Vryheid has a number of interesting things to see and do. Not the least of these are the three museums which aim to give the visitor insight into; not only the general history of the area, but also the interesting artefacts used in the past, the clothing used and also a glimpse into the lives of the colourful characters from yesteryear. The Lucas Meijer Museum serves as headquarters and this is where you must go first. This museum does not only have a fascinating collection but also serves as a living museum where meetings, training and educational events are frequently presented. Built in 1884 by President Lucas Meijer, it served as the presidency until after his death when his widow extended it. It is an excellent example of the Cape Dutch Revival style. The Carnegie Library is situated directly across the road and presently houses the Vryheid Information Bureau. Completed in 1909, this flamboyant building is well worth a visit. The Nieuwe Republiek Museum was erected during 1884 as the raadsaal of the new state. Behind this museum there is a most interesting ironstone building which used to be the gaol. For additional information about Vryheid’s fascinating history please phone the curator at
tel. 034 982 2133 X 2287.
MEDICINAL PLANT NURSERIES
Two nurseries are being developed in the area, one in Coronation which is a commercial venture and another one in the Vryheid Hill Nature Reserve where the main focus will be educational. Both will give the visitor an insight into the fascinating world of traditional healing and, once they are established, will become a must-see for visitors.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
The AbaQulusi region is blessed with many private game farms, nature reserves and other natural areas where the visitor can renew mind, body and soul. There are three municipal dams around Vryheid; Grootgewacht, Klipfontein and Bloemveld, where a wide variety of water sports, including canoening, boating and fishing can be practised.
The Hlobane coal mine, which is more than one hundred years old, has been earmarked as the potential site for an underground coal mine museum. This will be the first of its kind for South Africa and only the third in the world.
WE, THE PEOPLE OF ABAQULUSI, STRIVE TO IMPROVE OUR QUALITY OF LIFE BY PROVIDING A HIGHER STANDARD OF SERVICE TO OUR ENTIRE COMMUNITY. WE SEE THIS AREA AS A PRIME ECONOMIC GENERATOR FOR TOURISM, FARMING, MINING AND TIMBER DEVELOPMENT AND A SERVICE CENTRE FOR ITS RURAL AND URBAN COMMUNITIES.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: AbaQulusi Municipality P.O. Box 57 Vryheid 3100
Tel: 034 9822133 Fax: 034 9809637
The natural world in and around Vryheid has a way of getting under one's skin. The quiet, scenic beauty of the town nestling in the palm of the friendly Vryheid Hill spells magic enchantment that warms the heart and touches the soul. The grasslands have their own specific smell, the forest patches have unique muffled sounds, the spring flowers their shy but splendid colours and the misty hill evoke a feeling of well-being and a sense of belonging.
Vryheid Hill Nature Reserve, bordering the town, is a superb place for nature lovers and bird watchers. Very few towns or cities have, not only the privilege of their own conservation area on their borders, but also a resident pair of Crowned Eagles, which nest in a Cape Ash tree in the forest overlooking town.
The conservation area is incredibly diverse, with grasslands, rocky slopes, protected pockets of forest as well as mixed woodland. It therefore supports a variety of animal and plant species. Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife are the custodians of this park. Hikers can expect encounters with the shy grey duiker, mountain reedbuck, oribi, eland, Burchell's zebra and blesbok.
The unique Ntingonono Environment Centre, established some years ago, is at the entrance of this reserve. This is an educational facility with the focus on environmental education for school groups. It offers accommodation for 60 people and seats up to 100 people in the hall. Specialist speakers offer their
services on request and learners have the opportunity to get hands-on exposure to the natural world.
South of the town is the man-made Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary and various other wetlands. Over 370 species of birds have been recorded in the greater Vryheid area. Birders are always keen to find the “Vryheid Specials”, which include Red-chested Flufftail, Crowned Crane, Bush Blackcap and Baillon's Crake.
Another amazing place and botanical hot-spot is the Bivane dam. It offers many rare and endemic plant species, including the Bivane Waterwood, Ithala Gladiolus and Wild Teak.
The Vryheid veld is an ecological transitional area and offers a natural gateway to the Zululand bushveld to the south-east and the middle- and highveld to the north-west. Many eco-destinations ranging from game farms, game and nature reserves and other conservation places are situated in close
proximity to the town. There is, however, a risk - the magic enchantment of the Vryheid area may become an addiction.
Vryheid is bustling with entrepreneurs and artists whose products are becoming a trademark of this district. Not the commoneveryday buys but special ones that will remind you of a special place.
Here are some of the area's best buys:
Hand-made SHEEP WOOL DUVETS, the speciality of Celia van Wyk, will, no doubt, keep you cosy and warm during the coldest winter night. ROSE'S HANDMADE CONFECTIONERY -handmade nougat made from naturalproducts - is a newcomer on the Vryheid“Special Buys” market. Once you have tasted nougat made by Rose Opperman you will be hooked. OH MY GOODNESS' “anysbeskuit”, just like grandma made it, has given a good taste (and dip) to many a cup of coffee in town. Special delicacies are on the menu at HOLSTEIN FLEISCHEREI. You cannot pass this butchery without stocking up on traditional German delicatessen like mettwurst, blutwurst and bratwurst. Should you be in Vryheid over Easter or Christmas you will also be able to buy traditionalGerman crafts and cakes. Some 20 km out of town, on the Melmoth road, the BABANANGO BILTONG stall has made many a traveler turn in to taste the “lekkerste” biltong. Handmade soap from DISA NATURAL SOAP is theideal memento to take home. Their soothing fragrances, derived from natural ingredients, will bring back warm memories of Vryheid. Funky arts, crafts and picture framing are available at FINE THINGS and the selection will keep you busy for ages.THE CORNER SHOP stocks pots, gifts, candles and the like and exotic and local furniture tempt at LIZARD INTERIORS. One of Vryheid's most famous exports are Hein Pretorius's WARTHOG KNIFE SHARPENERS that put life into many local blades. "Sê dit met 'n sepie" is only one of NOMPILO CREATIONS' range of personalised gifts.
Contact the Vryheid Information Bureau on 034 982 2133 X 2271 or 2229 for details and contact numbers.
WHAT THE ZULU TRANSLATION FOR VRYHEID IS?
The word Vryheid translated into English means freedom. Looking for a Zulu translation is not that simple, there are at least six words in the dictionary which incorporate different nuances for freedom: ukuzenzela - to do things by yourself, ukuzipatha - to be independent, ukukhululeka - to feel free, ukukhumuka - to loosen or untie things, uku-ungesabi - not to be afraid of anything. The word Filidi has no real meaning only being the historical Zulu pronunciation of the word Vryheid.
HOW PHILATELY PUT ITS STAMP ON VRYHEID?
For a short while after its inauguration the Nieuwe Republiek had its own postal service with a range of hand-made postage stamps. A full set of these stamps has been preserved and can be viewed at the Lucas Meijer Museum.
ABOUT THE 5 BOER GENERALS?
During the Anglo Boer War Vryheid produced five generals who took part with distinction.
Gen. Lucas Meijer - in command of Boer forces which unsuccessfully attacked Dundee on 20/10/1899. More a politician than a soldier he was also, before the war, the President of the Nieuwe Republiek after having been involved in the defeat of Usibhepu.
Gen. Louis Botha - a member of the Boer force which helped Dinizulu defeat Usibhepu. He was a "Veldkornet" at the battle of Talana (Dundee) but due to his military brilliance was put in overall charge of the ZAR forces in Natal and promoted to General within the space of 3 months. He became Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
Gen. "Cherry" Emmett - of Irish extraction, he was in Vryheid at the outbreak of hostilities and served as Commandant in the Vryheid commando. He fought at Spioenkop and Vaalkrantz and was in charge of the force that captured the British guns at Colenso. He was promoted to General and put in charge of the south-eastern area of the ZAR which included Vryheid.
Gen. Koot Opperman - a most competent soldier, he was mainly responsible for the British defeat at Scheepersnek and the capture of two guns at Bloedrivierpoort in September 1901
as well as for the destruction of Bethune's Mounted Infantry. He was wounded twice before being killed in action at the battle of Bakenlaagte.
Gen. M.W. Myburgh - originally from Paulpietersburg, he was involved in all the tugela battles as a Commandant and succeeded Gen. Opperman on 24/03/1902. A strict and disciplined leader, he served until the end of the war, mainly during the guerrilla stage.
Annual events in the Vryheid region ensure that there never needs to be a dull day. There is a wide variety of activities which will interest even the hardened traveler.
The autumn school holidays are filled with braaivleis, sunny skies and RUGBY. It is the time for schools from all over the country to congregate in Vryheid for the annual rugby week. Autumn is also the time for Vryheid to host the National Motor Sport Rally and, shortly thereafter, in the beginning of May, the Lions May Fair takes place at the Cecil Emmett Park with lots of stalls, stands and entertainment.
Wintertime kicks off with the Country Cultural Crescendo where the various cultural groups invite locals and visitors to tantalise their senses with music and food. September is the host month for both the Pionier High School “Wildsfees” and theIthala Game Reserve Escarpment Challenge Marathon which partly takes place in the Reserve.
Just as the spring buds start opening it is time for the annual bull and ram salewhich attracts farmers from near and far; the incentive being excellent sales.
When kids realise that final exam time is just around the corner, it is time for theIthala Canoe Challenge. This event for the very brave, from Bivane dam to Ithala Game Reserve, is set to become one of the highlights of the Vryheid calendar. Set in magnificent surroundings this race is not only a challenge, it is an experience.
Imagine a place where, within a few minutes drive, you can explore forest, wetland, grassland and mountains. Imagine a place where, within a few minutes drive, you have access to over 340 bird species, a number of indigenous mammals and a few thousand plant species.Imagine a place where, within a few minutes drive, you can combine all of the above with battlefields, cultural and commercial interests as well as numerous outdoor activities, culinary adventures, first-world housing and shopping and be within a stone's-throw of all Zululand has to offer. Stop imagining - welcome to Vryheid!
Founded in 1886, the town of Vryheid was formed inside an area granted to early Voortrekker settlers by the Zulu King Dinizulu. Rich coal seams were discovered shortly after and this, along with an expanding agriculturalindustry, ensured the rapid growth of the town. The coal assets have, by and large, been depleted and this has shifted the economic focus to tourism, along with agriculture. The two main tourism attractions are the numerous history and nature related sites.
Starting at the Information Bureau, (1) itself a conversion from the old Carnegie Library which was built with funds from the great American philanthropist of the same name, take a stroll up the street to the old parliament building (the Raadsaal) (3) and jail, all buildings that were used by the fledgling government of the Nuwe Republiek between 1884 and 1888. The present police station (5) is also a National Monument.Lucas Meijer Huis (2) over the roadwas where the first president of the Republic resided and is now a museum.
In 1927 an Englishman by the name of Charles Evenden, leaving his newly adopted country of Australia to settle in Durban, started the M.O.T.H.order, a uniquely South African ex-servicemen's league to give comfort and cameraderie to soldiers from the Anglo Boer War and the First World War. The local chapter is known as the Freedom Shellhole (4) and is well worth the visit, if not for its collection of memorabilia, then for its pub called "The Mirage".
Vryheid is a town of over 30 churches and the Dutch Reformed Moederkerk (6)takes pride of place in the center of town. The Anglican Church of St. Peters (7) is a typical Sir Herbert Baker building with a lectern dedicated to Lt. Col. Gawne, the officer killed on Lancaster Hill (9) behind Vryheid in the Anglo Boer War. TheMethodist Church (8) is the oldest completed church in Vryheid.
During the early hours of the 1st December 1900 Boer forces attacked the British fortresses on Lancaster Hill (9), just north of town. There are still numerous sangars and other rock walls for the visitor to discover. The hill is also a protected area, the Vryheid Hill Nature Reserve, and is managed by KZN Wildlife. It is well known for its plant, mammal and bird abundance and is traversed by roads and footpaths. 230 species of birds have been identified over the years, of special importance is a pair of African Crowned Eagles whichbreed in the forest overlooking town. A number of mammals occur in the reserve as well, including Oribi, Eland and Blesbok. Special plants include orchids, the carnivorous Sundew, localised trees and shrubs and many bulbous delights.
The Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary (10) lies 2km south-west of town and is a success story worth a visit. The wetland provides a refuge for 160 bird species; many of which can beseen from a small hide that has been erected on the edge of a pan. Specials include a breeding pair of Grey Crowned Cranes and African Fish Eagles, Red-chested Flufftail, African Rail and Baillon's Crake. Keen observers might even spot the Cape Clawless Otter or Water Mongoose.
The mountain and valley bushveld around Mpofini Mountain (11) south-east of town (5km) is another area which deserves a visit. Verreaux's Eagle graces the skies, and Mocking Cliff-Chat and Shelley's Francolin are but a few of the 200 species of birds recorded in this area. Wild figs cling to the sandstone cliffs and attract many bird species. A number of mammals have been introduced into this area, including Giraffe,Nyala, Warthog, Eland and Kudu.
The region has a well developed infrastructure. A multitude of hospitality and other establishments, not to mention the friendly locals, eagerly anticipate your visit. A number of professional, registered tour guides are available.
Pres. Lucas Meijer
The aftermath of the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 left the remnants of the Zulu Kingdom in the hands of Usibhepu, Dinizulu's uncle. Dinizulu, the rightful heir, enlisted military support from the Boers in restoring him as king. Following a successful campaign Dinizulu was sworn in and in return the Boers were granted a large tract of land. On 16th August 1884 this land was proclaimed the Nieuwe Republiek with Vryheid as the capital and Lucas Meijer as the president.
A raadsaal for the town fathers, a presidency for Lucas Meijer and a goal for miscreants were all built. The fate of the tiny republic followed that of many others and by 1888 it had been absorbed by its neighbour, the Zuid Afrikaanche Republiek. The moederkerk, which occupies pride of place in the centre of town, was completed in 1894.
At the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War on 20th October 1899, the Vryheid Commando swung into action and, led by General Lucas Meijer, fought at the battle of Talana. They went on to take part in the siege of Ladysmith and had the honour of capturing the British guns at Colenso.
Vryheid itself was left relatively unscathed by the big battles fought against the British forces to the west but smaller skirmishes with the Imperial forces did occur at Scheepersnek, as well as a major Boer attack on the British garrison stationed on Lancaster Hill just north of Vryheid. During this battle Lt. Col. Gawne was mortally wounded and a cairn demarcating the place where he fell as well as the British fortifications can be viewed on the hill.
General Louis Botha, one of five famous generals from Vryheid, tested the British lines the next year and led a successful invasion into Natal via Bloedrivierpoort, drawing thousands of imperial troops from the Transvaal and the Free State in a desperate attempt to trap him. The incursion finally ended at Italeni and Fort Prospect where the Boers were defeated, however General Botha managed to elude the pursuing British as he led his men back to the Transvaal.
At the culmination of the Anglo Boer war, chief Sikibobo, encouraged by the British civil authorities, attacked a Boer camp on the slopes of Holkrans mountain, killing 56 burgers of Commandant Jan "Mes" Potgieter's commando.
After the Anglo Boer War in 1903 the town was incorporated into the colony of Natal. The Carnegie library (presently the information Bureau) was built with funds from the Carnegie Foundation and houses started springing up along Bree, Kerk and Hoog streets as well as above the railway line at the base of the hill. 1910 saw the Natal Colony join the Union of South Africa and in 1912 the town was granted municipal status. It gradually grew into an agricultural market place for maize, sheep and cattle. The Empire Theatre is Hoog St., site of many musicals and revues, was completed in 1927.
Coal, which hat been used by the early Zulu tribes east of Vryheid, became commercially viable from 1908 onwards, with the construction of a rail link to the coalfields. Two big mines, Coronation an Hlobane, in time grew to provide thousands of jobs for the inhabitants of the area. With the increase in population so the need for water led to the construction of the Grootgewacht (1949), Bloemveld and Klipfontein dams to service the area. The present municipal building complex was completed in 1957 and the post office in 1980.
Following the successful national elections in 1994, the political development of Vryheid followed a peaceful route with the creation of a Transitional Local Council and the birth of the AbaQulusi Municipality in 2001.