History and Attractions of Mafikeng and Mmabatho, SA

South Africa

is a modern town created in 1977. Before the free elections were held in South Africa and the new political boundaries came into effect,


was in the old Western Transvaal and Mmabatho was the capital of the homeland known as Bophuthatswana and was the site of several government buildings. When the North West Province was created, it was decided to keep Mmabatho on as the regional capital.

However, there has been a gradual shift of power back to the principal town in the region,

Rustenburg. Mmabatho remains a rather garish concrete sprawl, and although the majority of government offices are still here there remains an air of artificiality and incompleteness.

Dusty open ground between isolated buildings waits for the city to grow around it, and the poverty of the former homeland of Bophuthatswana remains evident.

The whole town is dominated by a sports stadium of Olympic proportions that seats 70,000, which is i

n itself quite an impressive architectural specimen. Its other claim to fame, rather bizarrely,

is that of being home to a state-of-the-art recording studio where the soundtrack to

The Lion

was recorded.

But the most likely reason for visiting here is to have a quick look around the historic town of Mafikeng, another hot and dusty commercial centre on the Highveld, but one with an interesting early history, and plenty of buildings that help tell its story. Having said that, neither town warrant a specific journey, and they act mainly as stop-off points to the Ramatlabama border of Botswana, 25 km away.

Getting to Mafikeng and Mmabatho

There are regular minibus taxis running between Mafikeng railway station and Mega City shopping centre in Mmabatho.

Tourist information

There are several sources of tourist information in the two towns. For
local and regional information call at the
North West Parks and Tourism Board
. The
Mafikeng Museum
is also a useful source.

History of Mafikeng and Mmabatho

Mafikeng was founded as a British administrative centre in 1885, when Sir Charles Warren was sent with a military force to occupy and bring peace to this frontier territory. Only 20 km away was the Goshen Republic, an independent state created by a group of European mercenaries who had been given farms by the local Rolong tribe.

The name of

the new settlement came from the Tswana
, ‘place of boulders’. The surrounding t

erritory became known as British Bechuanaland, with Mafikeng as the centre for the local farmers, traders and hunters. At the time this was still very much frontier territory, occupied by a rough crowd and policed by the tough Bechuanaland Border Police.

On 14 October 1899, a Boer force under the command of General JP Snyman besieged

the town, and so started the period of events that was to put the town on the map. The Siege of Mafeking lasted 217 days until 17 May 1900, when the town was relieved by a combined

force of Rhodesian troops from the north and Imperial troops from the south.

At the time, the siege captured the imagination of the British public in England – the Anglo-Boer War was the first war to be reported in such detail, with pictures, cartoons and newspaper articles. It was during the siege that the British commander, Colonel RSS Baden-Powell, made his name and conceived the idea for the Boy Scout movement .

Baden-Powell proved himself to be very competent in organizing the defences, but in later years was criticized for his treatment of the black troops. One of his well-documented ideas
was to place life-size dummies in observation posts around the town.

The Boer commander,

General Cronje believed that he was pinning down a large British force planned for the invasion of the Western Transvaal. Mafeking was, in fact, an insignificant

centre but it became an important focal point and when the siege had been lifted, the Boer resolve seemed to weaken and the towns of Ladysmith and Kimberley were relieved soon after.
After the war, Mafikeng returned to the life of a sleepy border town. Up until 1965 it was the centre for the British administration of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. This was a fairly

unusual set-up where the government for one state, Bechuanaland, was in fact located in a foreign country, South Africa.

In 1965 the government moved to Gaborone and on

30 September 1966 Botswana became an independent republic, led by Sir Seretse Khama.

Today the town is the centre for the local cattle industry. Although the relics from the Boer

War are interesting, the town does not attract many tourists and is well off the beaten track.

Sights in Mafikeng and Mmabatho


Mafikeng Museum

is housed in the old town hall built in 1902, this has

an excellent series of displays relating to the Siege of Mafeking, as well as some informative

exhibits which trace the history of the region along with the culture of the indigenous peoples.

Mafikeng Cemetery

contains the graves of British servicemen, the Town Guard and South African troops. The most prominent grave is that of Andrew Beauchamp- Proctor, South Africa’s most highly decorated First World War airman.

Kanon Kopje

is the site of a fort on the southern banks of the Molopo River built during a conflict between the Goshen Republic and the Barolong Boo Tshidi. The fort has been restored along with some cannon and guns and there are panoramic views out over Mafikeng.

Mafikeng Game Reserve

, lies at the edge of town, and the entrance is on Jacaranda Drive. The reserve, covering 4600 ha of open Kalahari grassland and acacia thorn scrub,

contains l
arge populations of plains game, buffalo, and giraffe and is a good place to try and see white rhino. Birdlife is good too, especially along the Molopo River. There are various tracks through the reserve, dotted with picnic sites, and the main circuit takes only two hours to drive around.

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