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Burgersdorp is an amazing place

20 May 2011

When we travelled down to the Western Cape at the end of April, we passed through the small town of Burgersdorp, and were impressed with it, as it seemed a very pleasant place. The houses were neat and well painted, and the streets were clean. Even the more workasday buildings at the industrial end of town looked clean and well-maintained. Since we had a long way to go, we didn’t stop, but on the way back we had the chance to spend a night there on 17 April, so we booked in at a bed and breakfast place called “The Nook”, run by Anita Joubert, and then went for a walk in the town.

Main Street, Burgersdorp, Eastern Cape, as seen approaching from Aliwal North

We walked up to the main street and took photos of the houses there that had attracted us when we first passed through the town three weeks earlier. Then there was a mission house, which was labelled as a museum. Unfortunately they were restoring it, so much of the stuff was just piled up higgledy piggledy, but we could see enough to know that it had been the original Dopper seminary and John de Gruchy had in fact told us that the town had been associated with the Doppers. It had a couple of pictures with Dirk Postma, with captions that were enough to show more about the history of the Doppers than all the church history books I had read ever read on the subject. In most of them the origin of the Doppers
is shrouded in mystery, but here were the facts in a nutshell, which lay in Postma’s own history.

The old Dopper seminary in Burgersdorp, now a museum

Dirk Postma was a minister in a strict Calvinist sect in the Netherlands, and when he came to South Africa disagreed with the Reformed Church in the Transvaal, and formed an independent congregation in Rustenburg, and then started a seminary of rthe Gereformeerde Kerk in Burgersdorp, where the denomination was nicknamed “Doppers”.

We went on down the main street, and saw a sign pointing to a restaurant, but it seemed more like a cafe, and we bought cold drinks there. There were three Afrikaans teenagers at the counter, and one of them, a plump boy of about 13, was exceedingly polite, and greeted us with old-fashioned small-town friendliness. Around the corner was the Dopper Church.

Gereformeerde (Dopper) Kerk, Burgersdorp

Around the next corner was the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk, which was architecturally far more interesting than the Dopper church, though less interesting historically. It had a kind of dome, and was built of stone instead of just being plastered.

Burgersdorp: Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk

At the next corner was a bunch of ANC youth, singing songs, and as we turned the corner they had a kind of float pulled by a tractor, and were preparing for a procession to stir up interest in the local government elections the next day, and eventually the procession set off, about 20 cars and bakkies following the tractor up Kerk Street, and then back down the main drag, singing and waving flags and bouncing on the bakkies so that the springs were creaking, and a couple of them nearly fell off. They were a very jolly crowd.

Burgersdorp: ANC youth procession to drum up support for local government elections

In the town square, among all the election posters, was one advertising the Dopper fete. The square was a sort of microcosm of South Africa. At the south side was a monument to struggle heroes, mainly young people who had been killed in the 1980s. Nearby was an Afrikaans taal monument, with a statue that had originally been erected in 1881, and then defaced by “the enemies of the Afrikaner people” in the Anglo-Boer War, and unearthed from a grave in King William’s Town, and brought back to Burgersdorp, where it was re-erected with a replica of the original.

Burgersdorp: Taal monument with struggle monument next to i9t

And then, on the other side of the square was a structure that was probably intended to be a drinking fountain, erected by the citizens of the town on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It was a cast-iron affair, and if it was ever a fountain, it wasn’t working now, though it was surrounded by a kind of moat in which a couple of paper cups were floating.

Burgersdorp: monument for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubiulee, 1897

Built into the fountain was the injunction to “Keep the pavement dry”, which made us wonder what it was supposed to mean.

Queen Victoria Jubilee Monument, Burgersdorp (detail)

And so it was all there in one place, monuments reflecting the sentiments of three sections of the South African population who had fought each other bitterly in the past: British imperialism, Afrikaner nationalism and African nationalism. Now they are all there in the same grassy town square.

The monuments represent the violent past, and there were the youth, representing the future. There are the quiet and polite Afrikaner youth, and the jollity and enthusiasm of the ANC youth promoting the elections. We wouldn’t be home in time to vote in the local government elections. It would be easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the youth, and to vote for the ANC, but then I think of Jacob Zuma, and the thought goes a little bit sour. Zuma may be a consummate political wheeler-dealer, but an inspiring leader he isn’t, not like Nelson Mandela, or even Thabo Mbeki.

We walked back up Kerk Street, and passed another church, Christ Church, presumably Anglican, built in 1861, though the chancel was added later. It was whitewashed, and matched the older local houses, and it too, like many of the other buildings in  the town, with the exception of the likes of the ubiquitous Pep Stores, was a historical monument.

Christ Church, Burgersdorp

Burgersdorp is an amazing place. I like it.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Irulan permalink
    21 May 2011 9:09 am

    “keep the pavement dry” appears to have been a popular legend on drinking fountains around a century ago..

  2. 6 June 2011 10:01 pm

    you commented on my photoblog about a shot with that on, but ou missed the fountain shot which is virtually the same fountain

    • 7 June 2011 2:43 am

      Nice pics. I missed them because I was specifically looking for the admonition “Keep the pavement dry” to see if I could discover why it was there. Someone pointed me to this which explains why the admonition is so common, but not why the manufacturers regarded it as “useful”.

  3. irma rautenbach permalink
    15 February 2014 2:15 am

    nice article on burgersdorp

  4. Johan Bouwer permalink
    7 November 2014 2:04 pm

    My hometown. Finished matric there in 1986. The best place to grow up in.

  5. irma rautenbach permalink
    9 November 2014 6:39 am

    How is the house market in Burgersdorp?

  6. Marie permalink
    20 November 2014 7:03 pm

    I grew up there in the late 60’s and 70’s. Very cold, but the people are warm. I would go back, but the cold is just too much! I go for reunions as often as I can. I went to the Gereformeerde Kerk and the first house in the article is a block from our house. Nostalgia!!

  7. 28 November 2014 8:57 pm

    Burgersdorp is the best town. I’m from Port Elizabeth but I went to school in Burgersdorp I couldn’t have asked for a better place, and today I’m very proud to say I’m a blikkie # Burgersdorp High School ” Slegs my beste”.

  8. Irving Hexhan permalink
    25 February 2021 7:05 am

    After visiting Burgersdorp we drove 29 miles to the South is Molteno where a Dopper friend was the Predekant. He introduced us to the writer, and popular historian, Johannes Meintjes, who invited us for dinner. He lived some way from the town in a house without electricity. It was a very interesting and unforgettable evening.

  9. 20 May 2021 4:02 pm

    We passed Molteno on the way to Burgersdorp from Stutterheim via Queenstown. Molteno is said to be one of the coldest places in South Africa.


  1. Burgersdorp Jubilee Fountain | Memorial Drinking Fountains

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