Molteno, Eastern Cape

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Molteno is located in Eastern Cape
Molteno is located in South Africa
Molteno is located in Africa
 Molteno shown within Eastern Cape
Coordinates: 31°23′46″S 26°21′47″E / 31.39611°S 26.36306°E / -31.39611; 26.36306Coordinates: 31°23′46″S 26°21′47″E / 31.39611°S 26.36306°E / -31.39611; 26.36306
Country South Africa
Province Eastern Cape
District Chris Hani
Municipality Enoch Mgijima
Established 1874
 • Total 11.50 km2 (4.44 sq mi)
Elevation 1,590 m (5,220 ft)
Population (2011)[1]
 • Total 11,553
 • Density 1,000/km2 (2,600/sq mi)
Racial makeup (2011)[1]
 • Black African 92.1%
 • Coloured 4.7%
 • Indian/Asian 0.1%
 • White 2.7%
 • Other 0.5%
First languages (2011)[1]
 • Xhosa 89.3%
 • Afrikaans 6.5%
 • English 2.3%
 • Other 2.0%
Postal code (street) 5500
PO box 5500
Area code 045

Molteno is a town in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

It was founded in 1874 and named for Sir John Molteno, the first prime minister of the Cape Colony. South Africa's first coal mine was opened here.[2][3] High in the Stormberg Mountains, Molteno is South Africa's coldest town and it is close to the country's only ski resort. Ouma Rusks originated here.[4]


Coal fields were discovered in this part of the Stormberg Mountains in 1859, and the town was founded for mining in 1874 by George Vice. He named it after the first Cape Prime Minister, John Molteno.[2][3] (Interestingly, because of this, the town's other namesake is his ancestral hometown in Italy, not far from Milan.) The town's principal streets are named after the members of Molteno's cabinet.[5] Water was drawn from the nearby Stormberg river, and later also from the Jubilee Dam.[6]

Soon after its founding, the town became the major supplier of coal to the Cape Colony, with a large portion going to supply the diamond fields in Kimberley.[7] It was granted municipal status in 1883, and by 1892 around 6000 tons of coal were being extracted at Molteno. Much of this coal went to supplying the Cape's rapidly growing railway system.[8] In 1887, the newly founded Molteno Chamber of Commerce was influential in urging the Cape Government to extend its railway system northwards into the Boer republics, so as to open up new markets. By 1897, production of coal in the region had risen to over 70,000 tons.[9] However, by the 1920s the expansion of the railways made access to coal fields in Natal and the Transvaal possible, resulting in the decline of coal mining around Molteno.[10]

The mountains around Molteno are largely composed of sandstone of exceptional quality, and there were originally plans to build Molteno out of this beautiful rock, as a "Sandstone City". Nonetheless, several of the oldest buildings in the town are still made from local stone, fashioned by Italian artisans. The Old Mill is one example, built in 1874 and restored in 1991, as is the local Church and "Drostdy" (Magistrate's office).

During the Second Boer War, Molteno was used as a mustering point for troops prior to the famous Battle of Stormberg, as it was the closest railway station. The area also saw extensive Boer guerilla activity.[11]

Places of interest[edit]

Molteno NG Church

Although hot and arid in summer, in winter Molteno is the coldest town in South Africa, being located near the highest point in the Cape in the heart of the Stormberg Mountains. Because of its extreme temperatures, it offers snow in the colder months and the town is not far from the country's only ski resort, Tiffindell. The town has several botanical gardens, a monument to Queen Victoria, and a historic library built from local stone. There are 4X4 trails in the mountains and the nearby Molteno Dam offers water-skiing and trout-fishing.[12]

Molteno is also home to Ouma Rusks and the Stormberg biltong factory.[4] The R47-million factory is the town's largest employer employing 250 residents.[13]

The Molteno Museum is located in the stone library building and aims to portray the history of the town and its surrounds. It contains a range of artifacts, from stone-age tools to Khoisan, Xhosa and Voortrekker relics including a large collection of vintage guns. It also houses local war relics from the Boer War, and a display of pioneering historical photography from the region, the "Lomax Collection". Also of historical interest are the blockhouses that are located in the area, dating from the Boer War, and the Stormberg Battlefields. [14]
There is a lot of Bushman rock art in the surrounding mountain ranges. The area around the town offers ample opportunity to view rock paintings, fossils and stone age tools uncovered in caves and diggings close to Molteno. There are also three extinct volcanoes in the vicinity.[15]

The town has one of the oldest railway stations in South Africa - now officially reopened after being closed for repairs. The station lies on the main line from East London, inland to Johannesburg. This line was actually planned and begun by the same John Molteno after whom the town is named, but the railway only reached the town in 1884[16] and the section further north to Aliwal North was opened on 2 September 1885.


Molteno is surrounded by mountains and high Karoo plains, known for its vast panoramic views. It is also located almost exactly on the watershed between the catchment areas of the Atlantic Ocean (e.g. the Orange River to the north) and the Indian Ocean.[17]

The semi-arid, succulent-rich vegetation of the Great Karoo ecoregion predominates in the area.


Molteno has a subtropical highland climate (Cwb, according to the Köppen climate classification), with warm summers and chilly, dry winters, with occasional snowfalls.[citation needed] It borders on a semi-arid climate (BSh/BSk). The average annual precipitation is 401 mm (16 in), with rainfall occurring mainly during summer.

Molterno is one of the coldest towns in South Africa, second only to Sutherland in the Northern Cape, with an average yearly temperature of 13.3 °C and an average annual minimum temperature of 6.0 °C.[18]

The village of Buffelsfontein, located near Molteno, has the lowest recorded temperature in South Africa, of −20.1 °C (−4 °F), on 23 August 2013.[19] The former national record, of −18.6 °C (−1 °F), was also registered in the same locality, on 28 June 1996.[20]

The administrative area to which Molteno belongs, Inkwanca, literally means "cold" in Xhosa.[21]

Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: SA Explorer


Molteno is located on the Stormberg Series of the Karoo System where some of the only workable coal seams in the Cape are to be found (the Molteno Formation, the youngest in the Karoo System, is named after the town).[22] These coal fields are being explored for possible coal bed methane extraction.[23]

The rocks preserve a record of gradual desertification over millions of years, starting from the Upper Triassic when the area was a warm swampland, and continuing into the late Jurassic when the region had become a desert. Extensive Dinosaur footprints and fossils can be found in these rocks.[24]

Famous residents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Main Place Molteno". Census 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Molteno,, Retrieved 23 November 2009
  3. ^ a b "History of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of South Africa". E. Stock. 1906. p. 145. Retrieved 23 November 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "Ouma Rusks". NOLA. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009. Retrieved 9 November 2008. 
  5. ^ Johannes Meintjes (1964) Portret van 'n Suid-Afrikaanse Dorp. Molteno 1894-1909, Bamboesberg Publishers, South Africa.
  6. ^ Johannes Meintjes (1974). Die Geskiedenis van Molteno; 1874-1974, Munisipaliteit Molteno, South Africa, Chapter 4, Stigting van die Dorp (Founding of the town), ISBN 0-620-01123-8
  7. ^ Keane, A.H. (1900). The Boer states; land and people. London: Methuen & co. p. 6. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  8. ^ Noble, John (1893). "VIII - The Cape Government, Institutions, Roads, Railways and Industries". Illustrated official handbook of the Cape and South Africa; a résumé of the history, conditions, populations, productions and resources of the several colonies, states, and territories. J.C. Juta & Co. p. 224. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  9. ^ R.F. Immelman: Men of Good Hope. 1804-1954. The Cape Town Chamber of Commerce. 1955.
  10. ^ Knowles, L. C. A; Knowles, C. M (1936). "9. The Mines". The Economic Development Of The British Overseas Empire Volume III. London: George Routledge And Sons, Limited. p. 214. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  11. ^ Foster, H.E.C. (1901). The History of the Boer War. Methuen. p. 257. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Esterhuizen, Idéle. "Foodcorp invests R47mn in E Cape upgrade, retains 250 jobs". Retrieved 2016-07-30. 
  14. ^ Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa. 1970. Pretoria: Nasou Ltd. Vol 7, p 497
  15. ^
  16. ^ Jose Burman (1984). Early Railways at the Cape. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, ISBN 0-7981-1760-5
  17. ^
  18. ^ SA Explorer
  19. ^ "New minimum temperature record for South Africa". Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  20. ^ Details of the temperature, rainfall and wind extremes recorded in SA South African weather service. Retrieved on 2010-06-22]
  21. ^
  22. ^ Gibson, Walcot (1908). "XV. Coal fields of Africa, India, Australia and South America". The geology of coal and coal-mining. London: E. Arnold. pp. 282, 283. Retrieved 2009-12-24. 
  23. ^ "Background Information and Project Motivation". Badimo Gas. Retrieved 23 November 2009. 
  24. ^ Anderson Heidi M: Molteno Ferns: late Triassic biodiversity in southern Africa. South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). Pretoria. 2008. ISBN 1-919976-36-1

External links[edit]