the building, complete with clock tower, by using a prefabricated steel structure imported from Germany. Misfortune struck again when he was interned during the First World War. When he was released, his business was bankrupt and he had to sell it to James Albert Jones. Jones had a shop that sold clothes, material and shoes to all the fashion-conscious women of the town. Today, this building, since declared a national monument, houses the Polokwane Museum.

Polokwane Museum: The museum is housed in a unique old building of historical and architectural value (Irish House) on the corner of Vorster and Market Streets. The museum exhibits depict the history of the city from the Stone Age to the proclamation of the town in 1886 and the obtaining of municipal status in 1903. The story of the Irish House is part of the attraction of the museum.

Roman Catholic Church: Dating back to 1934, this stately building is regarded as one of the province’s finest architectural treasures.

Voortrekker Memorial: The abundance of sites commemorating the arrival of the Voortrekkers in the region is a reflection of the great influence that these people had on the development of the area. The Trichardt Memorial was built to commemorate the trek led by Louis Trichardt, an important Voortrekker leader, and the Voortrekker and Wagon Tracks Memorials remind one of their arduous trek (journey) into the hinterland.

Other Attractions

Zebediela and Letaba Estates: Approximately 60 km south and east of Polokwane, respectively, lie Zebediela and Letaba, the largest citrus estates in the world. The main harvesting periods are from April to June, when the navel oranges are ripe and August to October when the Valencia oranges are ready for picking.

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