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Harrismith, wintervista vanaf N3-hoofweg, c.jpg
View from the north
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Coordinates: 28°17′0″S29°08′0″E / 28.28333°S 29.13333°E / -28.28333; 29.13333 Coordinates: 28°17′0″S29°08′0″E / 28.28333°S 29.13333°E / -28.28333; 29.13333
Country South Africa
Province Free State
District Thabo Mofutsanyana
Municipality Maluti-a-Phofung
Established1849 [1]
  Total138.80 km2 (53.59 sq mi)
 (2011) [2]
  Density200/km2 (520/sq mi)
Racial makeup (2011)
   Black African 87.1%
   Coloured 0.8%
   Indian/Asian 1.3%
   White 10.7%
First languages (2011)
   Zulu 49.4%
   Sotho 32.6%
   Afrikaans 10.4%
   English 3.7%
Time zone UTC+2 (SAST)
Postal code (street)
PO box
Area code 058
Website Harrismith - Community Website

Harrismith is a large town in the Free State province of South Africa. It was named for Sir Harry Smith, a 19th-century British governor and high commissioner of the Cape Colony. [3] It is situated by the Wilge River, alongside the N3 highway, about midway between Johannesburg, about 300 km to the north-west, and Durban to the southeast. The town is located at the junction of the N5 highway, which continues westward towards the provincial capital Bloemfontein, some 340 km to the south-west. This important crossroads in South Africa's land trade routes is surrounded by mesas and buttes. It is located at the base of one of these called Platberg (i.e. "flat / flat-topped mountain" in Afrikaans).


The municipality was placed under administration in 2018 after then-mayor Vusi Tshabalala was removed from office on the basis of corruption allegations. [4]


The town was founded in 1849 and named after British Governor Harry Smith, who tried to persuade the Voortrekkers not to abandon the Cape Colony.

The town was initially laid out by Robert Moffat about 25 km from the present location, in present-day Aberfeldy on the Elands River. That site however proved to be deficient in water and Harrismith was shifted to its present site in January 1850. Twenty-four years later it became a municipality and during the diamond rush at Kimberley, the town became a busy staging post on the Natal transport route. As a direct result of this, hotels, stores and public buildings sprang up.

By the 1880s the town was seen as the second largest in the Orange Free State. The increased infrastructure and traffic in the region made fording of the Wilge river impractical. After heavy rains the swollen river prevented communication, interrupted transport and claimed lives. The government was petitioned and two bridges were opened in 1884, one six miles towards Bethlehem, and another at the current Swinburne. The use of these were taxed until 1905. [5]

Harrismith was a major base during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War and visitors can see the several blockhouses, engineering works and a military cemetery that are evidence of this. The town's main street, Warden Street, is named after Major Henry D. Warden, at that time a British resident in Bloemfontein.

The town is around 90 kilometers west from Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, a town named after Sir Harry Smith's wife, and a similar distance east of Bethlehem. The small nearby hamlet of Swinburne (originally ) is named after Sir John Swinburne, a gold prospector.

Present day

Harrismith is well known as an overnight or refreshment stop along the N3 route, and a convenient refuelling stop for trucks and vehicles, but it has much more to offer. Beyond the highway is a tidy town with many elegant late 19th century buildings made of hewn sandstone. There are numerous bed & breakfast places catering to visitors. Located near the scenic eastern escarpment border with KwaZulu-Natal province, it is the best access point to the northernmost Drakensberg, including Tugela Falls and Mont-Aux-Sources (accessed via the Sentinel Hiking Trail, in the QwaQwa region of the Free State, 80 km south of Harrismith on the R57), Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve (20 km southeast of town on the R74), Royal Natal Park and the uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site (66 km southeast via Oliviershoek Pass beyond Sterkfontein Dam) and the spectacular Golden Gate Highlands National Park 50 km south of town on the R712.

Harrismith is the centre of one of the five wool producing districts in Southern Africa.

The town is home to the largest truck stop in the Southern Hemisphere, Highway Junction.

Harrismith is also home to the small Harrismith Airport.

Two other places in the world bear the same name: Harrismith Beach and Harrismith House near Bottom Bay in Barbados and Harrismith in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia.

Tourist attractions

Platberg's western aspect at dusk Platberg, Harrismith, a.jpg
Platberg's western aspect at dusk
Sterkfontein Dam with Platberg's plateau forming the horizon SterkfonteinDam-2006.jpg
Sterkfontein Dam with Platberg's plateau forming the horizon

Coats of arms

Municipal (1)

By 1931, the Harrismith municipal council had assumed a pseudo-heraldic coat of arms. [7] The shield was divided by a horizontal line, the upper half depicting three upright maize cobs and three sheaves of wheat on a silver background, and the lower half a cornucopia. The crest was a plough, and the motto Grandescunt aucta labore (i.e. by hard work, all things increase and grow).

Municipal (2)

A proper coat of arms was designed (by Schalk Pienaar) in the 1970s, and registered at the Bureau of Heraldry in September 1977. [8]

The arms were : Argent, a chevron Azure between in chief an elephant statant proper and in base a demi-cogwheel issuant Gules, two flaunches Vert each charged with an ear of wheat, Or. In layman's terms, the shield is silver and depicts, from top to bottom, an elephant, a blue chevron, and the upper half of a red cogwheel, and on each side is a curved green segment bearing a golden ear of wheat.

Once again, the crest was a plough and the motto was Grandescunt aucta labore.

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  1. "Chronological order of town establishment in South Africa based on Floyd (1960:20-26)" (PDF). pp. xlv–lii.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Main Place Harrismith". Census 2011.
  3. "Sir Harry Smith - An autobiography showing him to have seen warfare in four continents" (PDF). The New York Times . 1902-05-24. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  4. "Cosatu welcomes placing of Maluti-A-Phofung Municipality under administration".
  5. le Roux, Dr C. J. P. (December 1984). "Vrystaat se oudste brûe vanjaar 'n eeu oud" (PDF). The Civil Engineer in South Africa: 605–606. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  6. "Harrismith Mountain Race" . Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  7. The arms were depicted on a cigarette card issued in 1931.
  8. http://www.national.archsrch.gov.za%5B%5D