The Tshwaranang Diodi women's cultural group from Gariep in the Free State wear Thebetha cultural dresses at the launch of Tourism Month, hosted by Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Bloemfontein - If you want a true taste of South African history, a visit to the Free State will satisfy your craving.

From the Military Museum Fort and Old Presidency Museum in the provincial capital Bloemfontein, to the townships of Batho and Botshabelo, there is a rich history of the country’s past wherever you go.

For a panoramic view of the city, Naval Hill is the best bet.

The precinct is home to a Digital Planetarium, a 6.5m bronze Mandela statue and the 250 hectare Franklin Game Reserve.

The Old Presidency house was the official residence of three presidents when the Orange Free State was a republic in the late 1800s. In 1984 the house was turned into a museum.

The Anglo-Boer War Museum just a few blocks down is filled with plaques, statues and a crematorium in remembrance of the Afrikaner victims of what is regarded as the bloodiest war in the country’s history.

In the township of Batho, one of Bloemfontein’s oldest, you can find the home of one of the founding members of the ANC, Mthobi Thomas Mapikela.

He trained as a builder and carpenter, and his home was the first-double storey in the township. Mapikela was part of the team that drafted the 1919 ANC constitution and was the speaker of the annual conferences that were usually held in Bloemfontein. Today the home still stands, unchanged, and his family live there.

Much of the Batho community is reminiscent of a location from the apartheid era. The location was found in the early 1870s with Bochabela (different to Botshabelo) being one of the sub-townships where “curtain” houses were built in 1947 to hide the slums from the British princesses Elizabeth and Margaret during their visit, tour guide Ace Mkabane says.

“Some of these houses still stand. About 12 houses were erected in one street, and each house had four doors housing four families in each. As their way of hiding the slums from the British government which colonised South Africa, they never explained to the princesses that they were housing four families in each of the houses. This was the only tarred street in that area.”

In the quiet town of Thaba Nchu (meaning black mountain), 60km east of Bloemfontein, a quaint lodge has opened its doors.

Originally from Pretoria, Dineo and Toko Mathibeli ventured into the Free State to find new tourism opportunities.

“When you look at it, it’s a very small town but there are a lot of activities here. So business is fairly good for the short space of time we have been here,” said Dineo.

Their Legae La Khumo lodge has been open for six months. With five family rooms and eight log cabins, the lodge can host just over 30 people.

It has also afforded opportunities to groups like the Batswana Serangkure Cultural Experience. The group was formed in 1999 and has about 25 members who chose a career in which they can express themselves and their culture through dance. Heritage month is their busiest time.

Independent Traveller

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