The Dr Ruth S Mompati district, formerly known as Bophirima, is the largest region of the North West province, strong in mining and agriculture. It is the most significant beef-producing region of the country too, with large-scale farming of Hereford cattle. For that reason, it is sometimes described as the “Texas” of South Africa.
The region is dry country with flat terrain, much of it savannah bushveld. The district has appropriately adopted the slogan “getting back to nature”. Its northern border meets the southern border of Botswana, to the south-east it nudges the Free State and to the south and west it neighbours the Northern Cape.
Dr Mompati, for whom the district is named, is a stalwart of the African National Congress Women’s League, former ambassador to Switzerland and a one-time mayor of Vryburg, the principal town in the region.
Vryburg, in fact, has a long history as a place of administration since its origins in 1882, and even once served as the capital of a short-lived republic called Stellaland, which was established by Boers fleeing the Cape Colony. Independence lasted less than two years before it was amalgamated with the Cape.
Located on the banks of the fertile Huhudi River, farms in the area grow maize and peanuts.
The town’s annual agricultural show doubles as one of the country’s largest cattle sales.
Rural towns dot the sprawling landscape. There’s the town of Reivilo with its religious sites and golf course, which takes its name from the Dutch Reformed Church minister who founded it, a Rev AJ Olivier. Why the spelling was reversed is an unexplained quirk.
Schweizer-Reneke and Stella provide services to farming communities, while Bray up north on the Botswana border is a frontier post in all senses of the word. Atamelang, founded to house forcibly removed people, may not be on the tourist beat, but its history of dispossession and resistance is moving.
A palaeontological discovery at a limestone quarry in the town of Taung pushed this previously little-known spot into the global spotlight in 1924. It was identified by Professor Raymond Dart as the fossilised skull of a juvenile Australopithecus africanus, a predecessor of modern man that walked upright, yet still climbed trees. Dated at about 2,5-million years old, it was named the Taung Child.
Taung is today part of the Unesco-proclaimed world heritage site that includes the Cradle of Humankind.
Look out for
Taung Heritage Site and Blue Pools - Unfortunately the Taung Child skull is not kept at Taung, but to mark this archaeological find, a plinth has been erected overlooking the old Buxton Village. The site is temporarily closed as a new access road is constructed. Future plans include setting up a small exhibition on the skull and other discoveries. Adding to the scenic attraction of the site are streams of water that make their way from the limestone cliffs into a series of spectacularly blue pools, simply named Blue Pools. The spot is favoured for picnics and hiking.
Molopo Game Reserve – This 24 000-hectare reserve abutting the Botswana border was established and restocked in the late 1980s. It now boasts substantial herds of large antelope and other creatures such as cheetah, hyena, jackal and badger. Birding is good and includes some of the raptors. A notable feature of the park is the fossilised bed of the Phepane River, which carried large amounts of water millions of years ago.
Tierkloof - A mission station called Tierkloof, or Tiger Kloof, was set up south of Vryburg by the London Missionary Society in 1904. It still operates as an educational institute. The stone church on the premises is a national monument.
Leon Taljaard Nature Reserve - On the road to Tosca heading towards the Botswana border from Vryburg, this reserve is home to antelope and plains game. It is 3 000 hectares in size.
San rock art – A number of sites exist in this region of the North West. North-east of Schweizer-Reneke on the way to Delareyville are paintings estimated to be about 20 000 years old; at a village called Sion, about 30 kilometres from Atamaleng at a place called the Mount of Zion (Thaba Sione), is a rocky hill, strewn with 144 Bushmen rock engravings; San engravings are found 20 kilometres from Taung at Dinkgwaneng; rock art is also found outside Vryburg on the road to Schweizer-Reneke.
South African/Anglo-Boer War sites – In Vryburg, the Kerkhof Concentration Camp is now a museum site and the War Cemetery contains the remains of the camp’s victims. The local Vryburg museum is another source of war information and also delves into the town’s social and economic history.
Historical buildings are an attraction in this part of the world. History buffs will enjoy the Diggers Museum in Christiania, the NG Church Museum in Reivilo, the Dutch Reformed Church parish in Vryburg, the Bryburg Hospital, the Schweizer-Reneke town hall and various monuments and memorials.
The Theiler Agricultural Museum and Thieler Monument are situated on the farm Armoedsvlakte to the north-west of Vryburg. The agricultural history of Vryburg is well documented and there is also a statue dedicated to Sir Arnold Theiler, who made a major contribution to the growth of the agricultural industry in the North West.
For something entirely different, there are regular cattle auctions held in Vryburg. It’s a real highlight in this part of the world and a sight to behold. You can also visit various farms in the area, including Vicedale Hereford Stud Farm – renowned for its fine-quality Hereford breeds.
Outdoor activities are popular in the region, including angling at Aventura Vaal Spa, waterskiing at Wentzel Dam, as well as numerous hiking trails.