History of Koffiefontein

Koffiefontein, Free State

The Free State town of Koffiefontein used to be a favourite stopover for transport riders. This is where they took their coffee breaks, and where one of them found a diamond near a spring and sparked off a major mining boom. 

Rich history lies in the dusty little towns of the southern Free State, and Koffiefontein is no exception.

At the entrance to Koffiefontein, you will see a huge suspended kettle, often spewing water. It’s an expanded model of the coffee pots used by Victorian-era transport riders who crossed these plains heading to the diamond fields and goldfields in the north.

 

Open Air Museum at the entrance to the town

During World War II most of the mine hostels were used as intern camps for pro- Nazi South Africans and Italian prisoners of war. Displays at the museum are reminders of this period.

The steam tractor marked the arrival of the first tractor in Koffiefontein on February 6, 1897.  San Rock Art – There are many examples in the area.

 

 Italian Wall Art

Some of Koffiefontein’s most significant historical features are the remnants of Italian wall art left behind by World War II prisoners-of-war (POWs) interned here. War-time Italian leader Benito Mussolini still glares into the distance, although the paint has faded somewhat. 

 Sheep Farming

Sheep farming is the main economic activity of the 1900 square km district which was proclaimed in 1963. Kalkfontein Dam (339 million cubic metres) on the Riet river, 20 km south-east of the town, was built to irrigate 7000ha of land on which the main crops are lucern, seed, potatoes and groundnuts. The dam supplies water to Koffiefontein.

Etienne Le Roux

Arguably, however, Koffiefontein’s most famous son is the late Etienne Le Roux, regarded by many as the greatest Afrikaans writer of his time. Although he lived elsewhere, Le Roux always returned to his farm outside Koffiefontein to write every one of his 11 novels.

‘I gain my impressions in other places, but my writing space is here,’ he said. 

Petra Diamond Mind

The mine works – and subsequent Big Hole (yes, Kimberley is not the only South African town with a Big Hole) – was operated by De Beers, the world-famous diamond mining company started by Cecil John Rhodes, for more than a century. It is currently owned by Petra Diamonds.

Because of its close proximity to Kimberley, Koffiefontein was a focal point for a lot of military action during the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War) War. Held by the British, it was often attacked by Boer forces. Blockhouses were erected around the town, but it was eventually ransacked and the local citizenry had to take refuge in the mine property.