Polokwane an Overview

'Street soccer' game on a makeshift field, near Polokwane in the Limpopo Province. 2010. © Chris Ledowchowski

The Limpopo Province was the scene of scores of settlements long before the arrival of the Voortrekkers. The region was home to several groupings: the Pedi, the Tsonga, the Venda, and the Ndzundza, among others.

These groups had various relations with each other, friendly as well as conflictual, but all were eventually vanquished by the Whites, either Boer or Briton, and by the late nineteenth century the Boers established Pietersburg after various attempts to settle in surrounding sites, some successfully and others not.

Pietersburg occupies a position – 50km south of the Tropic of Capricorn – that served as a centre for the surrounding region, and for Boer political organisation. Having started as a village, it became in the late 19th century a point of contact between various people and processes.

The history of Pietersburg/Polokwane is inextricably linked to the towns and settlements in the surrounding region. By the 20th century it was firmly established as a developing town, expanding and developing relations especially with Potgietersrus, Sekhukhuneland, and the homelands in the region. The uprisings of the late 1950s and mid-1980s in Sekhukhuneland had a marked effect on Pietersburg, and developments in Lebowa, Gazankulu and Venda also affected the town.

With the coming of democracy in 1994, the town exploded into a city with a population of some half a million people. Today it has become a regional centre, the largest city in the Limpopo Province, which also serves as a way station for travellers to and from Zimbabwe and North Africa. Polokwane, now the capital of the newly created province, was elected to be one of only nine cities in South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup, a move that has projected the city onto the global television screen and international consciousness.

This history is divided into various, “segregated” sections! It seems easier to tell the various stories in discrete sections, perhaps because that is how the reality played out. But it must be borne in mind that these are not quite parallel movements, they intersect and affect each other. The history is thus divided into by and large white and black sections, which seem to develop their own internal logics even when they are pushed and shoved by developments in the other strata. But hopefully, a complete reading will fill out into a more complete, and complex, picture.

Last updated : 21-Jun-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 04-Jul-2011