Koffiefontein, Free State

Koffiefontein internment camp

One of the murals at the old Koffiefontein internment camp.

In July of 1870, a transport rider called Bam made camp at his usual spot near the Riet River in what was later to become Koffiefontein.

He herded his span of tired, hungry oxen up a hillside in search of good grazing. It was while he was watching them that his eye picked up something shiny in the middle distance. He retrieved the stone and later, at Klipdrif, it was confirmed to be a diamond.

To cut a very long story short, this was the beginning of the Koffiefontein Diamond Mine, which today sports arguably the most eye-pleasing ‘big hole’ in southern Africa – and you know it’s hard to please the eye with a hole in the ground.

But why the name Koffiefontein?

As you enter the town, the huge metal coffee pot under the sign says it all. This used to be a favourite stopover place for cross-country folk because of its sweet springs and “between-everything” location. A fine place to have a cup of coffee.

The steam tractor parked nearby represents the arrival of the first tractor in Koffiefontein on February 6, 1897.

It was welcomed into “Koffie” by a loud brass band and a jubilant President Steyn, who “broke a bottle of drink on it and dubbed it ‘President Steyn’”. The one on display is a 1907 import, but no less impressive.

As to the piscatorial tower of the NG Kerk? Well, all I could glean was that a previous dominee was a very keen fisherman. And the paintings of Victor Emmanuel II and Benito Mussolini? Done by Italian POWs who were interned here in World War Two.

John Vorster, who was to become one of South Africa’s Apartheid-era prime ministers, was also interned here.

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