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For the historic Dutch village, see Oudshoorn.
View of Oudtshoorn
View of Oudtshoorn
Oudtshoorn is located in South Africa
 Oudtshoorn shown within South Africa
Coordinates: 33°35′S 22°12′E / 33.583°S 22.200°E / -33.583; 22.200Coordinates: 33°35′S 22°12′E / 33.583°S 22.200°E / -33.583; 22.200
Country South Africa
Province Western Cape
District Eden
Municipality Oudtshoorn
Established 1857[1]
 • Total 37.6 km2 (14.5 sq mi)
Population (2011)[2]
 • Total 61,507
 • Density 1,600/km2 (4,200/sq mi)
Racial makeup (2011)[2]
 • Black African 12.5%
 • Coloured 70.9%
 • Indian/Asian 0.4%
 • White 15.3%
 • Other 1.0%
First languages (2011)[2]
 • Afrikaans 87.8%
 • Xhosa 7.4%
 • English 2.6%
 • Other 2.2%
Postal code (street) 6625
PO box 6620
Area code 044
Twin cities
 • Alphen aan den Rijn incorporating Oudshoorn[3][4] Netherlands

Oudtshoorn is a town in the Western Cape province of South Africa. With approximately 60,000 inhabitants, it is the largest town in the Little Karoo region. The town is home to the world's largest ostrich population, with a number of specialized ostrich breeding farms, such as the Safari Show Farm and the Highgate Ostrich Show Farm.

Bongelethu is a township 10 km east of Oudtshoorn. Derived from Xhosa, its name means "our pride".[5]


A historical building in the town

The area in which Oudtshoorn is situated was originally inhabited by Bushmen, as evidenced by the many rock paintings that are found in caves throughout the surrounding Swartberg mountains.

The first European explorers to the area was a trading party led by a certain Ensign Shrijver, who were guided there by a Griqua via an ancient elephant trail in January 1689. The expedition reached as far as present-day Aberdeen before turning back and exiting the Klein Karoo valley through Attaquas Kloof on 16 March of the same year. However, it was only a hundred years later that the first farmers started settling in the region.

The first large permanent structure of the Klein Karoo, a church of the Dutch Reformed denomination, was first erected in 1839, near the banks of the Grobbelaars River. The village (and later town) of Oudtshoorn gradually grew around this church; it was named after Baron Pieter van Reede van Oudtshoorn, who was appointed Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony in 1772 but died at sea in January 1773 on his voyage to the Cape.[5] His granddaughter Ernestina Johanna Geesje married Egbertus Bergh, a magistrate of George and one of the founding fathers of the town of Oudtshoorn which was named in honour of his wife's distinguished grandfather.[3][6][7]

A small one-room school was opened in 1858, followed by the formation of a municipality and the founding of an Agricultural Society in 1859. During the same year, work was also started on a larger church to replace the original small one.

Unfortunately, 1859 also signalled the start of a long and serious drought which severely depressed the national economy - by 1865, there was serious poverty. When the drought was finally broken by floods in 1869, the depression lifted and Oudtshoorn was transformed from a struggling village to a town of great prosperity.

At one time, there was a large Jewish immigrant population mostly from Lithuania and the town was known in the Jewish world as "Jerusalem of Africa".

First Ostrich Boom[edit]

The main reason for the large rise in prosperity was the ostrich, whose feathers had become extremely popular as fashion accessories in Europe; they were especially popular for use on hats. Between 1875 and 1880, ostrich prices reached up to GBP 1,000 a pair. The farmers of the region, realising that ostriches were far more profitable than any other activity, ripped out their other crops and planted lucerne, which was used as feed for the ostriches. The rising wealth also finally allowed for the completion of the Dutch Reformed Church - it was opened on 7 June 1879.

Owing to overproduction, the ostrich industry experienced a sudden slump in fortunes in 1885; the town's misery was compounded when it was hit by severe flooding during the same year, which washed away the nearby Victoria Bridge, which had been built over the Olifants River only the year before.

Second Ostrich Boom[edit]

The ostrich industry recovered slowly and it was not until after the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902, that a second and bigger boom started. It was during this period that most of Oudtshoorn's famously opulent "Feather Palaces" were built. This boom peaked in 1913, before collapsing in 1914. This was blamed on Henry Ford and the arrival of the motor car. Ladies wearing large hats with ostrich plumes found that such hats were not suitable and were blown off at car speeds (related by a local ostrich farmer). As a result, the region's economy was ruined, and most farmers returned to more traditional crops.


According to the 2011 census, Oudtshoorn had 61,507 inhabitants—17,640 in Bridgeton, 14,724 in Bongolethu and 29,143 in the rest of the town. 70.9% of the population described themselves as "Coloured", 15.3% as "White" and 12.5% as "Black African". The predominant language is Afrikaans, spoken as the home language of 87.8% of inhabitants, while 7.4% speak Xhosa and 2.6% speak English.[2]

Society and culture[edit]


C. J. Langenhoven, the town's most famous inhabitant, rose to prominence during the post-collapse period. Considered by many to be one of the fathers of Afrikaans, Langenhoven was a prodigious writer who provided much of the literature that formed the backbone of the Afrikaans language during its early development.


The Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, better known as the ABSA KKNK, ("Little Karoo National Arts Festival"), South Africa's largest Afrikaans language arts festival[citation needed], takes place in the town on a yearly basis.

Museums, monuments and memorials[edit]


The oldest church is the Dutch Reformed Church, erected in 1837, and situated on the corner of Church Street and High Street. Other churches include, Apostolic Faith Mission, Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, Roman Catholic (Roman Catholic Diocese of Oudtshoorn) and other traditional churches. In recent years, the number of Independent churches (also referred to as non denominational churches) have grown dramatically. Independent Churches include the River of Life Church, New Life Ministries, The Vineyard and the Oudtshoorn Community Church.[10]

Educational Institutions[edit]

Apart from the many high schools in Oudtshoorn, there are also many independent tertiary educational institutions, including the South Cape College and [11] Principia College


Oudtshoorn is the start of the Route 62 wine route. Some of the best South African Port style wines are produced in the area surrounding Oudsthoorn.


Tourist information[edit]

Oudtshoorn and De Rust are managed by Greater Oudtshoorn Tourism.[12] The tourism office (GOT) is centrally situated in Voortrekker Road (next to the CP Nel Museum).

Tourist attractions[edit]

Tourist attractions in Oudtshoorn and the surrounding areas include:

The area is also famed for its biodiversity, with the area home to an unusually large number of species of succulent plant. There are also several wine producers in the region.

Famous people[edit]


External links[edit]