The hidden gem of South Africa, Bethlehem, in the Free State turns 150 years old this year. From its humble beginnings to its rapid growth and its successful economic structure, the town has developed into a bustling administration center and popular destination for tourists, due to its unique attractions.
This year, the town plans to celebrate its 150th birthday in grand style. Dihlabeng Local Municipality has announced that the town plans to host a variety of festivities ranging from Combined Inter-Faith Service, Carnival, and Flea Market with mini festival and a Gospel Festival during Easter holidays. An official ribbon cutting ceremony including the unveiling of a plaque are just some of the celebrations marking the events planned to honour the town.
The town of Bethlehem was founded in 1864 and it is nestled in the Maluti Mountains in the Free State province and is one of the towns that grew rapidly after it was founded. Situated approximately 240 kilometres north-east of Bloemfontein, 140 kilometres east of Kroonstad and 90 kilometres west of Harrismith. The town is strategically situated in the heart of the picturesque north-eastern Free State and originally developed as a service centre. The name Bethlehem is of Hebrew origin and means “house of bread” and it is named so because the town boasts fertile land where wheat grows in abundance. One of the most famous sights is the mound of stones that is found just outside the town. Mineworkers would drop stones on this spot to ask and thank their ancestors for protection to and from work.
Bethlehem is also located near the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Sterkfontein Dam Reserve and Pretoriuskloof Nature Reserve for nature lovers to explore, but the town has many attractions within the town limits that are worth a look. Amongst the many attractions is the Baartman House, which is a magnificent historical museum with fascinating exhibits, as is the Museum of Cultural History. Bethlehem is host to an annual Bethlehem Air Show and the Maize Fair which is held in October.
It is with these celebrations in mind that the host, Dihabeng Local Municipality, will create a monument that will be unveiled by the Executive Mayor Clr. Tjhetane Mofokeng on the 27th of February in Bethlehem. This monument will consist of three pyramids (Granite Columns) that each represents 50 years of growth, the shortest being 1 meter, the second one 1, 5 and last one being 2 meters high. The pyramids (Granite Columns) represent the growth of the economy and improvement of the lives of the people of Bethlehem, Bohlokong and Bakenpark.
The unveiling of the monument and Inter-Faith Service to be held on the 27th February 2014 marks the beginning of the 150 year celebrations. The Carnival will start with a procession that will take place on 28th February, starting from the Town Hall into Bohlokokong and Bakenpark.
The flea market on the 01st March 2014 will showcase cultural diversity of the town in line with the Theme of the Celebrations “Unity in Diversity – Marching Together Towards Prosperity” create an opportunity for local vendors, artists and crafters as well as performers to showcase and sell their wares. A wide selection of local cooks will also showcase their talents in preparation of local traditional dishes and other delights. This day will be finished off with a Kasi-style gig in the Bohlokong.
This will be a weekend full of vibe and reflections for the people of Bethlehem and Dihlabeng, emerging from this weekend Bethlehem and its residents a place united in action with a community defined by a common dream.
As the song says “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by”. This is one star that the Free State continues to see shine bright.
Arrangements will be made for all to be part of these celebrations and public announcements will be made for all to know the full details of the festivities.
Issued by Zola Key and Selby Lengoabala.