Several theories exist about the origin of the city's name. According to one theory, it originates from Potgieter + Chef + stroom (referring to Voortrekker leader and town founder Andries Potgieter; "chef" indicates the leader of the Voortrekkers, and "stroom" refers to the Mooi River).
Geoffrey Jenkins writes, "Others however, attribute the name as having come from the word 'Potscherf', meaning a shard of a broken pot, due to the cracks that appear in the soil of the Mooi River Valley during drought resembling a broken pot". M. L. Fick suggests that Potchefstroom developed from the abbreviation of "Potgieterstroom" to "Potgerstroom", which became "Potchefstroom". However, this does not account for the appearance of "Potjestroom" on many documents and photographs.
The African National Congress decided to change the name of the municipality and some street names in 2006, favouring "Tlokwe" as the new name. In 2007, its name was changed from Potchefstroom Municipality to Tlokwe Municipality. However, the city continued to use the name Potchefstroom. The Tlowke Municipality merged with the Ventersdorp Municipality in 2016, forming the larger JB Marks Local Municipality.
Potchefstroom, founded in 1838 by the Voortrekkers, is the second-oldest European settlement in the Transvaal. The oldest European settlement is Klerksdorp, about 40 km (25 mi) west. Some historians challenge this, because the first settlement was in the "upper regions of the Schoon Spruit" (believed to have been between Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom). However, Potchefstroom was the first to develop into a town.
Until 1840, the towns of Potchefstroom and Winburg and their surrounding territories were a Boer Republic known as the Republic of Winburg-Potchefstroom. Voortrekker leader Andries Hendrik Potgieter was elected as chief commandant. In October 1840, after a meeting between Potgieter, Andries Pretorius and G. R. van Rooyen, it was decided that Potchefstroom would unite with "Pieter Mouriets Burg" (Pietermaritzburg).
On 16–17 January 1852, the Sand River Convention was signed between Andries Pretorius (representing the Boers) and Major W. S. Hogge and C. M. Owen (representing Britain). According to the convention, the British government would allow the immigrant farmers north of the Vaal River to govern themselves with no interference from either side. This signalled the establishment of the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek (ZAR) (South African Republic). In Article 17 of the Constitution of the ZAR dated 18 February 1858 (which was accepted in Rustenburg), it was stated that "Potchefstroom, located on the Mooi River, would be the capital of the Republic and that Pretoria would be the seat of government". In May 1860, Potchefstroom became the "chief city" of the republic and the capital moved to Pretoria.
On 16 December 1880, the First Boer War began when the Boers laid siege to the old fort. The siege ended amicably on 23 March 1881. The British built concentration camps during the Second Boer War for Boer women, children, and elderly men, where more than 27,000 died of starvation and disease.
At the opening of the city hall in 1909, colonial secretary Jan Smuts was asked about the possibility of Potchefstroom becoming capital of the Union. He replied that the city stood no chance, but should aim to be South Africa's largest educational centre.
This has led to Potchefstroom's being the "city of expertise", with numerous tertiary educational institutions. It has hosted the annual late-September Aardklop Arts Festival, a predominantly-Afrikaans arts festival, since 1997.
The Potchefstroom Municipality, which encompasses several neighbouring settlements, had a population of 128,357 in the 2007 community survey. Of these, 69.6 percent were white, 27.0 percent were black, three percent were coloureds and 0.4 percent were Asian. However, the city itself and surrounding suburbs have a population of 43,448, of which 69.9 percent are white, 25.4 percent are black, 2.8 percent were coloured and 1.3 percent were Asian.
Ken McArthur of Potchefstroom won a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in the marathon. McArthur was known in his home village of North Antrim for his training routine, which consisted of racing a narrow-gauge train.
Potchefstroom is home to five tertiary institutions, 30 other schools and a number of research bureaus and training centres, including:
The Potchefstroom College of Education (originally the Normal College), which was founded in 1919. The college was originally housed in galvanised-iron buildings on the same premises as the Potchefstroom High School for Boys, and moved to its present location in 1923. The College of Education was incorporated by the university on 1 January 2001.
The Technical College Potchefstroom, founded in 1939 when the Union Education Department began "continuation classes".
The Agricultural Centre, previously known as the Experimental Farm (1902) and Agricultural College (1939), is the largest agricultural facility in one location in southern Africa. The centre houses the headquarters of the Highveld Region of the Department of Agriculture, the Grain Crops Institute, and the Agricultural College. The Potchefstroom Koekoek chicken was developed there.
Potchefstroom Akademie, founded in 1981 by Tina Schöltz, offers tertiary education in somatology, health and skincare therapy, holistic health therapies and interior design and decorating.
Potchefstroom High School for Girls: Originally known as the Central School, it was established in 1874. Girls High was founded in 1905, when the Central School was divided into separate high schools for boys and girls.
Public primary and high schools in Potchefstroom's townships include Boitirelo Primary School, Lesego Primary School, Boitshoko High School and Tlokwe High School.
Potchefstroom, known as the North West Province's "Home of Sport", is the provincial headquarters of 17 major sports. The city council emphasises the establishment, maintenance and upgrading of its sports facilities, particularly to meet the sporting and recreational needs of its youth. The Mooi River and other trails add colour and variety to facilities available to residents and tourists.
Potchefstroom has hosted two World Cup-winning teams (in cricket and football), and is a home away from home for international athletes and teams. At 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) altitude, it provides a good balance between altitude and quality training. The city has no large factories, and good air quality. Athletes and professional teams train at the North-West University's High Performance Institute of Sport.
Rugby is arguably Potchefstroom's most popular sport. Olën Park, the main rugby stadium, is primarily used for rugby union matches by the Leopards in the Vodacom Cup and the first division of the Currie Cup. The stadium is also used for football matches, and has hosted the South Africa under-23 team. Jomo Cosmos, a Premier Soccer League, team relegated to the National First Division, also uses the stadium for some matches. Profert Olën Park was named after Carl Ludwig Theodor Olën, president of the Western Transvaal Rugby Union between 1922 and 1934. Profert, a local fertiliser company, maintains the playing field.
The Absa Puk Oval is on the North-West University campus. The university sport grounds is known as the Fanie du Toit Sports Complex. The main rugby field has hosted several Leopards games and the Potchefstroom Campus' Varsity Cup matches.
The visit of the Spain national football team during the 2010 FIFA World Cup brought a new level of sport to Potchefstroom and the NWU. Spain, who won their inaugural FIFA World Cup title, chose Potchefstroom as their base camp. A new sports complex was built at the North-West University for the team, and the local airport was expanded to accommodate large passenger planes.
Mayor Maphetle Maphetle of the African National Congress was dismissed in late 2012 after a motion of no confidence passed, and Annette Combrink of the opposition Democratic Alliance was elected mayor. Three months later a motion of no confidence removed Combrink, and Maphetle was reinstated. Since then, municipal-council and mayoral elections have been keenly contested.
Oak Avenue, one of many oak-lined streets near the university
Since the Heritage Resources Act of 1999, monuments are classified as grade I (national), II (provincial) and III (local). Many national monuments were downgraded to grade II.
Grade I : National Heritage Sites
Old Fort and Cemetery, c. 1881
An earthwork quadrilateral, west of the Potch–Klerksdorp rail line and south of the main Potch–Klerksdorp road. British soldiers built the fort during the Anglo-Boer War in 1880, and were besieged by the Boers for 95 days. A number of soldiers and civilians who died during the siege are buried in the adjoining cemetery. Declared in 1937 (Item 27046 in the South African Heritage Resources Agency registry).
South African National Artillery Memorial
The national memorial site, on Ventersdorp Road in Kanonierspark, for all artillery soldiers who died in combat during World War II.
Willem Daniel Pretorius, the great-grandnephew of President M. W. Pretorius, obtained the house and outbuildings (a farm adjacent to the town) in 1888 and immediately began extending and changing the house. His initials and the year (WDP 1888) were inscribed on the front door of the new facade. A small school was housed in one of the buildings, the forerunner of M. L. Fick Primary school. The Mooi Rivier Dutch Reformed Church was founded there in 1917. The site, on the corner of Walter Sisulu Avenue and Smit Street, was declared in 1987 (Item 27354 in SAHRA database).
Goetz-Fleishack House, c. 1857
This is the only existing example of an early townhouse (dorpshuis) built around Nieuwe Market Square, and demonstrates the lifestyle of the first wealthy civilians of the ZAR. The site was the residence of magistrate A. M. Goetz during the First War of Independence (1880–1881). His son-in-law, Albert Reinholdt Fleishack, later lived in the same home. The house and outbuildings, at the intersection of Nelson Mandela and Sol Plaatjie Avenues, have been restored as a historic house museum. It was declared a national monument in 1985 (Item 27820 on SAHRA register)
Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk (Church), c. 1859
The original cruciform church, with an earth floor and thatched roof, received a tin roof with decorative cast-iron horsemen and a spire. An 1892 renovation provided a plank floor, galleries, pews, a ceiling and lamps. An organ gallery was later built, and a pipe organ was imported from London and transported by train and oxcart. The building's cornerstone was laid on 26 December 1859, and it was consecrated on 25 February 1866. Construction was interrupted in 1863-4 by the Transvaal Civil War. The church is on Walter Sisulu Avenue, opposite the Town Hall.
M. W. Pretorius House, c. 1868
The President Pretorius house is in traditional Cape style, with white plaster and a thatched roof. It consists of a 1,323-hectare (5.11 sq mi) property with the original residence, a wagon house and stables, and a smithy. The site, with large oak trees planted by Pretorius, was declared a monument in 1979 (Item 27047 in the SAHRA register) and is now a house museum.
Berlin Missionary Complex, c. 1875
This building looked identical to the Berlin Mission Church in Pretoria: a small hall with "fortified" colonial Gothic elements. It initially had a thatched roof, and a dirt floor; the thatched roof was replaced with a tin roof in 1956, and a parquet floor and gallery were added. Minor changes have been made since 1938, when the new Evangelical Lutheran congregation used the Mission Church. The Gereformeerde Church Mooi Rivier now own the building, at the corner of Sol Plaatjie and Du Plooy Streets.
St. Mary's Anglican Church, c. 1890
Credited to John William Gaisford, the first known Potchefstromer architect, the church (on Auto Street) originally had a steeply-pitched thatched roof, a lancet window and a dirt floor.
Dutch Reformed Mother Church Potchefstroom, c. 1895
The church, with Gothic elements, was designed by a master builder named Wocke. President Paul Kruger laid its foundation stone on 13 February 1894, and it was a temporary hospital during the Anglo-Boer War. Beyers Naudé was a minister at the church before he became an anti-apartheid activist. It was nearly destroyed by a 13 March 2007 fire, but was restored by 2009; a new organ was dedicated in September 2011. The church is on the corner of Beyers Naude and Nelson Mandela Drives.
Old Powder Magazine, c. 1898
One of Potchefstroom's oldest existing buildings, its building permit was granted in 1854 and the powder house was almost certainly in use in 1857. It played a prominent role in the 1881 siege of Potchefstroom, when the British demolished part of it to use the building materials for cover. It was demolished in 1883, and the current magazine (half the size of the original) was built in its place by 1898. It was declared a monument in 1973 (Item 27357 in SAHRA database).
Old Fourth Prison, c. 1898
The Fourth Prison was built on the current site before the outbreak of the Anglo Boer war (1899–1903). It was used as a prison, and was the headquarters of the Potchefstroom Commando until 1998. The building, on Auto Avenue, houses the Tlokwe Youth Centre.
Old Post Office building (Landdrost Post en Telegraafgebou), c. 1897
The building, on Greyling Street, was declared in 1991 (Items 27142 and 27144 in the SAHRA register).
Theological School Complex, c. 1905
The Theological School Complex, on Molen Street, is a symbol of Reformed Church (Gereformeerde Kerk) training and Afrikaans instruction at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
Totius House, c. 1905
The site, like the Theological School Building, came into use in 1905. It is a near-replica of the professor's residence in Burgersdorp (from where the Reformed Church seminary moved). The house's first resident was Jan Lion Cachet. He was succeeded in 1911 by Jacob Daniel Du Toit (Totius) as professor at the Theological School. Totius and his family lived in the house until 1924, and at least four of his volumes of poetry were written there. He began his Afrikaans translation of the Bible, which he continued on a farm in Krugerskraal. The house, on Molen Street, is now a museum.
Town Hall, c. 1909
A building in Edwardian Classical design which was dedicated on 10 March 1909 by Colonial Secretary Jan Smuts. It and the Krugersdorp City Hall are the oldest existing city halls north of the Vaal River in South Africa. Its western façade is symmetrical, with the 26 m (85 ft)-high ornamental domed tower the central axis. The clock and bell, with Westminster chimes, were manufactured in the Netherlands. The building cost £12,000 pounds at the time. Declared in 1993 (Item 27143 in SAHRA register).
Selbourne Hall, c. 1909
The building, on the Agricultural College campus, is in disrepair.
Oak Avenue, c. 1910
The Potchefstroom town council decided to plant an oak lane in 1910. The 6.84-kilometre (4.25 mi) lane stretches from the Agricultural Centre to the Lakeside Resort. The streets are Chris Hani Drive, Kock Street, Dr. Wolmarans Street, Beyers Naudé Avenue, Retief Street and Peter Mokaba, Steve Biko and Calderbank Avenues. The site was declared a monument in 1977 (Item 27304 in SAHRA registry), and a stone beacon with bronze plaque for the lane was erected at the corner of Lombard and Kruger Street.
Commanding Officers House / Witrand Hospital Superintend house, c. 1913
Formerly the residence of the commanding officer of the British garrison in Potchefstroom, it is also known as the Generals House. Colonel S. H. C. Monro was the garrison's first commanding officer and the first resident of the house. It was later the residence of the Witrand Care and Rehabilitation Centre superintendent. Declared in 1982 (Item 27665 in the SAHRA database), it is on the Witrand grounds on Ventersdorp Road.
Carnegie library, c. 1914
The building was named after Andrew Carnegie, who funded the library and others worldwide. Its portico and gable are derived from the adjacent town hall, so the buildings appear similar. It is a liaison office for the town council and Potchefstroom Tourism. On the corner of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu Avenues, it was declared a monument in 1993 (Item 27140 in the SAHRA database).
The two-storey hostel in Neo-Cape Dutch style, designed by Gerard Moerdijk, was the first permanent building on the university campus. It was decided that it would be called Ons Huis (Our Home). When the students occupied it, however, it was called the Klimop (Creeper). The students called it Heimat, a name which remained after it was re-allocated for academic purposes in 1980. Declared in 1984 (item 27194 in the SAHRA register), the building on the Potchefstroom campus of the North-West University houses the university's Department of Culture.
The Roets House, c. 1926
The house was built by Jan van der Walt so his son, Peter, could remain at home while studying at the university. Hennie Roets, principal of the Mooi River Laerskool, later occupied the house. At 61 Steve Biko Avenue, it was declared in 1984.
Main Building, University, c. 1930
The building was designed by architect Henri Louw of Bloemfontein, and its seven arches were meant to echo the seven candelabra in the university's logo. Dedicated on 13 April 1931, the two-storey building originally housed lecture halls, offices and the library. Declared a monument in 1984, Building F5 now houses the Faculty of Law.
Rector's Residence, 1 Calderbank Avenue
The Tudor-style building was declared in 1999 (Item 27680 in the SAHRA database).
72, 74 and 76 James Maroka Avenue
The three houses were declared in 1991.
Provisional grade-III sites
Although Potchefstroom has no local heritage sites, the following sites have been placed on the municipality's provisional list:
Snowflake Silo building, Wolmarans Street (c. 1921)
Boyd House, at the corner of Walter Sisulu Avenue and Ayers Street (c. 1909)
Piet Malan House, 57 Steve Biko Avenue (c. 1890)
Kohinoor Cinema, Walter Sisulu Avenue (c. 1950): The cinema, in Makweteng (now known as Mieder Park), was built in the early 1950s and in use during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It was also used for dancing competitions (particularly ballroom dancing) and weddings before the forced removals from 1958 to 1963. It hosted jazz concerts with performers such as the Twist Rovers, Spokes Mashiane and other groups from Johannesburg.
Potchefstroom Dam and Lakeside Resort, Calderbank Avenue (c. 1908)
Calderbank Building, Walter Sisulu Avenue (c. 1930)
A. M. E. Church, Ikageng (c. 1961)
House of the Editor-Bate, James Maroka Avenue (c. 1902)
Triomf (Knock) Fertilizer (c. 1968)
Potchefstroom Station building (c. 1919) and steam locomotive on its forecourt, from 1902
Potchefstroom Synagogue, James Maroka Avenue (c. 1920): The building houses the Potchefstroom Academy.
Devil's corner, Ikageng (c. 1960): An open space used by the Ikageng community, during the 1960s it was used for a fashion parade and is now a celebration venue for the Kaizer Chiefs Football Club. Local criminals used it as a hiding place, and it was a meeting place for local activists and organisations.
Tlokwe Memorial Park, entrance to Ikageng (c. 2009): A memorial park under construction for local activists who died during the liberation struggle
Cachet Park, Die Bult (c. 1900): Used for the annual Aardklop National Arts Festival
Other places of interest
Boskop Dam Nature Réserve
Boskop Wild Animal Park
O. P. M. Prozesky Bird Sanctuary
Dome Bergland Nature Park, site of a meteorite impact
The Trim Park, in the Green Belt area adjacent to the Mooi River
The North-West University Botanical Garden, adjacent to the university's Potchefstroom, covers an area of almost 3 hectares (7.4 acres). Most of its plants are indigenous, except for a few exotic plants of botanical (or medicinal) interest. A section around a man-made ridge is a natural field garden, and the rest is more intensively managed. A variety of mammals, birds, amphibians and fish have made the garden their home in recent years.
The country's oldest Reformed Churches and its oldest stone-built Hervormde Church are in the town. St Mary's Anglican Church, built in 1891, is notable for its stained-glass windows. The N. G. Moedergemeente building burnt down in July 2007, and has been restored.
The Witrand Mental Institute, the second government institution for psychiatric patients, opened in 1923; the first, Valkenberg Hospital, opened in Maitland in the Cape.
MooiRivier Mall, a shopping mall, opened early in 2008 with over 100 stores and food and entertainment facilities overlooking the Mooi River. The mall provides shopping facilities for surrounding towns, such as Carletonville, Ventersdorp, Parys and Fochville.
Newly re-formed mosque (2007)
Potchefstroom is an industrial, service and agricultural growth point of North West province. Industries include steel, food, and chemical processing. The chicken industry is important, and companies around the city include Chubby Chick, Serfontein Poultry, Haagner's Poultry, Crown Chicken and Highveld Egg Cooperative.