Leydsdorp – the sleepy hollow comes alive | iinfo TZANEEN

In the close proximity of Gravelotte, just off the R71, is the turn-off to Leydsdorp. (The R71 is a provincial route in South Africa that connects Polokwane with the Kruger National Park via Tzaneen and Phalaborwa.)
Although the sign board has always been there and probably every person who is rushing to get to the Kruger National Park sees it and thinks of turning in there at some point in the future, many don't. Leydsdorp, however, is steeped in rich history.
Leydsdorp is a former gold rush town situated in the Limpopo province of South Africa. It developed from a gold-mining camp and was proclaimed in 1890, but was virtually abandoned when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand.
The town was named after WJ Leyds, state secretary at the time of the ZAR (Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek, or South African Republic). The mining area became known as the Selati Gold Fields, after Shalati, the female chief of the small Tebula tribe who lived in the bush around the Murchison Range. The little town even had its own newspaper, the Leydsdorp Leader.
For transport to the gold fields, a railway called the Selati Line was planned. It is said that the railway was as crooked as its promoters, a pair of continental confidence tricksters, Baron Eugene Oppenheim and his elder brother, Robert.
After much wheeling and dealing construction of the Selati Line began in 1892 from Komatipoort on the Eastern Line. The Selati Gold Fields had petered out and it became evident that the railway promoters never intended the line to reach the area. They simply set out to sell shares and make money. When the scandal was exposed in 1895 it was found that more than 40 km of unnecessary bends and loops had been added to the line. Baron Oppenheim and his brother ended up in jail and the 120 km length of line already built was left to rust.
Only in 1912 was the Selati Line relocated and completed. Three hundred and thirty kilometers of line was laid from Komatipoort to Tzaneen and later, to Modjadjiskloof (Duiwelskloof) and up the escarpment to join the Pietersburg-Messina line. Leydsdorp by that time was almost a ghost town and even today the cemetery is often described as the liveliest part of the town.
Mining still flourishes in the Murchison Range, although not much gold is produced. Antimony, cinnabar, emeralds, mica and silica are the main products of this area. Its principal centre is Gravelotte, named after the battle in the 1870 Franco-German war and created as a railway centre when the completed Selati Line missed Leydsdorp by 11 km.
The Consolidated Murchison Mine, near Gravelotte, is the world's largest producer of antimony. The station of Mica, on the southern end of the range, is the despatch centre for several mines producing mica, and glittering fragments of this strange mineral litter the ground.
Mr Kobus Smuts, owner of the property and the adjacent game farm, hopes to turn Leydsdorp into a popular tourist destination.

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