Vaal Triangle History

1889 - 1902

Sharpeville

Klip Power Station

William Stow

Coal

Vereeniging

1960

1939 - 1945

Peace Negotiations

Viljoensdrift

1935

Vereeniging History

  When President Reitz succeeded President Brand of the Orange Free State in 1889, he and Kruger had discussed a closer political alliance between the two Republics. They had appointed a commission of enquiry to establish the most suitable place for a bridge across the Vaal. Both Potchefstroom in the Transvaal and Venterskroon in the Free State had petitioned for the erection of a bridge over the river which separated the two villages; but, by January, 1890 the commission had "decided" that the best place for a bridge would be the coal mines at Viljoen's Drift, because various transport roads or tracks came together there, 'omdat die paaie zig daar vereenig', on the way to the Rand.
  By May that year, Kruger had persuaded his Volksraad that the Vaal River crossing should be connected by rail with the south, and as soon as possible. The persistent drought of the times by the end of 1889 had stripped the veld of grazing, and it is said that about 1,000 ox-wagons were stranded at the Vaal drifts because of the scarcity of fodder on the routes leading from the river.
  The ever-deepening shafts of the goldmines increased the demand for heavier machinery and the strain placed on primitive methods of ox-wagon transportation became unbearable. "The scene at the drift when the river was low, and at the pont when the river was high, was exciting; double and treble spans were hooked on to drag the heavy load up the muddy banks of the river. The yelling of the native drivers, the groaning of the overburdened oxen, the cracking of whips accompanied by exple­tives in every language supposed to be understood by oxen, was a pandemonium.
  When the load was safely across, a bee-line was made in the direction of its destination. The road branched off like a fan to lead to the East, Central or West Rand, and the soft pot clay for the first mile was even worse than crossing the river. Many wagons that had survived up to now got stuck almost up to the axles. It was heartbreaking for the transport riders, but they got through." These are Leslie's words. Soon, however, the ox and the mule-drawn wagons would disappear into an era ... with the advent of the "iron horse".
  On July 21, 1891 the N.Z.A.S.M. (Nederlands Zuid Afrikaans Spoorweg Maatschappy - the Netherlands South African
Railways Company), began the masonry work for the bridge that would support the first railway to reach the Rand from Cape Town at the coast. The railway company, however, was unable to raise the money to complete the bridge and when the rail from Bloemfontein, laid at a rate of two miles a day, had reached the southern bank of the Vaal, a temporary wooden bridge was erected a short distance from the site of the pylons of the steel bridge, about 100 yards upstream from the present road bridge. It was intended that trains should cross into the Transvaal immediately and the temporary measure obviated the difficulties ox-wagons had encountered in fording the drift further downstream when heavily laden with machinery for the goldmines.
  The N.Z.A.S.M. had been empowered by the Transvaal Government to expropriate the land over which the line was to be laid to Elandsfontein where it would join the line to Johannesburg. The route chosen took the railway line through Donald McKay's properties to the north-west of the village, and although he was paid no compensation, he was given the right to flag down any train passing through his property, and once aboard to travel free-of-charge anywhere on the N.Z.A.S.M. system.
  On May 21, 1892 all was ready for the first train from the south to cross to the Transvaal, or almost ready as it transpired. A report of the historical event, published in the Transvaal Advertiser two days later reads: "An unfortunate delay in con­nection with the opening of the railway had occurred. The engineers on the Transvaal side had made an error of about three feet in the levels between the temporary bridge and the station, and on laying the rails two days ago, this was found out, subsequently the rails had to be removed and three feet deeper excavated, and the gangs working without cessation until the last minute before the train came over ..."
  President Kruger arrived from Pretoria accom­panied by Jan Eloff, who gave his name to Eloff Street in Johannesburg. With them was Johannes Meyer, the district's Volksraad member. It was after him that Meyerton was named. His christian name is perpetuated also in the name of Johannesburg.
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Chapter 3: The First Bridge over the River Vaal