Wakkerstroom is today, the 6th oldest town in Mpumalanga.
Long ago the Khoi-San people lived in this area, by the evidence of the paintings they left behind. Bushmen Paintings Various sites exist in the area. There are seven Khoi-San shelters with rock paintings, some with up to eighty individual paintings.
Genesis of the town
The actual town was established in 1859, when Dirk Cornelius Uys – better known as Swart Dirk Uys, due to his dark complexion – and two members, known only as Gunter and Joubert, were instructed by their church congregation to search for a suitable place in the remote part of the Transvaal to establish a new town and congregation. They travelled inland from Potchefstroom. After a week or two, they stopped overnight at a place that made a most favourable impression on them. It had plenty of water, rolling hills and flat lands suitable for farming. 27km east of Volksrust,56km southeast of Amersfoort. This place became the town of Wakkerstroom, on the border of Natal. It is known as “The Jewel of Mpumelango”.
Satisfied that they had found an ideal area they proceeded to claim the area as their own. They shot an eland bull, slaughtered it, dressed the skin, and cut from it a thong 150 yards (about 137 meters) long, which they used to measure out the streets and erven. In this way they demarcated the town. When the town was surveyed in 1941 with a proper surveyor’s chain, there was only a slight difference between the new pegs and those initially staked by Mr Dirk Uys. Even the stand numbers and the street names given by Mr Uys have largely remained unchanged.
Dirk Uys proposed that the town should be known as Uysenburg, but the Executive Committee of the ZAR (the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek) preferred that the town be named after the President, so it became Marthinus Wesselstroom. The district then became known as Wakkerstroom, and by 1904, colloquially, the town itself also became known as Wakkerstroom. In official documents, however, it is still referred to as Marthinus Wesselstroom in the district of Wakkerstroom.
In isiZulu, the river, known as Wakkerstroom River, that passes close to town is known as Uthaka (Utaga), which roughly translates into ‘wide-awake river’ or a ‘lively stream’.
The story continues that prisoners sentenced to imprisonment avoided being sent to Australia by jumping ship in Durban. In 1860 prisoners freed themselves of leg-irons, and escaped from the ship. They travelled to Wakkerstroom to escape the jurisdiction of the Natal Colonial Police.
In 1893 a branch of Die Nasionale Bank van Zuid Afrika was built to trade. Later it became Barclays Bank then First National Bank. It closed in 2010, and today only one teller machine is open for trade.
Importance of the Town to the Hazelhurst Family
The reason why Wakkerstroom is important in the history of the Hazelhurst family is because our first settler, Edward, settled there, and, according to our research, many of the children were born and raised in this town. At that time English, Afrikaans, Swazi and Zulu were widely spoken. Wakkerstroom today is still an ideal holiday place and well worth a visit.
Birding Wakkerstroom is an important birding area, due to the many wetlands. It is world renowned with nine endemic species in the grasslands. The wetlands are registered as a National Heritage site.
Population (2011) The total population is 6852. Black persons = 87.8% ; Coloured persons = .3% ; Indian and Asian persons = 1.3% ; white persons = 10.2% and others = .4%
This area has become a popular holiday destination for bikers, hikers and bird watchers. It now boasts 5 hotels. The entertainment facilities include an annual music festival, and promotions for frogs, butterflies and art.
Private Game Reserves: Nature, Game, wetland. The area is steeped in history.
The Court House: a sandstone Building built in 1897 is a fully functional court house and most of the furniture and fittings are original. The architecture is unique and the corrugated iron roof displays three Victorian air vents.
St Marks Church: built in 1879 to serve the English speakers in the town. Consecrated in 1890. The rectory completed in 1907 and subsequently occupied by a local priest for 32 years. In 1959 the Bishop of Johannesburg consecrated the beautiful stained glass window, and in 1982 the building became a national monument.
When the number of congregants diminished, in 1986 the church was deconsecrated, and was bought by a NGK theologian. In 2007/8 a local business couple bought the building and the local Anglicans permitted to hold services
Paul Kruger Bridge
The Paul Kruger Bridge crosses the Wakkerstroom (Utaga) river on the road to Amersfoort. The bridge with its 12 metre span of unique steel construction which was manufactured by SietzeWierda in Germany and shipped to South Africa, was erected shortly after President Paul Kruger got stuck in the river while trying to crossing with the official coach. Funding was immediately provided and the bridge completed.
It has the first Zionists’ water baptismal pool in its shadows, on the eastern side of the town. In about 1894 a Dutch Reformed Church minister, Rev. le Roux, came to town as a missionary and influenced by the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, Illinois, he and his deputy, Daniel Nkonyane leaned toward Pentecostal/Zionist teaching. In 1904 the first Zionist Baptisms were held at the bridge and the majority of the NG Mission Church members joined the Zionists.
This caused great problems, and most of the Zionists joined the Apostolic Faith Mission, of which Mr le Roux became president.
In about 1901 a small group of Indian people settled in the town, they were mainly traders and shopkeepers. They built their mosque.
Another of the oldest houses built was the original Wakkerstroom Hotel in 1904. The early owner was Mr Charles Hazelhurst. This was, originally a double storey house, but the top storey was razed and burnt down during the Boer War. It was suspected that British troops were stationed there.
The building was used as the Circuit Court. President Paul Kruger held meetings there. The beautiful sandstone Dutch Reformed Church dates back to 1860. Significant alterations were done to the church in 1944 and these changes meant that the church could not be declared a national monument.
1864: The first police officer was appointed.
During the Anglo-Boer War the British built a line of twenty-one blockhouses between Volksrust and Wakkerstroom, and one hundred blockhouses between Wakkerstroom and Piet Retief. These were built to protect the British supply route from Durban. There were approximately twenty-one British soldiers per 1,6kms along the border. In 1880/81 Wakkerstroom was occupied by British Forces.
· The 58th North Staffordshire Regiment.
· The 80th South Staffordshire Regiment.
· The 1st Kings’ Dragoon Guards.
The remains of the camps of the South Staffordshire Regiment and the Scots Guard can be seen on the summits of Ossewakop and Voortrekkerkop, south of Wakkerstroom
· In 1880 – 1881 the 1st Anglo Boer war was won by the Boers
· In 1899 – 1902 the 2nd Anglo Boer war was won by the British.
In the Historical Cemetery a memorial stone was erected in honour of the British forces who were stationed and died in this area.
A Visitor to South Africa from England
The photograph of John T. Hazelhurst, was an Englishman born in 1843 in Britain. He was a direct descendant of John & Grace. (See the early generations) John spent four years in Wakkerstroom where he was commissioned as a blacksmith by the British Forces. At the end of his term of service he was given this calabash pipe as a present from South Africa with his name engraved on it as a souvenir from South Africa.
Poem by George Ramplen who married Adela Sarah Hazelhurst of Wakkerstroom
“George loved these hills and the people who lived here and who befriended him in the early days. A builder and Councillor of integrity.
Submitted by Edward Ramplen (son)
Wakkerstroom – Wakkerstroom
Where I was born
Will always have in my heart room
From which memory can never be torn.
This once was a town, alive
Every hope to thrive;
This was the junction of roads
Where transport drivers rested loads.
I remember standing at the Saal
Watching the collecting motley of Naachtmaal.
Herds of oxen out spanned –
Mixed colours and purely tanned.
The myriad colours of women’s dresses
And lovely girls with long tresses.
The Church bell ringing
In answer to the call,
One and all.
This was week of worship
When families were re-united in friendship,
Exchanging views and current news.
Travelling the rounds were traders sent
Doing business in a tent.
On the Big Hill, the Staffordshire Knot………
A relic of the war, is not
A scar or out of place.
But now sharing its space
With a Trekker’s wagon….
Both symbols of time now gone,
Yet proof to those who think
How in this nation’s chain, is a link
Welding the efforts by many to bring
And make Unity a real and living thing.
This lovely valley by green hills surrounded,
In my mind is always abounded
With a life worth living….
Encouragement by the Earth’s generous giving.
The vlei’s, streams, and kloofs
In a wild flower garden aloof
Seems far away from present rough touch
All make a million memories to mean so much…
Making up a lovely bloom
Blessed, happy Wakkerstroom