The Story of South African Boers and a Kenyan Town - Eldoret

This is the story. The Second Anglo-Boer War broke on October 11 1899, a war between the British Empire and two Boer States: the Orange Free State and the Republic of Transvaal. It was a war between two European tribes fighting to control South Africa.

In the end, the British beat the Boers thoroughly, but it was not isi. The war ended on May 31 1902, with the British Empire annexing the two states. Naturally, the Boers were not happy. A couple of rogue Afrikaan-speaking Boers decided they had had enough of British rule in South Africa.

They entered a German ship, Windhoek, with everything that they could carry and sailed north by sea. With their leader, Meneer Van Rensberg, they arrived in Mombasa in 1908 and set forth for the hinterland to hunt for land. They arrived in Nakuru in July 1908 by rail from Mombasa.

From Nakuru, they trekked to Uasin Gishu, a place that looked like the South African kopjes, a place where “their women could breed in peace”.

The trek to Uasin Gishu was not happenstance. It is said that the first Afrikaner to settle in Farm 64 were the Van Breda brothers who arrived in 1903. In 1905, they were joined by the Franz Arnoldi family. But in August 1908, 58 rogue Afrikaners, arrived led by Jan van Rensburg, and settled at the foot of Sergoit Hill on October 22 1908. Each family built a shack, put up fences, hooked up oxen to simple ploughs and turned the first furrows. They sowed wheat, maize and vegetables transforming the plateau. The farms were later registered and given reference numbers. This is how heavily-armed group of Boers ‘colonized’ Uasin Gishu.

This was a time when the African continent was a white people playground. The Royal Engineers had carved out the extremely fertile Rift Valley into big farms, what was known as “the white highlands” – regions not less than 5000 ft above sea level, which is best suited for Europeans to settle in. But Africans had settled in these highlands, so the colonial government passed The Crown Lands Ordinance of 1902 which permitted land grants to Europeans – meaning that only Europeans could own and manage the highland areas.

The Kenya Gazette Notices of 1912 gives an idea of how these farms were named. This was around present day Uasin Gishu. Farms were named Farm 1, Farm 2, Farm 3 that way that way. There was Farm 64. Farm 64 is what became Eldoret – an area with elevation varying from 7000 to 9000 ft, very ideal for European settlement. This is how heavily-armed group of Boers arrived in Uasin Gishu. You can go to the Kenya Gazette Notice of December 29 1934 to see the names of these Afrikaner families, including the the van Rensburg family, listed as farmers with addresses in Uasin Gishu.

One day, as the Boers were selecting the best place within Farm 64 to settle, a safe fell from the wagons. It was a heavy safe and carried all the cash the Boers brought from South Africa. The few Boers present could not lift the heavy safe back to the wagon. So they build a bank around it.

Okay, this is the real story. After the Boers had settled in Eldoret, the Standard Chartered Bank of South Africa Limited decided to set up a branch in the area. The bank had a safe that was to be delivered using an ox-cart. However, the safe fell en route to the bank which was built of mud and a tin roof. Despite best efforts, the safe couldn’t be boarded back onto the Ox-cart due to its weight. JM Shaw, the Bank Manager, decided to rebuild the bank around the safe. This mud house built around the heavy safe with a healthy stash of cash is what became the present day Standard Chartered Bank in Eldoret.

1920’s Standard Bank of South African, at the entrance. Pictured JW Shaw (Manager) and Secretary.

The Boers did not even bother to adopt the currency in colonial Kenya at the time. They continued using Kruger coins from their little bank, and this continued for a long time, even after South Africa had stopped using these coins. The Boers were a violent lot and got away with murder while protesting every single bit of British control.

So what happened to the Africans already settling in these islands? Well, as is the colonial custom, the Nandis were thrown out of their lands.

The name “Eldoret” comes from the Maa word “e-ntore” which means “stony river” in reference to the stony bed of the Sosiani River, which traverses over the Uasin Gishu (il-wuasin-kishu) Plateau. But this is not the name that was used for many years. It is the pronunciation of “e-ntore” that was corrupted to “eldore” and since the white settlers could not pronounce it well well, they added a ‘t’ and that is how eldore or Farm 64 became Eldoret.

Eldoret town, as it is known today, was born in 1910 as a staging post on the long ox-wagon road from Mombasa to Uganda, a staging post on Farm 64. The site was chosen as a post office because it was a stony piece of ground that no farmer wanted. The white settlers would converge at the post office to collect and dispatch mail. Ever wondered where 64 Stadium got its “64” from? Now you know.

With the rise of African rebellion, independence growing closer, the fear of African onslaught made most of these Boers, who had run away from the Boer wars in South Africa, began leaving their farms and going back south, just as other white settlers also started leaving for Britain.


Some Sources

Funny how Eldoret acquired its name

Eldoret town history

How Eldoret etched an educational mark

Eldoret town: The town that South African Boers started

Kenya Gazette 29 Dec 1934

My Life and Times: Story of a Kenyan American By James Butt

Eldoret Town: The Fascinating History You Probably Didn’t Know

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