Polokwane (Pietersburg) is the capital city of the Limpopo province of South Africa and this is its story:
According to Rand McNally's Cosmopolitan World Atlas, there are sixteen places in the world known as Pietersburg (or Petersburg).
Die best known is the historical American city Petersburg in South East Virginia, where important battles in the American Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783) and the American Civil War (1861 - 1865) took place.
There is also a Petersburg in Alaska and eleven smaller towns with this name in the USA. The Russian city Leningrad, which was founded by Peter the Great in 1703, was for two centuries known as St Petersburg until the name was changed to Petrograd in 1914 and to Leningrad in 1924. (Note: the name was changed back to St Petersburg in 1991 after the fall of Communism)
There is also a St Petersburg in Florida in the USA.
In the Republic of South Africa there is, except Petrusburg in the western Freestate, also a Petrusburg in the Cape Province (Western Cape). The small town Petersburg near Graaf-Reinet in the Eastern Cape, became well-known due to the battle that took place there in September 1901 during the Anglo Boer War.
Transvaal's Pietersburg (Limpopo's Polokwane) was the only town with the Afrikaans spelling of "Pieter". This town was situated in what was then known as Northern Transvaal (now Limpopo). Due to the location of the Far Northern Transvaal Rugby Union in Pietersburg, this name was also (incorrectly) used for the town and the surrounding areas
In geographical terms Polokwane lies on 23º 54' south latitude and 29º 28' east latitude, 50km south of the Tropic of Capricorn and 360km from the nearest coast. The city is 1774km from Cape Town and 343km from Johannesburg on the main road (N1) to the North and more or less half way between Pretoria (Tshwane) and the Zimbabwean border.
Polokwane is 1 262 meters above sea level on a sprawling plain known as the Pietersburg Plateau which extends over an area of 18 000km². Topographically, the Pietersburg granite plain is part of the great inland plateau that makes up the biggest part of the subcontinent.
Geomorphologically the Pietersburg plateau consists mainly of archaic and Precambrian formations that are more than a billion years old. To the South it merges into the Palaeozoic formations of the much younger Karroo system.
The Pietersburg Granite Plains are bordered by the Waterberg (Water Mountain) and Strydpoort (Strife Pass) mountains in the South and the Soutpansberg (Salt Pan Mountains) in the North.
On the Western side, the Mogalakwen River, The Blouberg (Blue Mountain) and the Makgabengberg (Makgabeng mountain) form the boundary. In the East, the border is the great escarpment where the Wolkberg (Cloud Mountain) and the Houtbosberg (Woodbush Mountain) divide the Pietersburg Plateau from the low veld.
The height of the plateau differs between 900 m and 1500 m above sea level, lower than the average height of the highveld in the South but much higher than the low veld to the North East.
Polokwane lies in the summer rainfall region and gets its maximum rainfall usually between December and January with an average of 50 rainfall days per annum. The area only receives between 400 – 600 mm rain per annum.
The eastern edge of the plateau however receives much higher rainfall – between 1700 and 2000 mm per annum. (The highest rainfall that was recorded was 2088 mm in the Woodbush area). Woodbush/Magoebaskloof is one of the prime birding areas in Limpopo.
Polokwane is also subject to heavy convective storms that are often accompanied by thunder and lightning, strong winds and sometime also hail. Thunder occurs on average 30 days per annum, which is low compared to parts where it occurs 100 days per annum, but much higher than for example the Cape Peninsula where thunder rarely occurs more than 5 days per annum.
Rainfall in the Polokwane area is however unpredictable and unreliable. Big variations in the average annual rainfallis more the rule than the exception. The area is also subject to periodic extended and serious droughts. The mosts serious periods of drought were between the years 1930 – 1934 and 1960 – 1966 as well as a number of years after 1980.
Rainfall statistics do not reflect a long term trend either for the annual figures or for the distribution. There is also no indication of a fixed cycle in the occurrence of wet and dry years. Periodic variations in rainfall do occur.
The average annual surface temperature of the Pietersburg plateau ranges between 17,5 and 20 degrees centigrade with the eastern escarpment much lower between 15 and 17,5 degrees C. The average annual minimum temperature is 10,1 degrees C and the annual maximum temperature 24,2 degrees.
In the warmest month, usually December, the mercury has, on occasion, risen to 37,8 degrees and the average for the warmest month is 27,2 degrees. June is usually the coldest month with an average temperature of 2,2 degrees with the lowest reading at -3,3 degrees.
Polokwane's average annual temperature is also the average for South Africa as a whole and is therefore a very moderate climate of which the minimum and maximum temperatures differ quite widely.
However, there is a relatively big difference between the day and night temperatures, especially in the winter months. The difference between day and night temperatures is also bigger that the seasonal difference between minimum and maximum in the summer months and the average minimum temperature in the winter months.
October is the windiest month. The summer winds usually blow from the East and North East and the winter winds from the North East and South East. Frost occurs in the bright, cold winter nights but water that freeze over rarely occurs. Frost occurs between 30 – 60 days per year. Certain areas never get frost.
The annual air moisture content is 40% which, though not as dry as the western parts of the country (30%), is much drier than the eastern coastal areas (85%).
Fog and drizzle are often found on the Eastern escarpment in the so-called mist-belt due to the orographic lifting of moist air that moves in from the Indian ocean. These layers of fog often spread far over the Pietersburg plateau. Sunshine occurs between 70 and 80% of the days of the year.
None of the rivers that drain the Pietersburg Plateau, are perennial. That means that in a dry cycle they have no surface water and usually only flow in the rainy season or after heavy rainfall.
But the escarpment is an exception as a number of perennial streams occur here. The most important is the Broederstroom (Brother Stream) and Helpmekaar (Help each other) both upper reaches of the Great Letaba River as well as the Koedoes or Kubus River (also and upper reach of the Letaba)
Polokwane City lies next to the Sterkloopspruit (Strong Running Creek) near its convergence with the Sand River and the Blood River. Other rivers and creeks are Houtrivier (Wood River) and Brakrivier (Brakish River) that runs northbound over the plains. All are mainly periodic streams. To the South flows the branches of the Olifantsrivier (Elephants River), the Malips River (Mpogodima), Chuenies River and Zebediela River (also known as Gompiesrivier).
South Africa is divided into five regions, depending on its natural flora. The Pietersburg Plateau lies in the Mixed Bushveld-Savannah (Steppe) region that is identifiable by the thorn veld which includes a variety of Acacias, Mopanie and Maroela as well as big parts grassland. The escarpment still has a good many natural endemic forests that contain a big variety of evergreen hardwood tree species.
The Pietersburg Plateau contains mainly grey iron-containing lateritic soil types that have been formed over the granite. These are sandy or gravelly in texture and usually contains a hard iron containing bottom layer of hard-pan. The area also contains, in certain areas, non-leached, black clay soil while to the West, light brown sandy soil of the Waterberg Sandstone and Lime deposits occur. The escarpment are also characterised by the round granite mounds that were formed by the intrusion of younger granites.
Despite the low rainfall and shortage of adequate perennial water, Polokwane is relatively densily populated.
* Extracted and translated from prof Louis Changuion's book: Pietersburg 1886 – 1986, a publication of the Pietersburg (Polokwane) Municipality, 1986. (Used with permission of the author)
According to the 2001 Population Census, Polokwane had a population of 271 911 inhabitants. The 2009 population was estimated to be in excess of 300 000. 2010: 503 000
Only one book was written about Pietersburg namely Pietersburg, die eerste eeu 1886-1986 (Pietersburg, the first century 1886-1986) sponsored by the Pietersburg Municipality, 1986 (out of print)
The writer is prof Louis Changuion, retired history professor and probably the most knowledgeable person about the history of Limpopo, Polokwane and the surrounding areas of Haenertsburg, Magoebaskloof, Tzaneen, Munnik, Mooketsi and Duiwelskloof (Modjadjiskloof).
Changuion is also an authority on the history of the Long Tom artillery guns used by the Boers against the British in the Anglo Boer War of 1899 – 1902.
He wrote a number of books on the Anglo Boer War and personalities of that war.
The Louis Changuion Hiking Trail at Haenertsburg between Polokwane and Tzaneen in Limpopo was named after him because of his involvement in hiking and promoting the area. He is the writer of what is possibly the first Afrikaans book on hiking
In 2002 he undertook an epic 800 km walk from Inhambane in Mocambique to Schoemansdal in Limpopo to commemorate the epic walk by Roman Catholic priest Joaquim de Santa Rita Montanha in 1855.
He lives an active life in Haenertsburg and can be contacted through the Pennefather Self Catering Cottages and Trading Posts in Haenertsburg.
Most of what is published about the history of Pietersburg/Polokwane has been sourced from Changuion's book