The Potchefstroom campus of North-West University (NWU) has a long and complicated history, in many ways reflecting the broader history of South Africa as a country.
By most historical accounts (although there is some disagreement on the details), the town of Potchefstroom was the oldest town established by the Voortrekkers north of the Vaal River in 1838. The town’s academic history began three decades later in 1869, with the founding of the Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education (PU for CHE). Over the next century and a half, the university evolved from a theological school to a more comprehensive academic institution referred to as PUK.
A white, Afrikaans university for the majority of its history, the university in Potchefstroom eventually merged with two other higher education institutions — the University of the North-West in Mafikeng and the Vaal Triangle Campus in Vanderbijlpark — in 2004 to create a larger, more inclusive institution accessible by all South Africans. Today, the Potchefstroom campus is officially known as NWU Potchefstroom but also still referred to as PUK.
But for a casual visitor strolling around the Potchefstroom campus, none of this really matters. All that really matters is how pretty the campus is and how pleasant it is to walk around and explore.
Trees and Buildings of NWU Potchefstroom
Like many other universities around the world, and the town of Potchefstroom more generally, NWU’s trees and buildings are one of its greatest historical and visual assets.
The campus has 156 species of trees, including 55 indigenous species, and the trees have been documented with painstaking care by the university’s biological sciences department.
The campus’ most famous group of trees is the line of tall plane trees in the center of campus, called Lover’s Lane. Walking down Lover’s Lane in the shadow of these trees is magical, especially in autumn when the trees’ leaves are a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges and browns. At the end of the lane stands the famous “Washing Peg” statue, a monument to Potchefstroom’s students that resembles a collection of washing pegs.
The university also has a number of beautiful buildings, the most prominent of which is the stark white Main Building at the end of a wide, green lawn. The Main Building’s graceful archways and red tile roof make it a popular backdrop for weddings.
The Potchefstroom campus has a wonderful art gallery, the NWU Gallery, which puts on regular exhibitions of some of South Africa’s most acclaimed artists. Located in the university’s main library building, the gallery houses the largest collection of historical and contemporary art in North West province and serves as a great resource and gathering place for student artists, art enthusiasts, and the Potchefstroom community more generally. Prominent artists who have recently exhibited at the NWU Gallery include Gordon Froud, Roger Ballen, Sam Nhlengethwa, Angus Taylor, and many more.
The NWU Gallery also maintains a small gallery and sculpture park in the nearby NWU Botanical Garden, which aims to showcase young and upcoming South African artists. Check the NWU Gallery’s website for announcements about upcoming exhibitions and other events.
The main entrance to the NWU Potchefstroom Campus is at 11 Hoffman St, Potchefstroom. For more information visit www.nwu.ac.za or call 0860-169698.