Kuruman originated as a mission station, on behalf of the London Missionary Society (LMS). In 1824, Kgosi Mothibi of the BaThlaping agreed to grant the missionaries a long-term lease on a site on the Kuruman River, near the spring or "Eye" of the Kuruman river. This was important to the missionaries, to grow fruit and vegetable gardens, and it acted more or less independently of the kgosi's authority.
The name "Kuruman" derives from Kudumane, who was a San leader living in the area in the late 1700s.
1914 Afrikaner and the Truce Tree in historic Seodin Street
The "eye" of Kuruman - a natural spring
The Eye of Kuruman has nourished travellers for centuries.
This natural spring in the heart of the town gushes forth 20 million litres of crystal clear water every day, even in the dry season. The Tswana name for the fountain is Ga-segonyana (“calabash”), which is now the name of the Local Municipality. This is the largest natural fountain in the southern Hemisphere. The spring nurtures an endangered species of cichlid fish. In fact, many local communities believed that a gigantic magical snake lived at the entrance of the cave!
By 1800, the centre of the Thlaping kingdom was at Dithakong (further north-east), and the Eye served as a livestock outpost of the Tswana.
The Eye ... as experienced by white explorers ...
The fountain was visited by the first white travelers in 1801. The first known European to reach the place was Samuel Daniell, in 1801. He was a member of the Truter-Somerville expedition to the interior.
In 1813, John Campbell and his party entered the incredible cave, lighting their way with candles:“The entrance was narrow, but soon we reached a kind of central room, the roof of which resembled in shape, though not in height, the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, from which went four passages in different directions, in all which streams of water flowed. Though we had lighted candles with us, we could discover no end to any of these passages”.
In 1820, Mary Moffat described the fountain: ‘The last outspan place was the source of the Kuruman River. It is a vast rock, and on every side the most beautiful water that ever I saw, came gushing out. I went into the principal cave, and went nearly knee-deep in water as clear as crystal. The top of the cave was lined with bats, and in some directions we heard waters rushing like a torrent”.
The Eye is still the main water source of the town of Kuruman.
The entrance to The Eye is in Fountain Street, off the N14, just to the east of the Eye (on the Vryburg side).
The Moffatt Mission Museum
The London Missionary Society established this mission in 1816, to work with the local Bathlaping people.The Scottish missionary, Robert Moffat, and his wife Mary, lived here from 1826 to 1870 - 50 years before the town of Kuruman was established in 1887. The Mission property includes the old Homestead where Robert Moffat and his wife, Mary Moffat lived (and which housed David Livingstone for a time). The church has a reed thatch roof, supported by enormous timbers, brought by ox-wagon some 300 kilometers from the Western Transvaal. A nearby cemetery is filled with the melancholy graves of the children of missionaries.
The map shows the original north-south highway, which followed the Kuruman river and passed by Moffat's home. Today, the entrance to the Mission is in Thompson Street.
Kuruman - Gateway to the north
Between 1857 and 1964, the Kuruman press published a monthly Setswana newspaper - Mokaeri oa Becuana, under the leadership of Reverend Ashton. it stimulated literacy among the BaThlaping, with local news and letters.
By the 1860s, a major traffic in arms and ammunition, in exchange for ivory and ostrich feathers, developed between the Cape Colony and the Kalahari - the peoples in Griquatown, the BaThlaping, and the Korana. Kuruman became an important hunting centre, with one ammunition magazine and two permanent trading stores. Hunters set out far into the interior, into the modern-day countries of Botswana and Zimbabwe.