Botshabelo History

In December 1858 two young missionaries, from the Berlin Mission Society, Alexander Merensky and Heinrich Grützner, arrive in Natal to spread the gospel among the Zulu nation.

In Jan 1865 Merensky and Grutzner bought a farm approximately 12 km north of Middelburg, Transvaal (now Mpumalanga) for the sum of 5020 Prussian talers (+/-R150). Merensky named it Botshabelo, meaning “Place of Shelter” or “Sanctuary”. His followers joined him here and a new mission station for the Berlin Mission Society was begun.

Initially Merensky built a home for himself and his followers. The refugees fleeing from Chief Sekukhuni, of Swaziland under the leadership of one of his brothers, Johannes Dinkwanjane, also arrived at Botshabelo. A brick house was erected as a parsonage. Merensky had also begun constructing a stone fort as protection against attacks from Chief Sekukhuni who wished to subdue his brother to his authority. The fort was named Fort Wilhelm after the German Emperor and is unique blend of Western and Sotho architecture.

A church was built in 1868 using a total of 300,000 bricks that were made locally. The church was later extended into a cross formation which can still be seen.

Botshabelo was largely self-sufficient and expanded rapidly. In 1873 there were 1,315 inhabitants.

Botshabelo had its own general dealer shop, a large mill a small distance away, run by a full time miller, fields with furrows, a bookbindery and a blacksmith shop. A school was built and the first building is still known as the Practice school. At the beginning of the 20th century, a large school was built which served as a training college until 1979.

It was at Botshabelo that the missionary R.F Güstav Trumpelmann, with the invaluable assistance of his erstwhile student, Abraham Serote, translated the bible in Sepedi (North Sotho). The publication in 1904 by the British and Foreign Bible Society of this combined effort was the first complete Bible in an indigenous language.