Encyclopædia Britannica Article

Witbank town, Mpumalanga province, South Africa, east of Pretoria.

Established in 1890, it is at the centre of a coal-mining area in which more than 20 collieries operate. During the South African War, the young soldier-journalist Winston Churchill hid in a colliery near Witbank after his escape from Pretoria. Witbank attained town status in 1910. In 1972 the capacity of the Witbank Dam, on the Great Olifants River, was increased from 17,000,000 to 108,000,000 cubic m (22,000,000 to 141,000,000 cubic yards). The town has grown rapidly around heavy industry, and a power plant at the dam supplies electricity to a wide area. Pop. (1985) 41,784.

A general History of  Witbank

1.  Location

      Witbank is 1 646 meters above sea level and situated on the main railway route from Johannesburg to Maputo,the railway line to Richards Bay, and the freeways from Pretoria and the Witwatersrand to the Kruger National Park and Mocambique - the N4. It is approximately 150 kilometers north-east of Johannesburg and 100 km east of Pretoria. Because of its highveld location, Witbank has a reasonably moderate climate.The lowest temperature, 17.7 ° C is measured in June,while the highest is measured in December when the mercury rises to a level of 25.9 ° C.

Early Residents in the 1800s

     Originally the early residents of Witbank area were mainly stock farmers as there was no market for agricultural produce. Wool was transported once a year by ox-wagon to Durban where it was sold. Crops were restricted to the needs of the local families. Early travelers in the area,such as Thomas Baines,as far back as 1872 mentioned the coal used by local residents as fuel. Evidence has also been found that at first the Black man, and later the Voortrekkers, mined coal from the outcrop,especially in the riverbeds, and transported it by ox-wagon to the Witwatersrand. But before the comercial mining of coal,Witbank was nothing more than a stock farming region which began to develop agricultural produce in order to supply the passing travellers on their way to the main towns of Pigrims Rest and Barberton where gold had been discovered in 1874.

2.  Leraatsfontein becomes Witbank in 1896

     Actual systematic mining at Witbank only started in 1896 when Samuel Stanford,together with the Neumann Group,established the company Witbank Colliery Limited, and sank the first shaft on the farm Witbank. Earlier the farm was generally known as Swartbosch although the official name was Leraatsfontein. It was given the name Witbank because it was not so cumbersome and because of the large quartz rock which, in the words of Thomas Baines," loomed like a wagon tent in the distance." Because of the poor agricultural conditions,the owner of the farm,Jacob Taljaard,made a precarious living and as a result,his neighbours named the farm " Hongerplaas." The town Witbank was laid out in 1903 by Witbank Colliery Limited and in the same year Samuel Stanford erected the first wood and iron building ,consisting of a shop and hotel. Witbank Colliery Limited controlled the town until 9 April 1906 when ahealth committee was appointed. On 13 May 1910 a village council was elected and on the 8 November 1914 the town was granted muncipal status. The mining of coal did not initially result in a population increase.But with the advent of the railwayline between Pretoria and Lourenco Marques ( now Maputo) the mining industry was firmly placed on an economic basis, and thereafter the population increased considerably.

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