Nieu-Bethesda (Dutch and
Afrikaans for New Bethesda) is a village in
Eastern Cape at the foot of the Sneeuberge, approximately 50
kilometres (31 mi) from Graaff Reinet. It was founded in 1875 as
a church town, like many other
Karoo villages, and attained municipal
status in 1886. The name is of biblical origin (John 5:2-4) and means
"place of flowing water".
2 Nieu Bethesda Today
4 External links
Nieu Bethesda is situated on the farm, Uitkyk, which belonged to BJ
Pienaar. There was a very strong water supply on the farm and BJ
Pienaar changed the course of the Gats River to drain the vlei’s
(marshes) and turn the area into fertile lands – where Nieu Bethesda
stands today. On 15 December 1874, the farmers of this area met for
the first time with a view to establishing a village and Dutch
Reformed Church congregation. A town council was elected. In February
1875, a petition group of 169 men met the church council of
Graaff-Reinet, headed by the Reverend Charles Murray, son of the first
preacher Andrew Murray .On the same day, negotiations were concluded
to buy Uitkyk from Pienaar’s sons. It was not until 1878 that
Graaff-Reinet agreed to the petitions of the Nieu Bethesda people.
Rev. Charles Murray named the new settlement Nieu Bethesda in
reference to the strong fountain and its biblical reference. In 1880,
the church struggled to run the village so, in 1866, it became a
municipality, but with administrative rights only. The church retained
the properties. This meant that residents had to pay two taxes, an
arrangement that led to friction for many generations. The town
experienced a period of growth from its establishment in 1870s to
Nieu-Bethesda was eclipsed by larger towns during the
1930s and ‘40s. The Great Depression, improved transport and the
town's isolated location led to a mass exodus, leaving the town in an
The town of Nieu Bethesda carries a peculiar history and has therefore
become a tourist attraction. The
Dutch Reformed Church
Dutch Reformed Church which was
founded in 1875 in the area began holding its services in BJ
Pienaar’s wagon house.A new church building was inaugurated in 1905.
The Wagon House (now known as the Old Church Hall) was then used as a
church hall and a venue for English church services.
In the 1930s, a Nieu Bethesda-born teacher known as Helen Martins
returned to the town. After her father's death in 1945, Martins began
transforming her home into a work of art. She employed Koos Malgas, a
Nieu Bethesda local to assist her with her artwork. She and Malgas
constructed cement and glass statues inspired by biblical texts, the
poetry of Omar Khayyam, and the works by William Blake. In 1976,
Martins aged seventy-eight, took her own life by swallowing caustic
soda. Martin's house known as
The Owl House
The Owl House is now run by the Owl
House Foundation formed in 1996 and is now a major tourist
The town was also thrust into the spotlight by one of its residents
James Kitching,vertebrate palaeontologist. Kitching became famous for
collecting specimens in Nieu Bethesda for Robert Broom, the keeper of
vertebrate palaeontology at the South African Museum. Kitching was the
first member of staff to be appointed to the Bernard Price Institute
for Palaeontological Research, set up at the University of
Witwatersrand in 1945. In 1970,he was the first person to collect and
identify a specimen of a
Karoo therapsid in Antarctica and so
demonstrate that Antarctica and southern Africa were once connected.
Today, Kitching's work is stored at the Kitching Fossil Exploration
Centre which depicts the setting in the area around Nieu Bethesda 253
million years ago during the Permian Period.
The town is also the focal point in Athol Fugard's play, "Road to
Mecca" in 1985.
Nieu Bethesda Today
The town of Nieu Bethesda has about 1540 residents. The town is
still racially divided with the African (25.06%) residents staying
mostly in the Kloofroad area of Pienaarsig. The Coloured (65.19% of
the town population) and Black African (22% of the population)
residents abide in Pienaarsig, the former township and the White
residents (8.70% of the town population) stay along the banks of the
Gats River that runs through the town. Nieu Bethesda is surrounded by
8 commercial farms which provide employment for locals. There are also
tourism projects such as Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre, Bethesda
Arts Centre and
The Owl House
The Owl House which generate income for the town.
There are no ATMs in Nieu Bethesda and the town relies on Graaf Reneit
for banking services. There is one school known as the Lettie de Klerk
Primary School in Pienaarsig. For health services, Nieu Bethesda has
one clinic and a resident sister.
^ a b c d "Main Place Nieu-Bethesda". Census 2011.
^ Raper, P. E. (1989). Dictionary of Southern African Place Names.
Jonathan Ball Publishers. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-947464-04-2 –
via Internet Archive.
^ a b c d "About Nieu Bethesda". Nieu Bethesda. Retrieved 29 July
^ a b "SA Venues". Nieu Bethesda. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
^ "Nieu Bethesda - Helen Martins' Owl house & Camel Yard". Ganora
Guest Farm. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
^ "Nieu Bethesda -
James Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre (KFEC)".
Ganora Guest Farm. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
^ "Nieu Bethesda Census 2011". Adrian Firth. Retrieved 29 July
^ "The Arid Areas Programme Case Study 6: Nieu Bethesda" (PDF). Adrian
Firth. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Nieu-Bethesda.
Media related to
Nieu-Bethesda at Wikimedia Commons
Arid Areas Programme Case Study 6: Nieu Bethesda
Municipalities and communities of Sarah Baartman District
Municipality, Eastern Cape
District seat: Port Elizabeth
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