Two of the most imposing homes in Heidelberg have the same building style. These were erected close to the turn of the century. One of them is situated 3 km outside Heidelberg on the R42 route to Vereeniging/Meyerton. The influential Bezuidenhouts, after whom Bez Valley in Johannesburg was named, lived there for generations. It is now known as the De Rust Guest House and is a crowned glory for our town. It was the first home in the Old Transvaal which had electricity and even its own Victorian Spa!
The other one is situated on the corners of H.F Verwoed and Hospitaal Streets, built in a similar style. It was previously known as the Magistrate’s residence (“Old Drostdy”). From early times the stand was designated for the official residence of the Magistrate of Heidelberg. The design was borrowed from the style of a certain De Zwaan architect in those days. He practiced and consulted with the DPW (Department of Public Works) at his own account. The wide verandah with its pointed roof was characteristic of the building style of the day. It gave a spacious, rustic character to these homes. The current owner, Kotze utilize it as an antique shop, “Ancient Days”. This house was built in 1903 and would have replaced the previous official residence of the Magistrate. Over many years, many laws would have been debated here.
In all likelihood, Jan Smuts also visited Heidelberg in execution of his duties as the state attorney. He served in the circuit court held here at Heidelberg in 1899 where he drafted one of his many charge sheets. An old deed of transport T4733|1911 executed in Heidelberg was signed by Jan Smuts as the Registrar of Deeds. On 17 October 1903 he attended the reburial of the Boer heroes in the Heroes Acre in the Kloof Cemetery. He delivered one of the many speeches and was recognised as the architect of the Unification of South Africa in 1910. Heidelberg officially took part in the festivities on 31 May 1910.
Heidelberg was visited by state men who contributed to our history. Paul Kruger, a passionate Republican declared Heidelberg the capital of the ZAR in 1880. Jan Smuts was the state attorney and architect of the Union of South Africa. H.F Verwoerd is widely seen as the architect of Apartheid. The circle was completed when the New South Africa changed to an open and free democracy. Madiba was rewarded with honorarycitizenship of Heidelberg in 1996. Heidelberg was through and through part of the political struggle, playing a definite role in our history.
According to the first constitution in 1858, Heidelberg would consist of a magistrate’s court and a court of local officials to assist the magistrate. Appeals were referred to the High Court, consisting of three magistrates and twelve members of the court of officials. To qualify to serve on this court of officials, one had to be entitled to vote for 2 years, should be a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, and older than 30 years of age.
Our first magistrate, F.K Marè was already a member of the High Court in 1883 when employed as the magistrate of Heidelberg. Experienced lawyers such as Adriaan von Geusau, practiced here. In later years he served as the chairperson of the Law Society. His admission certificate as an attorney was signed by Leyds, the state secretary of Paul Kruger.
In 1916, Dr A. G Visser settled across the Old Drostdy and started the first official hospital. It was first known as the AG Visser Hospital, but now changed to the Heidelberg General Hospital. Apart from being a busy physician, he served on the town council from 1918. Since 1926 he also practised as the district physician. AG Visser also tried to play around with jurists and he described them as follows:
“Die Regter weet soveel van Wet;
weet sake te besleg.
Dis goed en wel,
had hy maar net Flou besef van die Reg!”