Lejweleputswa takes up an area from the centre of the province to the west, where it meets the provincial borders of the North West and the Northern Cape.
The location of some of the world’s deepest gold mines, the region used to be referred to as the Goldfields. Lejweleputswa, the name adopted after 1994, means grey stone or rock and instead honours the gold-bearing lava that contains the gold.
The discovery of this precious metal came about with the sinking of a borehole on a private farm in the late 1940s. Lava, and not water, was struck. Needless to say, it sparked a rush of fortune-seekers and a boom of mining towns in what was essentially farm land growing mostly maize.
The largest town in Lejweleputswa is Welkom, which has its roots in this unearthing of gold, first found on a farm of the same name in 1946.
Founded just 66 years ago, the town has had the benefit of superb urban planning, much of it led by the then-chairman of mining house Anglo American, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer. Mining, industrial and residential areas are cleverly melded and the overall impression is of well-tended gardens and wide streets.
The towns in this region include Allanridge, Boshoff, Bothaville, Brandfort, Bultfontein, Dealesville, Hennenman, Hertzogville, Hoopstad, Odendaalsrus, Theunissen, Ventersburg, Verkeerdevlei, Virginia, Wesselsbron and Winburg.
The older centres, established in the late 19th century, have strong traces of Voortrekker heritage and involvement in the Anglo-Boer Wars. Memorials and sites related to these periods of history abound.
Brandfort is rather interesting for the existence of two concentration camps here, one for whites and one for blacks, and supports growing evidence that the second Anglo-Boer War drew all South Africans in, not just Boer and Brit.
Winburg, today a mixed-farming centre, is the oldest town in the region; Virginia on the banks of the Sand River is picturesque and charming; Bothaville on the Vals River is the maize capital of the Free State; Hertzogville takes its names from South Africa’s longest serving Prime Minister (JBM Herzog) and Wesselsbron from Commandant Cornelius Wessels, who led the 1899 Siege of Kimberley.
Today, mineral extraction in Lejeweputswa has been extended to silver and uranium.
Look out for
Gold Mine Tours - A number of mines in Welkom offer below-ground and surface mine tours. Particularly interesting is the St Helena Mine, which contains a wine cellar in its depths. At 857 metres below the earth’s surface, it is the world’s deepest wine cellar. A Gold Museum in the town wraps up the regional history of the industry. Mine tours can also be done in Virginia and Theunissen.
Winnie Mandela House, Majwemasoeu, Brandfort – Upon her conviction for participating in the organisation of the Soweto riots in 1976, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was banished to the town of Brandfort for almost 10 years, where she lived in the township of Majwemasoeu. Her house can be visited.
The Willem Pretorius Game Reserve – Located outside Ventersburg and incorporating the Allemanskraal Dam, the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve is in the heart of the Free State. It covers about 12 000 hectares and among its game species are large herds of black wildebeest, white rhino and giraffe. Caracal and black-backed jackal are the largest predators here. For birdwatchers, there are more than 200 feathered species to identify. Water sports and fishing are possible on the dam.
Voortrekker Monument, Winburg – Winburg lost out to Pretoria when the location for a primary Voortrekker Monument was debated. Nevertheless it has an impressive, five-tiered structure that commemorates five leaders of the movement - Piet Uys, Andries Hendrik Potgieter, Andries Pretorius, Piet Retief and Gerhard Maritz. It was designed in such a way that on 16 December, the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River (now the Day of Reconciliation), the sun passes directly over the monument to shine on a plaque bearing a religious message. A museum nearby holds many artefacts from Voortrekker days.
Phakisa Freeway – Phakisa, a Sotho word meaning “get moving”, is the well-chosen name for this motor-racing circuit in Welkom. Motor vehicle manufacturers, too, use the facility as a testing track. Phakisa has a conference venue, substantial undercover space for indoor sports, exhibitions and functions, and amenities for other outdoor sports.
Sandveld Nature Reserve - This 37 700-hectare reserve of Kalahari bushveld, 30 kilometres from Hoopstad, is found on the Free State side of the Bloemhof Dam, and is popular among anglers. Barbel and yellowfish are common catches. The reserve attracts some unusual aquatic birds, such as the pygmy falcon and great crested grebe. Mammal sightings include a wide variety of antelope, rhino and giraffe.