Origins of colonial settlement

It is thought that Andries Hendrik Potgieter was one of the first Voortrekkers to settle in the Rustenburg area.

David Livingstone, the famous English explorer, came into conflict with Voortrekkers in the area in 1840. As part of the London Missionary Society, he reported that the Boers had been welcomed by the Bechuana and Mzilikazi, who had settled in the region after being expelled by Dingaan.

However, reports of good relations with Mzilikazi are contradictory. Paul Kruger, in his memoirs, describes how the Boers had crossed the Vaal River in an attempt to retrieve cattle and punish Mzilikazi, who Kruger accused of robbing and plundering Boer migrants. At Klein Buffelshoekthe Boers came upon Chief Magato, who told them that Mzilikazi had crossed the Crocodile River. Kruger also records in his memoirs that Magato later settled in Rustenburg.

Rustenburg itself was officially founded in 1851 as an administrative centre for the surrounding farming area, which produced citrus, tobacco, peanuts, sunflowers seeds, maize, wheat and cattle.

Kruger, having settled in Lydenburg, returned to Rustenburg when Lydenburg proved a difficult setting for inhabitants, with fever and cattle-sickness taking a heavy toll. His farm Boekenhoufontein can still be found today, having been turned into a museum in honour of the Afrikaner leader.

The Volksraad, or People’s Council of the Boer Republics, held a meeting in Rustenburg on 16 March 1852, and to inaugurate the event a Council House was erected, with construction beginning in January of the same year. A treaty with the English was ratified to avert civil war, but members of the Raad were divided over the agreement, some arguing that they needed to maintain distance from the British.

Pretorius and Potgieter were opposed to each other, but agreed to work together and submit to the authority of the Volksraad, which had approved the Sand River Convention. The meeting lasted for five days, and other agreements included improvements in methods of land surveying.

The Volksraad’s control of the territory was effective, and recognised by the inhabitants. When JF Spruit and H van der Linden (from Holland) asked the Volksraad if they could appoint a teacher for children in the village, the Volksraad postponed making a decision until after they were satisfied that the demand for schooling justified an appointment.

After their meeting in March 1852, Van der Linden was posted to Potchefstroom and Spruit to Rustenburg, and the running of a school was placed under the control of JS Schutte and Phillip Snyman, both members of the Kerkraad (Church Council). When Spruit fell out with the council, education was halted for a year or two. In the meantime, Paul Kruger had established a school on his farm Waterkloof.

In September 1852, Landdrost PJ van Staden reported to the Commandant-General that, in his opinion, some of the missionaries at Marico were guilty of High Treason. He further accused some English hunters of supplying the Bamangwato chief Sechele with guns, and pointed out that recent conflicts with the chief were a direct consequence of this.

The Rustenburg Council of War decided to send a delegation to Sekwate to warn him and other chiefs against 'smuggling' weapons. It was at this time that Paul Kruger was appointed a Field Cornet, and he was part of the delegation that attended the Sand River Convention, as well as the delegation to Sechele.

At Kolobeng, the Boers who visited the house of David Livingstone 'found a complete workshop for repairing guns' and ammunition which he was storing for Sechele ­ in breach of the Sand River Convention. They confiscated the weapons, and were thereafter on bad terms with Livingstone.

Although the scene of the conflict moved towards the north, the War Council remained on high alert, enforcing a conscription policy that made it mandatory for all adult men to serve in the military.

Records of state expenditure reflect that the administration was becoming functional, registering farms (charging a fee for this service), levying taxes, procuring farms, and collecting revenues for weddings.  The first shop was opened, an event mentioned in the minutes of the NGK meeting of 4 March 1853.

In November 1853, the White population stood at 800, Potchefstroom’s at 2000, and the entire Transvaal Republic at 18 000.

Van Staden, until August 1853 acting Landdrost, was appointed on a permanent basis, a position he held for a further 27 years.

The reverend Dirk van der Hoff was appointed to become a pastor, but the location for his services was not decided until after he arrived in Potchefstroom in May 1853. After a meeting in Rustenburg in August 1853, they accepted the decision to post Van der Hoff to Rustenburg. A more contentious issue came up when the council debated its relation to the Cape Synod, and the majority voted to remain independent of the body, a decision which led to the formation of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Dutch emigrant Jacobus Stewart, in his book The Hollander Afrikaners and their Republic in South Africa, published in Amsterdam in 1854, describes the village as being more beneficial to farmers than areas such as Potchefstroom, and he mentions that a church, able to hold a thousand congregants, added to the beauty of the southern slope of the Magaliesberg, even if only 30 houses made up the little village at the time of writing.

In June 1854, a meeting in Rustenburg decided on a minister for Lydenburg, as well as to establish a congregation south of Rustenburg, to be named after the father of Hendrik Pretorius – Pretoriusstad. Pretoria came into existence in 1855, destined to become the capital of the Transvaal Republic, and eventually of the Republic of South Africa – both before and after1994.

In 1855, publisher Justus Perthes of Gotha in Germany published a map of Natal and South African Free States.  He wrote: “The country at present contains five larger settlements.” These were Potchefstroom (100 houses, between 600 and 700 inhabitants; Rustenburg (30 houses and a church); Lydenburg;Ohrigstad; and Zoutpansberg.

In March 1855, elections were held by the Volksraad, with Rustenburg allocated three of 16 members. Paul Kruger was appointed as a member of a commission to draft new laws in November, and a general election in March 1856 increased the number of Volksraad members to 23, with six from Rustenburg. On 9 March 1857, the Transvaal Vierkleur (four-colour flag) was raised for the first time ever - in Rustenburg. A meeting on 2 February 1858 signed signed into being a Constitution, which began: “This State shall bear the name of South African Republic.

It also marked the end of Rustenburg’s centrality for Boer political affairs. Section II of the Constitution reads: “Potchefstroom, situated on the Mooi River, shall be the Capital of the Republic and Pretoria the Seat of Government.

The Vierkleur was accepted as the flag of the Republic, and a coat of arms was designed.

Mining activity began, and was intermittent, until the platinum mining industry developed in the 1940s to become the backbone of the local economy.

Civil war in the Transvaal

The Boers were far from united in the early 1860s. When Marthinus Wessels Pretorius was elected president of the Orange Free State as well as president of the South African Republic, Stephanus Schoeman led an anti-Pretorius faction. At a meeting held in Rustenburg on 8 October 1860, organised by Schoeman and Andries Pretorius, the crowd decided that Pretorius should be installed as president of the Republic, dismissed acting president JH Grobbelaar, and appointed Schoeman as Pretorius’s Transvaal deputy. Paul Kruger objected to this proposal.

By 1862, there were effectively two acting presidents, each the leader of rival groups vying for control of the Republic.  From January 1864, Rustenburg was drawn into the conflict. Officials had fled to Rustenburg, and the army of Jan Viljoen Marico marched on Rustenburg, but decided to set up camp when they learned that Kruger had arrived in Rustenburg.

A clash outside Rustenburg saw Kruger victorious, and the opposing sides came to an agreement, and a fresh presidential election was organised.

The first postmaster was appointed in 1864, and an attempt was made to organise the legal profession when the Volksraad was presented with a petition asking that notaries and agents be registered so that their services could be regulated and standardised.

District Attorney Julius Franck also made a request for a foreign passport, since he planned to travel to France to woo Frenchmen to settle in Rustenburg.

By the late 1860s, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, was mooting plans to unify the colonies, the Boer republics and independent African kingdoms into a single state, in line with British imperial designs. Since he was unable to achieve the goal politically, the British moved to annex the Transvaal.

British annexation

A proclamation of annexation was announced in Pretoria’s Church Square on 12 April 1877, and Rustenburg became the first town where the British flag was hoisted. The burghers accepted the occupation without resistance, and when Sir Theophilus Shepstone, the former Secretary for Native Affairs in Natal, toured the Transvaal, he was well received in the town.

By May, the Volksraad sent a delegation, including Paul Kruger and EJP Jorissen, to England to put forth their grievances against British rule. They met with Carnarvon but failed to convince him. Another delegation in 1878 presented a petition with 6500 signatures, but Britain remained unmoved.

Shepstone, now administrator of the Transvaal, found his job a difficult one since cooperation from the Boers was not forthcoming, and the British failed to extract taxes from Sekhukhune and control the Zulus. The annexation was becoming a political, economic and military headache for the British, and they promised the Boers some form of self-government to try to ameliorate the situation.

By 1880, the victory of the Liberal Party in England brought hope among the Boers that the new administration would be more favourably inclined to grant independence, but new Prime Minister WE Gladstone insisted on British rule. The Boers then decided to go to war, and in December 1880, Kruger, PietJoubert and MW Pretorius were elected to the leadership. On 13 December, the triumvirate declared the Transvaal independent and the first shots were fired in Potchefstroom.

Several towns were put under siege by the Boers, including Potchefstroom, Pretoria, Marabastad, Lydenburg, Rustenburg, Standerton and Wakkerstroom.

The British suffered heavy losses, as they had underestimated the Boers. Their defeat at the Battle of Majuba, where they lost about 200 soldiers, was a turning point.

The Siege of Rustenburg began on 27 December 1880, to prevent British soldiers from taking part in the war. A British fort was situated just outside the town, at the foot of the Magaliesberg. The siege began after the British soldiers refused to surrender the fort.

By 30 March 1881, the siege ended after a peace deal had been signed. The Transvaal was granted self-government, subject to British suzerainty. The Pretoria Convention on 3 August 1881 formalised the terms of peace.

On a less political note, writer H Rider Haggard visited Rustenburg during this time, and made notes on the terrain, especially a cave, which he immortalised as the "pulpit" in his famous King Solomon's Mines, which was written a decade later.

The South African Republic – Volksraad

In 1883, Paul Kruger, a resident of Rustenburg, was elected President of the Transvaal.

From 1883, Indians began to settle in Rustenburg, and Ali Ismail opened a store, the first to be owned by an Indian. The Volksraad was bombarded with complaints about the presence of Indians in Transvaal towns, but despite restrictive legislation enacted in 1885, Indians continued to settle in the Transvaal.

Several Englishmen also settled in the town, opening businesses, stores and providing services, namely a carpenter and a few blacksmiths. Scots names also appeared in the town’s almanac, and one Mormon gentleman decided to settle in Rustenburg with his eight wives.

The beginnings of modernisation became evident at this time, and the old water-driven mill was replaced by a steam mill. A small tobacco factory also showed signs of early industrial methods, and the first telegraph line reached the town on 22 March 1888.

The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand stoked a growing gold fever, and numbers of prospectors began to converge on the district of Rustenburg. The increased economic activity meant that financial institutions were needed, and the National Bank of the South African Republic opened its first branch in 1894.

During the Jameson Raid, many farmers were called up to serve as commandos. More than 100 men under Commandant Piet Steenekamp rounded up the invaders, who had failed to cut the telegraph lines from Zeerust to Rustenburg.

Plans for a railway line to Rustenburg began after a petition was sent to the Volksraad in 1893. Although the request was turned down, a renewed demand in 1896 found a sympathetic response.

Other forms of transport were seriously hampered by a rinderpest epidemic affecting the entire subcontinent from 1897. Despite joint efforts by Colonial and Republican governments, about 4,5-million cattle died, bankrupting farmers and halting transport, which was almost totally reliant on cattle.

Natural disasters were not confined to this epidemic, as swarms of locusts destroyed maize crops in April 1898, and Rustenburg was also hit by a flu epidemic. Earlier, in April 1863, an earthquake damaged Reverend Postma’s church.
But another, man-made disaster was in the offing: relations between Boer and Brit had reached a stage that made war inevitable.

The South African War

As storm clouds gathered and Uitlanders began leaving the Transvaal for the Cape, the Boers began to mobilise. On 11 October 1899, war was declared, pitting the British against the two Boer republics. After initial conventional battles, many of which the British lost, the Boers changed tactics because the British called for reinforcements, outnumbering the Boers.

After a meeting with Kruger in Waterval Bowen, the Boers, taking direction from Jan Smuts, decided to use guerrilla tactics to continue their resistance to British domination. For two weeks Smuts organised Boer resistance in the area after Col.Baden-Powell occupied Rustenburg on 15 June 1900. Ladysmith, Kimberly and Mafeking came under siege.

The Siege of Mafikeng was a crushing defeat for the Boers, and lasted for 217 days. Today, an obelisk stands that bears the name of the 212 British soldiers who died in the siege, although Boer losses were significantly higher.

This siege was also the subject of Solomon T. Plaatjie’s Mafikeng Diary: A Black Man’s View on a White Man’s War. Plaatjie was one of an elite group of Black intellectuals at the time, and worked as a translator. He also wrote another book, called Boer War Diary, which details African involvement in the war, which has often been overlooked in the history of the war.

Blacks in the Rustenburg area, like Plaatjie, were active participants in the war, many as labourers, but also as scouts, wagon drivers, spies, and some armed combatants. The Fokeng of Chief Mokgatle, the Kwena of Chief Lerotoli and the Phalane of Ramakoka were friendly with the Boers, who left their cattle with these groups while they were fighting.

The Kgafela-Kgatla, on the other hand, actively fought on the side of the British. The Bakgatla from the Pilanesberg and from Mochudi in Bechuanaland, armed with Martini-Henry rifles, drove the Boers from their farms in areas between the Crocodile and Elands Rivers, and took their cattle to Mochudi.

But it was the scorched earth policy of Lord Kitchener that forced the Boers to come to an agreement. The concentration camps, many in the Rustenburg area, saw 26 370 White women and children and 15 000 Black people perish.

British administration

After the war, the British effectively controlled the entire surface of the four provinces that make up South Africa. In 1902, they divided the Transvaal into five regions, each run by Native Commissioners. The Western Division, which included the Magaliesberg, was controlled by a Native Commissioner based in Rustenberg.

The BaKgetla were forced to return the farms and cattle they had taken from the Boers and their guns were confiscated under new laws that forced Boers and Africans to disarm, although the Boers could apply to have their arms returned. After 1905, Blacks were allowed to buy land, which they did on a large scale on a communal basis, but most of the land was unfit for agriculture, and suitable only for stock grazing.

Whites also acquired land in the area. According to JC Smuts in his biography of his father, Jan Christian Smuts, Smuts bought a farm in the crater of Pilandersberg, Buffelspan, because he was attracted to its geological features.

The English philanthropist Emily Hobhouse, who drew attention to the plight of Boers and Africans in the concentration camps, initiated Spinning and Weaving Workshops, one of which was established in Rustenburg. Designed to rehabilitate former inmates of the concentration camps and provide employment for young girls and women, participants produced tweed and other fabrics on home-made looms.

During this time, the town finally began to establish routes to other major centres, and opened its railway link to Pretoria on 28 December 1906.

A severe drought in the area saw the failure of maize crops, and many young Africans migrated to the Rand to work on gold mines, which paid far better wages than the farmers. The subsequent labour shortage became a continuing problem for Boer farmers, who were beginning to grow citrus and tobacco on a large scale.

The beginnings of modern industry

As the tobacco industry began to make real progress, the production of Veldt Cigarettes by New African Industrials Ltd proceeded rapidly. The company described itself as “Tobacco, Cigarette and Snuff Manufacturers”, and the brand won a slew of prizes at various agricultural exhibitions, notably at one in Cape Town in 1907 and at the Rand Show in 1908. The United Tobacco Company also began operating in the area, buying tobacco from farmers.

The company Fusslein & Vickers established a large store, a hotel, and a steam corn mill, but dealt principally in tobacco, put on the market under their Southern Cross brand.

K Machol & Co was established on the southern slopes of the Magaliesberg in 1891, processing and manufacturing local tobaccos for sale in South Africa as well as London and Berlin. The plant was modern and in line with current standards, capable of processing 10 000lbs of tobacco a day.

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