Translated, Bloemfontein means “fountain of flowers”; however because this capital city is host to the annual rose festival, it has been fondly also been called the “City of Roses.” Bloemfontein, or Mangaung in the local language, is also the judicial capital of South Africa which makes it one of South Africa’s 3 capital cities. The other two capital cities are Cape Town, where the legislation of South Africa takes place, and Pretoria, which is known as the administrative capital.
Less than 370 000 people live in Bloemfontein and although originally the city was mostly made up of Afrikaners, quite a number of British and Dutch immigrants have settled here. Most fascinating about this region is that it is surrounded by dry, arid land, so when one comes upon a paradise where flora and fauna can be found in all their glory, it’s a magnificent experience.
The Legend of Bloemfontein
One of the legends circulating about Bloemfontein regards the origins of its name. One such legend is that Bloemfontein was named after an ox called Bloem. This ox was owned by a local farmer from the area and taken by a mysterious lion, never to be seen again.
In another story, the name Bloemfontein came from one of the leaders of the KhoiKhoi tribe, Jan Blom who lived in the area long before it grew into a city. The Korana and the Khoi are actually two indigenous tribes in South Africa and have an unbelievable history of slavery and injustice. These two groups, along with 13 other indigenous African groups, are a dwindling minority but the government is doing all it can to preserve their culture, language, land rights and freedom from discrimination.
Bloemfontein was first a small farm owned by Johannes Nicolaas Brits who sold his land to Maj Warden. A small community grew which expanded into a town and then into the capital city of the Orange Free State Republic, which in turn eventually became known as the Free State Province. Today, the property for sale in Bloemfontein is highly sought after because the city is the largest commercial centre of the Free State, and because the South African Supreme Court of Appeal is hosted by the city. Additionally, many of the buildings in the city are historical landmarks built when the area was still developing.
The railway built in 1890 connected Bloemfontein to Cape Town and made it more accessible to the rest of South Africa. One of its most famous citizens was JRR Tolkien, the English writer famous for works such as “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. He didn’t live in this city but move back to England after his father died in 1895 where he studied and lived out the rest of his life.
The historical highlights of this Bloemfontein include:
- The place where the Bloemfontein Conference took place that was meant to prevent the outbreak of the Second Boer War;
- The location of a concentration camp which, after the Battle of Paardeberg, is where Afrikaner women and children were housed. Many died in these camps, and an official figure puts the body count at 26 370 women and children.
Today, Bloemfontein is where the South African Supreme Court holds office. It is predominantly Christian, and plays host to a number of churches and Christian denominations such as the Anglican, Baptist, Dutch Reformed (NG Kerk), Seventh Day Adventist, and Protestant congregations. It is also a modern, technologically advanced city with a well developed communications infrastructure making the Internet, and online shopping, easy to access.
So what are you waiting for? Buy a camera (if you don’t already own one), grab your nearest and dearest, and come and take in the sights and sounds of one of South Africa’s most historically rich cities! Do bear in mind, though, that the South African sun is as harsh in Bloemfontein as it is anywhere else: remember to wear, in other words, sunscreen whenever outdoors, and to use UV resistant skin care products. The long term benefits of ensuring sun safety are undeniable…