Koffiefontein – A Blend of Tradition and History
The small town of Koffiefontein in the southern Free State started off as a stopover spot for transport riders in the 1800s, as they travelled between the coast and burgeoning diamond fields and gold mines up north. The name of the town, translated “Coffee Fountain” is a reference to the strong brew transport riders would make, grinding up their coffee beans and using the water of the natural spring. Upon the discovery of diamonds near the spring in 1870, a town quickly developed as miners started to excavate the ground in the hope of finding more of the high quality diamonds the area became known for.
A prominent feature of Koffiefontein are the blockhouses erected by the British in 1900, which served as defensive fortresses in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). With the town being close to Mafikeng and Kimberley it became embroiled in the conflict at the time. The blockhouses were built following an attack on the town and the diamond mine by Boer forces under the command of Commandant Hertzog and General Brand.
Koffiefontein became the site for a large internment camp during World War II, with up to 2,000 Italian and German prisoners of war being held there, along with around 800 South Africans who were thought to be pro-Nazi. Prominent political figure John Vorster was among the South Africans held captive at Koffiefontein. He later became Prime Minister and President of South Africa, holding the latter office in 1978 and 1979. The barracks that were home to these prisoners of war can still be viewed in the town, along with murals painted by the interned Italians.
The town of Koffiefontein was home to renowned award-winning Afrikaans writer, Etienne Leroux, and visitors can view his homestead and his grave. Other attractions nearby include San rock paintings, the Kalkfontein Dam, Riet River and the Gariep Dam Nature Reserve. Visitors to Koffiefontein are left in no doubt as to what the name means as the entrance to the town is marked with a large sign and an oversized old-fashioned coffee kettle, similar to those used by the transport riders of bygone days. Exhibiting good old-fashioned Karoo hospitality, the town has a number of eateries offering traditional fare and the aromatic beverage that gave the town its name.