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The city was founded in 1837 when the Voortrekkers settled on the banks of the Schoonspruit ("Clear stream"), which flows through the town. Klerksdorp is one of the oldest European (white) settlements of the former province of Transvaal.


The most prominent of the first settlers was C.M. du Plooy who claimed a farm of about 160 km², called it Elandsheuwel ("Hill of the Eland"). He gave plots of land and communal grazing rights on this farm to other Voortrekkers in return for their labour in building a dam and an irrigation canal. This collection of smallholdings was later given the name of Klerksdorp in honour of the first landdrost (magistrate) of the area, Jacob de Clercq.