Ermelo is an educational, industrial and commercial centre for the surrounding 8000 square kilometres in the province of Mpumalanga. The town was founded by a Dutch Reformed Church Reverend, Frank Cachet, who was converted to Christianity in the town of Ermelo in the Netherlands. Some ruins here have been found to date back as far as 1400.
Two of South Africa's most famous musicians, Lucky Dube and Jennifer Ferguson, as well as the most famous African political cartoonist, William Papas, come from Ermelo. Papas was exiled during apartheid.