Wedged between the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains in a tableau remarkable for its flat-topped sandstone mountain is an area called QwaQwa by the San. It means “whiter than white” and the literature available claims this was for one of two reasons: the snows in winter or the vulture droppings that left the sandstone peaks white.
A South Sotho tribe known as the Kgolokwe took up residence here in the 1840s. The name of its chief was Whetse, and this is believed to be the origin of another name for the area, Witsieshoek. Later they were joined by another South Sotho tribe, the Tlokwa.
As a result of the apartheid government’s misguided ”Bantustan” policy, QwaQwa became an independent homeland in 1969 and Phuthaditjhaba (meaning ”meeting place of nations”) was developed as the capital.
The town is scenically positioned on the Elands River in the Thabo Mofutsanyana district of the Free State. It is roughly 50 kilometres from Harrismith and 80 kilometres from Bethlehem.
Look out for
In easy reach of Phuthaditjhaba are the dramatic sandstone cliffs of the Golden Gate National Park.
Also nearby is the QwaQwa National Park. Great for bird-watching, it offers guided horse trails and a two-day hiking trail.
The Basotho Cultural Village affords insight into the South Sotho culture from the 16th century to the present day. Drink traditional beer, play traditional games, listen to traditional musical instruments and consult a traditional healer. Learn about gathering spaces for men and women, hut architecture and decoration, and be entertained by tribal song and dance.
The local topography lends itself to 4x4 off-road tracks.
Similarly, hiking around town is spectacular. The Sentinel Trail exposes the hiker to the most magnificent of Drakensberg vistas.
Trout fishing is possible in the Fika Patso and Metsi Matso dams.
Pony trekking in typical Basotho style is a popular activity and sometimes used as the mode of transport to view rock art sites.
Two local monuments are the Batlokwa Monument and Musuem and the Pailo Mopedi Statue, which commemorates the founder of Phuthaditjhaba.