Winburg was the first town established by the Voortrekkers (“pioneers”) in the Oranje Vrij Staat (later Orange River Colony, Orange Free State and Free State), and the second after Philippolis in the province. In 1935, Andries Hendrik Potgieter (a well-to-do farmer from the Tarka and Colesberg areas of the Cape of Good Hope), and a group of eleven settlers, was ceded the rights to a strip of land between the Vet and Vaal Rivers by Makwana, a local black African chief of the БaTaung people, in exchange for protection from the maTabele and 42 head of cattle.
The site for a town was chosen in 1842 and named Winburg (originally Wenburg or “victory town”)thus enshrining in history a reminder of the prolonged argument that was enjoined with regard to the most appropriate position for the new town. The site nominated by the losers to this day is called Mompeling (“muttering”).
Before 1843 Winburg formed part of the Republic of Natalia (Port Natal, Pietermaritzburg, Potchefstroom, Winburg); and no documents of the landrost (“magistrate”) of Winburg prior to that date are known to exist, archival record sequences existing from 1848 onwards. The oldest baptismal, church membership and marriage registers of Winburg are dated 1842 and are housed in Bloemfontein. In 1843, Natal was annexed to the Cape of Good Hope. In 1846, the governor of the Cape appointed a British Resident to look after “the interests” of the trekboers; and in February 1848, Sir Harry Smith annexed the entire region between the Orange and Vaal Rivers under the British Crown as the Orange River Sovereignty. The Free State was recognised as independent, sovereign territory by the British in 1854 and it remained thus until the Second Anglo-Boer War. All documents covering the period of British rule resided in the Cape Archives until 1927 when they were transferred to the Free State.
Winburg is a classic Free State town. It lies 110 kilometres north of Bloemfontein, surrounded by low hills and plains of golden, highveld grassland and Acacia species. A large central square is dominated by a Dutch Reformed Church, a town hall, stores, an hotel and offices. Much of the architecture is classical and dates from the early 20th century. A synagogue, Masonic and regimental halls, Roman Catholic and Methodist churches, an open-air market, orphanage (estab.1902) and the town’s residences are built along tree-lined roads which radiate from the town square.
Sites of historical interest include the Dutch Reformed Church designed by John H Till (1898) with a cornerstone laid by the then President of the Oranje Vrij Staat, M T Steyn (1899), and built by van Rundle, Row and Marshall for about £21,000 (it was only completed in 1904 as a consequence of the South African War 1899-1902 which intervened); a Voortrekker graveyard in Brand Street; a South African War graveyard on the south-western outskirts of the dorp (“town”) and a Voortrekker Monument (built 1968) to the south.
As with so many dorps in rural South Africa, the development of a National highway network which by-passed the town brought with it a slow but steady decline in the commercial fortunes of its citizens. To-day, a once proud and vibrant capital of the province, though still a magisterial district and regional agricultural centre, is but a shadow of its former self.