Koffiefontein, Free State
Did you know?
The influential and controversial Afrikaans author Etienne Leroux (1922–1989) lived on a farm in the Koffiefontein district, and is buried in a local churchyard.
Rich history lies in the dusty little towns of the southern Free State, and Koffiefontein is no exception.
At the entrance to Koffiefontein, you will see a huge suspended kettle, often spewing water. It’s an expanded model of the coffee pots used by Victorian-era transport riders who crossed these plains heading to the diamondfields and goldfields in the north.
At one particular fountain in this area, they used to stop and brew their coffee, often camping over for the night. Someone left a coffee bean near the fountain waters. It was discovered by another transport rider and the fable of ‘coffee fountain’ began.
In 1870, one of the transport riders discovered more than a coffee bean. He came upon a diamond near the fountain. Two years later, Koffiefontein was a booming diamond mining town.
The mine works – and subsequent Big Hole (yes, Kimberley is not the only South African town with a Big Hole) – was operated by De Beers, the world-famous diamond mining company started by Cecil John Rhodes, for more than a century. It is currently owned by Petra Diamonds.
Because of its close proximity to Kimberley, Koffiefontein was a focal point for a lot of military action during the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War) War. Held by the British, it was often attacked by Boer forces. Blockhouses were erected around the town, but it was eventually ransacked and the local citizenry had to take refuge in the mine property.
Some of Koffiefontein’s most significant historical features are the remnants of Italian wall art left behind by World War II prisoners-of-war (POWs) interned here. War-time Italian leader Benito Mussolini still glares into the distance, although the paint has faded somewhat. Amongst the 800 pro-Nazi sympathisers interned with the POWs at Koffiefontein was John Vorster, who would become an apartheid-era South African prime minister and state president.
Arguably, however, Koffiefontein’s most famous son is the late Etienne Leroux, regarded by many as the greatest Afrikaans writer of his time. Although he lived elsewhere, Leroux always returned to his farm outside Koffiefontein to write every one of his 11 novels.
‘I gain my impressions in other places, but my writing space is here,’ he said.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Xhariep Area Information
Tel: +27 (0)51 713-9319
Copper Kettle Guest House
Tel: +27 (0)83 269 8122
Tel: +27 (0)53 591 0164
Tour Guide: Steve Lunderstedt
Cell: +27 (0)083 732 3189
How to get here
Koffiefontein lies 150km south of Kimberley and 125km south-west of Bloemfontein. It is straddled by the towns of Jacobsdal and Fauresmith.
Best time to visit
Koffiefontein is dry and dusty at the height of summer (December to February) and very cold in winter (June to August). Best times to visit would be spring (September to November) and autumn (April to end May).
Around the area
Open Africa's southern Free State Horizon Route takes in Philippolis, Jagersfontein, Fauresmith, Koffiefontein and Jacobsdal. Visit the Open Africa website to find out more.
Tours to do
Kimberley-based tour guide and historian Steve Lunderstedt does a day tour of the Koffiefontein and nearby Jagersfontein mines. If you want to visit the Koffiefontein Big Hole on your own, proceed to the mine entrance and ask at the security office for a key to the Big Hole gantry.
It's best to drive yourself; vehicles can be hired in Kimberley or Bloemfontein.
What will it cost
Overnight at the Copper Kettle b&b: R550 per couple; day tour that takes in Koffiefontein: R1300 flat fee for the guide.
Length of stay
Plan to visit Koffiefontein for about half a day.
Where to stay
Stay either at the Copper Kettle Guest House (see contacts) or at one of many establishments in Kimberley.
A good selection of Free State wines from the Landzicht Cellars in Jacobsdal.