Almost buried in an oasis of trees, the farms of Beersheba holds more secrets than its ancient gables hint at. Set in the vast open plains and hills of the eastern Free State, this French mission station is 25 kilometres from Smithfield, the third oldest village in the province.
A bloody past
But once it was at the very centre of a battle that tore apart the community that lived at Beersheba tore apart the people living around the mission and in the wider region.
It was here that a key confrontation took place between the Boer republic and the Basotho commanded by their legendary leader, Moshoeshoe.
The fighting was part of the three Basotho wars, fought between 1858 and 1868, which saw this Paris Evangelical Mission station put to the torch by the Afrikaners.
In 1908 – following the end of the Anglo-Boer war, the farm was awarded to the Swanepoel family.
A farm and a home
But this early South African life was not without its hardship and the family graveyard is marked by the graves of children as well as the adults who died on the farm.
It was not until 2003 that the Swanepoel family found the going too hard and finally sold up and left the farm. It was bought by the present owner, Lourens van der Linde, who has spent a good deal of money restoring the farmhouse.
On its walls still hang the photographs of the Swanepoel family, who return to the farm and their former home every year, to remember their association with the place.
In October 2009 the present manager of the farm, Jaco Saaiman and his wife, Corlia took over the running of Beersheba and the neighbouring farm, Amsterdam.
They farm sheep, cattle and lucerne, but the past is never far away.
“Sometimes the history is overwhealming,” says Jaco.
“I would love to know much more about it – you cannot believe that Moshoeshoe was here and made such an oasis of it.”
Looking down its long corridor, Corlia echoes his sentiments.
“You study this history in school,” she says. “Here you see it in reality.”
A Basotho past
Jaco takes me up onto the hillside overlooking the farm.
Jaco estimates that around 2,000 people once lived here.
“I cannot be certain,” he says, looking at the carefully constructed walls, which still stand after all these years.
A silent school
Testament to the legacy of this former mission station is the classroom, now standing empty.
Once the French missionaries would have taught the young Basotho who came to study and learn.
Beersheba is much more than a farm – it is a listed historic monument – but it is also a testament to the bitter past that once saw war on these fertile lands.
It is a heritage that both the Free State farmers and their Basotho neighbours can share.