STRIKING GOLD AT THE PENNEFATHER
Updated: May 27
High up in the hills, the sound of distant picks and shovels reverberates in an almost musical, if frenetic rhythm. The sharp ping-ping of hammers punctuates the beat as prospectors peg out their claims in the hopes of striking it rich. Down below, ox carts and horses add to the clamour of voices along the dusty road of a newly-formed town, bustling with hawkers and builders putting up much-needed structures around the central hotel, general store and bar. Enticed by the prospects of gold, the young town of Haenertsburg must have been a vibrant melting pot of South Africans and ‘uitlanders’ or foreigners come to seek their fortune in the wild north.
Today, tucked into the embrace of the Wolkberg mountains on the edge of the Great Escarpment midway between Polokwane and Tzaneen along the R71, the quaint Hamlet of Haenertsburg offers visitors a charming selection of restaurants, street cafés, pubs and shops. The town not only has a rich history from its first intrepid inhabitants of woodcutters and fortune-hunters in the early days of the gold rush but also has an eclectic mix of writers, conservationists, cheese-makers and beer-brewers who call the place home.
Small and compact, yet surrounded by wide open spaces, grasslands and mountains, you will be forgiven for wanting to stay a bit longer in Haenertsburg and explore the gold mining era and the Anglo-Boer War which has shaped the character of the Village. Thanks to the research and input of Professor Louis Changuion, The Pennefather Gold Mining Company replicates the feel of an olden-day High Street with shop fronts named after the mining companies that worked the area when the town was founded in 1887 - Never Despair and New Found Out. Visitors can find Dutch delicacies; antiques; collectibles; clothing; jewellery and unique gifts or enjoy coffee and cake on the stoep at Inni-Berg Coffee Shop after browsing through the wide selection of second-hand books; Africana and local authors at Memory Hold-the-Door Bookshop.
The six quaint miners’ cottages with their zinc roofs and broekie-lace detail over the stoep, each reflect a different persona of the people who shaped Haenertsburg. Ferdinand Haenert, for example, gave his name to the town after gold was discovered in the area by Karl Mauch. Doel Zeederberg started a stagecoach service linking Pietersberg (Polokwane) to Leydsdorp in the lowveld, via Haenertsburg. The Zeederberg Coaches famously (but briefly) tried using zebras instead of horses but this proved to be a failure. Both John Buchan and Rider Haggard made the area famous with their enchanting novels depicting the scenery and stories of the Magoebaskloof area, including Buchan’s Prestor John and Haggard’s book ‘She’ with the alluring account of the Rain Queen, Modjadji.
Owner, Brian Wilkinson, a silver jewellery-importer and graphic designer says, ‘after our Mom, Linda passed away in 2021, my brother and I both felt that the business should continue - it is her legacy. The Pennefather Complex has a large and ever-changing variety of gifts and treats, not to mention the cosy cottages which are conveniently situated in the Village, close to the restaurants, so people can just stroll down the road for dinner or drinks. My vision would be for The Pennefather Complex to continue thriving and to keep finding real treasures for serious collectors. It already had a great reputation to start with and I’d like to improve on that. I would also love this area to align with eco-conscious tourism, as we need to preserve this very rare and valuable way of life we have the privilege to enjoy in an otherwise chaotic world.’
The Pennefather Complex, 103 Rissik St, Haenertsburg | 015 276 4885 | 078 417 9088 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.pennefather.co.za
Historical Photos: Louis Changuion Collection