Botshabelo means 'place of refuge' in Sotho, and this haven was originally established by two young German missionaries, who relocated to South Africa in the 1860s. Soon after their arrival, a small village and even a fort (Fort Wilhelm) sprung up in the 2300ha nature reserve. The village over time became a spiritual, cultural and commercial hub in the Oliphant’s river valley.
The history of Botshabelo is one of inspiration and growth – from starting as a place of refuge for Christians in South Africa, to becoming an influential centre where the Gospel was proclaimed among the indigenous people. It later became a place where blacks and whites received education and training together, and where commerce and industry were practiced.
Today, Botshabelo is an interesting historic site depicting daily life at a 19th century mission station. The mission station is adjacent to the living, open air museum, established to preserve the tribal culture of the Ndebele. This cultural museum isn't your run-of-the-mill affair, as it is not only a museum, but a living village. Ndebele women and men actually live on-site in the huts - so if visitors wish to enter, they need to ask for the resident’s permission. The huts used by the Ndebele are unique to their culture - no other tribe has anything similar to the colorful, geometrically decorated huts.
The Ndebele are well known for their talent in arts and crafts, and the bright colours woven into all that they do. Tours of these historic sites are offered daily, and hikes into the reserve are also recommended.