The village of Rustenburg was established as a "kerkplaats" on the farms Witpensfontein and Kafferskraal, near the Magaliesburg range, on 22 January 1850. Local government remained in the hands of a Landdrost, who reported directly to Pretoria, until 1902 when a Health Committee was established. A Village Council was elected in 1904 and the town was granted municipal status in 1918.
Rustenburg was to play an important role in the history of the Transvaal. In 1842 the Kruger family settled on the farm Buffelsfontein, within the present-day town boundaries, where Paul Kruger began to develop a leadership role in the local community, leading to his election as President of the ZAR in 1883. It also saw the establishment of the Gereformeerde Kerk on 11 February 1859, when it broke away from the Dutch Reformed Church.
For many years the town remained a small regional administrative and church centre serving the needs of a conservative Dutch farming community. In the early 1970s the establishment of the Amandelbuilt and Waterval platinum mines saw a dramatic shift in its fortunes, and since then it has become a flourishing mining centre.