The Botshabelo Mission Station and Historical Village is a proclaimed Heritage Site, dating back to 1860 when two young German missionaries, named Alexander Merensky and Heinrich Grutzner, arrived in South Africa from the Berlin Mission Society during the 1860's. They bought a farm in the Olifants River valley near Middelburg and soon established a mission station named Botshabelo, meaning "Place of Refuge or sanctuary". In order to protect the settlement a fort was also built called Fort Wilhelm. Soon, a small town developed around the mission and even included a 2300ha nature reserve.
The Botshabelo Mission Station also incorporates an Ndebele village which comprises of an open-air museum established to successfully preserve the interesting tribal culture. This well known tribe is famous for its colourful huts, cultural garb and brilliant arts and crafts. Stores selling their fascinating arts and crafts can be visited.
While living peacefully among the Sotho and Tswana people of the region, they preserved their Ndebele language and maintained the customs of their ancestors. It was in the late 19th century that the distinctive beadwork style incorporated in the dress of the women first appeared in the Ndebele culture.
The beautiful dress and accessories of the Ndebele women reflect their age, social status and love of colour. It is an aesthetic cultural affirmation that is in everything from the aprons of little girls to the colourful gala blankets and spectacular costumes of married women.
Two things in particular catch the eye. These are the stacked rings worn round the neck, arms and legs - and, most striking of all, the lavish beadwork featuring geometric patterns decorating skirts, tiaras and the long strips that trail behind.
These in turn serve as the inspiration for the mural art of the Ndebele people of South Africa. This vibrant art that so enlivens the sometimes drab eastern Highveld is a talent passed from mother to daughter.
Based on abstract triangular and rectangular shapes, the mural art includes contemporary motifs such as aeroplanes, car number plates and television aerials. What is remarkable is that all this is achieved freehand without preparatory sketches, rulers or geometric instruments.
The most celebrated of these artists is Esther Mahlangu, who has received international acclaim. She has been commissioned by BMW to paint one of their cars and her most public works are the murals of the Ndebele Open Air Museum at the Botshabelo Historical Village.