Botshabelo Mission Station can be found in Middelburg in the Mpumalanga Province. Originally a place of refuge for Christians, Botshabelo Mission Station grew into an important and rather influential centre where the Gospel was widely proclaimed among the black people. It became a place where both black and white people received education and training and even where commerce and industry were practiced. Established in 1865. No longer an active Mission Station, there are two Churches of Historical value. Two young German missionaries, named Alexander Merensky and Heinrich Grützner, arrived in South Africa from the Berlin Mission Society during the 1860’s, to spread the gospel among the Zulu nation. They bought a farm in the Olifants River Valley near Middelburg and soon established a Mission Station named Botshabelo, meaning ‘Place of Refuge or sanctuary‘. In order to protect the Settlement a Fort was also built called Fort Wilhelm. Soon, a small Town developed around the Mission and even included a 2300 ha Nature Reserve. 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.
The Botshabelo Mission Station also incorporates an Ndebele Village. This Village comprises of an open-air Museum established to successfully preserve the interesting tribal Culture. This well known tribe is famous for its colourful Huts, cultural garb and brilliant arts and crafts. Stores selling their fascinating arts and crafts can be visited!
The Botshabelo Mission Station boasts true historical value, a beautiful little church and many old Buildings. Today, this Mission Station is a Museum. The entire Area is a Site Museum and has plenty to offer interested Tourists, hikers as well as Historians. Tours throughout the Mission Station are available and should be taken for those wishing to ask questions and learn more of the station!
Hiking Trails have been developed in the area to afford visitors the opportunity to learn more of this intriguing area. A visit to the spectacular nature reserve is also a must where bird watching and game viewing can be enjoyed. Unfortunately, the Botshebelo Mission Station, according to the 'City Press' article on the 11 of July 2016: says "It was a cold Tuesday in late June when I visited the historical group of about 80 buildings. The Botshabelo site – which once drew up to 2 000 tourists a day (according to Middelburg Observer) – stood empty, the doors of its many missionary buildings were bolted shut, trees growing through the steps, walls crumbling. Its architecturally valuable 18th century Lutheran church, once the biggest South of the Orange River and boasting yellowwood benches and stained glass windows, is falling apart. Half of the roof has collapsed on to the Altar."
New Dictionary of South African Places Peter E. Raper