The hub of the Free State's gold mines, uranium mines, mineral ore, as well as steel and lumber production, Welkom is located 160km north east of Bloemfontein and was officially declared a city on 14 February 1968.
An industrial and commercial heartland, the city derived its name after the farm Welkom and was founded in 1948 by Sir Earnest Oppenheimer, the De Beers mining magnet. Rumour has it that Oppenheimer would have his chauffer drive him to what has since become known as the suburb Stateway, spade in hand and having dug up mounds of soil he proclaimed “on this site I shall build my city garden”. His vision has been kept alive and over the years the parks and gardens have been re-designed with current town planners determined to retain the city’s reputation for being “the city within a garden”.
Even before Welkom’s gold fields became reality, Sir Earnest Oppenheimer’s belief in the riches that Welkom hid beneath its soil would later come into fruition. In a newspaper article published in the Welkom News in January 1950, Oppenheimer expressed his great faith in the future of the new goldfields and stated that £200m was to be spent on the development of the 13 mines that had been planned, along with the necessary services and amenities for employees. The rest, as they say, is history.
With a booming population of over 400 000 people, commercial development has risen to new heights in the second largest city in the Free State. The recently developed Goldfields Shopping Mall with a footprint of 34 000sqm has given Welkom central a new lease on life. Residents no longer have to undertake their customary shopping trips to Bloemfontein, which has boosted the local retail economy, offering convenient access to some of South Africa’s leading retail giants.
Residential property in Welkom is known for offering excellent value for money which has enticed older residents from the surrounding regions to retire to the area. One of the more fashionable suburbs is that of Riebeeckstad, where Lightsone property statistics indicate there have been a total of 166 property transfers over the last 12 months. Property does seem to be extremely affordable in this region of the province, with the average price paid for a freehold property being R384 000 and R374 000 average for a sectional title unit. Just south of Riebeeckstad lies Bronville and the statistics reveal that there were 136 transfers concluded in this locale. Once again, all of the sales were concluded at under the R400 000 threshold.
Welkom could perhaps literally be deemed the goose that laid the golden egg. One of the city’s more famous residents is Mark Shuttleworth; this South African entrepreneur was born in Welkom on 18th September 1973. Shuttleworth gained worldwide fame in April 2002, when he partook in a self-funded space flight, rendering him the first ever African in space. If Welkom’s accolades thus far in the history books are anything to go by, perhaps Welkom’s pioneers own aspirations of reaching for the stars have been fulfilled.