This town between the Waterberg and Strydpoort mountains traces its beginnings to 1852 when Voortrekker leader Hendrik Potgieter established a town and named it Vredenburg (‘town of peace’) to commemorate the reconciliation between himself and Andries Pretorius. In 1858 the Transvaal Government decided to rename the village Pietpotgietersrust in honour of Piet Potgieter who was killed during the siege of Makapansgat in 1854. The town was abandoned because of continuous raids by the black tribes and the toll taken by Malaria, but was reestablished in 1880, when the name was changed to Potgietersrust, dropping the ‘t‘ in 1939.
Currently the town is named after the tribal leader of the Tlou people.
The most important crops are maize, grain sorghum, sunflower seeds, groundnuts, wheat, cotton, citrus fruit and even rice. Tin is the most important mineral mined in the district. Deposits of coal, platinum, zinc, titanium and vanadium have also been established.
This simple but important little monument stands under two large camel thorn trees beside the national road 16km south of Mokopane (Potgietersrus), just where the road used to cross the Nyl River by a drift. It commemorates a murder perpetrated on the Boers.
In September 1854, 28 men, woman and children on their way south from Schoemansdal in the Soutpansberg, out spanned and rested under the camel thorn trees at the fording place of the Nyl river. Suddenly they were set upon by a group of Tlou warriors of Chief Makapan (Mak6pane, Makhapane) and Mapela. One can only guess at the reasons for these tragic events, but it seems that a smoldering feud existed between Makapan’s people and Hermanus Potgieter (brother of A.H. Potgieter, Voortrekker leader). Some historians have suggested that the Tlou tribes took offense at some unwitting breach of local custom by the Voortrekkers led by Hermanus Potgieter. The massacre was especially gruesome. Tradition has it that the children were smashed against the trunks of the 2 camel thorn trees, which have been enclosed with the monument. Potgieter is believed to have been flayed alive and his skin used to make a drum skin. A government force under Piet Potgieter, son of Andries Potgieter, marched against Makapan who, with his entire tribe of 2 000 followers, took refuge in the caves. The incident led to the Tlou being besieged at Makapansgat by a force of Voortrekkers seeking revenge.
The Makapan’ Caves are situated in a valley on the farm Makapansgat, 23km northeast of Mokopane (Potgietersrus). They are of the greatest historical and scientific importance. Visitors are allowed on the sites only if they have a permit from the Bernard Price Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand. The history of the caves is closely related to the events described in connection with Moorddrif. The caves have been proclaimed a historical monument and part of the valley in which they are located is now a natural and scientific monument.
According to Pretorius, the caves were 600m long and between 150 and 200m wide. These limestone caves, which communicated with one another and really formed one enormous cave, which had two entrances in a cliff overlooking a steep kloof; these Makapan fortified by means of rough walls of stone. Makapan thought he and his followers would survive on the natural water and the supplies of grain brought with them. Ensconced in the caves and protected by them as well as by cross-walls and dark passages, they were in a position to beat off any attack so the Boers decided not to risk an attack but to besiege the cave.
It was during this siege that Pieter Potgieter, venturing too near the entrance, was shot and fell into the trench where a defender was hiding. Field-cornet Paul Kruger then aged 29, coolly ignoring the danger to himself, went in under heavy fire, which also gave a smoke screen, and rescued the body of his leader.
After a siege of 25 days the defenders were so reduced by starvation that the Boers were able to take the cave with little trouble and the tribe was practically exterminated.
Many years after these dramatic happenings, more peaceful events brought even greater fame to the Makapan’s Caves and others in the vicinity. It was discovered that they contain deposits of great scientific importance.
The cave known as the Cave of Hearths adjoins the historic cave and indeed at one stage was a part of it. Prehistoric men occupied it in very early times. The deposits accumulated as a result of many thousands of years of human occupation. Scientific excavations in these deposits by the Archaeological survey revealed one of the most complete series of archaeological remains known, in which successive periods are represented and documented by stratified layers.
The earliest inhabitants of the Cave of Hearths were men of the Early Stone Age who specialized in making hand-axes, cleavers and other relatively large tools. They were eventually forced by extensive rock falls to vacate the cave. When a period of instability ended Middle Stone Age men who practiced the Pietersburg Culture took possession of the cave and lived in it until later Stone Age people who were probably akin to the Bushman in turn succeeded them. When these people abandoned the cave, people who were familiar with the art of making pottery and smelting and working metals, the Bantu, occupied it.
About one kilometer below the Makapan’s Caves and the Cave of Hearths are the caves known as ‘the lime works’. Here the original caves were filled with dripstone and stalagmite formations as well as breccias like those found at Sterkfontein. These deposits were exploited on a large scale for the manufacture of lime. After the lime-works had closed down Professor Raymond Dart of the University of the Witwatersrand was able to undertake extensive scientific researche in collaboration with the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research and the Archaeological Survey.
Unfortunately the public cannot be permitted to visit the caves. Not only are the caves extremely dangerous on account of the possibility of serious rock-falls, but they are seriously infested with the fungus or mold which causes cave sickness – an illness which has already been contracted by several of the scientists who have worked in them.
Arend Dieperink Museum
The town’s cultural history museum, named after Arend Dieperink, its founder and first director, contains many items of local interest, including letters by President Burgers, a bible once owned by the family of Andries Potgieter, an organ built in Canada in 1860 and previously used in the St. Alban’s Cathedral in Pretoria, an extensive collection of wagon builders’ tools. Outside the museum is an aloe garden with 4 000 specimens of more than 212 species.
Zoological Gardens Breeding Farm
The National Zoological Gardens of Pretoria run breeding farm for both exotic and indigenous animals north of the town. It is one of two animal breeding centres; the other is near Lichtenburg in the North-West Province. Its mission is to ensure the survival of a variety of endangered exotic species. Visitors can drive through the park and see indigenous and exotic animals. You will find the Scimitar Horn Oryx, Addax and Letswe in the park.