Mahikeng was founded by Molema Tawana of the Baralong-Boora-Tshidi in the early 1850s. The name means “place of rocks”, in reference to volcanic rocks in the area that were once used for shelter or as hiding places while hunting.
The name came to be known as Mafikeng but on the arrival of British settlers, the spelling was somehow changed to Mafeking. Mafikeng has since come back into use, although last year, the local authorities let it be known that the town would officially revert back to Mahikeng. Mafikeng tends to stick, however.
The town is the provincial capital of the North West province, and is in the Molema district. Its history is dominated by one particular episode, the Siege of Mafikeng, a 217-day siege that took place from October 1899 to May 1900 during the second Anglo-Boer War. All parties involved – the besieged British, the besieging Boers and the Baralong, who got caught up in the action – suffered substantial losses of life. The siege was closely followed by the British media and gave fame to Sir Baden Powell and the Boy Scout movement. It also revealed the extraordinary talents of Sol Plaatje, who wrote the famous Mafeking diary, A Black Man’s View of a White Man’s War, at that time.
A visit to the Mafikeng Museum is considered an excellent starting point in getting to know the town. It is housed in the Old Town Hall, an elaborate building with a town clock that deserves its own examination.
Naturally, the siege features prominently in the displays, with hundred of photographs and artefacts to view. But there’s a whole lot more. The museum places strong emphasis on the Tswana culture, overturning its secondary status of the colonial past. There’s a 90-ton, 6-H class steam locomotive on show, which pulled between Mafikeng and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe from 1901. There’s also “the Nelson”, a 1770 ship’s cannon used by the Baralong against the Boers and later by the British in the siege.
Mafikeng has also developed a number of tourist sites associated with Plaatje, a journalist, court interpreter and founding member of the African National Congress. It is now possible to visit the great man’s newspaper office, printing works and residence.
Look out for
Game parks in the area include the Mafikeng Game Reserve, the Manyane Game Lodge and the Botsalano Game Reserve.
There’s a cultural village in the Lotlamoreng Cultural Reserve, as well as a waterfall sanctuary.
The Modimola Dam attracts fishermen and picnickers.
The provincial legislature and the impressive government offices, the Garona, can be seen in Mafikeng’s western suburbs. Nearby, the Mmabana Cultural Centre promotes music and the arts through workshops and exhibitions.
Kanon Kopje, a defensive fort constructed in 1855, can be seen to the southeast of town.
The Kgotla (tribal meeting place) of the Baralong Boora Tshidi can be visited. There are monuments nearby to those who led the tribe’s resistance to the siege and died in battle.