Did you know?
Pelissier House, the oldest building in Bethulie, now houses an historical museum displaying local artefacts.
The southern Free State town of Bethulie lies in the heart of the Grassy Karoo, a part of South Africa that is rich in fossil beds and early San Bushman artefacts.
The vast waters of the nearby Lake Gariep, at 5 500 000 000 cubic metres the largest dam in South Africa, are said to cover thousands of fossils embedded in rock.
Depending on the day you drive through Bethulie, you might encounter a buzzing town full of Harley Davidson biker-types on a weekend rally – or a slumbering little village where rush hour constitutes a donkey cart passing a slow-moving farmer’s pickup truck.
Bethulie had no fewer than 7 name changes before becoming Bethulie. It was once even called Moordernaarspoort (Murderer’s Gulch) after a particularly bloody tribal battle in the area.
Bethulie’s most famous son is the late Patrick Mynhardt, who made his acting name playing characters from the Herman Charles Bosman stories, based in the Groot Marico district of the North West Province. He also wrote an hilarious autobiographical piece called Boy From Bethulie – his humour was so universal and visceral that it was successfully performed on stages around the world.
Sadly enough, Bethulie is best-known for the South African War-era (formerly called the Anglo-Boer War) concentration camp outside the town, where more than 1 700 Boer women and children died. Their remains were later exhumed and moved to a special memorial garden on higher ground. You can still see their gravestones – mounted in brick walls – standing mute testimony to 1 of the most infamous passages of the South African War.
One of the heroic figures to emerge from this disaster was Emily Hobhouse, an English activist who visited many of the camps and returned to Britain to campaign against the practice. She made a mortal enemy of Lord Herbert Kitchener, who ran the British end of the South African War campaign.
By the end of the war, however, the concentration camps had claimed the lives of more than 27 000 Boers.
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