HASA partners with Mpumalanga Heritage to dispose of Fort Merensky

by | Aug 6, 2019

As heir in title of the Simon van der Stel Foundation, the Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA) has over the years been disposing of assets of the former foundation as it believes that these should be owned and managed locally. A number of properties of the erstwhile foundation has been sold or donated as a result. One property however that HASA still owns is Fort Wilhelm (commonly referred to as Fort Merensky). This impressive stone structure was built to protect the Berlin Mission Station of Botshabelo. The fort subsequently played a significant role during the Sekhukhune, Mapoch, First Anglo-Boer and the South African wars.   

While the neighbouring Botshabelo (constructed between 1865 and 1897), following a successful land claim in 2002, has been transferred to a community trust, Fort Merensky remains the property of HASA. The transfer of Botshabelo to land claimants has not been without controversy and in 2017, following years of neglect, Botshabelo was named one of South Africa’s ten most endangered heritage sites.

Mpumalanga Heritage and the newly-founded Middelburg Heritage Association recently visited the site. Though this old Berlin mission station – once a pristine restored living museum town similar to Pilgrim’s Rest – had suffered some serious neglect over the past years, some essential emergency restoration has been done there recently. Often dubbed the Genadendal of the north, this pastoral village with its oak and plane tree lined lanes still holds some magic not to be missed, said Mpumalanga Heritage chairman Duncan Ballantyne.

Mpumalanga Heritage hopes to fence off and restore this sturdy stone structure by means of sponsorships by the private sector public. “What needs to be done is to refit the woodwork in the main lookout tower which was recently damaged by fire. Also, to erect a proper security fence with a controllable entrance on the perimeters of the property and to replace the signage and plaques that have been removed since the neglect of the complex settled in. A layer of crushed stone between the fence and the walls of the structure will also protect it from future veld fires” said Ballantyne.

Mpumalanga Heritage and HASA hope that the Mpumalanga Provincial Government will accept donation of the land. However, they believe that it is important that the structure is perfectly restored before it is handed over to the province. This will offer the Mpumalanga Museum Services with its limited budget a proper basis from which to continue the conservation task.

Ballantyne also hopes that a private lease of a substantial period can by granted to a responsible operator to bring Botshabelo back to its former glory. It still has the potential to be managed as a profitable heritage orientated resort, he says.

The public is invited to comment on the proposed disposal by HASA of Fort Wihelm. Comments have to reach us at info@heritage.org by no later than 15 September 2019.