There are not many municipalities in small platteland towns like Ficksburg that can boast of having a prestigious, architect-designed building for a head office, but the Setsoto Municipality can most certainly be seen as the exception which proves the rule. The magnificent building on the western side of the town square which is nowhome to the municipality was built in the early 1970s as the head office for the hail and crop insurance company, Sentraoes.
Co-operative (Pty) Ltd (now known as Agri Risk Specialists and located in Bloemfontein). Some time after ARS relocated, the Setsoto Municipality purchased the complex, so becoming the proud owner of a piece of Ficksburg history and a building which can hold its own with any impressive office block in any city. In their brief to the architects, the prestigious Pretoria firm of Moerdyk & Holzapfel, Sentraoes asked for a fully air-conditioned, prestige building with ground floor shops, first floor offices with provision for future second floor office accommodation, and basement parking. Particular emphasis was put on the design, which was required to reinforce Sentraoes’s motto: "Security to Agriculture", in a building which by its character would also associate itself with the town, Ficksburg.
For this reason Imperani Mountain’s amphitheatre-shaped, rain-streaked, sandstone krantzes, which form the western boundary of the town, served as the inspiration for the design. A sandstone-coloured brick was selected as the main building element and the sun protection brick fins were corbelled out, calling to mind Imperani’s overhanging rock formations. At the same time, these elements give the building a solid and monolithic look which reinforces the idea of security. The clients put much emphasis on the entrance foyer, which they felt should be an imaginative “show-window” for the organisation. It was decided to create a dynamic functional piece of sculpture around the theme of their emblem — the emerging embryo. A circular fountain with converging cascades of running water was placed below floor level from which the ceramic-faced concrete shell, portraying the lobe, curves out to form the stem of the plant, indicated by the bronze-sprayed, free-standing staircase with open treads. Above the staircase hovers a glass-in-concrete roof-light (executed by Leo Theron), symbolizing the sun.
The foyer is visually linked through a large curved window to the water-garden courtyard which also forms the relief between deep double-banked offices south and north of the foyer. A hurdle to be overcome at the start of the project was to design a building as a complete double-storey structure while making provision for it to become an equally convincing three-storey structure in the future. As it happened, the green light for the second floor extension was given midway through the construction period. The client also requested that provision be made for a link to a further extension on the adjoining site. Trial holes showed the sub-strata to be suspect in places and revealed a strong inflow of water at a depth of three metres. This immediately rendered the proposed basement parking as a too-costly operation. The engineers thus decided to found the building on solid rock formation (about six metres down) by means of driven concrete piles.
This jewel in Setsoto’s crown came into being because, by the early 1970s, Sentraoes, the company which commissioned the building, had become the largest hail insurance company in the southern hemisphere and was doing business with re-insurers all over the world. It became clear that the rapidly-expanding client base necessitated more staff, larger premises and an up-to-date computerized record system. By 1975, it provided cover against hail damage on more than 90 different types of crops. Its premium income had increased from R3.5 million in 1970 to R11 million in 1975. A strategic site opposite the Ficksburg Town Hall was purchased and architects — Moerdyk & Holzapfel — were appointed. The contract went out to tender (May 1974) at a time when work was available in abundance. Largely because Ficksburg is situated on the edge of the Free State, only two tenders were received, both considerably higher than anticipated.
After length negotiations and some revisions of the design, the contract was awarded to the Roberts Construction Co. (O.F.S.) (Pty.) Ltd., as it was felt that they would be capable of completing the work within the stipulated time (which was rather on the short side) and also achieve the necessary high standard of building.
Much trouble was taken to attain a high standard of brickwork, especially on corbelled fins and pattern grille walls. Several samples had to be built before a satisfactory result was forthcoming. During February 1975, the clients decided to continue with a third storey on condition that the original two storeys would be handed over before the commencement of the "insurance season" during September, 1975. As a result of abnormal rain and various structural problems that deadline could not be met, but the clients took occupation of the partially-completed building during November 1975. Eventually the building was inaugurated on 27th February 1976 by the then-Minister of Agriculture, Mr Hendrik Schoeman. The total building cost amounted to about R950 000 and it took 18 months to complete.
Sentraoes Co-operative (Pty) Ltd, which became a major force in agriculture, came into being because Ficksburg is situated in the Eastern Free State wheat belt, with exceptionally good soil and climatic conditions, but with the downside being the prevalence of severe summer thunder storms often accompanied by damaging hail. As early as 1929 farmers, under the leadership of Mr Harold Blore, decided to share the risks of possible hail damage by forming "The Conquered Territory Mutual Hail Insurance Society". This society was replaced in 1934 by a co-operative ("Boere Hael Assuransiekorporasie") which embraced several surrounding districts. The co-operative idea of crop insurance gathered momentum over the years until Sentraoes Co-operative was founded in 1970.
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GPS Co-Ordinates: S 28º 52' 18.3 — E 027º 52' 27.0