"Worth pausing in Potch" Potchefstroom by CatherineReichardt
Potchefstroom Travel Guide: 17 reviews and 29 photos
I have regularly driven through Potchefstroom (universally known as Potch) for over 20 years, and I confess that the first time that I stopped to appreciate its tourist attractions was 10 days ago! I was travelling back from one of our mine sites, and had developed a splitting headache, so decided to stop for half an hour to have something to eat and drink, and walk around in the hope that my headache would abate.
Potch is a town - more accurately a city - about an hour's drive south of Johannesburg on the N12. This is the main road to Kimberley, as well as the road to Klerksdorp (service centre of the Klerksdorp gold field), but maybe because Potch is too near to Jo'burg, few people think to stop unless they have an express reason to do so.
Which is a shame, because Potch has a reasonable amount to offer the visitor. I would never claim that it is a major tourist destination, but it is an interesting 'second division' attraction (often my favourite sort) so if you're travelling this road and have an interest in South Africa's colonial or Afrikaaner history, it is certainly worth stopping off. It will probably only take you a couple of hours to appreciate its tourist attractions, but I suspect that you'll be glad you did.
Potch has a long history (by South African standards) and was founded in 1838. It was the first capital of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek (the Afrikaaner South African Republic) and it was here that the First Boer War (between the Afrikaaners and the British) started in 1880. This episode passed pretty uneventfully in Potch, but the town became notorious in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) because of its concentration camp which was established to inter Afrikaans women, children and the elderly.
The Brits have done an excellent 'snow job' of implying that the Nazis developed the concept of a concentration camp, but the large scale application of this tactic dates back to the British in the Second Boer War which was employed by General Kitchener in tandem with the 'scorched earth' policy to try and limit commando activity. In all, about 27,000 Afrikaaner women and children perished in these camps: sadly the concentration camp memorial in Klerksdorp - which is signposted from the main road - is in a small park that was fenced and locked (presumably to prevent vandalism?) when I visited.
These days, Potch is most famous for its university and excellent schools. Previously known by the sonorous title of the Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir Christelike Hoër Onderwys (Potchefstroom University of Higher Christian Education, or PUK), these days, it has been incorporated into the North West University. Though now multiracial, the university still retains a strong Afrikaans character.
On the downside, mention Potch to most people who live in this part of the world, and they will roll their eyes and mutter darkly about speed traps. The speed limits - which endure for a frustratingly long distance either side of the town - are strictly enforced, and I strongly suspect that fines levied contribute a significant proportion of the municipal income!
Oh yes, and just as an aside, Potch was the (somewhat unlikely) host city for the Spanish soccer team who won our homegrown World Cup in 2010 ...
One final note: Potch also offers some good, affordable tourist accommodation in a small town environment. If you are travelling on this road and don't relish the prospect of staying over in Bad Bad Jo'burg, then Potch maybe provides a viable option?
(work in progress) If you decide to meander off the main drag in Potchefstroom, chances are that the feature that will... more travel advice
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