History of the Free State
Did you know?
The South African War, which included the Orange Free State, was one of Britain's longest and most expensive wars.
The history of the Free State is a portrait of turbulence and turmoil. Previously called the Orange Free State, South Africa's Free Sate province is located between the Orange and Vaal Rivers and has seen its fair share of bloodshed.
In the 1800s, the notorious Zulu chief Mzilikazi rampaged through the region, all but wiping out the indigenous tribes that inhabited the area.
Then in 1824, the first Dutch, German and French Hugenot farmers arrived from the Cape, followed by the first families of the Great Trek - a mass migration of Dutch-speaking colonists known as the Voortrekkers who left the Cape in search of independence.
These settlers also clashed with Mzilikazi, but the infamous Zulu chief was later defeated and fled north. The Dutch, German and French settlers who established themselves as a 'tribe' known as the Afrikaners, and many of whom established themselves as farmers or 'Boers', attempted to establish an independent republican government, but struggles with the invading British armies put paid to this.
The region's troubles were far from over. The Afrikaners clashed further with local tribes and then took up arms against the British in the South African War. This bloodiest of wars raged unabated for 3 years, ending on 31 May 1902 with the signing of the Peace of Vereeniging, which placed the Orange Free State (and South African Republic) under British rule.
In 1910 the Orange Free State became a province within South Africa. It remained so until after the first democratic elections, when it was renamed the Free State.
There are numerous sites scattered around the province that tell the story of these skirmishes, including battle sites, blockhouses, cemeteries and monuments.
The history of the Free State also includes the discovery of gold, after which the province experienced a gold rush and mines sprang up overnight. Entire cities were planned around the rich gold deposits which are today rated among the best in the world.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Free State Tourism
Tel: +27 (0) 51 411 4300
How to get here
Fly direct from any of South Africa’s major cities to Bloemfontein Airport.
If you’re driving from Johannesburg and Cape Town take the N1 south and north respectively to Bloemfontein. From Durban, take the N3 out of KwaZulu Natal, and pick up the N5 at Harrismith to Bloemfontein.
Best time to visit
Spring to autumn (September to April). Summer days get very hot, while winter days are mild, with cold evenings. Snow regularly falls on the eastern highlands.
Tours to do
Tour Winnie Mandela House at Brandfort; the region’s various wine cellars; the self-drive tourism routes including the Battlefields, Friendly N6, BBT Heritage and Goldfields; the National Museum in Bloemfontein; the Basotho Cultural Village; the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
What to eat
Traditional boerekos (farmers’ food) and potjiekos (pot stew) in most towns and villages; authentic African cuisine at the many African cultural villages; the Free State’s famed corn on the cob and juicy cherries.
Philippolis Witblits (alcoholic spirits) Festival in June; NAMPO Farm Show at Bothaville in May; the Bloemfontein Show at Bloemfontein in April; the Free State Food Fair and Macufe Mangaung African Cultural Festival both at Bloemfontein in October; the Cherry Festival at Ficksburg in November.
Traditional arts and crafts at the province's cultural villages and centres; cherry products in Ficksburg.