The Free State town of Koffiefontein used to be a favourite stopover for transport riders. This is where they took their coffee breaks, and where one of them found a diamond near a spring and sparked off a major mining boom.

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.

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