Nieu-Bethesda case study


Kruger, N (2007), Nieu-Bethesda case study. Unpublished report, Centre for Development Studies, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein.



Nieu Bethesda was established in 1878 on the farm Uitkyk which belonged to Mr. B.J. Pienaar. At first it was set aside as a site for a Dutch Reformed Church since it took farmers in the area up to 8 hours to get to the church in Graaff Reinet. The church building was completed in 1905 and the town flourished. A school for 200 children was established as well as a Trading Company. Many farmers built ‘town’ houses to stay in when coming to church. In the 1930’s Nieu Bethesda started to decline due to the depression. Also travelling to Graaff Reinet was now easier and many farmers left their farms. The decline continued until the late 1980’s.

Many farm workers moved to Nieu Bethesda as the farms emptied and then again with the ESTA legislation being implemented.

Athol Fugard wrote his play “The Road to Mecca” in 1985. This put Nieu Bethesda on the tourist map as visitors started coming to look for the Owl House. Since then the town has grown as a tourist destination now hosts 2 coffee shops, a bookshop and gallery, a brewery and delicatessen, 3 restaurants, a community restaurant in Pienaarsig, an Arts Centre, a Fossil Exploration Centre, a labyrinth and maze and 17 guest houses. Five farms in the area offer walks, fossil information and accommodation.

There is a measure of reverse migration and gentrification occurring in that well off people from Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban are buying properties for holiday and retirement purposes and some younger families looking for a rural lifestyle are settling.

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