Botshabelo – Fort Merensky

Fort Merensky, situated a short distance north of Middelburg in Mpumalanga dates back to 1865, when German missionary Alexander Merensky settled in the area. Merensky was sent to the region by the berlin missionary society, with the task of establishing the Botshabelo mission station. The fort, originally named Fort Wilhelm, after the German Kaizer, was constructed by german and Sotho builders, with the intention of protecting the mission station from attacks by Chief Sekukuni of the Pedi tribes. Later the imposing stone fort which displays a unique combination of German gothic and Sotho architecture, was renamed Fort Merensky.

In February 1865 in what was then the Transvaal Republic (ZAR) Merensky had fled with a small number of parishioners, following the attacks on his previous mission station, Ga-Ratau, by the soldiers of Sekhukhune, the king of the baPedi. Within a year of having established the mission station, the population had grown to 420 persons. In order to protect their new settlement Merensky had Fort Wilhelm built above the church and village and two further forts that protected the Moutse area where built. Botshabelo was the major spiritual, cultural and educational centre of the Berliner Mission Society in that part of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR). It played a significant role during the Sekhukuni, the Mapoch, First Boer and the Second Boer Wars.

Feeling threatened by the increasing numbers of foreigners entering his territory, Sekukuni grew more and more suspicious of the German Lutheran Missionaries of the Berlin Missionary Society, who his father had allowed into the kingdom in 1861 before his death. Sekukuni believed that by allowing his subjects to be converted to Christianity, the missionaries were undermining his authority, and conspiring against him with the local Boers. As a result, in 1866 Sekukuni expelled them and prohibited Christianity.

Today the fort, along with other mission buildings and a Ndebele village, now form an open-air museum.