Community histories of Pretoria

Afrikaans Community (1841-1899)

The history of the city of Pretoria greatly reflects the history of the former Transvaal.  From the start, Pretoria played a significant role in the development of the cultural lives of the Afrikaner in the northern part of South Africa.

First Afrikaans Inhabitants

The Bronkhorst family were the first owners of the farms in the district where Pretoria would later be founded. Lucas Cornelius Bronkhorst (1795-1875) joined the Potgieter migration during the Great Trek with his family and his brother, Johannes Gerhardus Stephanus Bronkhorst (1798-1848). Before the British annexed Natal in 1842, they moved back over the Drakensberg Mountains and settled in the region of the Apies River. Lucas then established the farm ‘Groenkloof’ in 1841 which had a rich water supply. The two brothers also established the farm ‘Elandsfontein’in 1842, where the first hartbees houses (reed huts) were built.

Two years after Field Cornet Andries P.J. van der Walt (1814-1861) settled on the left bank of the Apies River after the battle of Boomplaats (1848), Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius (1798-1853) established a farm next to the Magaliesberg Mountain. New settlers accompanied him from the Free State, Natal and Ohrigstad, like the Smit, Fourie, Minnaar, Vermeulen, Van Rensburg, Pretorius and Prinsloo families. They lived next to the Apies Rivier on the farms ‘Koedoespoort’, ‘Elandspoort’ and ‘Daspoort’.

Cultural Life

Pretoria had about 1,500 inhabitants by 1870. There was not much entertainment but dances and music evenings regularly took place at private houses. There was even a literary and science society (Transvaalsch Letterkundige en Wetenschappelyk Genootschap) founded in 1874 that presented lectures in the Raadsaal and a Pretoria Musical and Dramatic Club that presented concerts in the school building. Over time, more officials and traders settled in Pretoria. Many of the Dutch settlers were government officials and played a leading role in the cultural life in the 1880’s. The Dutch Men’s Choir (Hollandsche Mannenkoor) and the Asafchoir society regularly presented concerts in the town.

The Pretoria Public Library (founded in 1886) amalgamated with the State Library in 1893 and the books were made available to the public. It was housed in the Erasmus building on Church Square and Jan F.E. Celliers (1865-1940) was the State librarian. A State Museum was also founded in 1896 with Dr. J.W.B. Gunning (1860-1913) as the first paid director. The museum was initially housed in a room on the top floor of the Government Building on Church Square but the collection expanded so quickly that a new building had to be built. The corner stone of the new museum in Boom Street was laid by Dr. N. Mansveldt (1852-1933) in 1899.


State functions such as the festivities during the inaugurations of President S.J.P Kruger (1825-1904) as State President in 1883, 1888, 1893 and 1898 and the opening of the Delagoa Bay railway line in 1895 were usually stylish.

The media played a big role in raising the cultural awareness of the community of Pretoria. To cater for the need of a genuine Transvaal newspaper, Jan F.E. Celliers published the first edition of De Volksstem in August 1873.

Well-known artists living and working in Pretoria over the years include Pieter Wenning (1863-1921), Frans Oerder (1867-1944), Anton van Wouw (1862-1945) and Erich Mayer (1876-1960). Literary artists whose names are linked to Pretoria are, amongst others, Eugène Marais (1871-1936), Jan F.E. Celliers (1865-1940), C. Louis Leipoldt (1880-1947) and Gustav Preller (1875-1943).


Similar to other pioneer towns of this period, there were a limited amount of teachers in Pretoria. Magistrate Du Toit campaigned to have Hendrik Stiemens, a qualified Dutch teacher appointed by the government. He was appointed in October 1859 and started teaching 26 school children in the hartbees home of Zacharais Pretorius. The first government school building was built on the site where the Palace of Justice is currently situated on Church Square. 

A competent teacher, Wessel Louis (1845-1917) came to Pretoria from Potchefstroom in 1883 to establish a high school. His school was so successful that a new branch named ‘Voorbereidingskool’ was founded in 1886. During these years there were also special schools for girls such as the School voor Jonge Dames(1884) and the Carolina Instituut (1892).

Prof N. Mansvelt became Superintendent of Education in the ZAR in 1891 and he had to draft a new education bill. As a result of an additional memorandum, the State Girls Model School (1893), the State Gymnasium (1894) and the State Girls’ School (1894) were founded.


The first thatched roof church for the Pretoria Philadelphia congregation, which was founded by Reverend Van der Hoff in 1854, was built in 1857 on Church Square. A bigger church was built in the 1860’s but it burnt down in 1882. The third building was inaugurated on Church Square in 1885 and was in use until 1905.

Communion (nagmaal) was held every three months and it was an important event for the town. People came from all over the district by ox wagon and erected tents on Church Square. Church goers often stayed over from Thursday to Monday to do their business and shopping. The communion was first led by Reverend Van der Hoff, from 1861 by Reverend A.J. Begemann and from 1872 by Reverend H.S. Bosman. The reverends were in charge of large districts – the district of Reverend Bosman alone stretched from Waterberg in the north to Krugersdorp in the west and Middelburg in the east.

Sport and Recreation

The young men played cricket and football and the young girls amused themselves with croquet. The plots in Pretoria were large and therefore these activities usually took place on them. Cricket and football was even played on Church Square.

A dancing society (Dansgeselschap) was established and dancers presented a big dance party every month in the Caledonian Hall. Shortly before 1890, a bicycle club was established and it was very common to see young men riding their bicycles to Wonderboom or Sinoville. Horse races were also popular – the first Turf Club was established in Pretoria in 1873 and the first horse race took place in 1874 with the whole hearted support of President T.F. Burgers (1834-1881).

The Pretoria Cricket Club and Rugby Club was established in t`he 1870’s. These two kinds of sports were initially practised on Church Square. The Pretoria Cricket Club and the National Cricket Club were established in 1891 and reached great heights. Rugby, however, waned away because of a lack of organisation and good coaches. The exceptional rugby player R.L.O. (Loftus) Versfeld (1862-1932) arrived in Pretoria from Cape Town where he played for Hamiltons. He consolidated all the smaller clubs and established Pretoria as a centre of rugby excellence.

This text was adapted for SAHO by Estelle Pretorius, Researcher: Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria

This text was adapted for SAHO by Estelle Pretorius, Researcher: Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria


Indian Community

The Indian presence in South Africa came about due to a labour problem experienced on the sugar cane plantations in Natal during the nineteenth century.

The Indians were brought under a system of indentured labour but after their period of contract had ended, they were given the option to be re-indentured or to return to India. Another option presented to them was to take up land as free men.

It is believed that former indentured Indians entered the Transvaal as early as 1881, but records show that this took place in 1896. They were followed by a new group of Indians who were free or passenger Indians, mainly made up of traders.

In 1885, the ZAR passed Law 3 of 1885, which empowered the government to specify the areas where Asians could reside. In 1896, this law was amended to limit property ownership in these areas. This gave birth to the creation of the Asiatic Bazaar in Pretoria.

This area was divided into three sections: the southern part was allocated to the Coloureds and was known as the “Cape Location”; the northern part was allocated to the Black population of Pretoria and the Indians were given areas north and south of Boom Street, which became known as the Asiatic Bazaar.

By 1900, many Indians were living in Prinsloo and Church Streets. Some also lived in a low-lying area on the northern side of town, close to the Apies River.

The Asiatic Bazaar was a very small area, less than one square kilometre, and soon became dilapidated due to neglect. The homes in the Asiatic Bazaar were simple structures made from wood and corrugated iron. People cooked on open fires and coal stoves. Many families lived in yards and used communal bathrooms and toilets. There was no sewage system provided by the government, so the municipality cleared the sewage twice a week. There were only two tarred roads, namely Boom Street and Bloed Street, and the rest were corrugated tracks made by men and animals.

Among the Indians that lived in the Asiatic Bazaar, various subdivisions emerged, such as the Tamilians, the Muslims and the Hindu and Gujarati-speaking people. Although they spoke different dialects, a sense of brotherhood developed among them, and there was a sense of community and unity. There was also a strong family bond based on a patriarchal structure. This is still common among Indian families today.

The first Indians in the Asiatic Bazaar made a living by hawking different commodities such as fruit, vegetables, glassware, clothing and blankets. Many of them prospered with this trade and were able to purchase things like motorcars, which improved their mobility and income.

Later, the Indians were allowed to own shops built near the Pretoria Station and later in Church, Prinsloo and Pretorius Streets.

By 1908, there were 150 hawkers, 62 retail traders, 34 fruiterers, two eating house owners, seven butchers and 25 launders, according to the official figures of traders holding certificates of registration as provided by the Asiatic Law Amendment Act No 2 of 1907. It is likely that the numbers were higher as many were trading without licenses.

The Indians in the Asiatic Bazaar led very culturally active lives. The Tamil community founded the Pretoria Tamil League in 1905 and built the first temple in 1928. In 1939 the “Gopuram” was built and later the Mariammen Temple. The latter has been declared a National Monument.

In 1917, the Muslim community formed the Pretoria Islamic Society. The first chairman was Sheik Ahmed and the first Islamic prayer room was situated at 390 Cowie Street. In 1916, the Muslim community was granted permission to erect a mosque, and in 1947 they formed the Muslim Brigade.

Between 1906 to 1907, 'The Columbia Hall' and the 'The Bombay Star' theatres were opened, both screening silent films.

The first Indian school in Pretoria was the Islamic Indian School, opened in 1914. Since this school only accommodated Muslim children, a second school was opened in 1921 to accommodate Tamil-speaking children. These schools offered the curriculum laid down by the government and Indian vernacular subjects.

In 1934, the Pretoria Asiatic Government School was opened to accommodate all sectors of the Indian community.

Football was a great part of Marabastad culture and although there was only one area allocated for the sport, it did not deter Indian youngsters from forming clubs. In 1896, the Pretorians Football Club was founded and by 1905, the Pretoria District Indian Football Association was formed with teams from the Cambridge, Stella’s, Swaraj and Pirates football clubs. Football was the only competitive sport played at this time. Cricket and tennis were only taken up in later years.

In 1950, the government passed the Group Areas Act, which forced the Indian people to move from the Asiatic Bazaar to a residential area south west of Pretoria known as Laudium. This was the beginning of total segregation between the races. The Asiatic Bazaar was declared an industrial area and the government hoped to make it a commercial centre. This marked the end of a vibrant, colourful community whose unity will always be remembered by those who lived there.

We are still developing this list of community histories in Pretoria. We will be adding information on the English and Afrikaans Communities. If you have any contributions, click on the contribute tab.


Ndebele Community


Most Ndebele trace their ancestry to the area that is now called KwaZulu-Natal. The history of the Ndebele people can be traced back to Mafana, their first identifiable chief. Mafana’s son and successor, Mhlanga, had a son named Musi who, in the early 1600’s, decided to move away from his family (later to become the mighty Zulu nation) and to settle in the hills of Gauteng near Pretoria (to become the Ndebele Nation)... read on

The community of KwaMsiza

KwaMsiza is a village of 49 families located some 50km north of Pretoria. Its residents are Ndzundza Ndebele, and belong to three major family groups: the Msiza, the Bhuda, and the Skosana. They originally lived on the farm Hartbeesfontein, at Wonderboompoort, but when this land was expropriated to make way for an airport in 1953, they were relocated to the District of Odi, where they reside to the present day. The village exhibits a number of interesting features, including a number of dwellings built in the historical verandah style, probably derived from the baPedi, as well as a great number of walls painted in a polychromatic manner. The village is also well-known for the excellent beadwork artifacts made by its women.

The history of KwaMsiza has its roots in the ZAR-Ndzundza War of 1882, when a commando of some 2000 Boers attacked the Ndebele capital of Namashaxelo. As a result of this war, the Ndzundza were dispossessed of their ancestral lands in the Middelburg-Grobblersdal district, and their king, Nyabela, was eventually banished to the farm Hartbeesfontein, just north of Pretoria... read on

We are still developing this list of community histories in Pretoria. We will be adding information on the English and Afrikaans Communities. If you have any contributions, click on the contribute tab.

  • Brink, S. (1990) Eerste munisipale dorpsregulasies vir Pretoria ”“ 1857, Museum Memo 18(4), Desember 1990.
  • Ferreira, O.J.O (1990) ‘Die stad wat moet uitmunt in voortreflikheid’, in Schalk le Roux (red.), Plekke en geboue van Pretoria: ‘n oorsig van hulle argitektoniese en stedelike belang, I, Pretoria.
  • Mendelsohn, R. (1991) Sammy Marks, ‘The uncrowned King of the Transvaal’. David Philip Publishers, Cape Town.
  • Nel, E.E. (1973) Aspekte van die kultuurlewe in Pretoria; 1890-1900, Pretoriana 71, April-Desember 1973.
  • Potgieter, D.J. et al. (eds) (1971) Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa 4. Nasou, Cape Town.
  • Rex, H.M. (1960) Pretoria van kerkplaas tot regeringsetel. HAUM, Kaapstad.
  • Visagie, J.C. (2000) Voortrekkerstamouers 1835-1845. Pretoria: UNISA.
  • Wilmans, J. (1990) ‘L.C. Bronkhorst: pionier van die Pretoria-omgewing’ in Tydskrif vir Volkskunde en Volkstaal 46(2-3), Oktober 1990.

Last updated : 20-Oct-2011

This article was produced by South African History Online on 29-Mar-2011

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