Focus on Heidelberg, Gauteng, South Africa

During the month of March 1965 America's two astronauts traveled around the earth three times in a few hours and landed safely; the Republic spliced its first atom; at the Education College the men's hostel with nine stories used the elevator for the first time ever in Heidelberg! In the light of such happenings it is difficult to imagine the fact that lions was a threat in this area a century ago, that our ancestors traveled by ox-wagon to Potchefstroom for a Holy Communion and that Heidelberg had no name. And it was like that. If you read a bit further you'll read how Heidelberg became Heidelberg.

The Region Gets Its Name

According to J. G. D. Bronkhorst it is the company of genl. Hendrik Potgieter that claims to have given the name Suikerbosrand to the vicinity of Heidelberg. The reason therefore is exceptional. He writes about is as follows: On the 24 of May 1836 I leave Sandriver together with Roelof Janse, Lourens Janse van Vuuren, Carel Cilliers en Abraham Swanepoel, as well as another group existing out of H. Potgieter, J. Robbertse, Adriaan de Lange, Daniël Opperman, H. Nieuwenhuizen and Christiaan Liebenberg. From Sandriver we traveled in twelve shifts over the grasslands until we reach a hill (5 June). Here we get the real sugarcane to grow and give the name of the hill: Suikerbosrand. Firewood was scares. The reason for this name giving never became known. Today it is generally known that the Suikerbosrand has its name due to the sugar bush that grows on the hills.

In 1882, thus almost a half century later, Rev. Frans Lion Cachet writes that the name was derived from the sugar- bushes and not because of the sugarcane.

That the name was in any case known as Suikerbosrand in 1837 is proofed by a quote from Rev. Erasmus Smit diary where he mentioned that Piet Retief, on the 17 November 1837, received a letter from G. Maritz out of "Suikerbosrand ".

The First Residents of Suikerbosrand

It is clear that as early as 1936 Voortrekkers pitched camp in the vicinity of Heidelberg. At the recent Blinkpoort and Lagerspoort, approximately six miles south of the recent town. It was probably because the area was relatively save. Although traces of native camps were found as far as Greylingstad, the area was free of danger in those times. From here there went out reconnoitering and punitive expeditions. According to Preller the Jouberts initially belonged to the Potgieter-trek. In any case they are also found in the Suikerbosrand. In a Bible that Gert Lukas Joubert himself given to the States museum in 1899, is a report of the one and other that he has written. He writes that he was a Voortrekker that arrived in Lagerspoort in the year 1937.

According to Prof. S. P. Engelbrecht Suikerbosrand is the area in Transvaal where the whites first settled. Already in 1852 the traveler S. Gassiot found many farms within a few miles from each other, in the region. There was thus already in the early history of the white population, permanent settlement north of the Vaal, in the vicinity of recent Heidelberg.

Many of the first white residents came out of Baeufort-Wes. One of the families was Gabriel Stephanus Maré with his spouse Anna Margarietha (born Du Plessis) and their children. From one of the sons, Jacob Philippus, we'll here a lot more later on. They came out of Nieuweveld, Beaufort-Wes. Prof. Engelbrecht also mentions Jacobs, Van Der Wetshuizens, Smit's, etc. Two families that are known from the earliest times are P. F. Strydom and David Jacobs, respectively a deacon and an elder for the Suikerbosrand-district from the congregation in Potchefstroom. In the beginning the church services has been held on the farm Kafferskraal that belonged to P. F. Strydom.

The Region In The Earliest Time

One has difficulty to from an idea of how the world looked in those times. Rev. A. J. Louw on one occasion told how Heidelberg looked at the time of the Voortrekkers. One of the schoolchildren from that time told that in the morning ostrich's dances on the other side of Blesbuk, with huge herds of Blesbuk and springbuk's. And how the children then danced like the ostriches in front of the school. In the evening one could here the lions roar in Blesbuk and it was a big joke for the children to scare the teacher by saying: "Teacher, hear the lions we should go".

Heidelberg is Established

Some of the farms that were inhabited by the first residents are Goedgedacht that belonged to N. H. Jacobs, Houtpoort to G. G. Jacobs; Kafferskraal to P. F. Strydom, Langlaagte became the property of D. J. J. Strydom in 1859. In the same year it became the property of his son, Ocker Andries Strydom, and his son in law, J. L. Venter. Eendracht, halve an hour on horseback northwest of Heidelberg, belonged to Jacob P. Maré. On this farm the NG church had their services for a long time.

It is the farm Langlaagte that was divided into plots on which the town was brought about. The history about that is practically as follows: In 1859 when O. A. Strydom and J. L. Venter became the owners of Langlaagte, they transported a small piece, later known as plot No. 92, on the name of Heinrich J. F. Ueckermann. It is the piece of ground on the corner of Church- and Ueckermann Street opposite the post office and church where the recent Land bank is. That same time Ueckermann spurred Strydom and Venter on to lie out a town and he himself will be their agent.

On 27 August 1860 they direct a letter to the House of Assembly. The House of Assembly referred the application to the Executive Council. But Venter and Strydom send another letter to the Executive Council to give power to their application. The Executive Council informs the signatories of the letter that the content thereof was contradicting with the existing laws and therefore it was refused.

On 15 February 1866 a trio assonance petitions, dated 2 January 1866, with a huge number of signatures was sent to the Executive Council to declare their "Kerkplaats", now named Heidelberg, as a town. In the petitions the names of O. A. Strydom and J. L. Venter was quoted as the former owners of the newly disposed town. In the minutes of the Executive Council, with reference to the application, we read that the Council decided to declare Heidelberg as a town and to provide a Judge.

The House of Assembly validated the decision of the Executive Council on 28 March 1866. It can thus be presumed that Heidelberg was officially proclaimed to be a town on this date. On 10 July 1866 the appointment of F. K. Maré as first Judge of Heidelberg was made known in the government gazette. He was, with the exception of a short time during the First Freedom Struggle, the Judge of Heidelberg until his death in 1895.

Re the establishing of the town there was a few interesting things that earn exceptional mention. The first is that both churches were established under the name Suikerbosrand and later spontaneously Heidelberg. The second is that the petitions that were sent to the Executive Council was made on the 2nd January 1866. It was therefore just after the Holy Communion of the newly established D. R. church, the opening of the cross church, and the first consistory meeting on the 1st January. The making of the petitions was therefore definitely made when the communicants were still together.

The Founder of Heidelberg

In the old "Kloofkerkhof" the following epitaph was found: "Sacred to the memory of Heinrich Julius Friedrich Ueckermann, born in Mecklenburg-Germany, 20th July1827, died 24th July 1883. Erected to the loving memory of the founder of Heidelberg. By his sons."

In 1849 Heinrich Ueckermann, as a twenty two-year-old man, came to South Africa and opened a business in Pietermaritzburg.

Two years later he married miss. Elizabeth Mason. After the birth of his first son he and his family moved to the midland passed Harrismith as far as Pretoria, Lydenburg, Origstad and Soutpansberg. This journey of him was very adventurous. On one occasion one of his wagons filled with elephant teeth was captured at Sebedela by a native tribe. With the help of a Boer party he was able to retrieve the stolen goods. Later he went back to Pietermaritzburg. The voice to the north was to strong, so not long after he took the wagon-road. During this travel he stayed on the farm of Jacob Maré, Eendracht. Here his son Robert was born in a privy.

While Ueckermann stayed here, he went hunting in the hills and found a small group of emigrants from Uitenhage, on the bank of the Blesbokspruit, on a neighboring farm, Langlaagte. He found that Langlaagte was strategically situated for merchants. The big transport roads from the west to the east and the south to the north crossed here. He considered it as a very suitable entrepôt. Because he needed to come to a standstill with his bigger growing family, he bought a piece of ground from above mentioned Strydom and Venter, on which he built a house and a shop. The farm probably reminded him of his University City and therefore he called it Heidelberg. His son Robert later told that his father hoped that Heidelberg would also become an educational institute in South Africa. In this respect he was really a seer, because Heidelberg developed as a popular educational institute.

Ueckermann, a well-educated man, was respected and had a leading role in Heidelberg as advisor. Later he also became architect. He represented Heidelberg in the House of Assembly and was also a member the Executive Council.

In Ueckermann's hospitable home many passer-by found shelter - who ever it might be: hunters, merchants, travelers or preachers. Rev. Cachet also overnights there on one occasion. So it happened that T. W. Fannin, an Irish surveyor, in 1865 came to look for a job. He found residence at Ueckermann and an order to survey the town into plots. Unfortunately he wasn't busy for long when he had a deadly attack of malaria. Ueckermann nursed him in his house until his death on 19 December 1865. He was the first person to be buried in the Kloofkerkhof.

The Development of Heidelberg

During The First Years

And now, how did the town more or less look at its establishment? Rev. Frans Lion Cachet tells what his impression was in June 1865. He was traveling from Utrecht to Rustenburg with tired oxen and his road went through Heidelberg. Oxen weren't available so that he traveled suffering and with great difficulty until he reached Heidelberg on the Suikerbosrand the next evening. There was in South Africa in that stage three Heidelberg's: One in the Cape, one in the Free State and one here. If the name was so popular for a town's name or for the sake of the Heidelberg, "kategismus", He doesn't know. He said that he had difficulty in the dark too see which were houses and which was rock, because the houses were built on the mountainside. Ueckermann friendly received him, but he couldn't found any oxen.

Three years later Rev. and Ms. N. J. Van Waterlo came to Heidelberg. Ms. Van Waterlo wrote to her mother in law in the Netherlands saying that she can't say much about Heidelberg, because they have been here for a short time now. She says that it is a simple little town with not a lot of people to mix with, but the Boers are very good for them.

At a later occasion rev. Cachet wrote in detail about Heidelberg and wasn't so flattering. The town Heidelberg hangs on the east hill of the Suikerbosrand about 4 800 feet above sea level. It is seen by everything that the farm is not lay out by the Boer and is also not meant to be a Boer town, but a merchant farm. The town exists of 30 to 40 houses, the usual government buildings, normal sized shops and one church. The town is of invaluable strategical value. It is seen in the fact that the government established their headquarters and the seat.

Carter that traveled through Heidelberg just after the "First Freedom Struggle" had a totally different view of Heidelberg. He even went so far as to comparing it so one of the Swedish towns. He says the following: "Built on the side of a hill with hills on the background, and the Blesbokspruit running in a semicircle round the town, the place is charmingly situated and, with its white houses on the green slope, has the appearance more of a Swiss village than a South African town, sweltering in some sheltered hollow.

Strictly speaking Heidelberg is a market square surrounded by houses; and the Market Square is a space which look as if it had been somewhat encroached upon a very sturdy, plainly-built brick building, which but for its cruciform shape you might mistake for a barn. Two square pillars of a heavy order with a very small bell suspended from a cross-bar between them, form the only adjunct to the only ecclesiastical edifice in Heidelberg, unless the vicarage, parsonage or pastor's house, at the side can be considered as part and parcel of the church. Behind the church you must walk if you want to get a glimpse of the store of the locally well-known Mr. MacLaren and other places of business, so gigantic in its proportions is the sacred building, which, no matter which way you go, seems constantly to assert itself and, force its presence on your mind - a splendid example of the church militant stone, because the capital of the South African Republic has its foundations laid on that enduring substance, typical or non-typical of the stability of the new power to be established in these regions."

From now on Carter is somewhat sarcastic in his comparison between the recovered Boer republic and the foregoing English rule. He further says: "In the center of the Market Square is a stone basin, large enough for a small fort, but which, I am told, was erected as a pedestal for a sun-dial. Since its creation, however, a very small tree has been trying hard to live in it. The Dutch would say its melancholy and feeble attempts to thrive are emblematic of the British rule in Transvaal. When the now almost withered stick is uprooted and a tree of liberty planted, I suppose within a short time we may expect to see the marketplace entirely covered by its refreshing shade, under which wagons, bringing on Sundays their freight of worshippers for the big church, will be stretched out; and which on week-days a thriving, roaring, ever-increasing trade will be done, fostered by the new regime until prosperity and fatness gladdens the land and make it the one coveted spot on the face of nature. These pleasant visions are none of my picturing, by those of a more hopeful people…

Touching Heidelberg, a subject from which I have wandered, there is on one side of the Market Square, the offices, or public offices, comprising two rooms of medium size and an entrance hall or passage, which does duty as the post office. A tin building, semidetached, about as large as a sentry box, was formerly the telegraph office.

To the rear of this is the Jail, or prison, which might be taken for a lock-up stable or any other outhouse belonging to a private dwelling. Though there are some buildings constructed of stone, the majority is of brick… Some of the houses…are of no mean order of design; indeed constructed with skill and taste… The town is well supplied by water running from the hills at the rear towards Pretoria. The inhabitants, I am told, numbered about 250, the Scotch element predominating. Clannish but not cantankerous, they are noted for their open-heartedness and hospitality, and with Boers and English alike they have made friends no less by their geniality than by their independence of character…

Heidelberg grew very slowly during the years. After a hundred years it is still no more than a town. In comparison to the other towns and cities around Heidelberg that was established years later, it is small and insignificant. It is no industrial center. Take away the educational institutes and almost nothing is left.

And yet Heidelberg is known throughout the land. Dr. A. G. Visser a celebrated singer of the Suikerbosrand brought a big measure of acquaintance.