Some say it was named after a burning fort, set on fire by a Sotho tribe during skirmishes with the Boers. Others say it was named to honour President J H Brand of the Republic of the Orange Free State. Whichever is correct, Brandfort in the Free State was proclaimed a town in 1874.
Today it can be reached via the R30, 50 kilometres north of the Free State capital, Bloemfontein. It falls within a region called the Lejweleputswa District, or the Goldfields.
Like most Free State towns, Brandfort has a Voortrekker heritage and was heavily involved in the second Anglo-Boer War. Interestingly, the existence of two concentration camps on the town’s outskirts reveals a wider involvement in the war than just Boer and British. While one of the camps, Dwyersdorp, housed white detainees, the second, Nooitgedacht, was for black inmates.
In recent history, Brandfort gained infamy as the town to which Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, then the wife of Nelson Mandela, was banned for nine years in the 1970s/80s.
Maize farming is essential to Brandfort’s economy. Farmers in the vicinity also farm livestock such as cattle and sheep.
Look out for
A Great Trek Monument can be viewed outside the Dutch Reformed Church in town. It contains a memorial wall naming early settlers.
A Garden of Remembrance marks 15 500 deaths at Dwyersdorp concentration camp.
The Nooitgedacht concentration camp site is a National Heritage Site.
The farm, De Aap, belonging to the first President of the Republic of South Africa, C R Swart, is also a national monument.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s home at Majwemasweu now operates as a museum.
The Palmietfontein Dam attracts anglers.
There are quad-biking trails in the vicinity.
South Africa’s first aeroplane builder, M J L Weston, moved to Brandfort from the United States in the late 1800s. He built an aeroplane on a farm here, which took to the skies for eight minutes in 1911. His home, the Vice-Admiral Weston Home, is a tourist attraction.
For nature-lovers, the Soetdoring Nature Reserve is 50 kilometres west of town.
One of the Anglo-Boer War’s casualties was the brother of Vincent van Gogh, Cornelius, who died in Brandfort and is buried in the town in an unmarked grave. He was part of a group of 6 000 Dutch people who came to South Africa to build the railway line to Mozambique. When war broke out, he became an ambulance driver.